Experienced Points: The Final Boss

  By Shamus   Feb 13, 2009   48 comments

I have a new column up over at the Escapist, talking about the conflict between story and gameplay that arises at the end of a game.

Some people were concerned that Experienced Points would mean I would be writing less here on this site. That’s certainly possible. I’m probably red-lining right now as far as output goes, and a stretch of day-job overtime or illness will certainly cut into the blog, but after two weeks I seem to be able to keep up the pace without too many problems.

We’ll see how it goes. It’s pretty fun so far.


20208Feeling chatty? There are 48 comments.


  1. mc says:

    Nice. Noticed that you linked to the second page of the review though.

    Also: First?

  2. Thomas says:

    Dath Maul, in the beginning of the second page.

    Incidentally, I’m a fan of hard final bosses. If I don’t have to reload enough times to beat them, I just sort of feel like………………………………that was it?

  3. Wil K. says:

    Really, I don’t mind if you end up writing less on here. You’ll end up making up the difference in your writing on the Escapist – and there you’re getting paid for it, which is a nice thing to see.

    Basically, I just want to see you continue writing somewhere!

  4. Robyrt says:

    That link goes to page 2, which was a little confusing.

    I like this article, as final battles are one of the game elements most likely to be rushed into production late in a development cycle. So it’s good to take them to task for leaving a sour taste in gamers’ mouths.

    I think the worst kind of final challenge is not necessarily one that’s difficult, but one that tests different skills than the rest of the game. To be told you’re not good enough to finish – that is bad. To be told you’re not good enough at something ELSE to finish – even worse.

  5. Korivak says:

    I like the convention that Sands of Time used, where every time you died, the Prince says “wait, no, it didn’t happen like that…” and you go back to the most recent save. As the game gets harder and the world gets darker and the little vision segments get more awful and bleak, the starting and restarting of the story due to saves actually begins to contribute to the story, not take away from it. The poor guy has seen all this horrible stuff and done all this mind-crushing time manipulation, and is starting to lose it. You, the player, can certainly feel his confusion and hopelessness, since the same things are taxing you too.

  6. Felblood says:

    Way back in the day, I was a skilled player.

    Then my skills got good enough that most games didn’t challenge me and I became a heroic gamer.

    Then I got some boss fights so easy that it rendered the drama of battle inert, and I began to crave the thing that every game designer fears his customers will come to crave.

    I want both.

    If you can’t deliver the very best of both worlds, don’t even step up to the plate, because I will murder you for you failure.

  7. Octal says:

    I’ve seen one interesting solution to this dilemma. Star Control 2, throughout the entire game, allows you to have it set to 1)have you do the battles yourself, or 2)have the AI do it (either at a normal pace (so you can watch the AI duke it out with itself), fast-forwarded, or just skipping to the end of each battle). (Option 2 doesn’t guarantee victory; it just makes winning more a matter of resource management and less of skill/reflexes.) If when you get to the final battle you’ve got it set to 1, you get what is (I’ve heard) a really tough boss fight that can take hours. If you’ve got it set to 2 at that point, it skips over that and goes right to the bit where you’ve just won (basically as though the various defences of the thing you have to fight with option 1 didn’t exist–actually fairly smooth). (You can, of course, change the setting at any time that you’re not actually in a battle.)

  8. BlackJaw says:

    For the record, I was going to post this over at Escapist… so I registered and account, and clicked the link in the e-mail… and it still wouldn’t log me in, so now you get the post here where I don’t have such troubles.

    I’m more of a Heroic player then a Skilled player. When it comes to boss fights I often prefer Heroic options. More so if I’m engrossed in the story (say like in an RPG). On the other hand, more action oriented games almost always have a skilled boss fight, and I sort of expect to slog through them. I do enjoy it when games provide both options.

    I’m going to use Planescape Torment as an example here. There were a few ways to deal with the final boss in that game. You could defeat him completely through story and conversation paths, or you could jump directly into an very hard battle. When I played Torment, I went for a story route, and thus I was able to talk my through the boss. I then reloaded my save and tried to fight him… and was simply mauled. My conversation driven character that I and taken through the game was simply not powerful enough to take on the boss. A friend of mine, who is a skilled player, simply blew him away because he was incredibly combat oriented.

