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Far Cry 3
Cyber War

We've seen it in (brief) action, we've even played it, but a part of me still worries that Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is an elaborate joke. May 1st will come around, and instead of the weird 80s-inspired neon expansion/total conversion releasing, Ubisoft will instead collectively jump out of their carefully chosen hiding spaces and shout "April Fool's Month!" This live action trailer isn't helping. It's a very silly thing, and all the better for it.

Surviving a nuclear explosion by hiding behind an evil virus-infected android? It's the retro-future post-post-apocalypse version of Duck and Cover.

In the increasingly likely event that it is real, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon will be released May 1st.
Far Cry 3

Preview by Ben Griffin.

This first slice of DLC for mega-shooter Far Cry 3 is a laser-guided love letter to the greatest period in human history: the 80’s.

As a Mega Drive-inspired cinematic explains through crudely animated pixel art and lashings of dramatic synth, it’s the near future (that is to say, the 80’s vision of the near future, which is actually 2007), and the world is on the verge of the nuclear war. This, obviously, prompts the rise of cyborg soldiers.

"It’s part Apocalypse Now, part The Terminator, and an all-round send up of the videogame industry."
Freedom fighters such as Sgt. Rex ‘Power’ Colt (Aliens’ Michael Biehn, in a master casting decision). Colt’s on a mission to stop Omega Force, led by a rogue robo-colonel called Sloane, from turning the world’s population bionic. It’s part Apocalypse Now, part The Terminator (in which, as it happens, Biehn also stars), and an all-round send up of the videogame industry.

But wait: what’s that game director Dean Evans is saying? “We’re really proud of our bad script.” Oh. He goes on: “In an age where polygons equal emotion, we went for something a bit different” – and with that he triggered the next slide which boasted “1D characters, terrible story, minimal emotions”.

And that’s exactly why you’ll love Blood Dragon.

Your playground is a crimson-skied open-world island about half the size of Far Cry 3’s and similarly packed with animals and outposts. While both games see you hunt an unhinged mastermind, Blood Dragon puts a spin on things: mercenaries are not men but cyborgs with heads that satisfyingly burst into showers of blue sparks; organic wildlife is swapped for artificial beasts like robo-crocs, cyber-sharks, mutant turtles and devil goats; zip wires are Tron-like beams of light, the radar’s a stark green and black grid, and blood dragons are... well, they’re new.

"Packs of neon Godzillan quadrupeds freely roam the island."
Packs of neon Godzillan quadrupeds freely roam the island. Blind and relying on smell, they’ll charge if you don’t exercise stealthy caution, but they function best as attack dogs. Killing mercenaries, for instance, lets you scavenge their hearts in the same way you’d skin animals. Throw these hearts and blood dragons will attack anything in the vicinity.

Force fields prevent the monsters from entering and running amok, but luckily – awesomely – their LASER BEAM EYES can penetrate the defences from distance and instantly melt targets. To think, we once thought a few rogue buffalo threatening.

The ludicrousity meter is ringing right from minute one; even the tutorial gets in on the act, devolving into an elaborate trolling attempt via the sultry voice in your ear, Dr. Darling. “Use the thumbstick to move in many exciting directions,” you’re told. Colt’s response: “Motherfucker! Just let me shoot things!” “Tired of tutorials?” the next obtuse pop-up goads, “Upgrade to the premium edition today.”

"There isn’t a spot in Blood Dragon not slathered with 80’s gaudy neon taint."
But once this is done, as is Far Cry tradition, you’re free to do what you want: hunt rare animals, blaze through bases, scout collectibles (here: VHS tapes) and more, even if it’s the story missions that offer the expansion’s most thrilling moments. The first sees you man a helicopter chain gun and rampage through a modernist settlement, exploding numerous bio-fuel tanks and scorching the sleek black geometric structures as Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally blasts over the top.

From the Terminator-style infrared interface which replaces your digital camera, to beautifully tacky weapons like the Fazertron laser rifle and light bow, to the stripped-back ranking system which replaces skill trees with linear level-ups (thankfully, old skills like takedown-chaining and aerial assassinations needn’t be relearned), even down to the desert chrome logo font – there isn’t a spot in Blood Dragon not slathered with 80’s gaudy neon taint.

