PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to Face Off: Are silent protagonists superior?">face off silent protagonist







Are mute heroes better than verbose heroes? Does a voice-acted player character infringe on your ability to put yourself into the story? In this week's debate, Logan says "Yes," while his character says nothing. He wants to be the character he’s playing, not merely control him, and that’s easier to do when the character is silent. T.J. had a professional voice actor say "No." He thinks giving verbalized emotions and mannerisms to your in-universe avatar makes him or her feel more real.



Read the debate below, continue it in the comments, and jump to the next page for opinions from the community. Logan, you have the floor:



Logan: BioShock’s Jack. Isaac Clarke from Dead Space. The little boy from Limbo. Portal’s Chell. Gordon Freeman. These are some of the most unforgettable characters I’ve ever played, and they all made their indelible impressions on me without speaking a single word. In fact, they made such an impression because they didn’t say a word. By remaining silent throughout, they gave me room to take over the role, to project myself into the game.



T.J.: All of the games you mentioned were unforgettable narratives. But everything memorable about them came from the environments, situations, and supporting casts. Gordon Freeman is a great example. What can you really say about him, as a person? I find Shepard’s inspirational speeches to the crew in the Mass Effect games far more stirring and memorable than almost anything I’ve experienced in a silent protagonist game. I was Shepard, just as much as I was Gordon. But I didn’t have the alienating element of not having a voice making me feel less like a grounded part of the setting.







Logan: Ooh, Shepard. That was cold. I’ll happily agree that some games are better off with fully written and voiced protagonists—and Shepard’s a perfect example. But it’s a different matter, I think, with first-person games in particular, where your thought processes animate the narrative: “OK, if I jump into a portal here, I’ll shoot out of the wall there and land over yonder.” In this way I’m woven into the story, as a product of my own imagination. If the character is talking, I’m listening to his or her thoughts—and they sort of overwrite my own. It can be great fun, but it’s a more passive experience.



T.J.: First-person shooters are probably one of the best venues for silent protagonists, but lets look at BioShock and BioShock Infinite. I definitely felt more engaged by Booker, who responded verbally to the action, the story twists, and the potent emotions expressed by Elizabeth... than I did by Jack, who didn’t so much as cough at the chaos and insanity around him.



Logan: But was the result that BioShock Infinite was a better game, or just that it delivered a traditional main character?



T.J.: Booker? Traditional? Did we play the same game? I mean, it’s a tough call to say which was out-and-out better, as there are a lot of factors to consider. But zooming in on the protagonist’s vocals (or lack thereof) as an added brushstroke on a complex canvas, Infinite displays a more vibrant palette.



Logan: Do you think that Half-Life 2, in retrospect, is an inferior game as a result of its silent protagonist?







T.J.: Half-Life 2 was great. Great enough that we gave it a 98. But imagine what it could have been like if Gordon had been given the opportunity to project himself onto his surroundings, with reactive astrophysics quips and emotional back-and-forth to play off of the memorable cast around him? We relate to characters in fiction that behave like people we know in the real world. So yeah, I’ll take that plunge: I think I would have bonded with Freeman more, and therefore had a superior experience, if he hadn't kept his lips sewn shut the whole way.



Logan: A scripted and voiced Gordon Freeman may or may not have been a memorable character, just like a scripted and voiced Chell from Portal might have been. But in a sense, that’s the problem! Because some of my best memories from games with silent protagonists are the memories of my own thoughts and actions. I remember staring at the foot of a splicer in BioShock and realizing that the flesh of her foot was molded into a heel. I was so grossed out that I made this unmanly noise, partway between a squeal and a scream. I remember getting orders shouted at me in FEAR and thinking, "No, why don’t you take point.” I’m glad these moments weren't preempted by scripted elements.



T.J.: You were staring at the Splicers’ feet? Man, in a real underwater, objectivist dystopia ruined by rampant genetic modification, you’d totally be “that one guy” who just stands there dumbfounded and gets sliced into 14 pieces.



Logan: No, I’d be the guy at Pinkberry with his mouth under the chocolate hazelnut nozzle going “Would you kindly pull the lever?” But my point is, I remember what I did and thought at moments throughout all of my favorite games, and those are experiences that are totally unique to me. And that’s at least part of why I love games so much—because of unique experiences like that.







T.J.: I see what you’re getting at. Likewise, a lot of my love for games is driven by their ability to tell the kinds of stories other media just aren’t equipped for. Silent protagonists take us further beyond the bounds of traditional narratives, accentuating the uniqueness of interactive storytelling. That being said, really good voiced protagonists—your Shepards, your Bookers, your Lee Everetts—never feel like a distraction from the mutated flesh pumps you come across. When the execution is right, they serve to enhance all of those things, and lend them insight and believability.



There’s nothing like being pulled out of the moment in Dragon Age: Origins when the flow of an intense conversation stops so the camera can cut to the speechless, distant expression of your seemingly-oblivious Grey Warden.



Logan: Oh yeah, there’s no question that voiced protagonists have their moments. But they’re not my moments, and those are the ones I enjoy the most in games. Valve seems to understand this intuitively, and that’s why it’s given us two of the most memorable characters in videogame history: because I think the developers deliberately build into their games moments that they all understand will be uniquely owned by the players; “a-ha!” moments when the solution to a puzzle suddenly snaps into focus, or narrative revelations like watching horseplay between Alyx and Dog that instantly tell you a lot about how she grew up. Voiced protagonists can give us wonderful characters; silent ones let me build my own.



