Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Top 10 Boss Fights!

Ah, the "boss", one of the most iconic of video game trademarks and from a designers perspective they stand as a crucial element in creating an immersive, challenging and rewarding experience for the player.

So what makes a good, bad boss? Why are they so important to the structure of an action or adventure driven title? In my opinion I see bosses as the pinnacle of challenge in a specific point of the game and by confronting the player with this skill proving, strategic and action driven sequence a formidable test is delivered. Ultimately, if the player can overcome and conquer these tests then an accomplished sense of relief, satisfaction and most importantly confidence can be instilled. This process is vital for the drive of the game as it helps keep the players interest and emotions invested. With every boss that is defeated a small step is taken towards reaching the final goal and eventually, the last boss.

Without further delay, I present to you my ten personal favorite boss fights throughout the years.

10. Contra III: The Alien Wars, Alien Airship

"Let's attack aggressively"

I can sum Konami's Contra series up with two words, MERCILESS ACTION! Contra III, originally released for the Super Nintendo in 1992 - is no exception.

This battle begins as your
rude dude takes to the sky by grappling onto the massive missile located underneath your ascending helicopter, seems reasonable enough. Look out! A rocket pack wielding samurai alien attacks! Take him out and soon after the missile is fired (with you still attached, of course) and you begin your assault on the Alien Airship. So here you are, suspended in mid-air by jumping from one missile to another while simultaneously dancing with the devil and trying to destroy the two shield generators on the airship which are respectively located at the top and bottom of the flying fortress, the same shield that your rockets are continuously exploding upon forcing you to constantly be moving. Not to mention that you're also dodging the airships own projectiles.

After finally destroying the shield generators the exposed core of the airship can be taken out and this boss is cooked. All these factors jumbled together make for a very intense and awesome missile surfing boss fight, just don't say I didn't warn you.


9. Mega Man II, Dragon

Don't ask how he stays afloat with those itty-bitty wings
... It's not our place to question the future.

Capcom released Mega Man II in 1989 and as it turns out was an excellent predecessor to the first game. MMII is considered by many to be one of the best, if not the best in the series - it still stands as my personal favorite. MMII introduced many features that would become standard for all of the sequels, including the classic set of eight robot masters, the ever helpful 'Energy Crystals' (E-Tanks), a password feature and assist items.

Amongst a fantastic assortment of bosses is the Dragon who appears on the first stage of Dr. Wily's fortress. While it may not be the hardest boss in the game it creates an excellent sense of tension for the player by suddenly rising from the depths with a robotic roar and chasing Mega Man as he attempts to hop across several small platforms, one small slip and it'll cost you a life. After a few moments of this frantic scrolling race the screen comes to a halt and Mega Man has only three small platforms to face of against the robo-menace as he spews out fireballs, this also makes for a lip-biting battle. Fortunately for us, the Dragon is rather weak and with a few well placed buster shots and some careful jumping this boss is scrapped.


8. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Granfalloon

When orgies attack!

Konami just seems to be good, no wait, make that exceptional at creating engaging and exciting boss fights time and time again. Maybe it's a coincidence or perhaps they have game designers that deeply emphasis boss battles... Either way, they've made this list multiple times and rightly so.

SOTN was unleashed in 1997 and instantly became a huge success due to the addition of some amazing elements never before seen in a platformer, breathing new life into an old genre. Everyone of the dozens of bosses possess equally as much style and conceptual creativity as the rest of the game but amongst the long list of baddies one stands out by invoking a sense of bizarre awesomeness more than any other, Granfalloon. A massive, pulsating floating sphere made up of... Get this... Hundreds of sickly, pale human bodies, which are constantly being 'shed' off, falling to the ground in droves to slowly attempt an attack. As the player strikes the beast, eventually large chunks of bodies will begin to collapse, the unfortunate souls scream as they fall to their doom. With each section removed from Granfalloon, large
flailing pink tentacles can begin to be seen and if caught off guard the player can be zapped by a large beam shot from these strange appendages. Once the middle section is removed the core of the Granfalloon is exposed, revealing a demonic fleshy organ... This is where you strike and soon enough the monster will perish into a blaze of hellfire, back to the depths from whence it came.

This fantastically obscene idea alone should be given some kind of medal. The Granfalloon is by far the most horrifically wicked of all bosses I've ever encountered.


7. Resident Evil 2, Sewer Crocodile


"Come give momma a kiss"

Resident Evil 2 was released upon the public by Capcom in 1997 and consisted of everything from the original plus so much more. More monsters, more weapons, more gore and violence... and best of all, more terror! Some of the scariest, adrenaline pumping, nail biting moments of the game were completely factored around boss battle's. These instances are a perfect example of Resident Evil's ability to throw the player into a desperate life or death situation.

After exploring the surface of the zombie infested Raccoon City your chosen character will eventually make their way down into the sewers. After searching the creepy, ambient tunnels you'll find a large trash compactor filled with nasty water, it's quiet though... too quiet. In a matter of seconds a huge set of teeth come thrashing out from the cesspool as your character is knocked backwards and stunned. A roaring, monstrous crocodile slithers around the corner looking at you like lunch. Seeing as how the beast blocks one end of the tunnel the player must retreat back the way they came, running for dear life and maybe (if brave enough) flipping around to face the beast with short bursts of small arms fire... it does little to hurt the giant.

The walls of the cramped corridors shake and dust falls from the ceiling as the monster approaches. Then a small red light is spotted, it's a large gas filled canister attached to the wall. A quick press of the action button and the canister falls to the ground with a clank... Starting to get the idea? Backing up into a corner the only thing to do now is sit back and wait for your shot... The crocodile lunges towards the canister and scoops it up into its massive jaws... You raise your gun, wait until it's just a few feet away and then you fire... BOOM! A loud explosion goes off as the top half of the crocodiles jaw blows off taking most of the head with it. The lower gaping jaw rests on the concrete floor, tongue still intact, bloody. He ain't getting up again...

Out of all my favorite RE bosses the confrontation with the giant sewer crocodile has the most explosive results! Eh? Eh!?


6. Half-Life 2, Strider Battle

The only thing the striders are really missing
are those old Playskool plastic roller skates!

While some may argue that a strider is not technically a boss character, personally I believe they more than qualify for the position. Seeing as how they match several of the criteria for creating a boss fight scenario, such as: appearing only in pivotal sections of the game, being able to take a massive amount of damage before being destroyed, each come standard equipped with a wicked death-ray and the fact that they stand four stories tall, resembling the alien tripods from War of the Worlds. Valve did a fantastic job of instilling a sense of vulnerability when confronting the striders because of this intimidating presence.

The only chance Gordon Freeman has at destroying one of these towering monsters is to place several laser guided missiles into the beasts carapace, while simultaneously avoiding the deadly accurate bursts of fire from the strider. To make matters even more hectic there are many instances when striders attack in groups, keeping the player on the edge of their seat, completely in-tuned to the frantic action. Finally, at long last, the beast will collapse with a deep bellow and crash to the ground. It's as satisfying as slaying a dragon... I'm assuming.


5. Super Metroid, Crocomire

What's wrong Croco? Don't like molten lava?!

