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Game Boss Designing Tips

This article is about how to make current bosses better. Many people understand how to make bosses, but they don’t get the game design theory behind boss creation. If you don’t know how to make a boss, period, you can read SoulHow to make a boss in Game Maker. It uses actions, but if you like code better, it shouldn’t be too hard to change it.

Without further ado, here is a list of my top twenty gripes about poorly made bosses and how to avoid them:

  1. Match the health type
    The boss’s design should match it’s health type. If the boss’s health bar is comprised of units of health, for example in the Crash Bandicoot series, the player must find the boss’s weak spot and every time he hits it the boss’s health goes down by 1 until it dies at 0 health. If it the boss’s health is more like a tank such as in megaman, however, usually the player will be able to hit him indefinitely when it’s physically possible but many more hits are needed to deplete the boss’s health.
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  3. No creepy stalkers
    Don’t make a jump-on-your-face boss. It’s annoying and just lame. Make the boss actually do something other than follow you around.
  4. Nap time?
    There shouldn’t any spot on the screen where the player can stand and not ever be hit by the boss. The boss shouldn’t go flinging fireballs everywhere at every moment, but it at least shouldn’t let the player go take a nap while the game is still running.
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  6. Bad luck
    No seriously, luck is bad. Every boss should give the player a plausible chance to win without getting scratched. The player shouldn’t be able to do this without practice, but random lightning coming down from the sky and frying the player isn’t the the players fault. That gets annoying.
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  8. No automatic wtf-1337 guns
    Seriously, bullet spraying is fine, but bullet spamming is dumb. I want to show my skill by using strategy to avoid attacks while countering with my own weapons. Holding down the fire button hoping that some of my bullets will hit the boss while focusing on narrowly dodging tons of his bullets is boring.
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  10. Give a good pattern size and predictability
    Patterns are good, but they can’t be too small. A good boss has many different weapons and moves, and uses them in subtly predictable patterns. For example, you’re fighting the metal robotnik boss on Sonic 2, and are continuously dominated when the robot drops the bombs. Then, after fighting it for an hour, you realize that these bombs are only launched when you stand behind the boss. Had the bombs been random, you wouldn’t have as much satisfaction from understanding how to make the boss do what you want so you could manipulate and beat him.
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  12. Persevere, unless you’re getting your butt kicked
    At the same time, the pattern can’t be so strong and inflexible that the player can use it to completely obliterate the boss with no effort. If every time you shoot a boss, it recoils from the damage and then dashes at you, you’re going to figure it out pretty quickly and then the boss gets pretty lame. Shoot, jump, shoot, jump, shoot, jump, shoot, jump, shoot, the boss dies. Yay.
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  14. Checkpoints!!
    Bosses shouldn’t kick the player too far back if the player dies. A good boss should take the player a few tries when first met, and nothing’s more annoying than taking a test run of the boss to see how he fights (hoping to do it for real next time), die, then find that you’re kicked back to the start of the whole level. So put some checkpoints in the level and have the player return to one of them upon death. Preferably, put a checkpoint right before the boss, because a boss should be considered a section of its own.
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  16. No teddy bears.
    Well, if you get kicks from beating up fuzzy children’s toys then go ahead; what I meant though, is don’t create bosses that are so dull and easy that it feels like your plucking a dandelion. Bosses have to provide some sort of challenge, even if it’s the very first one.
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  18. Bosses should go up in flames
    Obliterate, annihilate, whatever, just make the bosses blow up when they’re finished. After fighting a big robot for five minutes straight, imagine the difference between seeing it just fall apart and seeing it explode in flaming madness. I don’t think I have to explain this any more than that.
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  20. Check for flash abuse
    If a player needs to abuse the flash-invincibility (that most games give you after getting hit) in order to beat a boss, something’s wrong; either it’s too hard or you forgot to program it so that the space ship’s magna-laser doesn’t cover the whole screen. Just make sure experienced players can beat the boss without getting hit.
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  22. You suck at testing
    Well, testing your own bosses anyways. And it’s not just you; it’s true for everyone. You need to give your game to many different testers so they can show you just what an unexperienced player might do. One merit to self-testing bosses, however, is this: If you can’t beat them without a scratch, they’re too hard. This might seem like harsh criteria, but being the one who set up all the patterns and drew the weapon sprites and knows what the boss has in store, you would know all the best strategies right off the bat. You’re basically as experienced at killing your own bosses as anyone will be. If you can’t do it, how do you expect someone else to?
