Designing boss battles

Fernyfer775

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I'm a pretty big fan of bosses that, as their HP drops, go from being overconfident and lazy to desperate and dangerous, and this gets reflected in how brutal their abilities are. Not saying every boss needs a FINAL FORM, but they should get nastier or change their tactics a bit as their HP goes down to keep the battle interesting.
I used to be a hardcore raider in FF11 and WOW, so this particular boss mechanic is one that I really capitalized on when creating my boss fights. I think creating "phases" dependent on the boss's HP, where they gain/lose abilities and change up their tactics keeps a boss battle engaging and fresh as the player continues to push through their HP.

I am a pretty big fan of giving bosses an "enrage" as well. For example, in my game Eternal Twilight, the 3rd boss of the game (the infamous Minerva) has a "soft enrage" which increases the damage she deals by a small percentage every turn that you are in battle with her. Every 6 turns she does a massive nuke on the party which is pretty easily survivable the first two times she does it, but because of her soft enrage increasing her damage, surviving the third one is most likely a party wipe unless you debuff the hell out of her.

I personally like long boss battles, because bosses tend to be my favorite part of playing RPG games, buuuuuuuuuuuuut, for the love of god, make that long battle engaging and evolving as it goes on. This, I think, is a hard balance of figuring out how to not make the boss die too quickly and how to make it a long, but challenging and fun battle.
 

Aesica

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^ I think I actually played that game, and it's pretty well-polished.

That said, regarding enrage mechanics, I'm trying not to go too overboard with those because I want low level challenges (assuming my game ends up good enough for people to even want to do them) to be an option. I can definitely see their appeal though, for added pressure.

One mechanic found on several abilities in my game is a slow ramp-up of that ability's damage each time it gets used, but only for the duration of combat, while the user is alive, and (for buff-granted abilities) only if the buff is maintained. So far, this is mostly just for players to reward them for keeping their team alive, but I've considered it for a few bosses too.

Now, as someone who grew up playing early FF games in low-level challenge mode, I know that boss fights can go on for a really long time when you hit for noodle damage. Any boss attack that slowly ramps up (especially AoE) over the course of the battle might result in a somewhat-unfair roadblock to any low level challenge seeker.

At the same time though, something like an AoE that gets used every round, slowly ramping up from pitiful damage to deadly, would certainly pressure players to maximize their damage output. This AoE is in conjunction with other attacks of course--I'm a huge fan of bosses that get lots of attacks every round. On top of that, the challenge level I intend for my game to have might make low-level runs close to impossible anyway.
 

JosephSeraph

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Instead of adding another form, you know what you can do instead?

Have your boss monster change the pattern of their attacks in mid combat. Or... I dunno… add a new set of attacks as their HP gets lower, and they add more to the rotation.
How's that different from having several forms? (answer: the sprite also changes)
 

pasunna

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for real... I never a fan of turn base game boss...
It just feel boring and repetitive
with huge amount of hp to drain out

even in big title like FF or Persona
it feel the same...
I more like the normal mob that I can kill it easy with some right strategy like weakness poison stun blabla

and when it is a boss...
it feel very bullshit that half of my skill not effective
no poison no stun no confuse etc

I like pokemon game that it is just another trainer that almost play the same rule as you
well... I know they still a little cheater
but not as other godlike boss that got huge load of hp defend Resistance immune
it feel boring more than challenging
also that one hit kill skill they had....
only thing I still fight trough it because I want to see the cutscene...

Oh... other than pokemon
divinity original sin
is something I like
it is the same concept as pokemon they play the same rule as player
basically I like boss that you don't got nerf of what you are during a boss fight
the boss that I can counter it with my skill and strategy
not just patient to do ant damage and look out there one hit kill turn attack

a boss that got some significant weakness bind to a good lore
I don't think boss need to be hard
as long as it had interesting look out and background
it makes me memorable
well...bad boss make me memorable too I admit that...
 

