Boss Fights: A Response to Mike Rugnetta

Mike Rugnetta of PBS Idea Channel asked in his latest video about Boss Fights what people thought about… well, boss fights. In games, specifically. In reality, he asked two questions:

  1. What are Boss fights (to you?) and what do they do?
  2. What about games without Boss Fights? Or adversity at all?

Before I start drunkenly answering these questions, you might want to go check out the video for yourselves. Click the link to watch it, then come back; I promise this post isn’t going anywhere.


Alright, welcome back. Let’s talk bosses! Or at least let me blow smoke up your respective asses about bosses!

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He’s listening…

Boss fights are, popularly, a test of the skills you have learned. Traditionally, boss fights are staged, closed off skill checks that require a certain amount of mastery over skills learned over the course of a game. Some games test recently acquired skills; a perfect example of this can be found in the more recent Legend of Zelda games, where the means to defeating a boss is found within the dungeon preceding it.

In these kinds of games, the boss fight is very much a licensing test, where the dungeon is a training course and defeating the boss is proof enough for the developers that a player has mastered the item, and can be counted on to figure out when and how to use it.

In other games (Enter the Gungeon comes to mind, simply because I’ve played/watched it a lot), Bosses are a pure test of in-game skill. The items you’ve acquired and progress you’ve made during a playthrough will make a boss fight easier, no doubt; but if you’re garbage at dodge rolling, you’re still going to hit the ground hard enough to make a 6 foot deep crater.

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More or less; depends on how you died.

In these games, the skills required to beat the game are typically given right at the start, and each progressive boss simply ramps up the difficulty, either by increasing the number of threatening situations or limiting the room for errors, which forces a player to hone their skill to the point where the boss can be defeated.

Boss fights aren’t necessarily one singular entity, though; in Devil Daggers, for instance, there is one boss in the game, somewhere so far into a run that under 2% of all players have ever seen it. Every other “boss” moment is either the introduction of new enemy types, which quickly become a regular and terrifyingly numerous occurrence, or a suddenly large wave of enemies to combat all at once. Moments like these are still tests, but without all the drama of a big baddy. The idea is that, once these moments are mastered, future parts of the game can be accessed and played better, leading to further boss moments.

All of this, however, requires “buy in” from the player, and this is where the second question kicks in. Can games without adversity still have boss fights?

My short answer is ‘yes,’ they can, if we look at boss fights from a different point of view.

Broken down to its essentials, a boss fight in most games is a payout for the gradual structured rise in tension brought on from mounting difficulty and more complex game mechanics. The rising difficulty of challenges designed to make players figure out how to use the bow and arrow in Ocarina of Time’s Forest Temple climaxes with the shadow Ganon fight at the very end of the ordeal. This moment only feels like a proper boss fight so long as the player understands that this moment, this fight, is the ultimate skill check before the reward the player knows is coming; they’re accustomed to having their reward at the end, damnit. In addition, the boss fight itself, being a spike in difficulty, earns its “boss” status in part because of the incredible difficulty spike.

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Now with 2 times the murder!

In short, change and conflict create the emotional buy-in from the player necessary to give it the oomph required of a boss fight. Good boss fights are tough, but not too tough, and you won’t find them in the middle of a section of gameplay (unless it is a “mini” boss, a fight only significant enough to break up the steady pacing of a dungeon and create a mid-point for the player to reference how far along they’ve come).

In non-adversity games the question becomes “how do you create tension when mechanics and mounting difficulty are non-issues?” Unlike more mechanically focused games, where story telling and narrative can help but are ultimately not necessary for building the tension to create a boss fight moment, narrative games create the tension required of “boss” moments through writing and story.

Journey, for example, creates powerful, beautiful moments where the player is invited to experience the adventures of their pilgrim; sand-surfing, for instance, or the terrifying crossing where you have to avoid the large, mechanical snakes lest they… do something.

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Look, don’t ask questions here, I don’t want to know.

Point is, all of these emotions and thoughts the player brings with them start to stack one atop the other in a big, unstable, tension piled mess. When the player reaches the final moments of the pilgrim’s journey, the payoff is palpable; nerves, hope for survival, and the desperate chanting of “come on, you can make it!..” These feelings are practically the same as a boss fight, where instead of the payoff coming from beating a difficult check of abilities learned, payoff comes from narrative resolution from a character overcoming the issues facing them through story and presentation.