Game director Evans’s take? “It’s fun, it’s bullshit.” It’s hard to disagree.

Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon - Trailer

This trailer for the ridiculous Far Cry 3 expandalone Blood Dragon is like a powerful cyborg punch to the nostalgia glands. It's got everything: 80s people eating greasy breakfasts, grimy shop fronts, spandex, lasers, the post-post-apocalypse, and cartoon metal men battling around the sickening fuzz of a VHS filter. Somehow, amidst all this, there's also some footage of the game.

It's such a bizarre direction for Far Cry 3 to take that I almost still don't believe it's real. Except it is. You can pre-order it on Steam and everything. Ubisoft sum up the plot, such as it is, like so: "The year is 2007 and you are Sergeant Rex Colt, a Mark IV Cyber Commando. Your mission: get the girl, kill the baddies, and save the world."

From the footage, you can see it's still unmistakably Far Cry 3, only soaked in a bath of neon and testosterone. There are robots, there are laser knives, there are green-eyed panthers and a command to flip your enemies the bird. This is all as it should be.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is due out May 1st, for £11.99.
Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Here's a generous 15 minute video of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. It hasn't come through official Ubisoft channels, but it's unmistakably Red Dragon because it confirms a lot of what we've gleaned from the game's official website and screenshots. It basically re-skins Far Cry 3 with a colourful 1980s sci-fi action aesthetic. All the mechanics appear to be intact - including enemy tagging and stealth - and the environment has been confirmed to be open world.

According to recent reports, the game will be standalone and is set to release on May 1. That's only a matter of weeks away. Oh yeah, and Michael Biehn will be in it. Expect gratuitous violence, cyborgs, and foul language.
Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Ubisoft's left-of-field Far Cry 3 expansion Blood Dragon will be standalone, which means you won't need to have purchased a copy of Far Cry 3 to play it. The news comes via a listing on the Xbox Marketplace website, which points to a May 1 release date and (take a deep breath) the involvement of Michael Biehn.

You should know who Biehn is already, but if you don't: he played Dwayne Hicks in Aliens and Kyle Reese in Terminator, which means that for any high-budget project trading on VHS '80s nostalgia, he's a perfect fit. Just in case the retro-futuristic sci-fi aesthetic of Blood Dragon isn't already abundantly obvious thanks to these screenshots, here's the official blurb on the Marketplace page:

"Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon is THE Kick-Ass Cyber Shooter taking place on a bizarre open-world island crawling with evil. Welcome to an 80’s VHS vision of the future. The year is 2007 and you are Sargent Rex Colt, a Mark IV Cyber Commando who’s fighting against a cyborg army gone rogue. Your mission: get the girl, kill the baddies, and save the world. Experience every cliché of a VHS era vision of a nuclear future, where cyborgs, blood dragons, mutants, and Michael Biehn (Terminator, Aliens, Navy Seals) collide. Playing Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon doesn't require a copy of Far Cry® 3."

So yeah, this is definitely a thing, and it's coming very soon.
Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Far Cry 3 might very well rival Saints Row for the "biggest shark jump" award with its retro-rocking Blood Dragon DLC. The more distance each day increases from its sudden April 1 appearance hints increasingly strongly that this totally rad homage to '80s action flicks is a real thing, where psychotic pirates and killer valley kids melt away for oversaturated colors and a hero named Rex Power Colt.

If that isn't enough cheese for you, it seems Australian electronica group Power Glove is contributing a few synth-tastic tracks. Ubisoft hasn't announced anything official yet, but something likely lurks on the VHS-fuzzy horizon soon.

Cart Life

This year's GDC has been the source of many interesting industry tidbits. But forget them for now, because it also hosted two award shows last night. Shiny, slightly crass and easily digestible in a handy list format - we've got all the winners from the Independent Games Festival Awards and Game Developers Choice Awards right here. Did Hotline Miami's masked protagonist beat the living snot out of the FTL crew for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize? Did Incredipede's creepy-crawly monstrosities scare away the other Visual Art nominees? Did any game not called Journey win a GDC Award? Read on to find out.

