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Are end of level boss battles still needed in game design?

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by Arowx, Jan 6, 2015.

  1. Arowx

    Arowx

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    Are end of level boss battles still needed in game design?

    My understanding is a game should be a fun but challenging/engaging experience that matches the players ability and if done correctly the player 'Surfs' through progressively harder waves ideally getting into a flow state.

    But should the level end or last wave be a tsunami or boss battle?

    Or have you played a game where you managed to flow through the boss battle?
     
  2. JoeStrout

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    I think there's psychological value in having the difficulty vary. For example, a lot of well-designed puzzle games periodically have a harder puzzle, followed by several easy ones. The idea is that you get a bigger challenge which you have to work harder to beat, and get a greater sense of accomplishment for clearing. And then you get a bit of a break to recuperate. If the challenges were all hard, many players would conclude the game is just too much work and give up on it.

    Boss battles serve the same purpose, I think. They're not necessary, but without them I think you would need some other means of varying the difficulty.

    Personally, I don't buy that the goal is for players to "surf" or "flow" through a game — you want to engage them, which means mixing things up and keeping them on their toes. But on the other hand, I'm not one of those designers or players who believes that difficult == fun.

    To paraphrase Mr. Miyagi: Balance good, game good, everything good. Balance bad, might as well pack up go home.
     
  3. TonyLi

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    Dramatic structure! (jagged rising and falling action, eventually reaching the climax, which is the boss battle, or the big decision in other games) Jesse Schell talks about this a bit in his book, The Art of Game Design.
     
  4. Gigiwoo

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    Failure is important. It impacts flow, motivation, and the Interest Curve. So, boss battles are still relevant, whether they are easy, medium, or impossibly difficult.

    Food for thought - Candy Crush would be less successful without the periodic 'impossible' levels.

    Gigi
     
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  5. BrandyStarbrite

    BrandyStarbrite

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    Boss battles make alot of games interesting! :D
    Not all levels need an end of level boss though.
    And not all games need one.

    But:
    Take Metroid Prime one, on Gamecube as an example.
    The magmoor caverns was a "Hot," and a very cool stage. :eek:
    Retro Studios had planned on making a end level boss for that stage.
    But due to a tight shedule, had to cancel that idea. :oops:
    After gamers beat that Metroid Prime game so many times.........
    They posted on the Nintendo forums that they wish that, that lava Stage had a end level boss creature.
    Because the magmoor caverns stage, felt incomplete without one. :D
    I agree.

    So yeah,.......................in some cases like this one, it may be relevant.
    It also depends on the type of game you are making too.
     
  6. Tomnnn

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    That game was a masterpiece. I've got several saves on my gamecube with it that all ran out the game timer lol. The environments and exploration are beyond amazing. And speaking of bosses, if you explore the phazon mines you can discover a secret boss :)
     
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  7. Aiursrage2k

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    Boss battles are usually the most interesting part of the game.
     
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  8. Zaladur

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    Proper pacing makes everything better, and combat is no different. You need periods of ease to feel like you are talented and powerful, and periods of difficulty to feel challenged and gain satisfaction from your victories. Lost either one and you remove a great deal of satisfaction from the player.

    The 'boss battle' doesn't always need to be a traditional boss, but having difficulty climaxes and lulls throughout the game is almost always a good thing.
     
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  9. puppeteer

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    One of the most memorable parts of a game for me are the boss battles. It's actually sad that there are less of them these days. especially in FPS games. They just wrap up a level in such a way that makes it memorable for the players ( If the boss is good, that is ).

    Having a swarm of enemies as the "final boss" is actually a lazy way developers choose these days when they are out of time/budget IMO. Nothing beats a good end-level-boss to finish up a good level.

    Just for the nostalgia :D
     
  10. RockoDyne

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    As a pacing mechanism, they work alright to capstone a level and finish it off in a crescendo. At this point though, I'm prone to say that not every level needs a boss.