At the heart of both of these ideas is one of conflict, and its resolution. Boss fights are just big conflicts; and if there’s one thing that good stories do to the exclusion of all else, it’s conflict and the resolution of them. Instead of boss “fights” you have boss “moments” but in the end, both kinds of games have bosses to cross, moments of gameplay where a player invested in a game will find the same kind of feeling and weight from either one.

I found a thing: Link’s Awakening Medley (The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening) | Jazz Cover

So I’m surfing YouTube. Pretty normal stuff, I do it every day; however, today wasn’t every day. There’s a lot of crap on YouTube (including yours truly), but today I found something really unique and special.
Link’s Awakening Medley (The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening) | Jazz Cover

There’s something about Link’s Awakening. A lot of my love for it is nostalgia, no doubt, but there’s more to it. In a game about adventure, Link’s Awakening also happens to be tender, thoughtful, and heart breaking at different moments, all of this in a game from 1993. All the trademarks for a Zelda game are present; it certainly follows the formula future Zelda games would tire out like a worn shoe. Comfortable and surprisingly so; in need of a new pair down the line.

The music formed a major part of the game for me. Something I can happily say is that the cover I’ve linked to above does the music justice. Reinvention, through jazz, in such a way that it is creative and artistic without compromising the roots of the game’s melodies.

It’s absolutely worth mentioning that insaneintherainmusic is a fantastic arranger as well, and the solo artist here. Incredible talent and, I’m positive about this, a crazy amount of hard work goes into every video he’s made. I would definitely check out his other covers; he understands music in a way I never will, and it’s wonderful to listen to.

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The Face Shrine


Beware: I’m going to be going into spoiler territory for this game. Yes, it’s really old, but it’s an amazing story with a really cool reveal and if you want to experience it for yourself, I would suggest playing the game first. Ye have been warned.


250px-links_awakening_us_boxartIn my down time I’ve had the pleasure of being able to replay one of the most important games in my life: Link’s Awakening DX. I bought it on the virtual console for my 3DS, and it has been a great experience revisiting Koholint island. Link’s Awakening is the first game I ever played in my life, and it’s one of the few games that I can pick up more than a decade later and still remember. It’s like muscle memory, running through the dungeons, beating the nightmares, and getting all the little secrets I found out as a kid with the added bonus of, you know, not being an idiot and finding the rest of them.

The thing is, the game itself has one of the best stories in any game I’ve played. While I’ve been playing, I’ve been noticing all the little things that made me, as a kid, feel for the characters and get emotionally invested. By today’s standards, it’s no Brothers or what have you, but it still works really well.

The biggest plot point that caused me to suffer the feels was when the game hinted that the island and everyone on it was a dream of the Wind Fish, a powerful entity asleep at the peak of Mt. Tamaranch. The point of the game was to wake up the Wind Fish to get off the island, but as you went through hints were dropped as to the ultimate fate of the island and the friends you made on it; that should you wake the dreamer, everyone would cease to be. The idea that something could just, not exist, blew my fucking mind as a kid.

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The first time this is very obviously mentioned is when you reach the 6th dungeon, the Face Shrine. The Face Shrine is a two parter, sporting a North Shrine and the South Shrine. To enter the North Shrine where the bulk of the action happens, you need a key from the South Shrine. So, off you go, shooting the living statues that block your way and you find your way into the South Shrine. It’s only 3 rooms long: the usual entrance to start with. You go up, and enter a Mini Boss fight. It’s not too hard and you destroy the monster, earning your key to the North Shrine. But what’s this? A door opens up ahead. Naturally you explore, and find a dimly lit room with an ancient relief in the back. You light the torches, and take a good look at the stone tablet. It reads:

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TO THE FINDER… THE ISLE OF KOHOLINT, IS BUT AN ILLUSION… HUMAN, MONSTER, SEA, SKY… A SCENE ON THE LID OF A SLEEPER’S EYE… AWAKE THE DREAMER, AND KOHOLINT WILL VANISH MUCH LIKE A BUBBLE ON A NEEDLE… CAST-AWAY, YOU SHOULD KNOW THE TRUTH!

Your first thought is what the fuck? Your second one is no way this should be true. You like this island, even if there’s weird shit on it like chain chomps, a yoshi doll, and an anthropomorphic alligator that eats canned dog food. What about Marin, the girl who Link is obviously into and she really likes him? They’ve had heart to hearts, travelled together, and played music together. It’s the first time that Link seemingly has an interest in a relationship, and you’re telling me this shit could be a dream?