That’s the debate! As always, these debates are exercises meant to reveal alternate viewpoints—sometimes including perspectives we wouldn’t normally explore—and cultivate discussion, so continue it in the comments, and jump to the next page for more opinions from the community.











https://twitter.com/hawkinson88/status/325060938120183808



@pcgamer it really depends on the writing. Some voiced characters are amazing, and some are whiny and annoying.— Ryan H (@kancer) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer In many cases, yes. I am forced to substitute the absence of a developed personality with my own words and thoughts. I like that.— Rocko (@Rockoman100) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer The volume of the protag doesn't matter, only the skill of the writer: hero voice is just one tool of many in a master writer's box— Jacob Dieffenbach (@dieffenbachj) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer The most interesting characters are the ones with a history, with regrets. Blank characters don't have that.— Devin White (@D_A_White) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer Most voiced characters seem to disappoint. I think silent ones express the storyline better through visuals which I prefer.— Casey Bavier (@clbavier) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer Definitely voiced. Having an NPC talk to you directly, then act as if your lack of response is totally normal feels eerily wrong.— Kirt Goodfellow (@_Kenomica) April 19, 2013





@pcgamer Silent! #YOLO— Michael Nader (@MNader92) April 19, 2013

PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to Mod of the Week: gmDoom for Garry’s Mod">gDoom for Half Life 2







Omri mentioned a mod called gmDoom last month, which allows you to bring the Doom experience, including weapons, enemies, HUD, and entities, into Garry's Mod. After watching a few weeks pass as bugs were squashed and updates were released, I decided it was finally time to pull-start this particular chainsaw and take it for a spin. I also decided, instead of just playing around, to really play. Specifically, I wanted to play through the entirety of the Half-Life 2 campaign, using only the gmDoom HUD and weapons. Space Marine, welcome to City 17!



Hm? What? Who? Space Marine is skeptical.



After getting off the train in City 17, I realize how happy I am to be an angry, violent Space Marine instead of a befuddled, bespectacled scientist. Gordon Freeman didn't pick up a weapon until a good half-hour into Half-Life 2, but Doomguy is always packing a pistol, a chainsaw, and his fists. Rather than wandering through the beginning of the game, helplessly watching as citizens are abused at the hands of the Metrocops, I can immediately right some wrongs by applying a healthy dose of SPACE VIOLENCE.



So, when I see a Metrocop shove a citizen, I punch him to death (the Metrocop, to be clear). That annoying flying camera robot gets a taste from my pistol. What's this? Other cops, standing around doing nothing violent? Not on my watch! They die. I approach a couple citizens as well, just to see if weapons work on them too. (Weapons work on them too.) Oh, and that cop who tries to make me pick up a soda can and put it in the garbage? I saved the chainsaw for him.



Marines. Always. Recycle.



Before long, I'm in the canals, fighting enemies who can actually fight back. It mostly works well: the weapons are effective and feel natural after a few minutes of play, though you have to be pretty darn precise with your aim for long-distance kills. It's also a genuinely neat experience: the sights and sounds of the throwback Doom weapons mixed with the atmosphere and enemies of Half-Life 2. It's double-nostalgic. It's like combining two tastes I love, bacon and chocolate, into one violent, historic mouthful of video game.



Something else I notice: while it feels a little odd in this day and age to play a game where you're constantly staring at your own face, it does make your health quite a priority. Instead of a percentage or a colored bar, you get to look at your sad mug streaked with blood, a pretty visceral reminder that it's not your health meter taking damage: it's your own face. Finding medkits feels a lot more urgent when you're hurt so bad your hair is bleeding.



Space Marine needs food, badly.



Ammo for my Doom weapons, naturally, is not stocked in City 17, so I just spawn some for myself from the Garry's Mod menu when I run out. I try to also give myself new weapons when it feels appropriate. When Metrocops start using machine guns, for example, I give myself Doom's chaingun. When I remember that you don't get a shotgun until you get to Ravenholm, I give myself one anyway, because screw that.



After escaping City 17, I wind up deciding to skip the second half of the canal levels. Making a Space Marine drive a crummy boat powered by a fan just seems insulting. It's like making Willy Wonka eat a celery stick. He knows not of, and cares not for, such primitive tools. Fast-forward, then, to Ravenholm!



Plus a quick stop in Black Mesa East to kill a disgusting alien. You're welcome, Vance family!



In the zombie-patrolled streets of Ravenholm, our Space Marine seems quite comfy. Hideous shambling monsters, blood, gore, horror: these are what Doomguy was made for. I admit, I do pine for the Gravity Gun, because flinging giant circular blades into zombies is still awesome. The super shotgun works just fine, though.



These zombies don't shoot back? You got off easy this time, Earth.



After blasting my way through Ravenholm with kindred spirit Father Gregori, I decide to skip the driving sections of HL2 as well, mostly because the driving feels like 100% Half-Life 2 and 0% Doom, and the mix is what's really making this fun. I skip to the lighthouse at the end of the coastal maps, and dig in with the resistance as they fight off the Combine attack.



After defeating a few waves of drop-ship soldiers, I run into a little problem when the Synth Gunship arrives. I've given myself Doom 2's rocket launcher, but it only fires in a straight line, as opposed to HL2's laser-guided launcher. The Gunship doesn't shoot my rockets down, but there's no need: I keep missing because the Gunship keeps moving. Try as I might, I just can't hit the sucker. He, however, has no problem hitting me. It's time to call in reinforcements.



No shame in a Marine calling for backup. SPACE backup.



I use G-Mod to spawn a Doom Cyberdemon-- shut up, that is TOTALLY FAIR-- and the gunship and the Cyberdemon immediately decide they hate each other. (Isn't introducing one enemy to another enemy always awkward, like when your work friends meet your personal friends?) Unfortunately, the Cyberdemon is also unable to hit the gunship. Finally, exasperated, I just take out my G-Mod physics tool and hold the stupid gunship in place, letting the demon blast it to pieces. ALSO FAIR.



Hold still. This will only hurt a lot.



And, having used a physics tool from 2006 to help a cyborg demon from 1993 kill a biosynthetic airship from 2004... that's where my play-through of Half-Life2 abruptly comes to an end. It was a fun experiment, sure, but holding a three-dimensional gunship in the sky with my finger so a two-dimensional demon can whomp on it serves as a massive reminder: I don't just have two great games to play with here, I've got three, and I've all but forgotten about the Garry's Mod part of the experience. I've been eating bacon and chocolate, YES, but I've been completely neglecting the GLORIOUS BOTTLE OF BOURBON sitting right there to wash it all down with.



