The Boss Fight

in Design

So with the newly released Tyler Warren RPG Battlers Boss Fight pack, it got me thinking a lot about boss design.

Why yes, this topic was chosen to shill this product. Still a good topic though 😀

Boss design is tricky business. First, you have to think of the difficulty. Its really easy to make it too hard or too easy. But that isn’t the only thing you have to think about. There is another axis of boss design that I think is just as,  if not more important than just the difficulty itself: the predictability of the boss.

Almost all non-Action RPGs have randomness of some sort, and for that matter, so do most Action RPGs. Chance to hit, variation in damage, who the enemy targets, what abilities the enemy uses, all kinds of things like that.

But too much randomness takes the difficulty out of the hands of the player, and puts it into the Random Number Generator (RNG). And when you are looking at a boss fight, where usually your difficulty should have its spikes, this problem can be amplified dramatically.

So how do we fight this? By adding in predictability.

I mean, look at this dude. He looks like the kind of guy who would have thought through all his plans and have a pattern.

Predictability is what gives advanced players an advantage over newbies. What gives good players advantages over bad ones. Pure RNG is hard to fight, but when you can learn things and then put that knowledge into use, you can DO things.

Of course, almost no fight is pure RNG. Of course all enemies have a set of moves that they can use, and learning that set of moves helps, but still if the enemy can do its super damage hit all attack 10% of every round, there will still be those 1/100 chances that it goes off two times in a row and your player just gets destroyed by the RNG.

RNG makes difficulty vary wildly.

So how can we create some predictability? The first thing we can do is something like a pattern. Have a boss do a specific set of moves in a certain order. This is a good choice. If it always goes, “Pump up damage, attack, pump up defense, heal, repeat”, then the player can learn and deal with that, and always know the right move to make.

First I grump. Then I sigh, Then I hit you with rock.

But sometimes that can be too predictable. It starts to become like a math puzzle, and it never feels like there is any danger because you always know. So how about some other ways to do it. Here are a few other ideas.

  • Having some of his skills on cooldown. If he uses super damage attack, you know he won’t be doing it again for at least 3 more rounds (Bonus Tip: If you do this, try to include some kind of indication that the attack is on cooldown, so that the player can learn it quickly)
  • Having one skill always used right before another one. If an enemy always guards the turn before it unleashes a huge rage attack, the player can learn, they see the guard, the next turn they need to guard.
  • Have partial patterns. Have a skill that is used every x turns,  but have the time between be a bit more random. This let’s the player perfectly predict some rounds, but not others.
  • Have the enemy do something when a certain state is reached. If the enemy tries to buff its defense after it has lost x amount of health, you can know when that is about to happen. Also, in the other direction, it gives a player an indicator of when they’ve done that amount of damage.

And there are plenty more ways!

Mixing predictability and unpredictability is a skill that I think every RPG Desginer needs to learn, too much RNG and it becomes a luckfest, too little and it becomes a math problem. How do you balance it in your games? What methods do you use to create patterns/predictability in your boss fights? Tell us in the comments below!

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