    I doubt all games could do this kind of thing, but I’d love to see more of it in RPGs.

  9. Dev Null says:

    Hell, write it wherever you like – we’ll track it down. (Though for the record, I like that you cross-post over here announcements of your stuff over there. Makes it easier to keep up.)

  10. Justin says:

    Happy epoch day, Shamus!

  11. Will says:

    One game that gave you a choice at the end was Xenogears.

    Just before you take on the final boss, you’re given the option to kill 1-4 supporting bosses. Each support boss you don’t take out adds a wrinkle to the final boss fight. If you’re looking for a challenge, just run right in to the last fight. If you don’t feel like dying over and over again, do 5 easier battles instead.

    However, you had to be careful. Each support boss was aspected in such a way that you need to shuffle your party around before each fight, or you could end up dying just as often.

  12. Magnus says:

    I’d lay some blame at Neverwinter Nights 2 and Mask of the Betrayer, which have boss fights which are considerably more difficult than any other battles in the game previously.

    I also get quite annoyed if the boss can only be killed by a certain method, rather than conventional combat as in the rest of the game.

    I could have sworn Quake’s boss was like that… I can remember a boss that required you to press two buttons to electrocute him, but he couldn’t be killed by all the vast array of weapons you had previously accumulated.

  13. Wing Commander, if you killed the enemy aces earlier, did not have them in the boss fight at the end.

  14. The answer: easy-ish final boss, with ridiculously challenging bonus boss. Everyone wins!

    Ben

  15. Yar Kramer says:

    “Heroic” all the way, here, to the point that I feel no compunctions about going god-mode when the going gets tough. Although I don’t mind the illusion of challenge, the way Half-Life 2 did things. Or maybe a boss with a huge health-bar, so that it won’t be challenging so much as dramatically-long (this may create the illusion for “skilled” players and it may not).

  16. guy says:

    Fallout frustrated me to no end with this when i tried to be a shooty character.

    Stupid instant-death criticals through hardened power armor. I pulled it off in the end, though. people always comment on the endings system, but never on the twin “Stuff blowing up” cutscenes, which are highly impressive.

  17. Nathan says:

    I am pretty sure that the dilemma Shamus is talking about is a false one. Especially since there is a certain amount of drama associated with a difficult battle. Either way, he doesn’t really look at the issue in a lot of depth, or at the many, many solutions to this “issue” that have been explored in various videogames.

    Most importantly, I still don’t think Shamus really understands what people want when they ask for a challenge.

    I don’t think armchair game design is something that Shamus is good at.

  18. brashieel says:

    I fall squarely in the “heroic” camp myself. I used to be a fairly good twitch gamer, but lack of practice and a reduction in the amount of caffeine I drink definitely eroded those skills.

    I play games to get an interactive story (excluding strategy games). I don’t mind a game making me work for it, but I don’t need to be killed thirty-seven times so that I can know I’m not an uber-gamer anymore. I’m already clear on that point.

  19. Sam says:

    I’m a “heroic” gamer. The one game in recent memory that was completely and utterly ruined by the final boss was Portal. I was loving it until the boss fight, and having to redo it a dozen times made me hate the game and never want to pick it up again.

    Pretty well every FPS game ever is also worthy of my ire thanks to their cookie-cutter storylines and absurd difficulty for people without ridiculously strong senses and the ability to headshot someone from 12 miles away, like some of my friends I never play FPSes with.

  20. What Dev Null said. I’ll read whatever you write wherever you write it, so no worries. Just keep on writing.

  21. Noble Bear says:

    Weather here or there, I’ll read it.

    Although, I will issue a supplication to the gods probability while standing at the corner of fat chance and never in a million years, which would be this:

    I would love it if this column was podcasted.

    Without deference to the twenty other demands on your time, I’ll say that I’d greatly enjoy getting to hear you read your columns, mainly for selfish reasons.

    * Convenience: I can drop you into my podfeeder and take your stuff with me where ever I go or balance it against other activities, like cleaning my apartment or homework (I’m an art student in college)

    *My brain is often wonky: I process what I hear much faster than I process what I see/read. This means both that it wouldn’t take me as long to consider your points and that I could listen to it multiple times in the course of a day and not have to worry about having missed (or misread) a sentence.