    Most of my notion has to do with modern level design. For one, what now defines a "level" is debatable. When seamless worlds became the norm, the difference between "levels" was the tree textures changed hue a bit. The idea of a level as a clearly distinguishable segment of space that maintains it's own internal pacing is antiquated.

    Another issue is capping a level with a boss at the end is pretty repetitive. It's pretty easy to start seeing trends four or five levels in that each level is going to start in diminuendo and linearly ramp up to the climax at the boss. It's too easy of a pattern to fall into, where the pacing of a level ends up taking over the pacing of the game as a whole. I would be willing to bet that more people could make a better paced game with thirteen levels and five bosses, than thirteen levels and thirteen bosses.
     
  11. beige

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    Is a boss needed for every level? no. not at all. there are many very successful games out there that don't use bosses as the cap of every level.

    what is needed, in my opinion, is some form of dynamic difficulty structure, which bosses usually are, but there are other ways of achieving that. interesting or intense sequences of game play can achieve the same effect, as can - oddly - taking a step back and a smoother slope for a bit of a breather, then hitting back full force again.

    another perk to mixing it up is that any boss encounters in the game will be more memorable, rather than feeling like a given one is going to jump on you at any moment.
     
  12. AndrewGrayGames

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    I think historically, bosses have been used as sort of 'tests' for players - how well do you know [insert mechanic in your game here]? If you're skillful enough, you may pass. The problem I see with this, is it isn't always necessary, and after a while gets boring and repetitive...you know, the same way tests in school do.

    What I like is actually the way Bravely Default uses bosses - quite a few of the bosses teach you new mechanics, in all possible ways. The Eternian Forces hold special gems called 'Asterisks' which let you use a particular job. Of course, they won't just give you their asterisk; the party gets put in a brutal fight to the death for a new Asterisk. In these boss battles, the Eternians use some of the basic abilties of their class on you, which you have to figure out how to work around; for instance, the Summoner (who routinely kicks my butt) will attack, but periodically summon the basic 'summoned creature' (read: powerful, MP-costly spell that hits all enemies) for massive, terrible, terrible burst damage. Upon defeating a boss, you can start to use (and level up) their character class on your characters. Because different classes are biased to different general tactics, and a great deal of the game relies on the player finding effective synergies, this radically changes the game.

    This also leads to the player needing to "discover" new tactics on the fly. For instance, against the Summoner boss, at full HP you probably have enough HP to survive one casting of Girtabulu. You need to find a way to heal to full immediately, or you're going to lose the battle. In this way, I think a good boss can fulfill the role of a good tutorial - by having a clear challenge, and clear points of failure, we can teach our player the skills they need to win our games. That's a powerful thought.
     
  13. This_Game_Lags

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    This question is absurd. Not all games have boss battles. The question is aggressive. Are you attempting to abolish boss battles?

    Conclusion: If you don't want boss battles in your games, don't design them into your game.
     
  14. Kiwasi

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    If you have levels you should have boss battles near the end. If you have quests you should have a boss to finish it off.

    There is a valid debate as to weather games should be structured around levels or quests.
     
  15. imaginaryhuman

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    I think the reason bosses exist is to balance out the non-bosses. ie there's a reason why the regular fodder are smaller and less capable, it's so that there can be a contrast against the big ones. Also this made me think of music, how there can be swells of emotion and intensity and then pulling back again, gradually building up to a peak near the end. It also I think has to do with energy and what's happening with the player's emotions.. they gradually fight through stuff which wasn't too challenging and the challenge gets harder and more intense, their feelings get intense, and erupt in the big battle, then there is a RELEASE of all that tension and a sense of relief.... and you kind of can't have things getting intenes (tense) without that relief to contrast it. If I imagine a big long endless level where things just get harder and harder and there is no break and no rhythm and everything just gets worse and worse, those can be kind of.... one-dimensional and repetitive in a certain relativistic way. When there are hills and valleys and extremes, I think it's a more interesting adventure. A rollercoaster ride. It makes for `drama`. How you symbolize that in the game I guess is up to you. Like others said, the boss battles are often the most fun because they're the most intense and difficult but have the biggest reward.
     