Tai_MT

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How's that different from having several forms? (answer: the sprite also changes)
Here's how it is different:

Boss Monster has these attacks at 100% HP
Soul Strike
Acid Breath
Bombard

Boss Monster has these attacks at 50% HP
Soul Strike
Acid Breath
Bombard
Raging Blows
Stunning Stare
---
Boss Monster changes form:
All attacks are new, no old attacks used.
You had to kill the first monster to get this one to appear, so far more HP.
Sprite changes into something completely new
Combat drags on for another Boss Monster kill
Usually some Dialogue you need to wade through about how, "this isn't even my final form!"
Weaknesses and Resistances often change

---

Basically, the difference is that one is your Boss adds more to combat as you knock out its HP. The other is that the Boss changes into a completely new monster and now you're in a fight with a second monster (because the first monster was so lame, you had to add a second, or third... or fourth...).

There's also a difference in how easy "transforming" bosses tend to be. The reason they usually exist is to "add challenge", because the first Boss Monster couldn't provide a proper challenge and take a satisfying amount of actions to defeat. So, devs add a second monster! Or a third! Each as easy as the last, but they exist as a whole in order to accomplish the goal the first Boss was supposed to accomplish:

A challenge that isn't rofl-stomped into the ground.

As I said before, however... if you can't get Boss monster right the first time... adding extra forms isn't going to get it right for you either. You're just padding out your game because you're unfamiliar with all the cool things you can do with a combat system beyond "give higher stats".
 

CraneSoft

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As I said before, however... if you can't get Boss monster right the first time... adding extra forms isn't going to get it right for you either. You're just padding out your game because you're unfamiliar with all the cool things you can do with a combat system beyond "give higher stats".
I'll had to disagree on this one because this strictly depends on execution and how each individual boss is designed. In any good RPG, additional forms/sequential bosses either had storyline justification, are legitimate threats, or a battle of attrition where conserving resources are an intended part of the challenge so you don't end up spending all of your MP and items on that lame first form. In theory multi-forms and changing phases/patterns are the basically the same thing, just executed differently on the HP subject.
 

Aesica

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@Tai_MT huh? It seems like you're assuming everyone who makes a boss with multiple forms is going to follow what you outlined, so let me say this as someone with several multi-form bosses in their game: No.

My approach to multi-form bosses has always been:
  1. Switch forms partway through the battle (as in, certain HP % threshold) instead of when the boss's HP runs out.
  2. Preserve the missing HP so it feels like you're fighting the same monster instead a boss rush consisting of monsters b, c, d, etc
  3. Carry some attacks over while adding new ones. There's no rule anywhere that says Form B needs to have all new attacks compared to Form A. If anything, you want it to feel like the same boss, but powered up, so maintaining a few attacks across multiple forms is important.
  4. Multiple forms (to me) is really just a way to better telegraph to players that they crossed an important HP threshold, and that things are going to start heating up.
 

Tai_MT

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@CraneSoft

If your combat system is based entirely upon "bigger stats", then it doesn't matter what your boss with 20 forms does. Your players are likely going to rofl-stomp it without even intending to (I've yet to beat an RPG at the level the devs thought I'd be at when reaching the boss... I'm usually 20 levels above what they thought I'd be and I don't even engage in voluntary grind all that much). This is sort of typical for most RPG's. So, if all your boss monster has going for it is "It has higher defense and more HP", then a second form or third form or twelfth form that just keep jacking up Defense, Attack, and HP isn't going to be any more of a challenge than the last one.

Likewise...

If an RPG has a Dedicated Healer... it's usually "easy mode". MP healing is usually a default of x6 more efficient and effective than restoring by Consumable. Even if you triple the cost of MP restoring items. Likewise, reserves for MP are usually nearly limitless at about the midpoint of the game. It's rarely a matter of "managing your resources" in most RPG's these days. There may be exceptions, but the vast majority of RPG's have you tripping over Consumables and Money every 50 steps, not even counting what monsters are dropping. A player rarely needs manage or conserve any resource beyond the first 2 hours of gameplay in an RPG. Harder RPG's manage to extend that to somewhere around 5-6 hours, but by midgame... Yeah, there's no more "manage a resource" or "conserve a resource".