We'll start with the IGF Awards, primarily because its the one that wasn't dominated by a PS3-exclusive game about plodding through a desert.

Independent Games Festival Awards

Seumas McNally Grand Prize

Hotline Miami (Dennaton Games)
FTL: Faster Than Light (Subset Games)
Cart Life (Richard Hofmeier)
Little Inferno (Tomorrow Corporation)
Kentucky Route Zero (Cardboard Computer)

Excellence in Visual Art

Incredipede (Northway Games and Thomas Shahan)
Kentucky Route Zero (Cardboard Computer)
Guacalamelee! (Drinkbox Studios)
Loves in a Dangerous Spacetime (Asteroid Base)
Year Walk (Simogo)

Excellence in Narrative

Thirty Flights of Loving (Blendo Games)
Cart Life (Richard Hofmeier)
Kentucky Route Zero (Cardboard Computer)
Dys4ia (Auntie Pixelante)
Gone Home (The Fullbright Company)

Technical Excellence

StarForge (CodeHatch)
Perspective (DigiPen Widdershins)
Little Inferno (Tomorrow Corporation)
Intrusion 2 (Aleksey Abramenko)
LiquidSketch (Tobias Neukom)

Excellence In Design

Samurai Gunn (Beau Blyth)
FTL: Faster Than Light (Subset Games)
Starseed Pilgrim (Droqen & Ryan Roth)
Super Hexagon (Terry Cavanagh)
Super Space (David Scamehorn and Alexander Baard/DigiPen)

Excellence In Audio

Kentucky Route Zero (Cardboard Computer)
Bad Hotel (Lucky Frame)
140 (Jeppe Carlsen)
Hotline Miami (Dennaton Games)
Pixeljunk 4AM (Q-Games)

Best Student Game

Back to Bed (Danish Academy of Digital Interactive Entertainment)
Blackwell's Asylum (Danish Academy of Digital Interactive Entertainment)
Knights of Pen & Paper (IESB - Instituto de Ensino Superior de Brasilia & UnB - Universidade de Brasilia)
the mindfulxp volume (Carnegie Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center)
Pulse (Vancouver Film School)
Zineth (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Nuovo Award

Cart Life (Richard Hofmeier)
Spaceteam (Henry Smith)
Dys4ia (Auntie Pixelante)
Bientot l'ete (Tale of Tales)
7 Grand Steps (Mousechief)
MirrorMoon (SantaRagione + BloodyMonkey)
VESPER.5 (Michael Brough)
Little Inferno (Tomorrow Corporation)

Audience Award
FTL: Faster Than Light (Subset Games)

Thoughts? Firstly, congratulations to Zineth, deserved winner of Best Student Game. It's great, and you should play it. More obviously, well done to Richard Hofmeier for the runaway success of Cart Life. I'm sure many will be surprised by just how well it's done, especially among such a strong list of contenders for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize. If you're currently thinking "Cart What now?" let Christopher Livingston's Sim-plicity column on the game fill you in.

Elsewhere in the list, I'm surprised to see Little Inferno getting a Technical Excellence award (it had nice fire, I guess), unsurprised to see FTL nab the Audience Award, and marginally disappointed to see Hotline Miami go back to its DeLorean with nothing. Although, hey, it's still got a chance at a Games Developer Choice Award! Haha, no, just kidding. Journey won everything.

Game Developers Choice Awards

Game of the Year

Dishonored (Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks)
The Walking Dead (Telltale Games)
Mass Effect 3 (BioWare/Electronic Arts)
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Firaxis Games/2K Games)
Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment)

Innovation Award

Mark of the Ninja (Klei Entertainment/Microsoft Studios)
Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment)
FTL: Faster Than Light (Subset Games)
The Unfinished Swan (Giant Sparrow/Sony Computer Entertainment)
ZombiU (Ubisoft Montpellier/Ubisoft)

Best Audio

Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment)
Hotline Miami (Dennaton Games/Devolver Digital)
Sound Shapes (Queasy Games/Sony Computer Entertainment)
Assassin's Creed III (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)
Halo 4 (343 Industries/Microsoft Studios)