Time to switch from playing Half-Doom 2 and start playing a game I call Make Everything Fight Everything Else By The Lighthouse For Six Straight Hours!



Combine vs. Heavy Weapon Dudes!



The Combine win!



Pinky vs. Combine!



Pinky wins!



Arch-vile vs. Antlion Guard!



Antlion Guard wins -- but Arch-vile really does raise the dead Doom monsters! Awesome.



Antlion Guard vs. Spiderdemon!



Spiderdemon wins (eventually)!



Helicopter vs. Pain Elementals and Lost Souls!



Draw. Spawned helicopter doesn't seem to ever die, and Pain Elementals never seem run out of Lost Souls.



After making Everything fight Everything Else for six hours, I do, eventually, return to Half-Life 2 proper, mainly to see if I can take down a Strider with a Doom 2 rocket launcher (I can, and quite handily) and to try out the plasma cannon on the Combine (it works amazingly well). And, of course, to unleash the BFG on a store-front full of Combine soldiers.



Looks like the store... *sunglasses* ...is CLOSED.



Putting this mod into that other mod and putting both mods into Half-Life 2 is amazing. Do it! Do it now!



Installation: Mostly simple! However, you'll need a WAD file from one of the Doom games to import all the assets. If you don't own a Doom game, you can use a WAD file from the free shareware version of Doom and still get most of the weapons (I used Doom2.wad; full list of what the various WAD files give you access to here). Drop the WAD in the garrysmod/garrysmod folder in your Steam directory. Then, just subscribe to the mod on Steam Workshop and when you boot up Garry's Mod, it will be enabled. You can spawn all your weapons and monsters from the menu by pressing Q, and enable the HUD using the console code doom_cl_hud 1.



Also, and perhaps this is obvious, but you'll need Half-Life 2 installed for all the Half-Life 2 stuff.
PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to Face Off: Do boss battles have a place in modern games?">face_off_boss







In this week's Face Off debate, Tyler goes left, then right, then left again to dodge Evan's precisely timed barrage of attacks against traditional boss fights in modern games. Are they an outdated trope which should be reserved for arcade-style experiences? Is there some common ground, where boss fights and modern ideas can coexist?



Read the debate below, add your argument in the comments, and jump to the next page for opinions from the community. Tyler, you have the floor:



The Debate

 

Tyler: Why shouldn't games use a tried-and-true design template? Here’s an analogy: you spend a semester learning, then face the ultimate challenge in the final exam. It’s hard. You might have to repeat it again and again to pass, but it makes earning the right to advance to the next level meaningful. My degree would just be a piece of paper if I passed on attendance alone.



Evan: Thanks for comparing bosses to school exams, something universally disliked by mankind.



Tyler: I know, but see, what I’m saying is, because tests and bosses are- OK, fine. I guess I didn’t do myself any favors with that analogy. But are you just going to critique my rhetoric?



Evan: Let’s try this again, with less sarcasm on my part. So you’re saying that without a demanding test punctuating a player’s progression, being told “You won!” or “You advanced to the next area!” by a game isn’t as meaningful. Correct?



Tyler: I’m not saying games need boss fights to create meaningful progression, but the old-school structure still works where it’s used well. Bosses get the big set pieces—the explosions that would just be worn out if they weren't a sparingly-used reward. They can be crazy, huge, monstrous things. They can seem insurmountable at first, and when you turn one to dust, you are the hero. You’re Bruce Willis at the end of Die Hard. Happy trails, Hans.



Evan: I see bosses as an antique trope. They’re a lazy roadblock-in-antagonist’s clothing, and I think designers generally use them out of convenience or tradition, and not because bosses are the best or most creative way of structuring a game. Plenty of modern games have used bosses in a way that feels completely out of place—BioShock’s pathetic end boss was one of the only stains on one of the best games of the era. Ken Levine has admitted this.







Tyler: You’re right, mecha Andrew Ryan was too conventional for BioShock. That was an avoidable error—Wolfenstein 3D wouldn’t have worked if it built to not a fight with mecha Hitler, but BioShock? BioShock should have ignored tradition. That doesn't mean design traditions are universally bad or lazy, though. They give us historical learning to draw from, and that’s valuable.



Iterating on a design only leads to better versions of that design—not in every case, but over time. We’ll only get more and more amazing boss fights, and I’m happy to allow for some failures.



Evan: But designers aren’t iterating, they’re regurgitating. For the most part, bosses are still being implemented in the same form they were 10 and 20 years ago. What would you cite as an example of a great modern boss?



Tyler: Dark Souls, all of them. Sorry, is that game too “antique” for you?



Evan: Actually I’m glad you bring it up, because Dark Souls demonstrates what I’m talking about. The fun I had fighting its bosses relied on difficulty more than interesting design. Dark Souls is saying: “You’re fragile, so let’s make you fight things that have a bunch more HP and do more damage than you. Boss: DESIGNED!”







I don’t find that totally unappealing, but it’s mechanically mundane: pattern recognition, timing, and fighting an enemy with an enormous hit point bar isn’t tried-and-true--it’s overdone. That template originated in in the 2D arcade games of the ‘80s and grew ubiquitous through the console games of the ‘90s. Do we really want games that are just a series of homages to the techniques of the past, or do we want new ideas and new experiences?



Tyler: We want both! And sometimes we want a combination. We can want whatever we want. Alright, that last one isn't a very good argument, but how about this: it’s true that the best examples of boss fights come from arcade-style games and Japanese console series, making a “modern” PC-centric argument more difficult, but even Valve draws from that collective design learning. I thought Portal and Portal 2 climaxed just fine, and those are plenty modern.







