Boss Design & Doing a Lot with a Little

I remember you showed a writeup on how to design enemies from a Platinum games dev who said enemies with patterns would get too boring. Would Lil Horn from Super Meat Boy and Gelaldy from Ys Origin be good examples of that? Each attack pattern for them is exactly the same for each phase.

I feel compelled to say there’s probably exceptions to that rule. Like imagine a boss with patterns that speed up steadily over the fight, or one with patterns that are reactive to the player’s position and therefore are a bit different every time you play. Ninja Gaiden NES even had a perfectly serviceable boss who just walked left and right. Hell, a lot of old NES games had serviceable pattern bosses.

I think Lil Horn is absolutely a terrible boss fight though. Essentially you just repeat it until you memorize where to stand. Most of the boss’s attacks are designed to be unreactable, so you really just need to know in advance what will happen and the same thing will happen every time. There are some randomly spawning obstacles, but these are trivial.

By comparison if you look at 3 videos of Gelaldy on nightmare versus yunica, you’ll notice that in none of them does the boss repeat exactly the same sequence of attacks. It chooses attacks semi-randomly based on whether it has hands or not. Plus there’s a degree of creativity and optimization in how the boss can be tackled. Also his attacks change in the later cycles, like instead of knocking all the platforms out for an area, he makes it so every 3rd platform is missing, which makes his laser beam attack more effective.

Gelaldy isn’t the best Ys Origin boss, but he’s not nearly as bad as you imply. You gotta take out his hands before he uses his head attacks, he has a variety of randomly chosen attacks that can be exploited differently using different powers. He even spawns enemies that can attack asynchronously from his normal attacks, and open him up to attack as he spawns them.

Speaking of Ninja Gaiden NES, aren’t most bosses total shit? Some just walk back and forth dealing heavy swings, some are easily cheesed with a subweapon the level gives you in front of the boss with plenty of ammo or just by standing still (the frogs are almost a parody of Frankenstein from CV1)

They’re not all winners, but I also wouldn’t call them total shit. They’re serviceable, which is the word I used in the last post on them.

Subweapon ammo is collected throughout the level, and the best subweapon to use on them is usually not outside their door. The whirlwind slash will oneshot bosses, but it’s hard to get it to a boss without accidentally picking up another powerup along the way, and to keep it stocked with enough ninpo to keep using it to dispatch aerial enemies along the way, since it’s used regardless of intention when you attack in the air.

The first boss is pretty lame, but it’s also the first boss. The second boss is basically the same as the first boss, but slightly harder. The difficulty in both of them is attacking them before they walk into you, and moving out of the way when they attack. Also getting over their heads by walljumping when you get cornered.

The third boss I had a fair amount of trouble with because there’s no safe spot to stand, you can either slash his bullets or jump them, but need to be careful to avoid the boss as he jumps at the same time after he shoots. Obviously this player has a much simpler solution to that fight, but it’s also slow.

The 4th leap frog boss is fairly tough and really dynamic, with projectiles going everywhere, and it’s hard to find an opportunity to hit them without moving into harm’s way. You’re given small safe zones to stand, but they’re not completely safe.

5th boss is a tight timing test, move back and forth to hit him at the right range and jump to avoid his shots with the right timing. It’s possible to use the pillar to make it easier to avoid his shots, but that also means getting out of the range you can attack him.

6th boss is the walk back and forwards boss I was referencing in my prior post. It’s a really simple pattern, but fairly hard to avoid. Since the spot you need to hit is in the center of the screen, you gotta regularly jump over the boss’s head to get at that spot, and all the projectiles swirling around him make that much more difficult than the earlier versions of the boss.

7th, gotta jump up to hit it and avoid semi-homing fireballs while attacking it. It moves back and forth, so it will shoot the fireballs from different spots, and those will move differently, and you get limited chances to attack/chase it while it threatens you by potentially moving into you.

8th, rains projectiles down on you. Its head detaches. Pretty basic. Get in close and hit it.

These obviously aren’t the most complex bosses in the world, but they do a lot with a little and they’re fairly challenging and dynamic. They each use their own movement (because they have contact damage) as a way to get you to change your positioning, and for all of them, you need to get close to them to damage them, putting you also closer to harm, which you need to react to. There’s something to learn from them that modern bosses don’t usually have.

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