    *Easier to share: There are gamers who already have pocasts they listen to and it’d be great to pimp your stuff to them.

    *More personal: I admit this is highly arguable but for me after going over Reset Button a couple of times, i felt i had a stronger connection to your thoughts and ideas. I also admit that this is not particularly rational, but this is the internet, I figure emotional blather is permissible in small doses.

    Ok, so ALL of them were selfish reasons.

    If this compels you: Great!
    If not: Please ignore me and please continue to be awesome.

  22. Alex says:

    People looking for a heroic experience want to take part in some kind of story. They want to be the action hero and mow down the bad guys, do the big stunts, and engage in memorable heroic-type stuff. They want drama, excitement, and spectacle. And sometimes tits. On the other hand, skilled players want a game to challenge them personally, to test their strategy, their memory, and their reflexes as they do whatever it is you’re supposed to do in this particular game. (Which probably involves shooting Nazis and/or space aliens.) They want the game designer to erect a smooth, high wall in their path, and then they want to defeat the challenge (and the game designer by proxy) through the cultivation of their own abilities.

    Hmm… What about those of us who seek to be challenged or involved emotionally/intellectually? I’m not necessarily into all video games for a challenge OR an inflated sense of self-esteem. Those are fine, but they’re not primarily what I’m looking for. What group can I be shoe-horned into(my guess is it’s the minority)?

    Fascinating post, by the way. I have a fondness for Final Bosses, I even collect final boss songs(and by “collect” I mean “hear at least once, but if it’s a good song, several dozen times”). Sometimes it’s a climactic confrontation with a foe(anywhere from the last battle in an RPG, or something effective and to-the-point, like the last bullet you need to use in F.E.A.R.). Other times it’s something a little more creative(Mike Krahulik remarked that the true last boss of Sands of Time wasn’t the Vizier, but getting out of the collapsing palace without the dagger.) Either way, I think the Final Challenge should be one of, if not THE best parts of a game. Something that really stays with the player after they’ve shut off the game and retired for the evening… or, whenever it is they finished the game.

    I’m also of the opinion that the climax doesn’t have to be a “boss” per se, but the peak challenge of that game. It doesn’t have to be last playable confrontation, or even the last moment where the player needs to operate any of the functions of the controller. If in an FPS, the second-to-last stage could be a big, end-all battle against impossible odds, in contrast to the last level, a quick conversation against the dying enemy leader, who asks you to put him out of his misery. Between those two, I’d consider the battle previous the “Final Boss”. But the last playable scene would offer something a little more cerebral than a sheer test of accuracy and adrenaline.

    FFVII and Metal Gear Solid 3 are two games that offer a big climactic challenge that relies on the player’s abilities and understanding of the rote mechanics, and then one more playable story-point that’s not based around skill. This seems as good a solution as any to try and please both big groups.

  23. Zaxares says:

    I tend to fall more into the Heroic gamer category, although I do enjoy Skilled games, provided they don’t rely on on-the-spot thinking and/or lightning fast reflexes. I prefer games where I can take my time to plan a strategy and stack odds in my favor and, if possible, choose the time and place of the confrontation.

    One game whose ending always struck me as… a weird mix of satisfying and disappointing is Planescape: Torment. In most RPGs, you’re expecting a big, climatic boss fight with the evil villain, in which you and your faithful companions trounce him soundly (or scrape by with the skin of your teeth). In PS:T, you can TALK the last boss into submission. Even more bizarrely, talking him into defeat is actually the game’s BEST ending.

    Now I must say that part of me was SORELY disappointed at not having this big bad boss fight, but it was also a very novel and unique way to end the game.

    Mmm, totally disappointing end boss fights? Umm… The Witcher. You can see that the last battle was scripted to be fairly challenging, but if you’ve maxed out your sword-fighting skills, you can actually slaughter the last boss before the script kicks in, resulting in a VERY easy last fight.

    Oh, and the last boss has less health and deals less damage than most of the grunts you meet in the last level. Seriously, disappointing.

  24. Nathon says:

    I don’t know how you can claim to be a heroically minded player Shamus. Particularly after going on at length about how the end of Fable 2’s award winning story was disappointing because it wasn’t challenging. You complain at length about boss fights that are too hard and break immersion then do the same about how the big jerk who shot you and your sister at the beginning of the game went down in a single shot. A single shot that you didn’t even have to take, no less. Honestly, I don’t think you can be pleased.

  25. Shamus says:

    Nathon: I can’t be pleased? Check the sidebar. I’ve reviewed lots of games that I loved.

    Never did I complain that killing Lucien was too “easy”.

    Lucien’s death was a failure of both types: It was easy, AND it lacked any sort of dramatic punch. Compare to the end of Half Life 2, which was”easy” (for me) but an epic and well-placed confrontation, capped with spectacle at the end.

  26. Joshua says:

    You make it sound like it’s one or the other, but there are games that do both pretty well. I’ve had some games that I’ve beaten the boss on the first try but still sweated a bit. Final Fantasy VI and Kefka comes to mind. I think I also beat Mother Brain in Super Metroid on the first or second try even though the earlier bosses had been much harder and the fight itself was still challenging. If you can make the fight really scary at points, but have some hidden cushion of safety, you usually have a really dramatic battle that makes the player satisfied when they finally win.

    Half-Life 2 could somewhat be considered that, but the ending is too short if you know what you’re doing. The first time I played the game, I lost that fight due to running out of time. The second time through, after I had been better at using the Gravity Gun to suck up those energy balls and the last fight was over in about a minute. Half-Life 2, Episode Two was a MUCH better example of having a challenge while also retaining drama. That was a lot more challenging, and you didn’t have the same sense of instant win/fail. You could start losing, and that revved up the dramatic tension, but still have a decent chance of rallying back. The only downside was that it focused heavily on gameplay that was introduced only for that battle. Episode One, however, had a final boss that was only a minor challenge, and presented near zero drama.

    In regards to Planescape:Torment -It’s odd that you would feel disappointed by not having an epic boss battle. A lot of the combat in the game(with a few exceptions) is actually pretty easy and the challenge is the mystery and puzzle-solving aspect of the game. So, having the best victory come about because you tried to solve the conversation in the most intelligent manner is a reflection of the game itself.

    Interesting also that two people are making scathing disagreements and their names are Nathan and Nathon. Granted, the latter is slightly less ad hominem and actually gives an example.

  27. Decius says:

    I actually think that the Diablo clones got the concept right, and failed the implementation due to not having a good enough story: Let the player do it again, but this time, harder.

    The ‘Heroic’ gamers will go through once, say “That was cool”, and if they go through again, will go through as a different character.
    The ‘Skilled’ gamer will say “I bet you $5 that I can do it again on Legendary Sociopathic Nightmare mode.”

    The problem with this solution is that it gives one set of gamers a much shorter game than the other set.

  28. I’m pretty sure that every player on the planet would consider themselves a hybrid of both to some degree. I thought about your article all night… because I’m a nerd…
    and I realized my problem with it:

    We all want a challenging game. This is not as simple as a test of reflexes (although it may be for some people.) We want a game that challenges our perceptions of what’s possible with the medium. Or perhaps a challenge of narrative, making us think and care about the characters. Usually we want some combination.

    For example: I don’t care for most RPGs anymore. They’re basically storybooks. Press ‘x’ to turn the page. I even just autobattle most of the time. So eventually I think to myself, “Why didn’t they just make this a book or a manga or something? Why a game?”

    And for the record, any game can be hard. Add more enemies, double their hitpoints, have them do more damage. Devil May Cry tries this. It fails every single time. There’s a difference between hard and challenging. Ninja Gaiden is a *challenging* game. But it has so much depth to the gameplay, that you really do get better and you can sense the game is teaching you through gradually tougher situations. I mean, the game did piss me off, but I never felt as if I hit a wall. Me. The guy that has trouble playing Kirby’s Dreamland can get through Ninja Gaiden.

    I dunno. There is some deep underlying logic to what compels us to play and like games and what it really means for a game to be challenging (instead of just some stupid hard level.) I think your explanation of it is an abstraction of what’s really going on.

    I gotta think about it some more. It’s really bugging me.

  29. Viktor says:

    Morrowind’s Dagoth Ur is a good example of how to combine the 2 experiences. The battle can be infinitely hard, but it doesn’t matter, because the story climax was 2 minutes earlier, when you were discussing the past and future with him. I think that may be the best way of combining the 2, giving the story and the challenge different peaks, so that the Heroic player can die a dozen times and not feel cheated, because the finale(for them) hasn’t happened yet, while the culmination of the story can be a cutscene for all the Skilled players care, because that’s not the biggest challenge.