Evan: I remember enjoying the ending of both games, but I think I was enjoying the narrative execution more than what I was being asked to do with my mouse and keyboard. Glados and Wheatley are both entertainingly written, and both Portals incorporated original, lyrical songs that provided as a surprising payoff for all your hours of brain work. But as an activity, as a test, I’m not sure if I’d call Portal and Portal 2’s bosses stimulating.



How to beat the end of Portal 2:



Stand behind a pipe as Wheatley fires a bomb at you. This will break open the Incredibly Obvious White Gel Tube.

Put a portal in front of you, and put a portal on a surface that faces where Wheatley’s shields aren’t. Stand there.

While Wheatley is stunned (because it wouldn’t be a boss if they didn’t have a “paralyzed” state), retrieve the cores and then just like, walk up to him.

Repeat.



It does a lot of the work for you--you don’t even have to consider where to place the gel, which was something Portal 2 taught you how to do over and over. It was a narrative success, but if we’re judging bosses by their test-like traits, I’d say it was a pretty easy exam.



Tyler: You’re right, boss battles tend to be exercises in pattern recognition and repetition. They require a binary win/lose state, and winning in one shot would be a bit anticlimactic, so you wear them down in stages. But what about Half-Life 2: Episode 2? That wasn’t a standard pattern-based test, it was a whole level. Conceptually, is that still a “boss?”



Wait. No. I’m unplugging my keyboard and walking away before I turn this into a semantic argument about “what is and isn’t a boss.” I’ll plug it back in after I’ve sat in the corner thinking about what I’ve done for a minute.



Evan: Yeah, I agree that it’s pointless to argue whether Half-Life 2: Episode 2’s incredible sawmill/Strider showdown is or isn't a boss. Mostly I’m interested in encouraging designers to throw out the notion that bosses or “tests” or endings require something like a binary win/lose state, or that they have to replicate something players already understand. I like that Left 4 Dead’s crescendo events make it possible to win and lose simultaneously--you or a teammate might’ve died, but if one person completes the finale it’s considered a success.



Mainly, I don’t want any more Human Revolutions. It was a legitimate tragedy that the reboot of one of the defining, agency-driven games of our time reverted to “let’s put the player in the room with a guy that they stun and then shoot until they kill him.”



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKuLO1WeuTg



Tyler: You’re right again, but I don't agree with a universal conclusion. Yes, “shoot until they die” is out of place there (and no fair using Human Revolution, which had bad boss fights for many reasons), but even so, I want to face the villain, and sometimes I really just want to win the fight. The hero’s journey, and all that! There’s a place for challenging the idea of binary win/lose states, as in L4D, but there’s also a place where John McClane shoots the bad guy, and it’s a place I’m not done visiting.



I don’t want to miss that confrontation because we're just too sophisticated for traditional boss fights. True, there are better ways to handle that confrontation, and that’s the experimentation I want to see.



Evan: “The hero’s journey, and all that” is exactly what I want more designers to deviate from. Not to derail our discussion about bosses, but I’m sick of being everyone’s savior.



Now that i think of it, Far Cry 3 represents one of the recent attempts at iteration on boss design. It’s an open-world game with maybe last year’s best villain, but Ubisoft’s solution for bringing you face to face with Vaas and other big bads was throwing you into these frustrating, (and I hate to use it like it’s inherently a bad word, but) linear, drugged-out hallucination sequences. Why did they do that? Because they wanted the player to have this prolonged encounter with the villain, and a dream sequence creates this context where they can bend the rules and allow the player to shoot the villain a whole bunch of times before they die.



Tyler: You sure have a lot of examples of bad boss fights, but they don’t add up to a rule—and at least Far Cry 3 tried to justify its boss confrontations a bit differently, even if it didn’t succeed.



And on your first point, sure, things can get really interesting when we deviate from archetypal hero narratives. What if I’m just a person in DayZ, on an island with zombies, what do I do? Fascinating, and I can’t wait for more. But why can’t we have both? We don’t have to stop saving the world to also find out what happens when we can’t save the world, or when the final boss is actually Jonathan Blow’s internal emotional struggle.



Evan: It sounds like we’re approaching something that resembles consensus. I think we’re both interested in boss encounters or “difficult trials” that are built on new ideas. I guess part of my criticism stems from the idea that Western game design has won out over Japanese game design over the past 10 or 15 years, and that bosses represent a dated trope that was perpetuated a lot by Japanese games.



I’m especially frustrated when well-funded projects, staffed by dozens of talented people, rely on templates like locking you in a room and throwing a single, durable enemy at you.



Tyler: Have you played Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater? I know, another Japanese console example, but I think The End is a brilliant modern boss fight—it’s a sniper battle, a long back-and-forth which can be won with a kill or non-lethal takedown. That’s the kind of boss fight experimentation we need more of in PC games. We don’t need to do away with them altogether.







Evan: I’m a closet Metal Gear Solid fan, so I’m not going to fight you on this one--The End works for the same reasons HL2: Ep. 2 does--Konami built a whole, intricate level around that character, imbued him with some unpredictable behaviors, and the result was this interestingly-paced jungle hunt that didn’t simply have one solution, yeah. A lot of MGS’ bosses do rely on some tropey pattern-recognition stuff, but he’s one of the best examples of combining “Japanese difficulty” and Western sensibilities. There’s a lot of that in what Kojima does.



Tyler: Yeah, we’re at least within sight of each other now (nice hat, by the way). Neither of us mind having that big confrontation, or even sometimes sticking to narrative tropes, we just want cleverer approaches. That is, we don’t want designers to force traditional boss fights into otherwise non-traditional games.



We want them to design climactic experiences that make sense, and “dodge, shoot, dodge, shoot” can be fun, but it only works in games wholly designed in that arcade style. When you force it into something like BioShock or Deus Ex, it’s a mechanical and narrative let down.



Evan: Ratified.



That's the debate! As always, these debates are exercises meant to reveal alternate view points and cultivate discussion, so continue it in the comments, and jump to the next page for more opinions from the community.











@pcgamer I hated ME3. Without boss battles, the story was basically about fighting mindless enemies 4 cutscenes. And Kai Leng don't count.— Nathan Hansen (@NathanHansenWDN) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer outdated. but also fighting endless waves, survival style is boring too.Simply, keep "boss" fights at random times throughout.YAY— derps | ADLT (@Batou079) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Dark Souls did it well. Bioshock did it well. I like the idea of roaming boss fights with the black knights and big daddies— Nicklaus Lacle (@NLacle) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Like anything else, boss battles have a place if they fit the game. They are often overused and obvious, though.— Ben Price (@bk_price) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Japanese-based games have it on tight, I don't see much from NA titles.— Abdelrahman Al Amiri (@_Bu3ouf_) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Boss battles are a needed mechanic but also needs to be well implemented using the games key features e.g. Zelda style or DMC!— Russell Jones (@RusDJones) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Bosses are essential.The problem is every boss is the same now, people don't put the effort into creating original fights anymore..— Niek Kerssies (@KIPKERssIEs) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer The Boss is the one unique super baddy that gives us the challenge I seek in a game, otherwise its just CoD— Zack McCloud (@ZackLynx3187) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer depends on the game's style. A bit outdated. only not that bad. but don't really need it anymore if the gameplay is strong enough.— Tony J. Vodka (@tonihato) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Yes Boss battles should be the climax of a game - compare Hitler Robot of Doom vs UN victory in Civilization 3— Logun (@Logun0) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer For something like a Strider or Reaper I think yes; otherwise, I feel it's outdated, as games like Mirror's Edge or Far Cry 2 show.— Davehonored (@david_shea) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer No tool in a writer's box is ever obsolete, but just as hammers aren't for fixing electronics, not every game needs a boss battle.— Jacob Dieffenbach (@dieffenbachj) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer @deadspace is doing this right. Minibosses that sometimes prove more intense than the "end boss", it's about nonlinear progres— CosmicD (@CosmicD) March 20, 2013

PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to Face Off: Do boss battles have a place in modern games?">face_off_boss







In this week's Face Off debate, Tyler goes left, then right, then left again to dodge Evan's precisely timed barrage of attacks against traditional boss fights in modern games. Are they an outdated trope which should be reserved for arcade-style experiences? Is there some common ground, where boss fights and modern ideas can coexist?



Read the debate below, add your argument in the comments, and jump to the next page for opinions from the community. Tyler, you have the floor:



The Debate

 

Tyler: Why shouldn't games use a tried-and-true design template? Here’s an analogy: you spend a semester learning, then face the ultimate challenge in the final exam. It’s hard. You might have to repeat it again and again to pass, but it makes earning the right to advance to the next level meaningful. My degree would just be a piece of paper if I passed on attendance alone.



Evan: Thanks for comparing bosses to school exams, something universally disliked by mankind.



Tyler: I know, but see, what I’m saying is, because tests and bosses are- OK, fine. I guess I didn’t do myself any favors with that analogy. But are you just going to critique my rhetoric?



Evan: Let’s try this again, with less sarcasm on my part. So you’re saying that without a demanding test punctuating a player’s progression, being told “You won!” or “You advanced to the next area!” by a game isn’t as meaningful. Correct?



Tyler: I’m not saying games need boss fights to create meaningful progression, but the old-school structure still works where it’s used well. Bosses get the big set pieces—the explosions that would just be worn out if they weren't a sparingly-used reward. They can be crazy, huge, monstrous things. They can seem insurmountable at first, and when you turn one to dust, you are the hero. You’re Bruce Willis at the end of Die Hard. Happy trails, Hans.



Evan: I see bosses as an antique trope. They’re a lazy roadblock-in-antagonist’s clothing, and I think designers generally use them out of convenience or tradition, and not because bosses are the best or most creative way of structuring a game. Plenty of modern games have used bosses in a way that feels completely out of place—BioShock’s pathetic end boss was one of the only stains on one of the best games of the era. Ken Levine has admitted this.







Tyler: You’re right, that was too conventional for BioShock. That was an avoidable error—Wolfenstein 3D wouldn’t have worked if it built to not a fight with mecha Hitler, but BioShock? BioShock should have ignored tradition. That doesn't mean design traditions are universally bad or lazy, though. They give us historical learning to draw from, and that’s valuable.



Iterating on a design only leads to better versions of that design—not in every case, but over time. We’ll only get more and more amazing boss fights, and I’m happy to allow for some failures.



Evan: But designers aren’t iterating, they’re regurgitating. For the most part, bosses are still being implemented in the same form they were 10 and 20 years ago. What would you cite as an example of a great modern boss?



Tyler: Dark Souls, all of them. Sorry, is that game too “antique” for you?



Evan: Actually I’m glad you bring it up, because Dark Souls demonstrates what I’m talking about. The fun I had fighting its bosses relied on difficulty more than interesting design. Dark Souls is saying: “You’re fragile, so let’s make you fight things that have a bunch more HP and do more damage than you. Boss: DESIGNED!”







I don’t find that totally unappealing, but it’s mechanically mundane: pattern recognition, timing, and fighting an enemy with an enormous hit point bar isn’t tried-and-true--it’s overdone. That template originated in the 2D arcade games of the ‘80s and grew ubiquitous through the console games of the ‘90s. Do we really want games that are just a series of homages to the techniques of the past, or do we want new ideas and new experiences?



Tyler: We want both! And sometimes we want a combination. We can want whatever we want. Alright, that last one isn't a very good argument, but how about this: it’s true that the best examples of boss fights come from arcade-style games and Japanese console series, making a “modern” PC-centric argument more difficult, but even Valve draws from that collective design learning. I thought Portal and Portal 2 climaxed just fine, and those are plenty modern.







