Home > Game design, Misc. > The Greatest Game Design Sin of All

The Greatest Game Design Sin of All

(Sorry, this was written a week or so ago, but somehow I forgot to click publish…)

SoulRed is back y’all! School ended so I’ve finally got some (SOME) free time to write to this blog. I’ve had quite a few post ideas saved as drafts for a while and now I get to write one of them. And this will actually be a real blog post, not another here’s-a-blog-post-to-keep-you-happy-that-doesn’t-actually-say-anything-interesting.

So this blog post is about the greatest game design sin of all, in my opinion of course. Perhaps there are worse things that others may cite, but this is what gets me the most. Note that I’m not including things like playability issues, etc. Just something in certain playable games that bugs me to no end. What is it? Well first I’ll give you a list of games that (again, in my opinion) commit this sin:

Megaman Battle Network, Megaman Battle Network 6, Megaman 5, Megaman 6, Megaman Zero 2, Megaman X6, Sonic 2006, Sonic Advance 2, Super Mario Bros., Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland, Almost every level-based RPG if you train enough, …

And these are just out of the games I’ve played (and only the ones I can think of right now). What do they all have in common? Read on to find out!

Well let’s take one of them as an example. How about Megaman X6? Let’s walk through the game.

(Note: Spoilers for Megaman X6. Nothing story-related, but I do discuss gameplay, boss fights, etc.)

So you spend hours and hours beating every single level, especially Heat Phoenix. For those who haven’t played it: This game is insanely difficult. Heat Phoenix alone took me days to beat because of about 8 rooms that had these circular robotic donuts that go around the room and shoot at you from four targets on the “corners.” Metal Shark Player’s entire stage is based around a trash compacter that you have to dash through and into crevasses to avoid being smashed. During the Infinity Mijinion fight, he floats around, shooting rays that change directions at you, blowing bubbles that hurt you and require a lot of damage to destroy, and creating clones that fire more rays and create more bubbles, all while taking a tiny sliver of damage (and getting flashing invincibility) with every hit. And do you know what his weakness is? A move that places a tiny shield in front of you that doesn’t hurt him on its own, but can “absorb” a projectile move that he uses rarely and then shoots a tiny yellow projectile back, and THAT tiny yellow projectile is what you have to hit him with. Ugh.

Anyway, once you get past all that, and the horrors of the first few final levels (and having to fight all the bosses over again), you finally arrive at the first form of last boss. Sigma appears looking like he’s drunk off his ass, and offers a short but pretty difficult and interesting fight (unless you’re playing as Zero and just spam the Zero buster). Then, he blows up and disappears. Some dialog between Sigma and the hero you’re playing as, and then explosions in the darkness. Something big is coming. You know it. The screen lights up again and there it is — a giant robotic skeleton with tons of wires connecting him to the walls. This looks like it’s going to be an epic battle.

The mouth opens, and you see the target. The health bar is huge so you’re ready for a long fight. But when you jump up and take the first slash with the Zero blade…you get a multi-hit, chopping off about 1/6 of the health, and the target doesn’t even get flash invincibility for more than half a second. You can easily get a few swipes in, resulting in the boss losing 1/3 of his health before the mouth even closes the first time. The attacks barely do any damage and give YOU flashing invincibility so you can just keep attacking away while getting hit. One or two more mouth-openings and the boss is dead within about a minute or two. What the eff? If you go into the final boss with the shadow armor for X, the charged slash, if timed right, can chop off just under 1/3 health or so in one swipe. ONE SWIPE. And don’t even get me started about the damage you can do with the Shadow Armor’s giga attack. *cough*over1/2*cough* See this video for a visual illustration of this. Beware of spoilers, it is the final boss after all.

So I just spent days and days fighting through the first parts of the game only to come up against a final boss that keels over when I blow on it? What a let down!

(End Megaman X6 spoilers)

And that, my friends, is the greatest game design sin of all time, to me. A game with an extremely easy final boss. Megaman Battle Network’s Dream Virus, Megaman Battle Network 6’s Cybeast, Zero 2’s Dark Elf Elpizo, Megaman 5 & 6’s generic UFO-shooting-tiny-bullets, Sonic 2006’s Solaris, Sonic Advance 2’s standing robot/weird shrimp robot, Super Mario Bros.’ normal Bowser who just spams hammer-throwing, and Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland’s Nightmare, all commit this sin. A relatively difficult game capped by a completely disappointing final boss.