Best Debut

Humble Hearts (Dust: An Elysian Tail)
Polytron Corporation (Fez)
Giant Sparrow (The Unfinished Swan)
Subset Games (FTL: Faster Than Light)
Fireproof Games (The Room )

Best Downloadable Game

The Walking Dead (Telltale Games)
Spelunky (Derek Yu/Andy Hull)
Trials: Evolution (RedLynx/Microsoft Studios)
Mark Of The Ninja (Klei Entertainment/Microsoft Studios)
Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment)

Best Game Design

Dishonored (Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks)
Mark Of The Ninja (Klei Entertainment/Microsoft Studios)
Spelunky (Derek Yu/Andy Hull)
Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment)
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Firaxis Games/2K Games)

Best Handheld/Mobile Game

Gravity Rush (SCE Japan Studio/Sony Computer Entertainment)
Hero Academy (Robot Entertainment)
Sound Shapes (Queasy Games/Sony Computer Entertainment)
The Room (Fireproof Games)
Kid Icarus: Uprising (Sora/Nintendo)

Best Narrative

Spec Ops: The Line (Yager Entertainment/2K Games)
Mass Effect 3 (BioWare/Electronic Arts)
Dishonored (Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks)
The Walking Dead (Telltale Games)
Virtue's Last Reward (Chunsoft/Aksys Games)

Best Technology

Far Cry 3 (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)
PlanetSide 2 (Sony Online Entertainment)
Halo 4 (343 Industries/Microsoft Studios)
Call of Duty: Black Ops II (Treyarch/Activision)
Assassin's Creed III (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)

Best Visual Arts

Borderlands 2 (Gearbox Software/2K Games)
Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment)
Far Cry 3 (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)
Dishonored (Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks)
Halo 4 (343 Industries/Microsoft Studios)

Ambassador Award
Chris Melissinos, curator of The Smithsonian's The Art of Video Games exhibit

Pioneer Award
Spacewar creator Steve Russell

Audience Award

Lifetime Achievement Award
BioWare founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk

Conclusion: award show judges really love Journey.
Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3: Ziggys Mod

I'm bouncing and bumping down a dusty road in Far Cry 3. On my to-do list: nothing, really. There are a couple different plants I'm keeping an eye out for, and a particular animal I'm hoping to spot, but that's about it. I haven't looked at my main map in over an hour, I haven't thought about Vaas or Citra or my friends all day, and I haven't felt a single pressing need to do anything but what I'm doing at this particular moment: bouncing and bumping down a dusty road.

It may sound like I'm playing a game in which I've already completed the main storyline and am looking for some random distractions, but this is actually a new game I've started with the assistance of Ziggys Mod, which has made me realize two things. First, Ziggys Mod should have an apostrophe in it. Second, Far Cry 3, the original version, actively prohibited free-form exploration.

In its original, un-patched form, Far Cry 3 was incredibly fearful that you might stop playing at any moment unless it threw constant reminders in your face of all the things you could be doing. There were notifications about the mission you were on, the minimap was cluttered with icons showing all the plants and loot boxes in your vicinity, and the main map was dotted with even more information. Here's a glider! Here's a collectible! Here's a boat! Here's a good place to find and shoot a boar! JUST DON'T TURN ME OFF, IT'S ALL DARKNESS WHEN YOU'RE NOT HERE!

There are roughly ONE JILLION tweaks and changes made to the game by Ziggy's Mod (screw it, I'm adding an apostrophe), but let me pepper you with a few features that, working in conjunction with each other, turn the game into what I really wanted it to be: a giant open world that doesn't care what I spend my time doing.

Instead of a minimap, a simple compass. It's the little things that make a big difference.

Ziggy's Mod removes the minimap (as other mods have done), replacing it with a simple, nearly transparent compass. With no plant and treasure icons, I rely on my eyes for my looting and gathering needs, which means I'm done with an area when I think I'm done, instead of when the minimap tells me there's simply nothing left to collect.