Evan: I remember enjoying the ending of both games, but I think I was enjoying the narrative execution more than what I was being asked to do with my mouse and keyboard. Glados and Wheatley are both entertainingly written, and both Portals incorporated original, lyrical songs that provided as a surprising payoff for all your hours of brain work. But as an activity, as a test, I’m not sure if I’d call Portal and Portal 2’s bosses stimulating.



How to beat the end of Portal 2:



Stand behind a pipe as Wheatley fires a bomb at you. This will break open the Incredibly Obvious White Gel Tube.

Put a portal in front of you, and put a portal on a surface that faces where Wheatley’s shields aren’t. Stand there.

While Wheatley is stunned (because it wouldn’t be a boss if they didn’t have a “paralyzed” state), retrieve the cores and then just like, walk up to him.

Repeat.



It does a lot of the work for you--you don’t even have to consider where to place the gel, which was something Portal 2 taught you how to do over and over. It was a narrative success, but if we’re judging bosses by their test-like traits, I’d say it was a pretty easy exam.



Tyler: You’re right, boss battles tend to be exercises in pattern recognition and repetition. They require a binary win/lose state, and winning in one shot would be a bit anticlimactic, so you wear them down in stages. But what about Half-Life 2: Episode 2? That wasn’t a standard pattern-based test, it was a whole level. Conceptually, is that still a “boss?”



Wait. No. I’m unplugging my keyboard and walking away before I turn this into a semantic argument about “what is and isn’t a boss.” I’ll plug it back in after I’ve sat in the corner thinking about what I’ve done.



Evan: Yeah, I agree that it’s pointless to argue whether Half-Life 2: Episode 2’s incredible sawmill/Strider showdown is or isn't a boss. Mostly I’m interested in encouraging designers to throw out the notion that bosses or “tests” or endings require something like a binary win/lose state, or that they have to replicate something players already understand. I like that Left 4 Dead’s crescendo events make it possible to win and lose simultaneously--you or a teammate might’ve died, but if one person completes the finale it’s considered a success.



Mainly, I don’t want any more Human Revolutions. It was a legitimate tragedy that the reboot of one of the defining, agency-driven games of our time reverted to “let’s put the player in the room with a guy that they stun and then shoot until they kill him.”



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKuLO1WeuTg



Tyler: You’re right again, but I don't agree with a universal conclusion. Yes, “shoot until they die” is out of place there (and no fair using Human Revolution, which had bad boss fights for many reasons), but even so, I want to face the villain, and sometimes I really just want to win the fight. The hero’s journey, and all that! There’s a place for challenging the idea of binary win/lose states, as in L4D, but there’s also a place where John McClane shoots the bad guy, and it’s a place I’m not done visiting.



I don’t want to miss that confrontation because we're just too sophisticated for traditional boss fights. True, there are better ways to handle that confrontation, and that’s the experimentation I want to see.



Evan: “The hero’s journey, and all that” is exactly what I want more designers to deviate from. Not to derail our discussion about bosses, but I’m sick of being everyone’s savior.



Now that i think of it, Far Cry 3 represents one of the recent attempts at iteration on boss design. It’s an open-world game with maybe last year’s best villain, but Ubisoft’s solution for bringing you face to face with Vaas and other big bads was throwing you into these frustrating, (and I hate to use it like it’s inherently a bad word, but) linear, drugged-out hallucination sequences. Why did they do that? Because they wanted the player to have this prolonged encounter with the villain, and a dream sequence creates this context where they can bend the rules and allow the player to shoot the villain a whole bunch of times before they die.



Tyler: You sure have a lot of examples of bad boss fights, but they don’t add up to a rule—and at least Far Cry 3 tried to justify its boss confrontations a bit differently, even if it didn’t succeed.



And on your first point, sure, things can get really interesting when we deviate from archetypal hero narratives. What if I’m just a person in DayZ, on an island with zombies, what do I do? Fascinating, and I can’t wait for more. But why can’t we have both? We don’t have to stop saving the world to also find out what happens when we can’t save the world, or when the final boss is actually Jonathan Blow’s internal emotional struggle.



Evan: It sounds like we’re approaching something that resembles consensus. I think we’re both interested in boss encounters or “difficult trials” that are built on new ideas. I guess part of my criticism stems from the idea that Western game design has won out over Japanese game design over the past 10 or 15 years, and that bosses represent a dated trope that was perpetuated a lot by Japanese games.



I’m especially frustrated when well-funded projects, staffed by dozens of talented people, rely on templates like locking you in a room and throwing a single, durable enemy at you.



Tyler: Have you played Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater? I know, another Japanese console example, but I think The End is a brilliant modern boss fight—it’s a sniper battle, a long back-and-forth which can be won with a kill or non-lethal takedown. That’s the kind of boss fight experimentation we need more of in PC games. We don’t need to do away with them altogether.







Evan: I’m a closet Metal Gear Solid fan, so I’m not going to fight you on this one--The End works for the same reasons HL2: Ep. 2 does--Konami built a whole, intricate level around that character, imbued him with some unpredictable behaviors, and the result was this interestingly-paced jungle hunt that didn’t simply have one solution, yeah. A lot of MGS’ bosses do rely on some tropey pattern-recognition stuff, but he’s one of the best examples of combining “Japanese difficulty” and Western sensibilities. There’s a lot of that in what Kojima does.



Tyler: Yeah, we’re at least within sight of each other now (nice hat, by the way). Neither of us mind having that big confrontation, or even sometimes sticking to narrative tropes, we just want cleverer approaches. That is, we don’t want designers to force traditional boss fights into otherwise non-traditional games. We want them to design climactic experiences that make sense, and “dodge, shoot, dodge, shoot” can be fun, but it only works in games wholly designed in that arcade style. When you force it into something like BioShock or Deus Ex, it’s a mechanical and narrative let down.



Evan: Ratified.



That's the debate! As always, these debates are exercises meant to reveal alternate view points and cultivate discussion, so continue it in the comments, and jump to the next page for more opinions from the community.