Friends, if you’re designing a game, ALWAYS make the final boss the most difficult challenge of the game. That is, of course, unless there’s secret content beyond the final boss like in the Megaman Battle Network games. But in all other cases, the final boss is where it ends. The player has practice the controls of the character the entire game, and this is where it should pay off. If the final boss is easier than something the player has already completed, why even have it in the first place? Sometimes, for story-based purposes, there might be a boss after a difficult “final” boss that is incredibly easy. That’s fine; as long as the more difficult final boss felt like a final boss. There has to be a culmination and a payoff. And note, that being “easy” doesn’t just mean dying after two hits; it can also mean things like being too predictable, moving too slowly, etc.

Let’s look now at some games I felt were very good at avoiding this sin:

Sonic & Knuckles
Megaman X4
Megaman X5
Megaman Battle Network 3
Megaman Battle Network 4
Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped

And others.

These games had great difficulty gradations, with the final boss being the culmination of the difficulty and giving off a great sense of accomplishment afterward.

In the context of story-telling, the final boss should come IMMEDIATELY after the climax begins. There’s usually some sort of intense complication that leads up to the climax, but when the climax appears, there should be a story sequence that sets it in motion, and then the final boss fight should start. (In fact, my favorite part of almost every game is not necessarily the final boss itself, but that scene that comes before the final boss.)

But if that preceding scene is amazing and the final boss is a complete wuss, it’s like watching a movie where the good guy and bad guy confront each other with intense and epic dialog, but when the good guy lunges at the bad guy to start the fight the bad guy takes one punch and then falls unconscious. We as viewers don’t want the fight to be over like that (*snaps*), we want the fight to take a relatively long time so we are put on the emotional roller-coaster that’s makes the story (or game) so thrilling–not considering, of course, those players who just want to win and don’t give a flying fig newton about the story. The final boss should be intense and satisfying regardless, but the climactic scene DEFINITELY should never write a check the final boss can’t cash.

The last thing I want to write about is games that have NO final boss. I can’t think of a commercial game like this offhand, though I know I’ve played a number of indie games that do this. My opinion? I’d rather play a game with a final boss, but I think it’s possible to have a satisfying ending to a game without a final boss. But how?

Again, I unfortunately don’t have any examples of a story-based game that didn’t have a final boss, but my thoughts on this are that as long as the final level is set off from the rest of the levels in some way (for example, maps 1-3 each have five levels, but map 4 only has 1, the final level), is noticeably harder and/or has some special quality about it (a new gameplay element, replaying challenges from earlier in the game, etc.), and has some sort of difficult final section before the player is allowed to complete the game, it will be at least moderately satisfying.

If, on the other hand, the final level is either just like the previous levels, not much harder than the previous level, and/or just the last level in a set (e.g. maps 1-4 each have 5 levels, and the 5th level of map 4 just happens to be the final level of the entire game), or some combination of these, then the game will likely leave the player feeling cheated, even if there is some final story segment that wraps up the plot. It’s like watching a fireworks show where they launch 5 blue sparkly fireworks, 5 red explosive fireworks, 5 crackling white fireworks, and then just end, without some sort of grand finale different from what you just saw. In this way, the final level (or boss) is almost like a prize for the player, saying here’s an epic grand finale just for you, to go out with a bang.

Anyway, I just felt that I had to write something about this so fewer designers will make this kind of mistake. Always remember: Final bosses (or levels) must not be let-downs! Thank you, and have a good day.

Categories: Game design, Misc.
  1. ~Ch@ud~
    January 7, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Quite an interesting psto, i must say. I should absolutely agree with you there, and IMHO, making a game with an Uber Easy final boss is just stupid and when the player beats the last boss in a matter of seconds a template rip happens and the player is just left with the O_o face and disappointment.
    Also, I don’t think Cortex in Crash 3 was really hard, actually, to me N-gin (he comes before Cortex) was the hardest boss in the game. And I should also add Metroid Zero Mission to the list, as the last boss there is beaten with just about 15 missiles.

    • soulred12
      January 7, 2011 at 1:19 pm

      “Template rip” is a great way to put it. It’s good to break convention sometimes but I just don’t think this is one of them. It’s funny though, I almost WANT to die a couple times before beating the final boss. But of course they have to be deaths while I’m playing my hardest ;)

      And yeh, I guess Crash 3 was on the list because I played it when I was like 12. Haha. N-Gin was hard, but for some reason when the tiki masks went at it I just couldn’t focus on attacking Cortex =p

      Also I haven’t played MZM, but “boo” for it being another game with an easy final boss =/

  2. Mark D
    January 2, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Awesome write up man. Mega man was the stuff when I started playing Nintendo as a boy. Between Mario and Megaman was a tight race. I still play old school MegaMan from time to time just to get my fix.

    Mark D
    Super Mario Games

  1. May 9, 2014 at 4:06 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: