Boss Design FT. Blasphemous

Today I’ll be breaking down a boss from a 2D souls-like game called Blasphemous.

This post will be geared more towards understanding game design practices and intricacies involved in creating a “good” boss, in comparison to potential pitfalls a designer might face while successfully trying to create a new one.

But before I proceed, in case if you haven’t played the game yet, I’ll just detail few quick parameters to get the ball rolling further ahead…

Movement – Square Pattern

  • Horizontal Tool:
    • Run ← →
  • Vertical Tool:
    • Jump / Fall ↑ ↓
    • Horizontal control is also possible while jump / fall is active.
  • Enhanced Horizontal Tool:
    • Dodge -→
    • Dodge also has the ability to go through enemies / attacks to avoid potential incoming damage.

AbilitiesTrident Pattern

  • Top & Horizontal Attack Tool:
    • Sword Attack ←
  • Enhanced Horizontal Attack Tool:
    • Ranged Attack ←- -→
  • Pure Defence, Timing Tool:
    • Parry •

Once we understand the limitations of the player toolset, we’ll be able to better understand how we can design our boss around them (we can also apply similar techniques to approach enemy design as well).

It’s also very important for us to understand that these listed parameters can always be mixed to enhance potential pattern combinations possible. And to note, I didn’t mention “ALL” the parameters from the game, but only the main ones to get my points across.

Anyways, following onto the boss we’ll be discussing about…

Esdras, of the Anointed Legion

Now usually you don’t just jump into implementing the character into the engine directly (obviously). You’ll in some form have to deal with the following mentioned points while working on the character:

  1. Demand
  2. Presentation
  3. Fight Style
  4. Toolset
  5. Feedbacks

Let’s go through them one-by-one to see how Esdras fits in the picture.

Demand

There’s no supply without demand. And unless and until you don’t figure out “WHY” the character is required in the first place, you won’t be able to properly justify their addition into the game.

It could be (to name a couple of examples):

  • I need to introduce a new narrative antagonist.
  • I need new gameplay patterns / variety in the game.
  • I need an emotional response from the player.
  • I need more artistic variations in the game.
  • I need progression in how enemies scale through the game.

And depending on your demand, you could focus on building your character accordingly.

For example, do you need more artistic variations in your game? Then you can try reusing existing enemy behaviors available (Witcher 3 route):

How about looking into different archetypes to enable variety and progression?

“Enemy AI list from Spiderman (2018)”

Do note that you don’t need to restrict yourselves to a singular demand, as there could many sub-demands on why a character could be added into a game.

I think Blasphemous chose Esdras because of the need of a strong narrative character build up between early & end bosses available (I think a little bit of it is also to mix up the gameplay loop while the player is progressing through the game).

“Picture is supposed to depict Blasphemous progression (not actual)”

A common pitfall I’ve noticed:

Now and then I see characters who on paper sound cool, but lack on execution. I believe most of them fail because of their purpose of inclusion (AKA demand).

For example: let’s say I wanted to make a lava girl character!

It may sound interesting on paper, but just that idea itself might not lend into justifying how the character will fit into your game, no matter how cool it might sound.

At one point or the other you have to answer for demand. Else they’ll just feel like a “gimmick”, or an out of place addition which serves no purpose to the overall experience of the game.

Presentation

After you’ve fulfilled the need for demand, I believe you can tackle the other topics in any order you may want.

I mean, design is a fluid space where people are still discovering things which work best / fail day-by-day.

But coming back to the topic, this section mainly encompasses different factors which affect the overall presentation of the character to the player:

  • Narrative
  • Visuals
  • Sound

Most games derive fight styles and other subsequent steps such as – toolset and feedbacks following these factors (but it could work the other way around as well, depending on your demand).

To continue with Esdras, narratively this character is introduced to you upon each entry of a new level design section (thrice in total of the game), where he relays dialogues in relation to your journey, and as per the new section you are about to explore.

  • Visually, following are common expressions players might face upon encounter:
    • Important Authority
    • Mysterious
    • Hidden Power
    • Melee Wielder

The character is interesting as you clearly see “contrast” in comparison to the rest of the world (regal strength vs. weak / dreadful).

“Understand how the players might emotionaly react / experience on noticing the character”

Now if you wanted to define your own character, depending on the demand, you’d have to look into defining the following factors:

  • Narrative:
    • Introduction:
      • How does the player get to know about the character?
    • Build Up:
      • Are there any referrals to the character? Or reminders of their existence?
    • Closure:
      • How does the character exit the narrative of the game?
  • Visuals:
    • Shape:
      • Does the character have multiple limbs?
      • Can the character fly?
      • Clothing? Naked?
      • Colors?
    • Size:
      • How big / small is the character in relation to player character?
    • Speed:
      • How fast / slow is the character in relation to player character?
  • Sound:
    • What sort of sound signature does the character have?
      • You could easily expand more on this.
  • Expected player experience:
    • What are you building the players up for?
      • Stealthy / action / horror / power / etc.

These are only few to get your brain jogging, do explore on more potential factors which can define the presentation of your character in your own desired method.

A common pitfall I’ve noticed:

Many games unknowingly create two characters who feel similar to each other, while they thematically don’t connect with one another in any way.

To avoid this, just understand the cast of characters you already have before you introduce a new contrasting element into the mix.

“Prince of Pesia: Sands of Time, two different enemies with two different toolsets, but they feel similar to each other per their visual differences”

Fight Style

Through intended gameplay, or by narrative, you might have figured out what sort of “characteristics” the boss might need to have to face the player.

But if not already done, you’d be looking into defining the following points mentioned:

  • Characteristics:
    • Health intentions:
      • A boss generally has health in 1:3+ ratio to the player (to usually test endurance).
      • But maybe it could depend on the planned shape of the character?
      • For example: Super low health, multiple God Hand Miniature Power Rangers.
    • Attack frequency intentions:
      • Supposed to be quick with low damage? Or slow with high damage? Or is a mixture of things?
    • Damage type intentions:
      • Supposed to be ranged? or physical? or magical?
    • Strength:
      • Has any invincibility?
    • Weaknesses:
      • Has any weaknesses?
      • (I can remember Dark Eater Midir being weak to lightning, because dragons are supposed to be weak to lightning in Dark Souls universe).
    • Special attacks / modes:
      • Intended to change in someway? Maybe the character transforms?

Again, these are only aimed to get your brain jogging ahead. There could be many other factors depending on the type of character / game.

You can also mix-up presentation parameters with this section, as there’s no hard set rule in how a game can be designed in our industry.

Anyways. Coming back to Esdras:

To keep it simple, Esdras is a mediocre-to-heavy speed humanoid character, with similar strengths to the player character of the game.

He carries a mace around, with few passive traits, and a companion who supports him at the end of the fight.

“Bottom Esdras, Top Companion”

But the important point of the topic…

Fight style refers more on “HOW” a character fights with their metrics specified, rather than just utilizing them for implementation.

Usually this means we would be researching a lot into defining animation style, camera vision, VFX, and SFX guidelines which supports the character archetype made so far, in a holistic sense.

A lot about character movement, tools, and abilities are also decided in this section, in an overarching view. You would be defining a vision, for how the character would potentially “function” and be “perceived” in the game.

“Once again, this is a high level example case. You can further expand per your requirement”
“There could be many other factors to define Fight Style besides mentioned.
Like Batman’s Scarecrow fight, which puts heavy emphasis on Level Design.”

A common pitfall I’ve noticed:

Getting these elements pinned down early is essential to avoid issues such as this…

“Do keep in mind the fight style of your character before adding on any toolset moves you may want the character to perform”
“Also, I can’t stop myself from adding this while the opportunity is available. You’re welcome.”

Toolset

The most important aspect for a designer to focus on – a character toolset can make / break a game depending on how they are made in my opinion. And from my experience, it usually takes a lot of polish time to get these right. But in general, I’ve tried to come up with few anchors which can help me evaluate my work:

  • Patterns
  • Skill Test
  • Training Arc

Patterns

Humans are always thinking, searching, and are occupied to find answers for one thing or the other. We can’t just keep our brains empty to sit idling around. It’s in our nature to always end up predicting, or looking for solutions for problems at hand.

And similarly, humans are inherently attracted to video games, as they incentivize our internal thought process by the choices they throw at us.

Our brains enable us in always looking for answers such as:

  • Should I move left? Or should I move right?
  • Should I attack? Or defend?
  • Should I shoot? or throw a grenade?

And depending on how good the “rhythm” of such actions is, to you personally as a player, you get hooked in the “flow” accordingly.

Ultimately what I’m trying to get at is – we humans see “patterns” to depict a reaction out of everything we notice in our lives.

“Figuring out enemy targets and their toolsets to plan appropriate moves accordingly.”
“Tracking targets to shoot, and in some cases, planning to shoot accordingly to body points”
“Figuring out the body part you need to focus on.”
“Figuring out which ally forces should focus on which enemy forces to gain advantage.”

In all cases shown above, you are trying to “find patterns”, and match them to make sense on what you need to do, in one way or other.

Weed Pot GIF - Weed Pot Clouds - Discover & Share GIFs

Now if you remember the patterns we set for the player in the beginning, we can create our boss patterns to approach player possible combinations as well.

“Since most of the player patterns fall in horizontal and vertical spectrum, the boss adheres to these patterns to enable counter play, and rhythm from the player”

Different studios / designers may have different approach towards the topic.

For eg; Rational Game Design (RGD) is a design methodology utilized by Ubisoft to create and determine skill tests for enemies / bosses through a variety matrix according to player determined patterns available.

But it’s also important for us to understand that patterns don’t work by themselves, but they work depending on how they are interacting with one another, to create a “Rhythm” (it’s basically referring to fight logic & loops, but I just like to call it this as in most cases you are making the player dance to your tune).

Rhythm could mean a lot of things, but in my case I’d like to think of it as culmination of patterns possible for the boss & the player.

“High level view of patterned attacks forming loops, deriving a rhythm for the player to adjust”

Depending on how masterfully you execute the rhythm, you’ll comfortably enable the player to enter a flow state, subsequently increasing immersion and engagement with the game.

“Also known as being in the ZONE

Flow state refers to engagement through progression, but there are lots of other methods to derive engagement per different needs. But that’s a post in itself, maybe I’ll tackle that some other day.

Anyways, we’ll look at more examples for Rhythm as we go on, but coming back to Patterns:

Patterns act as catalyst to define your rhythm, and subsequently the gameplay experience deriving flow.

But the important point – “Patterns are made to create an interaction between the player and your boss”.

We need to find means to make “contact“. You might’ve noticed how the boss patterns fall in similar visual spectrum as player character patterns, as they need to “interact” with the player to have a confrontation, to make a rhythm possible.

  • To start off, firstly you need to find a way for the boss to attack / deal an interaction / contact the player in some way:
    • Physical contact?
    • Ranged contact?
    • Ingredients based?
    • EG rhythm; horizontal charge attack, charge-ender attack, knockback.
  • And you need to find a way the player can counter these interactions:
    • Movement
    • Dodge
    • Attacks
    • Parry
    • EG rhythm; Jump, dodge right, 3-hit combo, dodge left.

With that said, I’ve tried to compile all the abilities Esdras possesses in relation to player patterns & rhythm:

And I’ve also laid out the boss fight logic (how the boss chooses to execute attacks), to observe how it creates rhythm, and keeps the player immersed and engaged in the flow state.

“Estimation, actual implementation / design might differ”

To simplify the above flow chart into deriving a rhythm:

  • Special charge attack is the key signature move driving Esdras toolset.
  • If Esdras takes too much damage at once, Repel triggers to reset player rhythm, to re-initiate special charge attack.
    • Everything else is in support of letting special charge attack trigger to let the intended player rhythm play-out.
  • Phase 2, through mixups – sets up a lot of traps to increase precision in player rhythm, reducing window of opportunity to slide in attacks.
  • Phase 3, while dealing with mixups, player will also have to prioritize an additional companion enemy guiding the boss.

I’ll detail on player rhythm respective to boss as we go ahead, but to note, regular enemies don’t usually have phases to them which keep shifting the player rhythm. Bosses on the other hand, keep updating the player rhythm to incrementally iterate on player “skill tests” (more on that below).

Esdras, is a heavy endurance skill test (like most boss designs out there), and always keeps players on their toe with his continuously updating toolset. But throughout all this, his patterns keep consistency to anticipate player reactions, rhythm, and flow.

Skill Test

A boss needs to challenge certain “skills” of the player on encounter.

To name a couple of examples:

  • Reflex skill:
    • How quickly are you required to dodge the boss attack?
  • Cognitive skill(s):
    • Are you able to remember what potential attack the boss might do next?
  • Motor skill(s):
    • How “intense” does the game feels to play by the controls?
  • Management skill(s):
    • How are you managing your health and special powers while facing the boss?
    • Or it could be – how are you managing the boss stats while facing it?

Patterns by themselves (which we’ve established before) do not define a skill test. It depends on how we as designers use them.

Skill tests don’t necessarily have to derive from patterns, and could just be derived from other factors such as – characteristics like health, or level design layouts.

To create a better example for their purpose:

Let’s say the boss is about to shoot a quick laser. To escape from the laser, the player will have to depend on a quick “reflex jump”.

“DMC 5 Nero Vs. Urizen”

But if the boss let’s say is removing platforms gradually from under the player, the player’s skill test would then be to “precisely jump” on available platforms, instead of a reflex action.

“Although not a boss, bear with me, couldn’t find the right picture”

In both cases mentioned above – we see a sole player pattern “jump” being utilized to create two different skill tests.

You can also look into mixing skills required instead of being restricted to only one skill at a time to create a skill test (eg; reflex + precision), but then again, that would depend on how you design the boss toolset, and this post is only aimed towards getting your brain jogging on how to achieve one.

To evaluate rhythm, to maintain flow, different designers have different techniques, but finding a way of ascertaining value to “quantify” skill tests, and budgeting them to a max. value helps from my experience.

With all of this info, let’s look at Esdras toolset one-by-one, phase-by-phase, to see how his patterns engage player patterns, creating a rhythm, deriving flow, and subsequently defining the ultimate experience of the player.

Boss Phase 1 Patterns

“Starter Toolset”

Quick Attack:

A quick short distance attack requiring the player to observe and be quick to react by either a dodge or a parry counter.

  • Initiate attack while under <4m (estimate) distance between player and self.
  • Utilize slow, elegant run locomotion to cover distance to initiate the attack (if no other ability is available).
  • If triggered, add a mini cooldown to disable re-initiation for X seconds (to let other abilities in the toolset trigger).

With the addition of a third dimension, or even in some 2D games, conditions to trigger abilities can quickly get complex to deal with.

“Frame data used to track behavioral changes in animation”
  • On hit, since the attack has low anticipation, the damage isn’t too punishing to receive (medium).
    • This also incentivizes the player to utilize parry to get more hits in than otherwise.
  • The attack once initiated, cannot be interrupted by player attacks (hyper armor).
  • The player can look into following-up with 1-2 attacks, applying hurt reaction, stun locking the boss till the end of recovery phase.

The frame data chart utilized here is to closely analyze the nature of the attack. Usually frame data charts are maintained to clearly differentiate & control timing values between player & enemy attacks. Now that is a whole different topic to jump into, so let’s leave it for another day.

Charge Attack:

A quick long distance attack requiring the player to react by either a parry block, or a timed jump, or a dodge, while keeping spacing in check.

  • Initiate attack while under <8m (estimate) distance between player and self.
  • Utilize slow, elegant run locomotion to cover distance to initiate attack (if no other ability is available).
  • If triggered, add a mini cooldown to disable re-initiation for X seconds.

Dealing with locomotion, and all conditions related to positioning also can get complex as you scope for AAA, 3D, instead of Blasphemous 2D examples.

“Although longer, the frame data has same structure as Quick Attack”
  • On hit, since the attack has long distance to cover with ample time, the damage incurred is high.
  • Player can look into following-up with 1-2 attacks while the attack enters its recovery phase.

Special Charge Attack:

A slow long distance attack requiring the player to know when the attack might trigger, and react by either a parry block, or a timed jump, while maintaining precise positioning.

  • On initiation, Esdras starts off by applying the attack in the opposite direction of the player, to provide more anticipation time.
    • This move is not animation based, and hence I didn’t feel the need to track any frame data for it.
    • This move seems similar to charge attack in terms of frame data anyways.
  • In either-case, on initiation, Esdras can spin upto 5-7 times depending on where he starts off the attack from.
    • The farther he’s away from the screen edge, the more times he’ll spin.
    • Player will have to carefully time jump, while maintaining good positioning to follow up with a counter attack while Esdras is recovering.

All of Esdras attacks never exceed to go out of the locked camera frame. They’re either clamped, or cut short upon reaching screen edges.

  • Each spin, while starting to cover distance towards the player, initiates a thunder strike attack, forcing the player to precisely position to avoid it.
    • Thunder strikes have ample amount of anticipation to make course-corrections, leading to high damage on hit.
“Thunder strike frame data”
  • If triggered, add a cooldown to disable re-initiation for X seconds, and let other abilities trigger to maintain rhythm.
  • Although this attack is similar to charge attack, the damage incurred is medium, because of the inclusion of a layered thunder strike attack.
    • The relatively medium damage helps to gain mastery over the move in long term, as this is the most important skill test of the boss.
  • The player can easily dock 3+ attacks on successful rhythm check, enabling the boss to trigger repel.

This signature move is the one to master if players wish to successfully beat Esdras.

This move incrementally increases it’s skill tests each phase, giving the boss fight a traditional “training arc” to master (more on that below).

Repel:

A knockback player rhythm reset attack requiring the player to know when the attack might trigger, and be quick to react by dodging.

  • This attack triggers upon receiving 3+ hits from the player.
  • On hit, since the attack has low anticipation, the damage isn’t too punishing to receive (low).
  • Esdras recovers very quickly from the attack while instantly going to his next attack available as per conditions mentioned above, leading no chance for the player to follow-up.

Reset abilities are often used to keep player pressure applied in check, and to keep intended rhythm in play.

Here’s phase 1 patterns simplified per rhythm and skill tests being created:

The toolset has all options to engage player patterns, to enable rhythm, and to maintain flow. Esdras can push the player away, cover distance while the player is away, reset when the player is getting too aggressive, and also has a signature move which the player can memorize and react to.

But a starter toolset isn’t enough to keep the player engaged throughout the long duration of a boss fight. As referred above, endurance boss fights (or almost all boss fights) have to iterate on skill tests to maintain flow. Here’s what I mean…

Training Arc

Learning to execute a jump ability for the first time in a game is drastically different in comparison to the late game.

Skill tests on repetitive use lead to subconscious reactions – enabling more active space for more skill tests.

For example: If let’s say I’m required to parry an incoming attack?

  • That’s cool. But as the fight escalates, as the player gets more reps in, we can think about adding more skill tests to keep the fight engaging:
    • Maybe you have to dodge before you parry the attack?
    • Or maybe just parry multiple times?

A better example I could use to speak about the topic:

In Splatoon 2, you learn about – movement, jumping, shooting, and diving in your bullet ink to refill your ammo – on facing the first chapter boss in the game:

“Octo Oven, my favorite introductory boss in video games”

The boss tests all of the basic abilities mentioned above, in incremental skill tests.

First Phase:
  • The boss keeps on toasting itself out onto the player to deal damage.
    • Requiring quick reflexes from the player to dodge by movement / diving.
“Toasted face is out!”
  • While the toasted face is out, you can simply shoot on it to create a pathway to the top of the boss by jumping, shooting, and diving.
  • Once on top of the boss, a well designed gimmick (since Splatoon doesn’t usually rely on health bars), you have to hit the tail of the boss to enter the next phase.
Second Phase:
  • While toasting itself out onto the player, the player now also has to deal with new damage-dealing path blockers.
    • This requires not only quick reflexes, but also precision to avoid the damage path blockers placed – by movement / diving.
  • With limited time till when the toasted face stays out, and with additional non-climbable paths, you now have to precisely shoot, jump, and dive to create a pathway to the top of the boss, unlike previous simplicity.
  • And once you hit the tail of the boss again, we enter the final phase.
Final Phase:
  • While toasting itself out onto the player, with damaging path blockers, the player now also has to deal with a paint shower (covering player’s entire backside).
    • This not only involves reflexes and precision, now player also needs to take into account of ink remaining (resource management) to safely navigate while looking for a chance to climb onto the boss.
  • With limited time till when the toasted face stays out, and with new path blockers which limit the player’s movement, the precision required itself becomes a motor skill test – which the player has to deal with to get to the top.

With this, you not only defeat the first chapter’s boss, but you also might’ve mastered all the basic mechanics involved to continue playing the game. And in case you had any difficulty while following my text explanation, try looking at it yourself through this video.

Octo Oven would’ve been very tedious to experience without having different phases which iterate on player skill tests.

Keeping all of this in mind, let’s look at how the rest of Esdras skill tests are being iterated upon to create a training arc…

Boss Phase 2 Patterns

“Adds over phase 1 abilities after dropping below 60% health”

Quick Attack 2:

Short distance attack requiring the player to observe, and be quick to react by dodging.

  • Similar conditions as Quick Attack 1, but is higher on priority to trigger.
    • Try checking out the flowchart attached above to get to know more about Esdras trigger priorities.
  • If triggered, add a cooldown to disable re-initiation for X seconds.
    • The cooldown is long enough to also let phase 1 abilities trigger.
  • Initiate a thunder strike barrage (5 thunder strike sequence).
    • Following similar frame data values as thunder strike attack mentioned above.

Dealing with fluidic values, AI usually have priority setups to see which patterns trigger first when all pattern activation conditions are valid at once.

“Slightly higher anticipation period in comparison to Quick Attack 1”
  • On hit, player gets setup for a thunder strike barrage, dealing both hammer hit damage (low), and thunder strike damage (high) at once.
    • This setup incentivizes the player to apply dodge opposite of Esdras to evade the attack.
  • The player can look into following-up with 1-2 attacks, applying hurt reaction, stun locking the boss till the end of recovery phase.

Charge Attack 2:

A quick long distance attack requiring the player to observe and be quick to react by either jumping, or dodging, while keeping spacing in check.

  • Similar conditions & timing values as Charge Attack 1, but is higher on priority to trigger.
  • If triggered, add a cooldown to disable re-initiation for X seconds.
  • Initiate a thunder wave attack.
    • A horizontal ranged attack which moves at 1.5x speed of the player character speed.
  • On hit, since the attack has long distance to cover with ample time, the damage incurred is high.
    • With the inclusion of a thunder wave attack, dodging at the wrong time might trap the player to incur additional low damage.
  • The player can look into following-up with 1-2 attacks, applying hurt reaction, stun locking the boss till the end of recovery phase.

Rotating Attack:

A very short distance attack (hammer spin) which spawns more ranged attacks (thunder waves), requiring the player to observe and be quick to react by jumping, or dodging, while keeping spacing in check.

  • Similar conditions as Quick Attack 2, but is lowest on priority to trigger.
  • If triggered, add a cooldown to disable re-initiation for X seconds.
  • Initiate two thunder wave attacks towards player (one opposite to trap in case of jump evasion).
“Rotating attack frame data”
  • For the rotating attack, since the attack doesn’t cover any distance, and to force the player in maintaining distance, the damage incurred is high.
    • For the thunder wave attack, dodging at the wrong time might trap the player to incur additional low damage.
    • The double thunder waves are intended to check the player’s ability to time jumps.
  • The player can look into following-up with 1-2 attacks, applying hurt reaction, stun locking the boss till the end of recovery phase.

As phases escalate, Esdras toolset discourages moves such as parry, and encourages moves such as dodges and jumps.

Here’s phase 2 patterns simplified per rhythm and skill tests being created:

“Increases number of patterns, sharpens player rhythm requirements, and maintains consistency per skill tests being created”

This phase brings in a lot of uncertainty due to the sheer number of patterns Esdras can possibly trigger, leading to mixup situations, and overall keeping the players on their toes to observe and react.

Boss Phase 3 Patterns

“Adds over phase 1 and phase 2 abilities after dropping below 30% health”

Summon Companion:

A knockback phase 3 entry reset attack requiring the player to observe and be quick to react by dodging, while keeping spacing in check.

  • Triggers on phase 3 entry, and has similar animation behavior as repel.
    • One time trigger, and spawns a companion character for support.
    • A thunder strike barrage is to follow on both sides to completely reset player rhythm.
  • On hit, since the attack has low anticipation, the damage isn’t too punishing to receive (low).
    • The thunder barrage on hit incurs high damage following ample anticipation time allowed.
  • Esdras recovers very quickly from the attack, leading no chance for the player to follow-up, while instantly going to his next attack available.

Support Thunder:

A ranged thunder strike attack requiring the player to observe and be quick to react by dodging, while maintaining precise positioning.

  • If triggered, add a cooldown to disable re-initiation for X seconds.
  • Follows similar timing values as thunder strike attack mentioned above.

The companion starts off with a thunder strike, following to ping-pong between support charge and thunder again.

  • Thunder strikes have ample amount of anticipation to make course-corrections, leading to high damage on hit.
  • Esdras behavior is disconnected to his companion, forcing the player to prioritize & handle two rhythms at once.

AI directors, or multi-enemy combat systems have ways to efficiently blend two character toolsets at once to let intended player rhythm in play unhinged.

Support Charge:

A slow long distance attack requiring the player to observe and be quick to react by dodging, or a parry block.

  • Companion starts to fly below to horizontally line up towards player height.
    • >8m distance is maintained to enable spacing to successfully apply the attack.
    • This in itself acts as additional anticipation towards the attack being performed.
  • If triggered, add a cooldown to disable re-initiation for X seconds.
  • On hit, since the attack has long distance to cover with ample time, considering prioritization between Esdras and companion, the damage incurred is medium.

Here’s phase 3 patterns simplified per rhythm and skill tests being created:

“Further patterns are added over Phase 2, forcing the player to prioritize between two rhythms at once”

With all the information presented above, with intent behind each & every pattern of the character, and with how the player rhythm escalates to maintain flow, Esdras comes off to deliver an experience with following facets:

  • Powerful,
  • Aggressive
  • Unpredictable
  • Punishing

Game designers usually maintain detailed metric charts to clearly understand how each and every pattern work together to deliver the intended gameplay experience.

Because at the end of the day, the job of a game designer doesn’t just end with defining the character’s toolset. There’s a lot of depth to how one balances all this to be perceivable by the player, and “Feebacks” play a major part of the process…

A common pitfall I’ve noticed:

Enemies made without player patterns in consideration will be very annoying and irritating to play against. The frustrations usually stem from mismatch between what the player expects to happen vs. reality. Such additions always take the player out of immersion, and question the game on “why isn’t the game letting me do X thing against the X enemy”.

A good example for reference:

Ghost Fish, a swarm enemy AI from Ninja Gaiden surround the player for a quick kill.

They lurk invisible, they’ll stunlock you, you can’t block against them, nor parry, and you can only hope that your attack hits them successfully.

But the thing is, since the enemy can come at the player from any angle & direction, most attacks can’t successfully land to kill them (patterns mismatch).

To not let them creep in between patterns, players can only to hope to kill them by spamming AOE attacks.

“Hope” is the important word here because this is a prime example of not creating your enemies around your player character’s toolset.

Here’s a complex guide to deal with them:

“This is bad enemy design”

From time to time you have characters who are cryptic in nature in how you can defeat them (like Ghost Fish above). They might involve in solving a puzzle, attacking with a specific object, or they’re just weird in how you can approach them.

Usually this means that the designers responsible are only aiming for that specific “gimmick”, rather than focusing on how the player can approach them with their patterns and rhythm.

“Gimmick, but is it good or bad?”

I especially hate the ones where due to a gimmick, there’s a lot of downtime in which you can’t do much except look at the enemy while they’re doing something else. Inactivity usually makes the game really uninteresting for me (unless it’s the theme of the game itself).

That said, gimmick designs do have a positive side to them; to bring “contrast” to existing patterns in play.

If you’ve come to notice a truly unique enemy which doesn’t fit into the archetypes already present in the game, for better or worse, as a player the experience will be more “memorable” than otherwise.

Feedbacks

Following fight styles, feedbacks are mainly utilized to communicate the intention of the character toolset to accurately realize the player experience. Bringing life to the soul of a character, feedbacks can be viewed from two angles:

  • Function
  • Form

And a lot of departments / elements work together to achieve them:

  • Animation
  • VFX
  • SFX
  • Camera
  • Voice
  • UI
  • Rumble

More elements could be added / removed depending on the type of the game. These are only the basics, see how you can adapt a list per your demand. It’s a designer’s job to make sure everyone’s on the same page, and maintain communication to achieve the intended vision.

All function category feedbacks have purpose, and intent behind contributing to the gameplay experience. Adding over function, form is utilized to bridge function between Fight Styles and Presentation factors of the character.

For example:

  • Function: Add VFX to differentiate between Companion and Esdras patterns.
  • Form: The Companion makes use of flame VFX to visually differentiate between Esdras lightning patterns.

The intention is to let “Form Follow Function”.

It’s better to rely on clear, concise, functional feedbacks than otherwise. But good design’s feature both parts in equal (form & function).

Anyways, let’s see how Esdras makes use of them:

Esdras patterns are to the most part “unpredictable”, and that comes to down how readable his animations are (among other things):

  • Esdras in most cases starts with the same anticipation pose (showcased above), spins his hammer, leaves red VFX trails – and the repetitive use of all of these elements lead to unpredictable, mixup situations for the player to deal with.
  • The layered thunder VFX amplify power, and build-up anticipation.
  • The categorized hurt reactions are used to challenge positioning by how far / near they can throw away the player.
  • Camera shake effects are tailored to increase the feeling of impact.
  • Sound and dust VFX are added to amplify weight and power behind Esdras patterns.

Esdras has clear and aesthetical feedbacks which support his Toolset, Presentation, and Fight Style.

A common pitfall I’ve noticed:

There’s a thin line between defining function and form. Overdoing one or the other might impact the overall gameplay experience for better / worse.

Example of form taking over function:

Screenshot from Battleborn, a clear example of the game being too frenetic to understand and react to what’s happening.

Example of function taking over form:

Screenshot from God of War (2018), enemies trigger a red pulse to signal unblockable attacks, but the pulse can virtually trigger on any attack (sometimes depending on Kratos level), and also has no other aesthetical connection to it (purely functional feedback).

The term “Form Follows Function” is only to be utilized as a guidance, and not as a restriction. It is okay if the aesthetics are bleeding on to blur clear and quick functional feedbacks, as long as they’re enhancing the overall gameplay experience.

Conclusion

Make my chest hurt with regret. | Gaming | Know Your Meme

Ultimately Esdras isn’t a perfect boss to make this analysis upon. In fact I find him leaning more towards an above average one, than a great one. Unlike the points I mentioned above, there’s a lot issues which I came upon while analyzing this character:

  • Sometimes the attack activation conditions are too buggy (which can be noticed in some of the GIFs I posted in toolset section).
  • The animations are very repetitive to understand the patterns in play. Maybe that’s their intention? But it felt like I’m playing a lucky draw, than an unpredictable boss.
  • The use of the parry is also very buggy. Sometimes I can counter attack, sometimes block, and sometimes snap through portions of the screen.
  • I could keep going, but let’s cut this short…

With all this – I still think he’s a pretty good example to bring importance to the structure of creating a good video game boss. There might be issues, but he isn’t far off from being a great one!

But the most important point to make:

  1. Now I might’ve missed few details which the developers might’ve considered as per their passion towards the project. But this post is more towards exploring on how a boss in general can be made than otherwise.
  2. More detailing could’ve been done on all the topics mentioned, as there’s a lot of depth to all the topics specified. But hey, the article is already loaded, and it’d be overkill to discuss about everything.
  3. Also – a lot of information specified might just be how I work around with my design process, and as mentioned above, most might depend from designer-to-designer / studio-to-studio.

I hope you had fun reading through the article, and I hope this information will be of use for you while working towards building your own boss character!

With that said, see you guys on my next post.

Here’s few quick references to look out for while working on a Boss:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdaluuQuE5GoOlULA2PGKmA

Rational game design reference:

https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/167214/rational_design_the_core_of_.php

Adding rumble to enhance immersion is actually pretty complex to deal with. Although Esdras doesn’t make use of it, I consider this factor to be one of the most used feedbacks in games to look out for. The bang for the buck is worth it. Here’s an article which details more on the topic:

http://combatrecall.blogspot.com/2018/05/controller-rumble-controller-rumble-is.html

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