This is why I said, "If you can't execute a good boss fight with the first form, why even include a second or third or tenth? Not like they'll be executed any better". As Gordon Ramsey has said, "You haven't even gotten one right! How can you think about more?!"

@Aesica
1 and 2. I'm not sure what this looks like in your game. From the sound of it, it isn't a "form" so much as just changing the sprite to indicate damage dealt to it. For perspective, I'm talking about, "Evil Knight just turned into Large Elaborate Demon" type of "form change". There's usually a throwaway line about, "you haven't seen my final form yet!" or something, but that's what I'm referring to.

If, instead, you are referring to altering the sprite to indicate damage dealt or anger or something (essentially signposting), then I'll commend you for that.

Why? Because doing something like that is just freakin' cool. I've always liked games that do something like that. Though, I tend to enjoy it purely for aesthetic purposes.

3. The reason why I hate the "I have many forms" bosses is because they typically do not follow this rule. More often than not, it follows the rule I've stated. If it was very clearly just updating the move list, then I'm in favor of that. I've argued for doing just that. Though, you honestly don't need to "change forms" to do that. You can do it without changing forms. So, really, changing forms is just something to do for aesthetics at that point. Which... I dunno... If it's done for aesthetic reasons, okay. But, the topic itself isn't talking about aesthetic changes. It's talking about designing a boss battle. So, really, we're not talking about just changing a sprite, we're talking about actually changing the monster.

4. I don't mind this at all. Though, I wouldn't really call it a "form change". I like the aesthetic of that though. I do enjoy when monsters change how they look at certain HP thresholds to indicate they've been damaged. I like when they change the way they look when they're winding up for a big attack... or going into a defensive posture.

However, I don't like when we change the sprite of a monster to indicate it has entirely changed form into a new monster that you must now fight, because the previous form wasn't strong enough.

I think what you're more accurately talking about is "Sprite Changes" and not "Boss Forms".
 

BurningOrca

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I also like the approach of every phase tied to the same HP bar more then the regular way of introducing a new form after the HP have been depleted completely. I even don't like a secondary form and luckily never had to fight a third/forth/tenth etc. form yet.

I recently fought the final boss of Tokyo Mirage Sessions and it made me bored in the first form and still bored in the second form. This one even didn't change the respective forms pattern at any time. I felt so relieved when it was over after the second form. I think it only got 2 forms to split it apart from the regular bosses in order to indicate that it is the final boss. I just think this is lame. Final Bosses should have another unique factor that makes them feel different from regular bosses then multiple forms.
 

YoraeRasante

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1. Taking forever/To high HP: Recently I fought Gullveig (Atelier Escha & Logy) for about 40-50 minutes until I lost. I have the feeling the series is famous for long boss battles. Even Youtube Videos of very skilled player fighting the series strongest bosses sometimes take 10-20 minutes.

2. Being to easy/Taking absolutely no time: Gullveig again. After my loss I have crafted an attack item that was able to 3 hit him. I didn't know before that it is that strong. Bosses at this stage of the game should still give you challenge. Same goes for early game bosses. If any boss can be beaten in just a few hits, it's not even worth putting that boss into the game in the first place.
Actually, to me... This is the opposite of a problem really, right there...

I mean not really, they can be great problems, but your example is terrible.

You may notice this is the same boss, yet the main difference is your strategy. And as you mentioned, the main difference is an item you crafted.
This was most likely intentional.
This game, nay this series, has one focus: the crafting system. So much that in the ones I played the main character is the only one that can even use most non-equipment crafted items, the others are there mostly to help.
Meaning... this boss was a barrier to check if you learned to craft and use items properly.
You did not, and it took almost an hour just to fail. You did, and you ended in just a few turns.

A boss is, in most cases, an exam to show your mastery of what you learned until then. Thus why so many Zelda games have the boss' weakness be the very item in their dungeon.
This boss is extremely hard or extremely easy depending on your mastery of crafting, which is the game's main focus.
I think it is a success then.

