Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Episode 69: Boss Fights

This is episode 69 of Roguelike Radio, where we talk about Boss Fights. Speaking this episode are Andrew Doull and Darren Grey.

You can download the mp3 of the podcast, play it in the embedded player below, or you can follow us on iTunes.

Topics discussed in this episode include:
 - RogueTemple thread that inspired the discussion
 - Darren is not a boss
 - The proliferation in boss fights in all the major roguelikes other than Brogue
 - Special random fights vs unique enemies
 - Puzzle bosses vs resource sink bosses
 - Theme and flavour and how giving a creature a unique name changes a player's view of it
 - Sharing experiences of preset bosses with other players, and using them as markers in the game to foster discussion
 - The different roles of bosses: optional extra challenges, gating mechanisms, resource drains, structured tension, waypoints, end game "go all out" challenge
 - Common mistakes in making bosses: making them impossible for certain builds, immune to status effects, able to heal too fast, too easy for certain builds
 - Fitting bosses into the game's overall difficulty curve and pacing
 - The ADOM bosses with themed levels and minions
 - Spoiler-reliant bosses, how this can be a problem, how to mitigate spoiler reliance and sometimes just accepting that the players have to learn for themselves
 - The dynamic of boss minions, as a resource drain and as extra tactical and dynamic depth to the boss fight (and a great example of this from Angband)
 - Reward for bosses - opening up new parts of the game, experience progression, special items
 - Our most memorable boss fights (Darren in ADOM and Andrew in Angband)
 - Unique environments as part of the boss fight or additional challenge
 - Fixed content vs random content
 - Bosses that you don't have to kill

Join us next time for potentially some coverage of Sword of the Stars: The Pit.


  1. Note: Damn browser ate my comment when I tried to submit it! Rewriting:

    Great episode guys, though I would have liked to hear a bit more from Andrew. Darren, please try to give brief pauses during your monologues to give others an opportunity to chime in. :)

    Now, on to the subject itself. I disagree with the assertion that Brogue does not contain any bosses. The Vampire and Black Jelly are listed on the wiki as bosses and they fit many of the criteria. They are not generated normally, they feature their own thematic rooms, they are very strong HP sponges relative to similar depth monsters and they guard special keys you want in order to progress your character. In the later levels, these boss thematic rooms can be very interesting (and deadly) indeed!

    Another Roguelike which has very interesting bosses is NetHack. There are a lot of bosses in the game, many of which are unique to your character class's particular quest storyline. Many of the bosses feature their own very elaborate thematic dungeon levels (or even whole branches). Every boss is optional, though they usually carry items which are required to complete the game (these items can be stolen in certain ways). Some of the bosses even have special AIs which a smart player can exploit for very amusing useful effects. One boss in particular can be tricked into fighting another boss for you and even retrieving the special item so that you don't need to explore that dungeon level!

    1. Haha, sorry for ranting on too much. Happy to hear of more interesting boss examples - obviously Andrew and I haven't played all games and there's bound to be things we have forgotten too.

    2. Great episode guys, awesome episode title! :D You both talk with a lot of experience, and very interesting to hear of Angband and TOME bosses, as well as bosses from your own games. When Chong Li here mentioned NetHack, I can't help but feel that John Harris would have been extremely interesting to have on this episode, but oh well :) This is one of those episodes with replay value, so I'm going to play thione a few times to get all the details! Thanks again!

    3. Oh, and the ADOM bosses were really interesting too. Really like the idea of hand made boss levels!

  2. Seems like a handmade boss level, procedurally placed, would be great for those puzzle type bosses. You could really tweak the behavior to work in that arena.

    The 'resource' eater bosses seem like they can serve two game purposes. One is a level or gear check. A test to see if you are strong enough to move on. Dunno how that might work in a permadeath game, I guess you'd just have to know how bad the boss is so grind appropriately. The 2nd purpose would be to weaken you for the trials ahead, or strengthen you with a good drop.

    But I think mostly bosses are useful to mix up the variety with a difficulty spike and further the narrative. In a procedural game I don't like a lot of narrative, but a story revolving around defeating 5 named bosses and then the named overlord is totally acceptable. It gives me something to bitch about on forums too, like, "OMG freakin' Sauron kicked my teeth in AGAIN, Waaaaaah..."

    I figure they are saving an entire 7 part series where Harris can talk in depth about the features of Nethack.

    Part 1: Cockatrice
    Part 2: Wishes
    Part 3: YASD


  3. Hey we've actually introduced hundreds of people to the roguelike Dwarf Fortress with our stories archive @ dfstories.com. We find the best way to get people into roguelikes is by capturing their imagination with the prospect of creating their own stories.

  4. I'm not entirely convinced that Darren isn't a boss; it just seems like he's a particularly good one.

  5. Adaptive bosses, borrowed from the shooter Warning Forever, would be an interesting way to deal with the "boss is too easy for some characters and too hard for others" problem...