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  16. imaginaryhuman

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    "Let there be spaces in your togetherness" - Kahlil Gibran

    ie a game is not just about what is crammed into it, but also about the spaces between those things.... room to breathe, contrast.
     
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  17. AndrewGrayGames

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    The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran, right? Excellent epic poetry. Mom got me that when I was 10, and I still read it every now and again. Most insightful book I own.
     
  18. imaginaryhuman

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  19. Pyronide

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    Personally, I believe that bosses aren't always needed like most people have been saying. I think it depends on the game. Some need and some don't. What I do believe though is that the games that use bosses shouldn't just be put in for the sake of having a stronger enemy. They should be put there to not only make a player think outside of the box, but to also help change pace of the game.

    Like most people are saying, there should be ups and downs in climactic experience, but not in the form of waves of endless enemies or just an extremely powerful one. I think they are the same thing. The bosses should do something else to the player. In a game, like Bravely Default, you are shown and taught something else. Other games the bosses are a test in order to see if the player remembers the mechanics of the level. Sometimes its four mini bosses that have a key to open a main door to the next room.

    I also think that not all bosses need to be an increase in tension. What if there is an increased wave of enemies just before a simple boss as the reward. It would have to more depend on story in order to be understood, but it is something that I have been thinking about for a while now. I would be interested in what people think of that...
     
  20. Deon-Cadme

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    Do you need a boss at the end of each level? No
    Are bosses even required in games? No
    Do a boss make sense in your game? Maybe

    What is even a boss?

    A boss typically serves a purpose in good game design. It can be anything from a special level to a special enemy. Your method of defeating him can be interaction, resources or attacks. They don't even have to appear in a linear fashion, they can be spread out all over the place... some close to each other and others far apart.

    The extra difficult levels in Candy Crush function as a time sink and as a motivation for the player to purchase power-ups. Metal Gear bosses served mostly as the end of each chapter of the story and was thus spread unevenly across the game. Ocarina of Time had bosses that served as a confirmation to the player that he had cleared an area and so on... Anyone remember Fallout? The final boss could be defeated in different ways, you could even talk it to death ;) Or the Castlevania games where you can typically access several bosses at the same time, it is up to you to figure out which one you got the best chance of defeating at this moment. Hmm... We also got Evolve and L4D where the players are the bosses :)

    This is just a few examples of how bosses can be flavored and you should consider your game and the audience when you balance the difficulty. There are different type of players, some love to explore, some are there for the story, others love insane fights. Some wants it easy while other wants something to bit into. You can add difficulty settings to cover a bigger audience but that can also backfire because some people will feel like poor players when they enter the game at "easy" and have a negative, first impression while the oblivious hardcore crowd can start claiming that the "insane" option is how the game was meant to be played and the rest of the settings was meant for cry-babies...

    Who is it that will be attracted to your game? How much time do they have? What kind of difficulty do they enjoy? How do they prefer to interact with your game? How does challenges in general make sense in your game? What is the reason for the increased difficulty?

    You got a good start at creating an awesome boss if you can explain the reason why the boss was added, how he adds something and know your audience.
     
  21. hippocoder

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    You guys break it down to mechanics *way too much* and forget the most essential thing of all: boss battles are fun.
     
  22. Gigiwoo

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    What is this 'fun'? I know not of what you speak. ;)
    Gigi
     
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  23. Deon-Cadme

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    Depends on the players
     
  24. RockoDyne

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    And tacos are tasty, but that doesn't really help to explain anything about them.
     
  25. hippocoder

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    If you need it explained inside out, you're not going to do it.

    Fun isn't a spreadsheet. It's something you learn by experience alone.
     
  26. goat

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    Depends on the context really but it typically expected and helps to have one major protagonist and one major antagonist, aka good vs evil.
     
  27. RockoDyne

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    I wouldn't hold it against any chef who would walk out of the kitchen and bitch slap someone for trying to order "something tasty." You're talking about a term that is a subjective amalgam of emotions and feelings that span across an entire spectrum as if it's concrete and quantifiable in measurable units.

