GWJ Conference Call Episode 313

Conference Call

XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Dishonored, MineZ, Super Crate Box Vita, Boss Battles, Your Emails and more!

This week Shawn, Julian, Elysium and Charlie talk XCOM, Dishonored and to dogmatic trope that is boss fights.

To contact us, email [email protected]! Send us your thoughts on the show, pressing issues you want to talk about or whatever else is on your mind. You can even send a 30 second audio question or comment (MP3 format please) if you're so inclined.

Audible
Tech Thing Daily
Game Thing Daily
Tweaked Audio (Use discount code GWJ)

Chairman_Mao's Timestamps
00.01.59 League of Legends
00.05.52 DayZ and other Arma fun
00.07.34 MineZ - Survival horror Minecraft
00.09.23 Black Mesa
00.10.55 X-Com
00.30.07 Pandaria update
00.32.58 Super Crate Box
00.34.54 Pinball Arcade
00.36.14 Dishonored
00.57.46 This week's sponsor--audible.com--and this week's recommendation: a sickly-Certis-Certified Gardens of the Moon
00.59.24 This week's topic: Boss Battles!
01.13.02 The FINAL GWJ Donation Drive 2012 Update
01.15.15 Your emails!

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Main Menu music - Dishonored - http://www.dishonored.com/ - 58:54

Main Theme - XCOM: Enemy Unknown - http://www.xcom.com/enemyunknown/ - 1:12:34

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

Comments

Arrrrrgghh. Don't go on about the 'Overwatch moves around' thing. There is a *secondary* hotkey set for common commands. Overwatch is always Y. On the keyboard as well. Just hit the Y key, and overwatch is set, no confirmation required. Go into the key config and there's a list of them.

Yeah, the tutorial doesn't explain this, but the interface troubles can be gotten around with a little of research.

I would have to say that boss battles that work are a lot like any other mechanic that works - it has to be fun, and it has to tell a story; preferably one that isn't at odds with everything else. I don't think it's enough to say that a boss battle mustn't conflict with explicit narrative; it must also expand and explore that narrative and move it forward.

In a sense, conflicts and fights in a game closely parallel similar visual and violent spectacles in other media. One of the reasons why The Matrix is awesome is because each fight in it advances the story in multiple directions and usually reveals aspects about the characters. The Matrix fights are particularly impressive because they usually advanced multiple story threads at once while also developing multiple characters (sometimes the entire cast) at the same time. Fights in the latter Matrix movies were not of this caliber.

Likewise, Megaman doesn't have an explicit narrative, but its game mechanics tell its narrative. Each Megaman boss is crafted to reflect his realm, ties into his special powers, and the powers you gain as Megaman, has a unique script and look, and usually caps a long journey through an interesting locale. As a piece of narrative exposition, they're even a little too rote in that they are explicitly climaxes to a narrative arc, with a denouement involving hero development.

The boss battle in ME2 felt out of place because it wasn't capping a narrative thread, but was beginning or developing one. It was also mechanically uninteresting and visually implausible.

In a more meta sense, fight-based boss battles in games also have to fight against their status as the go-to game climax in pretty much every game. It's like every story ending in the princess being rescued. It has become cliche and predictable. At the same time, formulating alternative game climaxes proves very challenging, because you have to unify narrative and game intents in the same sequence. If the game is a shooter or a fighting game, how else could you craft a powerful ending?

Starcraft II has a fun boss battle! And Monster Hunter, Demon's Soul, the Mario Galaxy games. What would Skyrim be without something popping out of a coffin and chasing you around a grotto for a few minutes at the end of a dungeon?

Boss battles are just weird in first person and hard to pull off in story-heavy games. A person's belief that they're archaic is pretty much based on whether they think Bioshock/Deus Ex/Half Life games are 'the future' or just one genre among many.

I think the problem is when boss battles are used specifically as a trope, and mostly in games where they don't belong. Or rather, throwing a Mega Man pattern-based boss with a weakness/weakpoint in a game focused on more realistic play. Or the worst, the boss that merely requires more bullets in order to be killed.

I'd look at the first Assassin's Creed as a newer game that managed to do "boss battles" in a way that fit within its design. There was always a way for the player to succeed even if they were a terrible assassin (my first play through can attest to this), but most of the missions were best when the player was capable of using all of their skills and arsenal to sneak in and stab the guy from behind/above. In some cases they didn't allow this of the player, but it still was given some level of narrative sense (the guy that lays a trap for the Assassin and you then have to chase down, because after several of his comrades being assassinated by a man in white you start to wonder if maybe you're next).

I liked the original Half-Life throwing in "boss battles" by making them a puzzle that the entire level was based around. I've never managed to get too far in the original game, but the giant green tentacle-scythe thing is a perfect example, as well as the monstrosity after that you have to lure in and get electrocuted. These are "bosses" that work in their respective games.

I do not dislike the traditional boss, either, as long as they are in a game where it is fitting or executed well. The first giant boss in Darksiders 2? I'm fine with him. The second giant boss that is waist high and basically all I can do is hack and slash at his midsection? Weak.