So you leave the South Shrine feeling a little bummed out. It’s like someone forced you to watch the Matrix except it you actually care about the characters more than their sense of style. You leave asking if any of it is real, and the music is doing a bang up job of making you feel shitty.

A quick swim and a scamper later, you enter the North Shrine, where the majority of the dungeon is a complex head wrapper. You have to find hidden walls and really use a lot more of your riddle solving skills than usual to solve the dungeon, which is easily the biggest and most difficult to date. It’s mostly because the fucking Wizzrobes eat like, 4 arrows before dying and can easily shit all over you if you’re not careful, or you can stun them and bomb them which meant I blew myself up a lot.

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FUCK THIS

Other highlights include a really weird crystal ball puzzle, a room with stones that form the Hindu god Ganesha (the hindu god of wisdom and knowledge, which is apt here), and a riddle involving the eyes of the dungeon you can only get if you’ve picked up a stone beak and used it on a really out of the way Owl statue.

Enter the space where the eyes have walls…

I’ll come back to that in a minute.

At the end of each dungeon in Link’s Awakening, you face a boss called a Nightmare. Each Nightmare, once beaten, earns you an instrument you use later to wake up the Wind Fish. This one is called Facade, but I prefer the German translation; Demon’s Grimace. Like the punny English name implies, he is a face in the floor who very much wants to kill you. Over the course of the fight he throws floor tiles and pots at you, and once that runs out he starts opening holes all over the ground. You have to bomb his stupid face a bunch of times to win.

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Once you beat him, he says the following:

Okay, listen up! If the Wind Fish wakes up, everything on this island will be gone forever! And I do mean EVERYTHING!

Well shit. I don’t want to trust a monster that just spent it’s last moments trying to kill me, but it looks like Link has to make a choice: escape the island and return to Hyrule, thereby causing the whole island to vanish, or stay on the island and keep living the dream, literally.

face_shrine_mapPlaying it through a second time, you pick up on a couple more things. For instance, you notice that the dungeon layout is Link’s face from the first Legend of Zelda (this kind of obvious dungeon layout stuff isn’t new in the game: Key Cavern was in the shape of two keys, Bottle Grotto was a bottle, Tail Cave had a tail, etc). Part of the dungeon involves figuring out the riddle from earlier about the eyes. The left eye in the dungeon is easy enough: there’s a path that leads right to a spot on the wall you have to bomb, and the Map shows there’s a doorway there. Entering this room shows you the Ganesha tribute in the dungeon. Getting into the right eye took some faith: after unlocking the room right before the eye (which ends up being the mini boss of the dungeon), there’s a small combat and then… it’s an empty room. No indicating markings for anything anywhere. You poke all the walls with your sword to hear the sound it makes because in this game, if you poke a bombable wall, it makes a different ping noise than usual. None of the walls make the unusual ping, so you have to guess that there is a wall you can bomb. Eventually the riddle kicks in and you bomb your way up, and you move forward.

The cool part of the dungeon is how thematic it is from start to finish. The South Shrine has you fighting against statues, but not all the statues you see are enemies. The North Shrine’s Map straight up lies to you and tells you there’s no way into some of the rooms when there is, in fact, a way. Floor tiles, the things you walk on normally, fly up and try to kill you. Wizrobes make their first appearance, as they turn up from nowhere and disappear just as fast.

Appearances are deceiving. Not everything is at it seems. 

When you think about it even having two face shrines makes sense; why two face shrines? Because two-faced is an idiom that literally means ‘untrustworthy.’ At this stage in the game, this dungeon is a perfect story telling tool from a narrative and mechanical standpoint.

The perfect topper to this cake of feels has to do with one dungeon feature. On the right side of the dungeon, there’s a 3 room line of water that runs from north to south. Where is it placed?

Right next to the dungeon’s right eye. Link’s face is literally crying.

I love this fucking game.

Yo Dawg

SlowWolfLogov5-0I’ve been sitting at home recently thinking about how long I’ve had my current logo. It’s a solid logo, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it; however, I’ve been getting an itch.

No, not down there. Don’t go there. That’s inappropriate.