I will put more later when im not in mobile, but the first thing comes to my mind is making it immune to most of your cool skills and states.
Oh yes... how many games give you awesome states, like killing ones, and skills that damage a part of the total hp instead of depending on your stats... and as soon as a boss arrives they are immune? And buffs/debuffs, many times have similar problems.
The Megaten series is kinda better at this. Usually bosses are immune to instakills, but not always, and sometimes are not only not resistant to some states (the best strategy against kudlak in devil survivor for me was to petrify him and then break it) but it is actually their weakness (the troll in smt3 is weak to mental states). Also as you advance enemiy groups can become as strong as your team instead of just a few attacks of obstacle (not surprising as they are recruitable) yet have just as much chance of dying as the early enemies, and thus the instakills are still useful even if not for the boss.
Giving your boss a natural Counterattack / Magic Reflect / High Evasion chance is a good way to turn your otherwise fun boss fight into a luck-based pile of BS. Reserve those special effects for buffs.
Chrono Trigger did this one right. There are two kinds of bosses with counter: the ones that either war warn you they are countering or to what, and the ones that do a different counter to each attack you do on them... but one of them doesn't really kill, and they can only counter (save for their death attack). So their countering is a gimmick that can be gone through. There are also only three of them, one in a dual boss you are supposed to lose (but can still win).

If you're the type of dev who simply slaps an array of strong abilities on a boss or giving it no interesting mechanics / gimmicks, it's back to the drawing board for you.
Ah yes, this is an old one. As in, before 2k3 old one. Even at that time there were guides to make bosses more interesting and they had suggestions like "instead of attacking and breathing fire, give a debuff from time to time before using the breath. It will tell the players it is time to heal and defend fast, and that makes it much better." It was already considered lazy 20 years ago.

Making the boss immune to most, if not all states
is an incredibly lazy way to balance your states and a surefire way of encouraging your player to never use them.
As I said earlier to TheoAllen. The only time I found this interesting was in games from MegaTen... because most bosses can be recruited later, and that Alice is still immune to almost all states when she is on your side. Truthfully, she was forever on my SMT4 team after I made her.

Multiple enemy phases with no in-between rests/saves
is only okay when done in extreme moderation, such as a decisive battle against a villain, and should only happen once or twice in your game.
Oh, yes. So much this.
Who uses all the elixirs and megalixirs? no one, because they know that they will need it for the next phase of the boss. since all buffs and regens will be lost between phases but you won't be healed or recover mp.

re-fights.
These are bosses you fight, then they say "Not this time!" and run away only for you to fight them time and again later. I have no idea why games do this. Do dev's think this is fun or engaging? Are players supposed to be excited to do the same thing again? The thing I find most interesting about boss fights (aside from their narrative importance and loot) is their uniqueness.
These are only acceptable, discounting when you are supposed to lose the first time like you mentioned, is if they are different every fight, like they learn and improve. Solt and Peppor in Chrono Cross for example, most of the time a comedic relief type of tutorial people, they are there mostly to teach you something and you just beat them up to make them run away, using what they taught or not... until the one time they aren't and are actual danger.

Bosses that spams healing - Yes, I've seen bosses with a strong healing move in a completely randomized moveset. The result: the boss can heal faster than you can hurt it whenever it feels like it. Healing moves are fair game if they are uncommon (or a low-tier DPS check) or is a one-time thing, otherwise, they only serve to make a battle longer for no real purpose.
There is a game for SNES, 7th Saga I think, where the non-chosen party members later are bosses, and the later you fight them the stronger they are. The healer, if you take too long to fight, is about invincible due to healing more than you can take.
Heals are supposed to be rare affairs for a boss that has them, even limited maybe. A low regen? fine. Healing minions? fine, they are just minions. Healing itself absurdly? either it is supposed to be invincible, or the strategy is to hit it as much as you can between the -predictable- heals, and even then this last one is bad.

Random AI with multi-actions
- So a boss just decided to use his strongest party-wide AoE attack three times in a row with no buildup. Mot's Drama.
Ah yes, Mot. It has a skill that gives him extra actions that turn. Including the very same skill.
Don't do a Mot.