But most of all, there should be some sort of reason for that boss fight. In a game like Assassin's Creed it is used as part of the narrative. In a game like, say, Super Metroid or Metroid Prime, that boss is essentially a guardian of some prized item. In Zelda, as Certis mentioned, the boss is a sort of test of that dungeon and the new tool you've nabbed (usually).

I think the problem is a lot of developers don't know many ways to communicate that ultimate climax, which is one of the reasons I feel so empty at the end of a game. The first Halo was pitch perfect. You went through a challenging level that was reminiscent of the first, giving a sort of "full circle" feel. Then after completing a...okay, not pitch perfect because that rocket thing kind of sucked, but then you hop on a warthog and your heart is racing against the clock. It's the Super Metroid ending, and it didn't need a boss fight. At the end you sit back, let out a deep breath and smile.

I think this discussion is a bit different when it comes to comparing different types of RPG's, though. I think bosses are a much more natural, expected and welcome approach, and I don't even mean MMO's either (which I've never really played and have no interest in doing so (well, except for Planetside but that doesn't count)). I think bosses are a much more natural fit, as you just make someone that requires more resources than the typical mooks in the dungeon. But if you take that logic to any other style of game, it becomes tedious instead (see: Metroid Prime on normal vs. hard mode).

Even then, though, a final boss fight can be executed poorly. Then again, there are few games whose final boss encounters will ever measure up to that of Earthbound for me.

Though in truth, nothing ruins the end of a game for me more than the ending itself. I don't always want the Return of the King ending, but sometimes you want a little more resolution than "We saved the day!" "Yeah, we saved the day..." Solemn stare out into the distance.

Maybe that's part of the problem. Most game endings feel like the studio just plain ran out of time/money/ideas/all of the above. Maybe final bosses are the same way.

I think the best boss battle I've ever seen is the final boss of Super Mario Bros. 6 (or New Super Mario Bros. Wii as it's called on the box). You've got a giant Bowser chasing you, so there's a boss there, but he's chasing you through one of the most intense platforming levels in the game and the gameplay is all about moving through that level.

And dodging the fireballs that he's breathing at you.

Actually, I was quite fond of a number of the Arkham City boss battles, but I may be alone in that one. The non-Bane-style fights in Asylum were pretty nifty as well.

argh,

(An Dogmatic 54.5 MBs, 1:35:09)

should be

(A Dogmatic 54.5 MBs, 1:35:09)

and

This week Shawn, Julian, Elysium and Charlie talk XCOM, Dishonored and to dogmatic trope that is boss fights.

should be

This week Shawn, Julian, Elysium and Charlie talk XCOM, Dishonored and to the dogmatic trope that is boss fights.
RolandofGilead wrote:

argh,

(An Dogmatic 54.5 MBs, 1:35:09)

should be

(A Dogmatic 54.5 MBs, 1:35:09)

and

This week Shawn, Julian, Elysium and Charlie talk XCOM, Dishonored and to dogmatic trope that is boss fights.

should be

This week Shawn, Julian, Elysium and Charlie talk XCOM, Dishonored and to the dogmatic trope that is boss fights.

Actually, your last one is wrong. It should be:

This week Shawn, Julian, Elysium and Charlie talk XCOM, Dishonored and the dogmatic trope that is boss fights.

Which I would have let go except you had to be anal retentive about typos in the first place, and I'm already in editing mode. So ring the bell, because school's back in.

OR MAYBE IT WAS MIDNIGHT AND I WAS TIRED.

I'm leaving the typos out of spite.

Atta boy.

Certis wrote:

I'm leaving the typos out of spite.

o/\o

A talk about boss fights and no mention of Shadow of the Colossus?

My vote for worst boss fight goes to Star Trek: Voyager Elite Force. It was a pretty good FPS, but the final boss fight was just you shooting at a big bad with absolutely no feedback as to how you were doing. It lasted so long that I thought it was bugged. Finally, the boss died and the game ended with the obligatory cut scene.

Just now listening to the episode. You guys are really selling me on XCOM! More so than any of the published reviews I've read.

Now that is a good point. I still wish more games would use Shadow of the Colossus for big giant bosses instead of the typical Devil May Cry/Bayonetta fashion of "Wait for weak point to get close, hack and slash the sh*t out of it, then quick time event".

Aristophan wrote:

A talk about boss fights and no mention of Shadow of the Colossus?

So true. I really need to get the PS3 release and play this again. Never finished.

I also loved the boss fights in the Metroid Prime series. I might be a lone voice for that, though.

Also a question, the talk about XCOM's tactical play reminds me a lot of Fallout Tactics. Is it a pretty close comparison?

Demiurge wrote:
Aristophan wrote:

A talk about boss fights and no mention of Shadow of the Colossus?

So true. I really need to get the PS3 release and play this again. Never finished.

I also loved the boss fights in the Metroid Prime series. I might be a lone voice for that, though.

It's been a long time so I can only recall a few, but I enjoyed most of them as well. I think a lot of people remember the Omega Pirate, though, which for some reason seems to have gotten a lot of people stuck for a while (which is funny, because in hindsight I want to kick my high-school self for not getting the gimmick).

But I also enjoyed them on Normal mode. When you get to Hard mode where everything has double health and you know the gimmick, it's not really more challenging. It's just a longer fight, and that's annoying.

Spite typos are the best typos.

ccesarano wrote:

Actually, I was quite fond of a number of the Arkham City boss battles, but I may be alone in that one.

Not at all. The Mister Freeze boss battle was excellent, I thought. It was a classic example of scaffolding, where you gradually remove supports and force the learner (in this case, player) to use alternative strategies. In that fight, Freeze removes Batman's abilities one by one so that you have to succeed using different combinations of skills. I find that incredibly satisfying, since it's a much better test of my growing mastery than shooting at glowing red dots.

EDIT: Forgot to add — I wrote about boss battles a while back, using the awful final boss battle of Resident Evil 5 as a hook.

Demiurge wrote:

So ring the bell, because school's back in.

Certis wrote:

OR MAYBE IT WAS MIDNIGHT AND I WAS TIRED.

School bells at midnight, and havoc-wreaked grammar to boot? You guys are either in your cups, or just strange.

TheHipGamer wrote:
Demiurge wrote:

So ring the bell, because school's back in.

Certis wrote:

OR MAYBE IT WAS MIDNIGHT AND I WAS TIRED.

School bells at midnight, and havoc-wreaked grammar to boot? You guys are either in your cups, or just strange.

Why can't it be both?

kincher skolfax wrote:

Not at all. The Mister Freeze boss battle was excellent, I thought.

Definitely. A high point of Arkham City. The final boss, however, was lame.

Demiurge wrote:
TheHipGamer wrote:
Demiurge wrote:

So ring the bell, because school's back in.

Certis wrote:

OR MAYBE IT WAS MIDNIGHT AND I WAS TIRED.

School bells at midnight, and havoc-wreaked grammar to boot? You guys are either in your cups, or just strange.

Why can't it be both?

Isn't it always?

Demiurge wrote:
Aristophan wrote:

A talk about boss fights and no mention of Shadow of the Colossus?

So true. I really need to get the PS3 release and play this again. Never finished.

I also loved the boss fights in the Metroid Prime series. I might be a lone voice for that, though.

I'll join in the lonely chorus with you. I loved the Metroid Prime boss battles.

No mention of Shadow of the Collosus is indeed sad, as is a lack of love for Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, where you will find no less than 20 terrific boss battles (along with a few bad-average ones).

In fact, Demon's Souls has quite possibly the best boss battle ever created in the Old Monk of World 3. When I was methodically progressing through this zone for the first time, I put down my blue stone (which allows me to be summoned into another world as a co-op partner) so that I could traverse this new zone with another player that might be able to show me the ropes a bit.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I had been summoned as the final boss for that zone! I repeat: I was the boss. My opponent could not go to YouTube, read a wiki, or ask a friend how to defeat me. He did not know my equipment or abilities. He did not know if my play style was glass cannon mage or in-yo face ninja. He just had to play the game and use the knowledge that he had gained thus far to best me in 1v1 combat.

He lost, as did I during my first try at this boss. I have killed the Old Monk 4 times. It was dreadfully easy two of those times, but I was still terrified going into those fights, because both of them could just as likely have been an excellent player there to invade my world and destroy me. This fight fits perfectly into the narrative and mechanics of the game, and it is just one small example of why the Souls games will be amongst the most important and influential of this generation. /hyperbole off (but not really)

Also, the Tower Knight fight is rad.

I think the most important thing about the kickstarter topic that wasn't mentioned was that (with regards to 10% of the target audience kickstarting the game):

That's 10% of your potential audience that have paid for the game to be developed. That's 90% potential of pure profit as opposed to 100% of making money to pay off debts and investments with maybe some profit on top - especially in the publisher model...

Dyni wrote:

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I had been summoned as the final boss for that zone! I repeat: I was the boss.

That's absolutely brilliant -- but what does the game do if it can't find another player?

Is "crunchy" the new "at the end of the day"?

I think we say "and" quite a bit.

misplacedbravado wrote:
Dyni wrote:

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I had been summoned as the final boss for that zone! I repeat: I was the boss.

That's absolutely brilliant -- but what does the game do if it can't find another player?

There is an NPC version that has it's own standard attack patterns and abilities. This is the boss you fight if you play in offline mode. I have never fought an NPC version. Playing these games in offline mode diminishes so much about what makes them great. Do not recommend.

Quoting misplacedbravado
"That's absolutely brilliant -- but what does the game do if it can't find another player?"

It only pulls a player if one is available online at the time that another online player reaches that boss fight, otherwise they're basically fighting against any other AI controlled Black Phantom. That's not saying that it's easier, just AI instead.

It's an interesting mechanic that really surprised me the first time I saw it happen. I'd like to see it done more often.