@pcgamer I hated ME3. Without boss battles, the story was basically about fighting mindless enemies 4 cutscenes. And Kai Leng don't count.— Nathan Hansen (@NathanHansenWDN) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer outdated. but also fighting endless waves, survival style is boring too.Simply, keep "boss" fights at random times throughout.YAY— derps | ADLT (@Batou079) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Dark Souls did it well. Bioshock did it well. I like the idea of roaming boss fights with the black knights and big daddies— Nicklaus Lacle (@NLacle) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Like anything else, boss battles have a place if they fit the game. They are often overused and obvious, though.— Ben Price (@bk_price) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Japanese-based games have it on tight, I don't see much from NA titles.— Abdelrahman Al Amiri (@_Bu3ouf_) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Boss battles are a needed mechanic but also needs to be well implemented using the games key features e.g. Zelda style or DMC!— Russell Jones (@RusDJones) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Bosses are essential.The problem is every boss is the same now, people don't put the effort into creating original fights anymore..— Niek Kerssies (@KIPKERssIEs) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer The Boss is the one unique super baddy that gives us the challenge I seek in a game, otherwise its just CoD— Zack McCloud (@ZackLynx3187) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer depends on the game's style. A bit outdated. only not that bad. but don't really need it anymore if the gameplay is strong enough.— Tony J. Vodka (@tonihato) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer Yes Boss battles should be the climax of a game - compare Hitler Robot of Doom vs UN victory in Civilization 3— Logun (@Logun0) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer For something like a Strider or Reaper I think yes; otherwise, I feel it's outdated, as games like Mirror's Edge or Far Cry 2 show.— Davehonored (@david_shea) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer No tool in a writer's box is ever obsolete, but just as hammers aren't for fixing electronics, not every game needs a boss battle.— Jacob Dieffenbach (@dieffenbachj) March 20, 2013





@pcgamer @deadspace is doing this right. Minibosses that sometimes prove more intense than the "end boss", it's about nonlinear progres— CosmicD (@CosmicD) March 20, 2013

PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to See Doom partially ported into Garry’s Mod">gmDoom







As far as giving an older game the Source treatment, GhorsHammer's gmDoom port project is probably the quickest to elicit a "Holy %)#@" out of me since Black Mesa. It chainsaws out the UI, enemy, and weapon sprites from the proto-FPS and stitches them into Garry's Mod with astonishing smoothness. I can't imagine how downing a Strider with a blast from the BFG would work, but after seeing it in action in GhorsHammer's video, I can't imagine how it wouldn't work.



The mod is undergoing a final round of bug testing and tweaks, and it'll show up in Steam Workshop sometime this week for download. It looks like the Frankensteinian bridge between Doom and Source flows both ways, as you're seemingly able to set up fights against classic hellspawn such as the Cacodemon and Revenant while touting Half-Life 2's arsenal. That includes vehicles, and running over crowds of Imps in Episode Two's muscle car while blasting E1M1 sounds all kinds of awesome.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Gabe Newell: Valve’s business increased by 50 percent last year">Dota 2







Valve boss Gabe Newell stepped up to the stage during last week's BAFTA awards to receive the prestigious Academy Fellowship for his contributions to gaming. Presumably momentarily distracted by accepting a trophy modeled after a smirking face, a bewhiskered Newell fielded some interview questions over the normally airtight subject of Valve's business performance that hinted at the monumental scale of the studio's prosperity.



Newell chalked up Valve's successes largely to user-generated content on open platforms such as Steam Workshop before sharing some jaw-dropping numbers. "There's sort of an insatiable demand for gaming right now," Newell said. "I think our business has grown by about 50 percent on the back of opportunities created by having these open platforms.



"And just so people understand how big this sort of scale is getting, we were generating 3.5 terabits per second during the last Dota 2 update," he added. "That's about 2 percent of all the mobile- and land-based Internet activity."



Wait, what? We're not exactly sure what Newell meant when he dropped that bombshell of data info, apart from maybe claiming responsibility for all those times my connection speeds chugged while browsing these past few months. Still, it seems entirely plausible—Dota 2 has a lot of players, and the MOBA recently took the crown for the highest concurrent user amount of any Steam game ever. If any Steam game can feasibly take a bite out of the entire Internet, Dota 2 holds the best chance.
PC Gamer
rel="bookmark"
title="Permanent Link to The Half-Life 2 Spherical Nightmares mod is good and you should play it">Half Life 2 Spherical Nightmares







Some mods want to re-invent the game they're based on, but when that game is Half-Life 2, there's no need. In mods like Minerva (highly recommended, if you haven't played it), the creators treat Half-Life 2's weapons, enemies and environments as building blocks, playfully rearranging them into new scenarios to hone the craft of level design. With no fresh art or spectacle to fall back on, it's up to the pacing of each environment to keep the player fascinated.



New singleplayer mod, Spherical Nightmares does a rather good job of that. You start in jail, interred (ineffectively) by the G-Man, who reprises his role as Creepy Distant Voyeur Dude from the Half-Life games. Your first steps are cautious and exploratory, but as you clamber out of the dark bowels of the facility you'll stumble into escalating firefights that pay homage to Half-Life 2 and - in a challenging train ride section - Half Life 1 as well.



There's a haunted house vibe to the dimly lit starting corridors as well. It never stoops to FEAR level scare-craft, but you'll walk into black and white flashbacks showing a time when the facility was full of people yet to be munched on by an army of invading headcrabs. It's clear from the disturbed inmates and foggy Blair Witch visuals that ALL WAS NOT WELL. Look at this man walking pensively away from a game of chess. Who is winning? Why is he leaving? Probably because a strange man in a yellow suit with a crowbar is photographing him through the glass. Sorry, man.



Try queen to bishop 6 - hey, come back!