And about the difference between forms and patterns...
Yeah, everything you guys say seems to me more like a new pattern with a new graphic than an actual new form. I mean, in the times of 2k you had to do this with transformations into a different enemy, so technically they counted as forms, but...
Nowadays to me a boss with multiple forms is when they are actually separated battles. The buffs and debuffs on the party are gone, as are any states that leave after battles on the party. The boss' condition brand new, regardless of what you did the last form, hp, mp, states, buffs, debuffs... and not even a heal on-screen to justify that.
The only way these are valid is with justifications in the narrative. Like in Breth of Fire 4,
at first you think that is the final boss but then you remember it came from behind the enemy and both were there at the same time, unlike when you controlled him and he turned that form... then the enemy transforms into a brand new one evolution of his first transformation.
 

BurningOrca

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Actually, to me... This is the opposite of a problem really, right there...

I mean not really, they can be great problems, but your example is terrible.

You may notice this is the same boss, yet the main difference is your strategy. And as you mentioned, the main difference is an item you crafted.
This was most likely intentional.
This game, nay this series, has one focus: the crafting system. So much that in the ones I played the main character is the only one that can even use most non-equipment crafted items, the others are there mostly to help.
Meaning... this boss was a barrier to check if you learned to craft and use items properly.
You did not, and it took almost an hour just to fail. You did, and you ended in just a few turns.

A boss is, in most cases, an exam to show your mastery of what you learned until then. Thus why so many Zelda games have the boss' weakness be the very item in their dungeon.
This boss is extremely hard or extremely easy depending on your mastery of crafting, which is the game's main focus.
I think it is a success then.
Yes I have to admit that it is a bad example, because the series is all about crafting and I had fairly weak items in the first run. As I played also a bunch of other games from the series I was just surprised that an item that can 2 to 3 hit every single story relevant boss, including the final one even exists. In the other games of the series I've played the strongest item I could craft upto this point was never as strong as this magic tome.
 

Ellie Jane

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If your boss is going to have a vulnerability, don't make it the only way to defeat it.

I'm thinking of two bosses in FFVII I had trouble with back in the day.

To defeat Jenova the one time, you really have to have picked up a water-resist item on the way, which is conveniently located on the path.

To defeat the cave of the gi boss you have to use cure spells, which isn't obvious.

I mean, could be worked out, but it's annoying to grind those bosses without those items and not be able to defeat them. If you miss out the big vulnerability it should still be possible, if harder, to beat the boss.
 

Countyoungblood

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What would you guys say to a healing boss with an mp pool? The quantity of magic/heals would be limited by mp and the bosses health would be lower.

For example..100hp +10 heals for 50 hp instead of a boss with 600hp.

You could burst the boss down before he could heal or drain mp or survive all the heals.

Thoughts?
 

HumanNinjaToo

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Idk, bosses that heal have a tendency to just drag the fight on longer than need be, for no real point. I can get behind a boss,however, that has minions to heal him. Still a nuisance, but at least you can focus fire to knock them out.
 

Countyoungblood

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Idk, bosses that heal have a tendency to just drag the fight on longer than need be, for no real point. I can get behind a boss,however, that has minions to heal him. Still a nuisance, but at least you can focus fire to knock them out.
Are you concidering the numbers? Im taking the boss's original health and lowering it when including heals.
 

YoraeRasante

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while from a designer's point of view this may seem ok, from a player's they won't see it as that. Since they won't know the idea, it is just a boss that heals a lot of hp each turn. a disguised damage sponge boss.
unless you have every enemy, including bosses, show their mp. but that would mean it is a game designed to allow this kind of boss.

a boss with unknown limited heal is kind of a disguised higher hp boss.
a boss with unlimited heal is almost certainly a mistake, of course.

true, the heal would take away one of the boss' actions, but it would kinda be the same as putting in the battle a "fake enemy" that when attacked gives the boss damage and one turn of stun but needs some turns to recharge.

of course, it can be justified through lore and proper presentation in the game before.
if the boss is that cleric that was in the party for some time a few story scenes ago, and the healing spell is the same one with high cure but high cost, then the player may think of this strategy.
this could be improved if other human enemies had more player-sized hp but had limited use skills pretending to be items, and if the item is stolen by the party thief the enemy loses one use of the skill too, for example.

but if all we have is what you said, "lots of healing but low total hp and mp", unless they were told or are repeating the fight later thus paying more attention since they (think they) already know what the gimmick is the player won't really feel the effect you are aiming for.
 