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  24. Boss rooms don’t have to be one screen
    Sometimes a boss can be enhanced by allowing a whole battlefield; in this way, players have the added suspense of wondering where the boss could be. On the other hand, one-screen-large boss rooms can give the feeling of proximity and a fierce showdown. You have to decide which one would work best for your particular boss design.
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  26. Weakspot or hack-and-slash?
    Essentially, this means whether your boss has a particular weakspot that the player has to target (and usually can only hit at opportune moments) or if everywhere can be hit but the player just has to do it a lot. Some bosses use combinations; for example, maybe a boss can be hit anywhere at any time, but when it is hit, it gets the kind of flashing invincibility usually given to player characters.
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  28. No “not again”s
    I don’t need to see another flying ship swinging a stone ball over two platforms (unless, of course, you’re making fun of Sonic the Hedgehog). Make it new and exciting; add something new to your boss. That way people will remember it longer and have a better time killing it. That might even merit the inclusion of a boss-run mode.
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  30. Boss-run modes
    About boss-run modes (modes where the player fights all the bosses in succession), note that they’re only good for some games. More specifically, the games where there aren’t many bosses. If there’s 70 levels and a boss after each of them, the player isn’t going to want to fight through all of them just to see if he can do it in under 2 hours. If there’s only 7 bosses, one every 10 levels perhaps, that might be better. Usually unit-health bosses are best for boss-run modes, but bar-health bosses can be good if you’re looking to provide a speedy run to experienced players. At the very least, make sure no boss takes so long that it becomes like a brick wall in the road of…well, a boss-run.
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  32. Precision-based bosses are fun, to a point
    If the boss throws up 10 knives, and leaves only a couple spaces open to safely stand when they fall, that’s cool. If the boss were to throw 45 knives that leave open only a space the exact size of the player, that’s stupid. Nobody is perfect, and something exactly like that only leads the player to do some flash-shield-abuse. Boss=ruined.
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  34. Blocking easily gets annoying
    By that I mean you fire a bullet and 3 out of 4 times the boss ducks perfectly underneath it. If you’re going to make the boss deliberately block or dodge attacks, make sure the player knows when to attack. If the boss just randomly blocks whenever it feels like it, the player will easily become frustrated.
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  36. Team bosses
    Fighting team bosses can be really fun and satisfying when you finally kill them. Just make sure the team isn’t overwhelming. Fighting Magnet Man and Elec Man (Megaman 3) at the same time isn’t so bad. But fighting Omega (Megaman Zero) and Sigma (Megaman X) simultaneously would be hell.
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  38. Finally, “You again?”s are cool
    One of the coolest things in any game is to have a rival character that the player fights numerous times. Each time the boss should get a little (!) stronger, until the last time they’re fought when they usually morph into some sort of flying firey beast. Make sure when the player beats them the last time they fight, they really beat him. Nothing’s more dissatisfying than beating the guy again and having him say, “Dang it, you got me again. I know, I’ll stop fighting you.” and then leave.
Categories: Game Maker Tags: , ,
  1. John Williamson
    May 21, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    I must say that you gave me some brilliant tips here.
    but you didn’t said directly what kind of bosses which is current for game makers.

  2. Tyranidassassin
    March 24, 2010 at 3:38 am

    Wery nice. I am wondering on how to make make the boss have a good intro,also on how to make good boss phases with change of patterns and music.

    • soulred12
      March 24, 2010 at 2:10 pm

      Well, for a good intro, you can just have a separate object appear first and do whatever intro sequence you want, and then have the actual boss object appear after that. Change of patterns can be done with random numbers, and change in music can be done by e.g. check whether the boss is at half health and if so switch the music.

  3. Kaiser Cat 007
    October 21, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Speaking as a megaman-obsessed person I think fighting magnet man and elec man at the same time would be hellish.

  4. Tazcat22
    July 8, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Thank you for the boss tips. I was thinking of making a boss that has to be shot in the chest when it’s blue, but it was too boring! Thank you, now my giant one-eyed diamond will be fun to beat!

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    March 3, 2009 at 3:08 am

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  6. September 22, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    I like your ideas. Though I didn’t read all of them, since I don’t plan on making “bosses” in the games I’d like to make persay. At least, not as they are commonly thought of. I’m more of a Age of Empires, Starcraft, Civilization, Saga, Colonization, Pirates, or even Lords of Magic type of chick. Stuff where there is construction and resources involved and fighting is about one third of the game play.

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