Adding to the relaxed, do-what-you-want nature of the mod, the entire map world map is completely unlocked from the start, including the second island. All weapons are unlocked and purchasable (including signature weapons), meaning radio towers no longer need scaling (though you are still awarded XP and medical supply-run missions if you choose to climb them). There are no longer any mission-dependent skills, either: you can play Build-a-Brody at your own pace. The wingsuit is yours immediately as well. These changes mean you can completely ignore the main missions for as long as you want (example: forever).

Enemies no longer wear bright red. Smart! Not smart enough to save them, though.

I think we can agree that the crafting system was pretty derpy in the original game. It never made sense that to craft a holster you needed a goat skin, but to craft a second holster you needed two deer skins. I would have thought the solution would have been to remove crafting entirely, but Ziggy's Mod actually increases the requirements: instead of two skins from one animal to make your 'nade pouch, you might need three from one animal and two from another, plus a handful of different plants. And yet, even with Ziggy's Mod doubling down on the derp, it somehow works better than the original.

First, extra slots have been added to the pouches you craft, so you wind up being able to hold more in exchange for the extra work. Second, while the hunting grounds are still shown on your main map, they are non-specific. The little silhouettes of which animal is likely to appear there is gone, so if you're looking for a buffalo, you're not quite sure where to start. I know it may sound tiresome and irritating, but it actually encourages exploration.

I know it's a tough sell, but making crafting harder makes crafting better.

In the unmodified game, what did I do if I needed a tapir skin? I drove in a straight line to the spot on the map that showed the outline of a tapir, I shot a tapir in the face, I turned it into a purse, and I raced back to whatever it was I'd been doing. That's not exploration, that's a fetch quest. If I need a tapir now, I have to go out and find one, on my own. It can take hours, and since I'm not really sure where to look, I look everywhere, and thus end up genuinely exploring the islands.

The overall effect of Ziggy's Mod, I've been finding, is that Far Cry 3 feels a bit more like the better parts of Far Cry 2. I bounce along dirt roads in my car, or tool along rivers in a boat. I get out if I see something interesting or someone starts shooting at me. I take down outposts when I come across them, rather than ticking them off my map one by one. I haven't even considered rescuing my stupid friends from their stupid suffering at the hands of insane thugs. I explore way more. Ziggy's Mod lets me do what I wanted to with Far Cry 3 in the first place: whatever the hell I want.

No more tags on enemies. Bonus: no more stupid squares cluttering the camera lens (what were those?).

Another nice change: the camera, when you use it, doesn't tag enemies with icons. I liked this feature the first time, but without it, outpost battles and wanted missions are more challenging and exciting. Weapons generally have more attachment slots, which is a plus, and they don't reload automatically when your clip is empty, which is a minus until you start remembering to do it yourself, and then it feels more realistic (there's nothing like dry-firing on a charging komodo dragon to wake you up).

Since this mod is for gamers who have already played Far Cry 3 once and want to start a new game, it completely skips the intro, the initial escape from Vaas, and Jason's annoying scaredypants whimpering, and just starts you off with Dennis rudely hammering the first tatau into your forearm. You still have to do the first three things Dennis asks you to: buy your first gun, climb your first radio tower and craft a couple things, but once you're done you never have to see Dennis again.

One note on the first crafting mission: with the extended recipe requirements of the mod, you probably won't have enough to actually complete all the recipes Dennis asks for, but simply trying to craft an item (even if you can't) will satisfy Dennis. And then you're free get on with your exploring.

Thanks for the loan! See you again, um... NEVER ha ha ha ha

Installation: Find your Far Cry 3 directory, make copies of the "bin" and "data_win32" folders, and put them somewhere safe. I do not recommend simply dumping them in a folder called "New Folder (9)" on your desktop, but we both know that's nearly inevitable.

Open the Ziggy's Mod zip file and drop the new "bin" and "data_win32" folders into your Far Cry directory, and when prompted, overwrite the original files, then start the game. And, if you decide to complete the story missions, say hi to Vaas for me. I haven't seen him in a while, and I don't plan to.

Relevance? None. I just like killing these jerk birds because they are jerks.
Half-Life 2

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.

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.”


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