  30. Andrew says:

    I’m more of a strategy gamer, and in my experience, strategy games have a different, but related endgame problem. Level-based strategy games like Starcraft can build to a climax in challenging and dramatic terms, and with each playthrough of a level being a self-contained experience don’t have as much of the drama-sapping frustration that repeated deaths on a bossfight would have. When the games attempt to add a larger scale simulation, like Civilisation or Total War, problems can emerge – It’s quite possible to dramatically “break the back” of the enemy, and then to have a long mop-up slog before the simulation recognises victory. Quick victory conditions, such as Regicide make it more likely for the game to be resolved following the climactic battle, but dilute the simulation. A sort of level-based structure layered on top of the simulated campaign a’la XCOM allows the player to build up to a climactic battle where all is decided, but can have periods of “marking time” until the player is ready for the next stage if the challenge hasn’t been properly calibrated.

  31. Patrick J McGraw says:

    Enter the Matrix was tremendously aggravating because it was a perfect example of the “skill switch” challenge. Up until the final level, the game had consisted entirely of third-person action with the occasional driving level. Then you get to the final challenge: pilot a hovercraft through a maze while being chased by unbeatable enemies that will kill you if you fall behind. That right- the final challenge is a friggin’ racing minigame sprung on you at the last minute.

    Spider-Man for the PS1 was almost as bad with a similar “chased through a maze” final challenge, but at least in that game you used the webswinging skills that you had been developing over the course of the game.

    On the challenge vs. story front, I’m definitely a fan of the bonus boss. The bonus boss can be an ordeal that you have to play through a dozen times and be fun because that’s the point. With final bosses, I tend to find that I’m most satisfied if I lose once, then win the second time because the first go-round let me figure out how to beat the boss. The latter-generation Castlevania games do well in this respect (along with having bonus bosses).

  32. R4byde says:

    There’s no good solution to the problem, although the most basic and obvious practice of offering variable difficulty levels is a good idea that seems to be falling out of favor as designers try to shoehorn all gamers into one group or the other.

    I would argue against that, there is a way to have an ending which is fulfilling in both the drama and challenge departments. It’s somewhat unorthodox however, simply don’t have a final boss.
    Don’t misunderstand me, I like a dramatic finale, but I don’t think you have to battle the Superduperultimateincarnationofuniversalcosmicevil to have that. I’ll try to illustrate with STALKER – Shadow of Chernobyl, though after a point its endgame turns into a boring fragfest.

    *STALKER SPOILERS FALLOW!*

    Before I get started I should probably point out that for the sake of this argument I’ll consider the game over after you meet and talk with the Consciousness and that I played only after some pretty heavy modding. I use the Stalker Redux mod, and it turns death into a one-shot affair; this probably made the ending seem more challenging than it was in the vanilla game. Stalker starts you way off on the edge of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, where things are less mutated and throughout the game you travel deeper in, which provides a gradual increase in difficulty. Once you reach the Chernobyl NPP itself, however, you’re still fighting the mutants and Monolith-brainwashed humans you were fighting before and the end “boss-fight” isn’t really the battle between you and the C-Consciousness (They do a little psychic projectioning but aren’t difficult to defeat.) but a powerplant full of their minions; I actually sneaked past all of these except for the final group that attacks while you’re decoding the lock. This, if you’re willing to consider the game as over here, makes for an ending that satisfies both wants. You have all the drama needed to wrap up the story, and you get a fun battle. But the battle isn’t especially different or more difficult than any other firefight in the game, in fact if you’ve saved a few grenades its incredibly easy. It still provides a nice sense of accomplishment by letting you use all the skills you’ve learned up to that point without devolving into a silly, remember-the-pattern fight.

    *End Stalker Spoilers*

    After typing all of that up, I just realized there is a game which is a far better example, System Shock 2. In SS2 the -if you discount that silly part with the FTL drive re-writing reality- end boss fight is just you against a horde of the Many, it’s the same type of fight you’ve had all along, and you can solve it the same ways you did the fights before. It doesn’t ruin the atmosphere or story because it fits the setting perfectly, while also providing a slightly higher than average challenge.

