How to make a great boss fight

Lewis Denby at

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This is a plea to game developers around the globe. We understand you want to put some boss fights in your game. They can be a lot of fun, those epic battles with the most ferocious of foes. But there are some things we'd like you to consider - some things that could help you create a boss fight that'll leave us in awe, rather than banging our heads against the monitor in frustration. So here, dear developer, is a list of boss fight dos and don'ts. Ignore them at your peril.

Don't feel you have to have one

Boss fights might be the traditional way to up the challenge at the end of a level, chapter or game, but since the early days of gaming we've come up with a whole host of other ways to keep things interesting and varied. Boss fights can be invigorating, but only in the right context - if your game doesn't need one, dear developers, don't put one in.

This is how the most intellectual action game in the world finishes. Sigh.

Worst offender: BioShock
After the intricacy of BioShock's story, the precision of its design and the creativity of its combat, why on Earth did Irrational feel it necessary to include an utterly incongruous boss fight at the end? Your confrontation with Rapture leader Andrew Ryan, and the subsequent escape, were wonderful moments, their quiet understatement elevating them above other games' attempts to do something similar. And then it ends with a giant bad guy with glowing eyes and ludicrous powers. A fine example of when to not bother at all.

Do make the boss huge

Of course, there are exceptions. There have been a great many boss fights against enemies who are all wee and tiny. But as a rule... huge bosses are cool, right? They're a visual spectacle, something intimidating - something to get your adrenaline pumping.

OHAI!

Star pupil: Gunman Chronicles
Half-Life-powered indie game Gunman Chronicles, released back in 2000, was famous for its enormous bosses. From huge dinosaurs to massive alien beings, it was a game that fully embraced the idea that bigger really is better. Few other games have rendered quite such spectacular bosses, even with today's new-fangled graphics engines.

Don't make it an awful difficulty spike

Boss fights are supposed to be challenging. That's the point of having them in your game in the first place. We get that. But what we don't get is why, developers, you so frequently opt to make them quite so ludicrously difficult. Managing a game's difficulty is certainly no easy task, but when your boss requires ten, 20, even 30 attempts to beat, the chances are you've got the balance wrong.

I never did like gardening.

Worst offender: Batman: Arkham Asylum
Some of Arkham Asylum's boss battles are admittedly brilliant, but there's one that stands out for all the wrong reasons. Your fight with Poison Ivy is an absolute nightmare. Organic spikes stab you every which way, while Ivy fires upon you while you're pre-occupied with avoiding the environmental dangers. Also, there's nowhere to take cover. Also, you have to "beat" her a bunch of times in a row before she finally pops it. Come on, Rocksteady. Your game is great! You don't need to cheat like that.