    It's a completely meaningless term and has no value, yet it's held aloft as the poster child of what games strive to be. Just the fact you pulled the experience card shows you haven't got a clue how it works, just that is magically can.
     
  28. hippocoder

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    Alright.

    Experience means you need to try. Every game is so dramatically different that what is fun for one game turns out pretty crappy for the next. This is why you need experience. Experience doesn't mean 30 years of whatever, it means you need to try different things and learn from your experience.

    If I was to point out to you that a game where you painstakingly put parts together was fun, you might not agree. But a lot of people playing kerbal space program have a hell of a lot of fun. Likewise if I was to mention that there's a game with a couple of cubes you can move, and it's great fun you might look at me as if I had two heads. But Thomas Was Alone is a lot of fun. Fun for each game changes, therefore you need to try things, and benefit from that experience.

    The boss question is no different: it will *always* be a different answer for each game. You can't make a rule for this, and can only learn from the experience of trying out bosses in your game, and seeing how it feels. Being iterative is the key here, and learning from your experimentation. Naughty dog spent a year with very little actual work on one of the Uncharted games, purely because they didn't know what was fun. They needed try all sorts of things until they hit on it. We're talking about expert developers here, requiring a year of experience to figure it out.

    This is why I think your comment is poor, at best.
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2015
  29. Kiwasi

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    And yet every good chef has a concept of tasty is, and will not let anything leave the kitchen until it is tasty.

    You have two options with games and fun. You can hire a team of psychologists to analyse every aspect of your game. Or you can prototype and play test. In most cases play testing is cheaper and more effective.

    Back to the topic at hand, make a prototype. Take your favourite combat based game, and remove the boss elements. Make the enemy difficulty curve dead flat. See if this is fun.
     
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  30. RockoDyne

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    You're talking about an abstract concept as if it's absolute. Worse yet, you're just shy of turning into a disney character who offers the young'uns the advice of "just follow your heart."

    Fun has no definite, agreed upon characteristics, save for maybe joy, and even that is hard to peg down. By that logic, the only game I've ever found fun had me rolling S*** into a ball as I sang along with the stupid(ly awesome) music.

    Just think about this, what does calling something fun actually tell you? If you ask someone what they liked about the game, and they say it was fun, have they told you anything of value? Unless you were in a self-congratulatory mood, I'm going to imagine it probably wasn't that helpful because they haven't even begun to address any why, what, and how of what they liked. All they said was they liked it. Now if the point is making something well liked, there is a F***ton more you can do beyond "making it fun."

    Any good chef will understand the concept of palettes, most importantly, that everyone's are radically different. Chances are any chef who went through school will know that their palette has been so screwed up that what they like isn't even serviceable to most people.
     
  31. Kiwasi

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    We are talking about selling games here. Games are brought entirely through "just follow your heart". People buy games they enjoy. So playtest with a bunch of people, and grab whatever your playtesters' collective hearts want to follow.

    Making an absolute definition of fun is definitely a valid way to design a game. Civilisation did this formally with "Fun is a series of interesting decisions" They then proceeded to build there game around that. You can easily come up with a definition of fun for other games.

    Limiting your scope by providing a working definition of what fun can certainly help refine your game concept dramatically.
     
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  32. RockoDyne

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    Pretty useless when you're trying to figure out what other people mean when they say fun though.

    Why yes, I do sound like an asshole when you're talking about experiencing the game, and not being a grey(neck) beard.

    Still, fun is useless for diagnosing. The best feedback is specific and not always positive. Not all negatives are actually bad. A lot of AAA games clearly show that they were scared to death of anyone saying any part of it might have been boring. They don't dare to change up the pacing and/or have the mood change, because their focus testing showed them exactly what people like and will strive to deliver exactly that for forty straight hours. People don't know when they need quiet time, and often may not even like it, but it usually makes for a better experience.

    Trying to boil a huge concept like pacing and balance down to just making it fun seems to be at least a disservice. If you don't actually understand pacing, the idea that less fun can actually make the game more fun won't make any sense.
     
  33. AndrewGrayGames

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    I bet it tastes like alligator.
     
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  34. hippocoder

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    @RockoDyne - I guess it's your thing to go out of your way to try and be obnoxious. I wonder if this will be the sort of game you make - assuming you finish anything worthwhile that is.

    All you are doing is belittling practically every successful indie developer in the world. You think these guys boiled it down to facts and numbers, or do you think they just had a game in their heart, and tried to make it as fun as they could by trying different things?
     
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  35. AndrewGrayGames

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    @hippocoder - Thank you!

    Games are just like software (above and beyond being software) in one key way - Games and Software are both trades. There's elements of both art and science in the creation and analysis of these two strongly related things. You need a creative vision just as much as you need an understanding of the underlying theory to succeed. You need passion just as much as you need measured experimentation and observation. You need to design for tolerance for failure, as well as in pursuit of perfectly recreating a vision. And that's before you get to the business side, where your vision needs to be congruent to others' expectations, your vision needs a clear process to be realized, and your vision needs to pay off for someone, somehow.

    I keep seeing a lot of arguments any time anyone brings up mathematics underlying games, or the science stuff, or holding a relevant degree on any related subject. While it is true that a degree can be the least relevant thing under certain circumstances (it involves the holder having chronic failures of imagination, or reasoning), these are not useless, yet I keep seeing people who most often haven't even released a crappy game going on about how any degree of intellectual fortitude is - to them - useless for creating a game, those of us who have at least some and have finished something be damned.

    The good news, as you point out, is it's a self-correcting issue; said parrots will almost certainly fail to create anything, and eventually get burnt out, and go on to hopefully succeed at something else. The bad news is it spreads misinformation about what goes into a game, even a crappy one. You need both heart and mind, they are not mutually exclusive.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2015
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  36. imaginaryhuman

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    I sort of agree with hippocoder, boss battles are fun. Sometimes games don't have enough of those... sort of a `big fight` that's challenging and usually bosses have extra detail in terms of their `parts` that move and do things independently, or AI that's more sophisticated, which adds to the fun and variety that they present. I guess people just want to have more engagement with more variety?
     
  37. hippocoder

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    Yeah sure - I don't think theory is a bad thing, but all too often, artists worry about having the precise correct pencil, or the perfect paint package, or the best calibration when learning, when really they just need to get on with it.

    But ultimately, games and art share the same thing: they're very creative things and a game without heart is a game nobody can love.
     
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  38. RockoDyne

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    If the idea of game design ends up only being trial and error, you might as well just burn the forum down since there isn't much point in discussing anything when no games could possibly share elements other than being "fun."

    There are solid, definable concepts here. Hell, most of them come from storytelling and are older than feudalism. These are the tools you use to create something, and if you don't know how to use them, you'll never reach the destination because you will only being spinning your wheels.
     
  39. Philip-Rowlands

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    I'd say it depends on the size of the levels and the bosses. For instance, a boss at the end of every level in Super Mario would have been too frequent, whereas one at the end of a stage helped to mark the boundary between stages. Another example would be bandit chiefs in various ruins in Skyrim: they start off as mini-bosses at lower levels, but as you become more powerful, they become just another bandit.
     
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  40. imaginaryhuman

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    Best quote of the day :)
     
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  41. AndrewGrayGames

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    Signa-quoted.
     
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  42. ANTMAN0079

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    Wow. I really like how this thread almost broke down because someone goes with the 'FUN' concept. I kind of argue how 'FUN' isn't a concept because concepts are either understood or not. But every living thing understands 'FUN'. However the moderator and those who agree with him (including myself) are ultimately right. Anything creative is subjectively enjoyed/disliked and you won't know that unless you actually experience it. In the case of boss battles being 'needed', how would any developer know this without making the boss battles in the first place?
     