    I do like a well done old fashioned boss now and again, it’s just that they’re relics from gaming’s arcade shoot-em-up past, and that is where they preform best, in a nearly story less scrolling shooter.

  33. R4byde says:

    *ARGH!* This was supposed to be on my previous post, but I forgot to add it.

    I guess my point is this, imagine a game where you’re an allied pilot tasked with hunting down von Richthofen -Guess what comic strip I just read.;)) instead of making the end game a one on one dogfight between yourself and the Red Baron, make it between your own fighter squadron and Richthofen’s Flying Circus. This gives you plenty of lovely drama and spectacle, with friendly and enemy aircraft fighting all around you, and also allows for some player made storytelling. Will you try bring down the whole circus, or just the Baron? Will you allow one of your mates to be shot down if it means he distracts the Baron long enough for you to get in a cheap shot, or will you focus on trying to get all the lads back to the aerodrome for that pint of bitter? In this scenario von Richthofen isn’t some sort of ubermensch pilot who’s Fokker D can take more .303 than any other Fokker D, he’s just a skilled pilot who will coordinate his maneuvers with the rest of his squadron.

    Thats the way I see it working best, making the two elements, drama and difficulty, compliment each other, as one increases by player choice, so does the other. Attempting to keep all of your squadron airborne, and down the whole Flying Circus, for example. While you might fail one of those goals it will still be offset if you can down the Baron; thus reducing DIAS to a minimum, because if you simply slam everything you still have into the Baron you’ll have a good chance of winning.

  34. Yar Kramer says:

    Joshua: Hmm. I don’t think that Episode 2 did things right, myself, insofar as you have to run around all over the place, fighting Striders with Magnusson devices, which you must accurately throw UP, and/or a long distance, with your gravity gun, whilst also trying to deal with the Hunters running around after them (i.e. “accurately steering your car”), and because you can only carry one at a time, if you mess up once, you either have to reload from a saved game or run around furiously trying to find the nearest Magnusson device (or teleporter for delivery of same). Oh, and you’re on something of a time-limit, because you’re trying to prevent the Striders from reaching a particular point. Challenge: 1, Drama: disqualified due to overwhelming frustration on my part.

    My preferred method for dealing with the climax of Episode 2 is to set sv_cheats 1, whip out my rocket launcher, and type “givecurrentammo” into the console whenever I run out of rockets. (The tradeoff is of course that the dead Striders slightly get in the way, but this is a relatively minor annoyance.) ;)

    R4Byde: Hmm, interesting notion: a boss with only one weak spot that you need to take down, but a far greater number of “weak spots” that you’re able to take down, thus providing more or less challenge as the player feels like, whilst allowing — yeah, what you said. I should think of this concept some more.

  35. Bret says:

    You know, Minerva Metastasis (an excellent mod for HL 2 I really think Shamus’d like) had a decent endgame. Hordes of enemies as you sprint to the surface, a reasonably easy boss, then more frantic sprinting through hordes of enemies towards escape. The boss is less a separate challenge than a particularly nasty part of the standard endgame.

    Seriously, everyone should try Minerva Metastasis sometime. It’s got it all, fun shooting, excellent maps, minimal loading, and being ordered around by a mysterious mocking entity in text.

  36. IncredibleGeek says:

    Paxton Fettel in FEAR.

    Excellent moment. Everyone I’ve talked to about it loved it.

    (Also, seconded on above about Metastasis Minerva. Excellent design and story, and really fits the Half Life mood. You should also play the original mod Someplace Else for HL1, since Minerva builds on that as well.)

  37. I just wanted to repeat what I said over on The Escapist for the benefit of readers here (yeah, like anyone cares what I think):

    “I don’t think these two options really cover the spectrum, because I’m a “heroic” player but I also enjoy tough final boss fights. What really gets me is if there is not a superb dramatic *wrap-up* after the “OH GOD I’VE BEEN FIGHTING THIS BASTARD FOR THREE HOURS!!!!” fight. I don’t want some static pictures and a few “and they lived happily ever after” voiceovers. I WANT A MOVIE!! I WANT A REALLY GOOD FREAKIN’ AWESOME CINEMATIC FULL OF AWESOME WITH A SLICE OF AWESOME ON THE SIDE!!!!”