Countyoungblood

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while from a designer's point of view this may seem ok, from a player's they won't see it as that. Since they won't know the idea, it is just a boss that heals a lot of hp each turn. a disguised damage sponge boss.
unless you have every enemy, including bosses, show their mp. but that would mean it is a game designed to allow this kind of boss.

a boss with unknown limited heal is kind of a disguised higher hp boss.
a boss with unlimited heal is almost certainly a mistake, of course.

true, the heal would take away one of the boss' actions, but it would kinda be the same as putting in the battle a "fake enemy" that when attacked gives the boss damage and one turn of stun but needs some turns to recharge.

of course, it can be justified through lore and proper presentation in the game before.
if the boss is that cleric that was in the party for some time a few story scenes ago, and the healing spell is the same one with high cure but high cost, then the player may think of this strategy.
this could be improved if other human enemies had more player-sized hp but had limited use skills pretending to be items, and if the item is stolen by the party thief the enemy loses one use of the skill too, for example.

but if all we have is what you said, "lots of healing but low total hp and mp", unless they were told or are repeating the fight later thus paying more attention since they (think they) already know what the gimmick is the player won't really feel the effect you are aiming for.
are players really that delicate? Unless they are told before hand they will be upset. Sounds like bad parenting of a toddler.
 

Tai_MT

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I think from a dev's point of view, it becomes a question of "Why?".

If you have a boss with 600 HP, you can give it any gimmick you want.

If you have a boss with 100 HP, but it can spend turns to heal... Now it has to spend turns essentially doing nothing except prolonging the combat. At which point, your boss is just, "I will sit here and do nothing, not even pose a threat to you, and allow you to kill me. But, killing me is going to take a while."

If we're looking at just trying to execute tactical combat, you're almost universally better off just giving the boss more HP if you want it prolonged a specific amount of time, or giving it minions that will do the healing.

A boss that sits around doing nothing except healing until it runs out of MP and can finally attack... isn't really much of a boss. Likewise, if it's only got 100 HP and you steamroll it in two turns anyway... it wasn't much of a boss. May as well have just been a mook.
 

YoraeRasante

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are players really that delicate? Unless they are told before hand they will be upset. Sounds like bad parenting of a toddler.
if your objective is making it be different to them than just a damage sponge with a visual bar that just looks smaller, then giving the player means of figuring it out without a guide or looking online is... kinda the whole point of this topic.
 

Countyoungblood

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if your objective is making it be different to them than just a damage sponge with a visual bar that just looks smaller, then giving the player means of figuring it out without a guide or looking online is... kinda the whole point of this topic.
This thread "designing boss battles" is about designing mechanics of boss battles. Giving away the answer to a puzzle means its no longer a puzzle. The thread isnt "spoon feeding easy wins" so, no. Kinda isnt the whole point of the topic. Either way usually people design the kind of games theyd like to play so we're just in different camps.

What is your idea?
 

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I based this on the armor of Actor 1_7 of the RTP. Hair is from Derex and Sythian Bard.
Stream will be live shortly! Going to do another art stream tonight so that I can finish my Fauna Focus piece~ Feel free to drop by!
Humans are fallible creatures, we all know that. It's when we're forced to look at ourselves that we start to disagree. :p
Expectation: Working on boss battle.
Reality: "Look at how awful are these code and database organization. Let me clean this mess", *yet, casually adding more modules that I have no idea if I would use it later*
Trying to learn to read Japanese so I read my manga. I like to buy them without all the edits made during translation.

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