  43. Aiursrage2k

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    If your making an old school beat'em up you know that at the end of the stage you'll need to have a boss battle without adding one. If your making a cake you know you need these ingredients and now we can simply mass produce cakes.

    We will always have master chefs but its only a matter of time until you'll be able to buy a build my game and enter in the parameters and it will auto-generate a game for you.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2015
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  44. RockoDyne

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    The real problem I have is notions of fun are conflated with notions of quality. The argument is if a game is fun then it's good, with the reverses also true that good games are fun and that non-fun games are bad. It's a purely escapist judgement of games that sees their value only through their ability to keep people from being bored. By this track, Apocalypse Now and Spec Ops: The Line are mediocre at best since neither really cares about the audience/player having fun.

    Another irritation is that everything that someone likes is pigeonholed into being fun. The justifications for why horror is fun is always a topic, because, for whatever reason, people seem to have to validate something they like as being fun. A personal example is I like being sad. I love melancholy and reflections on existentiality. Yet I see no reason whatsoever to rationalize what I like to fit into fun, and thankfully I live in a world with Bastion, Transistor, and Majora's Mask to cater to my love of somber mindfuckery.

    Thing is, replace every use of fun on the page with interesting or engaging, and I'll probably agree with it. The term itself is just so bloated with meanings that its use carries tons of baggage.
     
  45. ANTMAN0079

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    Yeah... right. Rocko, have 'fun' arguing about why you enjoy things. If someone asks you why and then you proceed to argue about why you don't need to explain this (along with trying to substitute the use of the word 'fun' with something else - which in my opinion is a cop out), then you're the one with the problem.

    If you ask a 5 yr old why something is fun, they'll usually give you an answer within 5 seconds. However, they will never tell you that they don't have to explain it OR refuse to answer the questions OR refuse to equate things to being 'fun' because they don't like the word anymore. It just seems like you don't like the word 'fun' because it makes you seem less mature ... even though you just used the words "my love of" to describe enjoying a feeling. I don't think that's mature at all (love is for living things) but I'm not going to argue about that either.

    "Graphs are fun, kids"
     
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  46. Kiwasi

    Kiwasi

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    I think everyone else is employing a broader definition of fun. In the context of games fun simply means you will keep coming back to the activity by choice.
     
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  47. RockoDyne

    RockoDyne

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    So skinner boxes are fun and not horribly manipulative then? And gambling addiction is wholesome?
     
  48. Kiwasi

    Kiwasi

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    Who said fun was wholesome? That's why we have the term wholesome fun. To distinguish it from unwholesome fun.

    My defenition is a little board. Perhaps a better thing to say then games must be fun is that people must want to play them. In many cases that's because they are fun.
     
  49. hippocoder

    hippocoder

    Digital Ape

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    Fun simply means you are enjoying something. I'm quite sure everyone understands that.

    dictionary.com provides the following:

    noun
    1.
    something that provides mirth or amusement:
    A picnic would be fun.

    2.
    enjoyment or playfulness:
    She's full of fun.


    So we can see that if a boss battle provides mirth, amusement, enjoyment or playfulness then it's probably a good idea to have a boss in the game. If it doesn't provide those much, then it's either a bad boss or not really suited for the game. I would say fun is pretty much the ideal definition and used correctly.
     
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  50. RockoDyne

    RockoDyne

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    So when you defeated Sif for the first time, killing that adorable fuzzball that was only trying to protect the memory of his beloved master Artorias's grave, were you just giddy and full of merriment and glee, or did you feel like a total asshole?

    What about in Shadow of the Colossus where most of the colossi are either passive or acting purely out of self-defense? Or was the sport of it all that you cared about, and ignored the fact that you seem to be trying to bring a dead chick back to life by killing guardians that might just be there sealing up an earth shattering evil?

    If you still think it was just fun, then I'll seriously have to consider if I'm discussing this with people who have the situational awareness of five year old's. The gaming market is more than children. It's been that way for over two decades. It's possible to make a good game that isn't just fun, might even be a market for it.