    If I get that, and maybe some amusing bloopers with the credits such as PoP: Two Thrones had, I will not feel that the drama has been sacrificed in the name of satisfying the “skilled” players, in fact, both of us will probably watch the cinematic together and be thoroughly happy.”

    Really absurd difficulty bothers me more after I’ve played through the game two or three times, but by that time I’m also familiar with the game and quicker to grasp the subtleties, so it evens out. But without that dramatic wrap-up, I feel let down. That was one of the things I always liked Blizzard for and why I played the campaign mode of all the Warcraft and Starcraft games all the way through–and I don’t like RTSs very much. But the story and cinematics kept me coming back to play a genre that *I don’t even like*.

    So, to any developer debating “hard vs. dramatic”, just make your ending full of awesome and then make the fight as hard as you like–no one will complain.

  38. Taellosse says:

    I think I have to agree with what someone else above said about most people being a bit of a blend of both types. I know I, personally, err on the side of the heroic type–a good story is more important to me than good gameplay–but I also enjoy a well-executed challenge.

    It’s a reason why I really liked the endgame for the new Prince of Persia–the actual final fight wasn’t a fight at all, per se–it was the acrobatic maneuvering to get into position to bring Elika where she needed to be to do her thing. All of which is the fun part of the game for me, while the fights were an exercise mostly in irritation, from first to last. I’m not sure why the quicktime events in that game were so hard for me while the ones in Force Unleashed were comparatively easy–my success ratio for the two games was pretty neatly inverted, for whatever reason–but they were really hard for me to get right, while I got to be pretty good with the acrobatics. Though I think they over-simplified it from earlier iterations of the series–using a single button for almost all the basic maneuvers risked making it boring at times. Considering that there were two whole buttons completely unused, this struck me as kinda pointless.

  39. Felblood says:

    Shamus might not understand the full range or reasons a person might want more challenge from a game, but he understands a wider spectrum of motives than most armchair designers.

    I often find myself feeling that I would enjoy a lot of game he hated, and hate a lot of the games he enjoyed, but I almost always feel that his comments on the game in question are both useful and accurate.

    Question: Does anyone here ever feel that a final boss was to easy to live up to the hype?

    The final dudes from Soldier of Fortune and Army of TWO, were both huge disappointments for me. They were easy, uninteresting battles, that were immediately preceded by far greater challenges. Anti-climactic is to mild a word.

    Edit: Oh, and the replicant queen from Elite Force II. The game that tried to be dramatic, but constantly choked on it’s simplistic mechanics and dodgy scripting.

  40. Yar Kramer says:

    I can answer that one right away, Felblood: the endboss in Jedi Academy (which differs depending on whether you’re playing Light Side or Dark Side).

    The somewhat dodgy lightsaber-mechanics are to blame here. It always seemed like duels with other saberists seemed to be based on luck and button mashing; I generally had an overall 50% chance of winning duels no matter what I did. Maybe 25%, if it was a particularly cheap opponent. So, the final boss fight could last twenty seconds, or it could last twenty minutes; and it’s a tossup either way, with no feelings of actual “progress” towards beating them in the latter case. No drama or challenge there.

    Also, there was no “final boss theme”; it just used the same lightsaber-duel music as the rest of the level. I’m a bit of a connoseur of final-boss-themes, so that didn’t help either … ;)

  41. Adam Szasz says:

    Firstly, let me say that I am a “Heroic” gamer. I play predominantly single player games, and of those, mostly RPGs with some degree of player choice. (I enjoyed Fable 2 for all the same reasons that Shamus did, although I didn’t mind the story quite so much. I accepted the plot holes, but I still wondered, “why can’t I wish for my lost youth back?!) I want a fulfilling story, and fun gameplay. I play to feel like I was a legitimately badass character doing legitimately badass things. And if I can get good at playing the game along the way, so be it. I loved the Force Unleashed because, at least on easy or normal, the gameplay was just challenging enough to get the blood flowing, but not so hard that it felt unfair. (the ending, though dark, left me feeling fulfilled, knowing that I had helped to found the Rebel Alliance, and done good in the universe. The dark side ending, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly as good. Such a waste of a good opportunity for evil players to be truly EVIL.) Fable 2, Fallout 3 and Mass Effect all scratch that “I’m a good person, doing good things and making a noticable difference in this universe” itch extremely well, as did KotOR, the Jedi Knight series and the various “Tales of” games before them.

  42. Mephane says:

    Shamus, why don’t you just post these articles there *and* here? I suppose I am not the only one who highly dislikes being provided a link and a “I’ve written something on a topic which would totally fit in here, but only postet it there” paragraph.

  43. Huckleberry says:

    @ Mephane:

    I guess that Shamus is not allowed to post his text for the escapist here as well — the escapist pays for the text, and I would suspect that they want it as an exclusive in return. But look at the upside: as it is, you get Shamus’ text at the escapist plus a behind-the-scenes commentary here: it’s a two-fer.

    Also: I like the new series, Shamus!

  44. Nathon says:

    Whoops, I guess I missed. That post I made before should have been surrounded by “bad joke” tags or something. I was hoping that the “award winning” would tip it off and that it would be funny enough to prevent nitpickery over how you never actually said that.

  45. Decius says:

    A rather… interesting example would be the endgame of VtM: Bloodlines, the Troika take on White Wolf’s World of Darkness.

    Possible spoilers.

    The dramatic high point was actually at the end of the first act, in the haunted mansion. The rest of the game is just house upon house of enemies… “House of a thousand Malkavians” “Graveyard of infinite zombies” “Warehouse of five thousand Sabbat” “House of ten thousand Asians” “Tower of ‘I forgot that I was supposed to be low key so I brought in an Infinite number of SWAT team police'” Followed by “A conclusion written by people who though ‘denouement’ meant ‘let-down'”

    Oh, and someone pulls a feat worthy of Steve Cohen by swapping the contents of the sarcophagus.

    End Spoliers.

    Lesson learned? I don’t really know.

    How did Potal do it?

  46. Colin says:

    Half Life 2 was horrid in this regard. It was neither heroic nor challenging. The last 2 levels were the easiest of them all, even on hard difficulty, since you could instakill the enemies from a fair distance. The hardest part for me was figuring out “Oh, I have to go into the pod on the left“. The very end was the worst “Yay, I get to toss energy orbs at spinning metal plates. I didn’t even bother to take down the gunships firing at me, since it was the end of the game, and what does a little damage matter? Then the incredibly ambiguous ending ruined it. Sure, the last two levels were probably the most atmospheric of all, but gameplay wise, too easy. The sequel, episode 1 was even worse. “A strider…is the final boss? Didn’t I kill like 10 of those in HL2?” I’m glad to say that portal and episode 2 fix this problem. The portal boss fight is my favourite ever, and the episode 2 end fight is very, very challenging.

  47. Brickman says:

    I generally prefer the challenging type, because I like replayability in my games and thus like it all to be challenging, but there’s many games whose final bosses I couldn’t beat which pissed me off. Perhaps the best solution would be to have, right before the final battle, a door which will not open unless you’ve beaten the game, and inside is a lever which makes the final boss much much stronger, while facing him normally he’s six times your size and dazzles you with attacks that’re slow enough to be easily dodged and lightshows that fail to do a lot of damage. And make sure the player knows about it. That way you can tear through a cardboard monster and definitely see the ending, but if you want a challenge, you can get one *without having to leave the main storyline to get it*. Because let’s be honest, the average bonus dungeon could not possibly be cannon.

  48. Maldeus says:

    This is the entry that’s always going to have a special place in my heart because it was with this Experienced Points column that first brought me to Twenty Sided Tale.

    It was an odd feeling, because I HAD been to Twenty Sided before, just reading the DMotR segment (having been directed there by Darths&Droids), and I absolutely hated it. And when I heard the name Shamus Young at the end of the Experienced Points column, I kept saying to myself “I know I’ve heard that name somewhere before…” Then I came across a reference to DMotR, and was utterly shocked that someone whose comic I found to be almost completely devoid of comic value could be so incredibly entertaining in almost everything else he’d ever written.

    Regardless, Twenty Sided is easily my favorite website and it’s because this Experienced Points caught my eye on the Escapist. This makes me a bit sentimental. Thank you for being awesome, Shamus Young.

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