No, I’ve been feeling like it’s time to look into a redesign! Something new, fresh, freaky with the ladies and funky with the monkeys. I Set about making a new wolf logo, and this, this here is what we’ve got.

It’s very basic: no shading, no nothing. It’s also very busy; lots of little things everywhere. There’s a joke about poop in there, but again, inappropriate. Hell, bud, stop it.

What do you guys think? What can I do to change it/make it look good enough to compete with the old one made Kewn himself? You tell me!

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The SlowCast!

For those not in the know, I’m still without the ability to make videos! However, I have found a roundabout way of making a podcast on the channel. The podcast, called the SlowCast, will just be a channel wide thing. It’ll talk about the games I’m playing, things going on at SlowWolf HQ, and just stuff I want to talk about. I’ll also address comments on videos, and add in little things here and there for fun. Contests? Games? Riddles? Who knows!

For starters, here are episode 1 and 2 of the SlowCast!

Episode 1: The First!

Episode 2: Change

Comments
The first big difference between the two episodes is the audio quality. I tried to do the first cast on Audacity: not ideal. Did the second episode on Garageband, and it was much easier to mix and blend. Still not perfect, but loads better!

I uploaded the casts not only to YouTube, but to SoundCloud as well! Click here to listen to them on SoundCloud.

Once I have about 3 episodes up and running I’m going to try to set up iTunes, so you can download them automatically.

That’s about it! In the mean time, if you want content by yours truly, I’m writing a novel for NaNoWriMo (Nation Novel Writing Month) which is being posted on my other blog. Click here to start reading! There are 5 parts, 10k words, at the time of this writing, and it’s a Sci-Fi thriller (or attempt at one).

That’s it for now. Take it easy :3

-W.

No net, not yet

As I sit down crouched low over my coffee, I pull my collar up to the cold, damp stares of the library. At least, that’s what I’d like to think I’m doing.

Actually I’ve used a library card and everything, have now borrowed this computer for 1 hour and 15 minutes, and can now update people on what’s up. Not a spy novel I’m afraid, and I’m rather terrible at writing them. Tried once. Won’t post again.

I am currently in the UK and have been for about… a week? and a day? So far whatever work I have done has been great, but I’ve had to sit it out for a bit because of issues involving passports and such. As much as I’d like to tell you I’m writing this from behind bars, in a prison where I’ve earned my spot in a place a silence and reflection, a lone wolf to never be bothered… truth is I’ve been doing a lot of running and NuclearThrone to pass the time. So  much NT in fact that I am actually proficient with the gamepad.

Hopefully I will have internet up in a week or so. Once that happens, videos will be up as per usual.

So no net; not yet. And as thrilling it would be to tell you that I now have to run or the people on my tail will catch me, to only be caught up with and have a wicked action scene in downtown Ilford, I’ll have to settle with ‘I really wanted to check Facebook.’

-W.

Moving Day

Some people might have been wondering what happened to me these past couple of weeks?

“This SlowWolf guy makes a wicked awesome video (which you can watch again here) and then barely uploads anything at all, just a bunch of Nuclear Throne stuff, which he sucks at. What the ^$%#?” is probably what you’re thinking. Dear reader, I am sorry for the lack of everything. I truly have failed the world. The sky hangs by a thread, and the reckoning is coming.

Or, most anyone stopped giving a $#^% and went about their daily lives. Either or, no big deal yo.

Regardless of what people thought, the reason for my being quiet lately is because… well… I’m moving.

For those not in the know, I went to teacher’s college and graduated this year from it. I’ve been looking for a steady paycheque, and having found none in my own country I staked a last ditch attempt at a job in the UK. Like some Hollywood movie with magical cats that grant wishes, I got a job in the land of the posh and the home of the queen within a week of applying for it, and the past couple of weeks have been a crazy roller-coaster attempting to get everything together for an intercontinental move.

Intercontinental: a word that sounds more like I have bowel issues than a distance, but I digress.

Point is, I’ve had to move, and as a result… the desktop I used to record from regularly has been left behind due to its size. It’s just me and Iris (my Dell Laptop) again, just like old times. Old times that, in hindsight, were frustrating ones indeed.

Recording will be more difficult, videos harder to create, and the content will probably still flow just as easily as before (read: incontinent). Poop jokes aside, I’m hoping my job will allow me to upgrade my capabilities while I’m in the UK.

So if you are wondering what has happened to me, I’m just setting back up again.

Later!

-W.