There is shooting. It is a lot like the shooting in Half-Life 2. This is no bad thing. The first proper fight is a slightly unexpected change of gear, but it moves from a vantage point with a heavy machine gun down into a courtyard with a LOT of combine soldiers in it. Here I rediscovered the pleasure of the right-click twin barrel shot on the Half-Life 2 shotgun, and there's a sneaky Ravenholm razor in one corner for Gravity Gun aficionados. It's easy to forget how challenging the Combine can be in numbers. They're still not terribly good at understanding cover, but the way they split, flank and use grenades is unnervingly effective.



The courtyard fight contracts into a vertical staircase fight (more good news for shotgun fans), which marks a slight shift in pace that feels like a studied attempt to recreate the gentle rhythm of Valve's levels. Half-Life partly controls pace with the expansion and contraction of space, ushering players through its sections with a subtle peristalsis motion that's emulated here. The brief sewer section teases daylight a few times before you emerge into the sunlight, another thoughtful touch.



Don't you hate it when your shotgun suddenly catches fire?



It looks good, too. Spherical Nightmares embraces the extra frills of the Episode 2 version of Source, and is lit sparingly. The engine looks increasingly dated, but the decision to use Valve's cohesive assets keeps things clean and unified and there's a lot of variety in the two hours or so it takes to complete. Don't expect much in the way of story resolution, however. Perhaps we'll learn more about the sphere and its innards in a follow up, but that won't be any time soon. Spherical Nightmares took five years to make.



Fancy giving it a shot? You can download the mod now from ModDB. Extract it to your Steam->steamapps->sourcemods  folder, restart Steam and it'll pop up in your library. you'll need Half Life 2: Episode 2 for it to work. See if you can find this guy on your travels.



NOT YOU AGAIN.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Garry’s Mod has earned nearly $22 million over seven years">Garry's Mod



Source: http://bit.ly/XQp76W



Garry's Mod, that wonderful physics sandbox of posable characters doing very silly things, has done rather well since attaching a $10 price for its tomfoolery back in 2006. Last December, GMod passed the milestone of 2 million copies sold, an accomplishment made possible by word-of-mouth and creator Garry Newman's regular feature updates. Responding to a fan's question in a blofg post, Newman reveals the mod accrued an astounding $22 million over seven years, but he also says taxes took large bites out of the monstrous moneydollar amount.



"Over seven years, GMod has made about $22 million dollars," he writes. "We get less than half of that though. The tax man gets a bunch of that. Then when we take money out of the company, the tax man gets a bunch of that too."



A Google Image search for "Garry's Mod tax man" sadly doesn't provide an appropriate response image for Newman's achievement, instead showing a balloon chair, ponies, and a Teletubby mugging a Companion Cube. Wait, what am I saying? They're all appropriate.



As for the future of Garry's Mod and what's next for Newman and the rest of his team at developer Facepunch Studios, Newman lines up a few upcoming features in the works.



"Hopefully, we’re gonna get the Linux version out," he says. "Then hopefully we’ll move to SteamPipe, and I’ll get the NextBot stuff hooked up. Then I want to do another Gamemode Contest. But I want to knock out a bunch of gamemode creating tutorials first to help people get their foot in the door."



By the way, if you're leery of plopping down a Hamilton for a constantly updated playground of imagination ("Garry's Mod what are you thinking" in Google), you can grab the old-but-free Garry's Mod 9 from Mod DB.
PC Gamer - PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to PC Gamer UK Podcast: Episode 85 – Horse Parking Simulator 2013">Martin-Chris-TomS-610x239







After a break, we're back. Chris, Tom Senior and Marsh discuss Antichamber, DmC, The Witcher, Destiny, the inner workings of Valve and a game called Half-Life 2 that is pretty good aparrently.



Also featuring an ass palace, places where one may or may not take a horse, the playground circular saw craze of the 1990s, a wonderous squirrel experience, and possibly the most inept attempt to begin a podcast since the last time we tried to begin a podcast.



We also talk about Rome II, Aliens: Colonial Marines, and the games of David Johnston.



You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or download the MP3 directly. Follow PC Gamer UK on Twitter to be informed when we're putting the call out for questions. Alternatively, follow us as individuals:



Tom Senior - @pcgludo

Marsh - @marshdavies

Chris - @cthursten



Show notes



Our review of Antichamber.

Smudged Cat games.

Half-Life 2 is a good computer game! Who knew. No link here: just registering my surprise. Again.

Our review of the petition-tastic DmC: Devil May Cry.

Some pictures of Destiny, Bungie's game about a magic space ball or something.

A blurry screenshot of whatever Respawn Entertainment are doing.

Via Eurogamer: the PS4 will not block used games.

MAXIMUM SQUIRRELS "Nine out of ten." - Martin 'Marsh' Davies

Our Aliens: Colonial Marines review, Kotaku's report on its troubled development, and a xenomorph with a tiny little invisible piano.

Someone call a doctor. Chris has a case of not-really-thinking-this-through.

PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Black Mesa: Hazard Course mod sends Half-Life’s tutorial deeper into Source">Black Mesa Hazard Course







After using a Xen relay to slingshot itself across an interdimensional portal known as "the Internet," Black Mesa and its updates to Half-Life 1 continue to influence satellite mods that restore extended chunks of Gordon Freeman's tale. Next in line for Black-Mesa-fying: the Hazard Course, Gordon's optional and educational pit-stop for teaching movement and shooting basics.



Along with the standard face(granite?)-lift to the Hazard Course's bunker-like training areas and twisting pipes, the mod hopes to add a few new characters and areas for that extra bit of distraction as you eternally run late for that silly test chamber appointment. A notable planned addition is the tram station and the brief meeting with a few scientist overseers from the PlayStation 2 version of the game (here's a video), which is a rare opportunity to see one of the lab's normally stuffy pencil-pushers shirk procedure over a liability contract.



The mod just moved into its alpha stage after its team announced the first connection of all playable areas just yesterday. You can track the mod's progress over at Mod DB, and here's a few more screenshots showing off the completed work so far.











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