Falling into a dire situation was never so much fun! After descending through a horizontally placed 'floor-door' Samus is confronted with quite the dilemma, to the left she has a wall of impenetrable spikes and to her right she has the crankiest, ugliest, meltiest boss this side of Zebes, Crocomire! A huge Norfair dwelling creature with a very nasty temper and a flare for the hotter things in life. The battle begins as Samus begins to pummel Crocomire with missiles and charged beam shots, with each hit the gaping maw of the monster is revealed and once a projectile makes its way into its mouth it stumbles backwards. Crocomire volleys back with slashes from its giant claws and by spewing plasma loogie's, if the player is unable to land a critical strike inside Croc's mouth the creature will begin to march forward, forcing Samus to retreat. The battle plays out like a glorified tug-of-war until Samus forces the monster further and further back. Soon a thin looking bridge can be seen behind Crocomire, and underneath bubbles a lake of fiery lava. Each strike and the beast steps closer towards the bridge until finally one last well placed hit puts Crocomire directly over the weakened structure... Within moments the bridge collapses and the beast plummets into the pool of molten rock, screaming and desperately trying save itself but escape is not an option. Samus stands over the boiling enemy as it raises out of the lava only to collapse once more, soon the very flesh begins to melt away from the bone and finally, with one last scream of agony the monster sinks below the depths as a massive skeleton.

The music settles into an ominous tune and all is quiet in Norfair. Samus makes her way back to the spike wall when suddenly the screen begins to violently shake, the boss music kicks in and the wall shatters into pieces! Towering above Samus is the massive skeleton of Crocomire! How much abuse can this guy take!? And as soon as the unrelenting boss appears, Crocomire's frame finally gives way and collapses into a pile of giant bones. Finally the beast is dead and if it was anything like my first experience with this guy, the player will just want to do it all over again.

4. God of War, The Hydra

Ahhh! I lost my contact!!

Nothing starts of an action packed blood bath like the slaughtering of a giant, mythological Greek monster! I cannot think of anyone who is more appropriate to go head to brutal smashing head with these creatures of lore more than Kratos... When the merciless Spartan warrior is in the heat of battle it's hard to tell who the real monster is.

Right from the get-go God of War throws the player into the fire, well technically speaking it's the ocean... Kratos begins his masterpiece of a journey by making his way through the hull and deck of an ancient ship which sits upon a torrential storming ocean. Along with the sea-sickness all kinds of fowl demons swarm the boat wreaking havoc. Surprisingly this chaotic frenzy makes for an excellent tutorial level because of the superb design that went into leading the player into the world of God of War. I believe that by studying this beautifully expansive but strictly linear gameplay blueprint of GoW, future and present designers could pick up on a few tips.

Kratos murders and disembowels his way through the level only to be temporarily side-tracked by a massive hydra, which smashes through the hull of the boat to attack. After beating back the sea-monster several times over throughout the level the main Hydra shows itself, towering higher than the ships own mast.

Along with the giant momma hydra there are also two, 'regular' sized hydra head stalks that appear on either side of the big'n. First things first, the two little guys need to be taken out to make way for the real deal. As Kratos slices and electrocutes the snappy hydra heads eventually one will collapse into a pile of nearby crates, Kratos must then jump and climb the stacked boxes to reach a platform with a big, sharp anchor hanging directly over the stunned monster. If not reached in time the hydra will regain its strength and the process will have to be repeated but if Kratos reaches the platform before this, the anchor drops with a thud impaling the hydra and pinning its neck to the ships deck. The trapped monster screams and squirms in pain. This same pattern is then repeated on the other smaller hydra until both are fully disabled.

Kratos can now make his way to the main hydra by climbing a rope net to the top of the ships mast. The colossal monster greets our anti-hero with a piercing roar and begins its attack by striking with its tooth filled mouth and bellowing in attempt to knock Kratos off the platform. If these attacks are not dodged or blocked in a timely fashion a chunk of life will be depleted.

After enough of a beating the beast will be stunned just like its friends and when this event occurs a specific button sequence must be followed to further the battle. These interactive cut-scenes make for some
really fun eye candy. Kratos swings and attacks the hydra like a graceful trapeze artist... Killing a hydra. After each of these events the monsters head is smashed into the mast post weakening the beam until eventually it snaps like a pool-cue, exposing a razor sharp impaling device. Hooray! Only one more button sequence needs to be performed to put the monster out of commission. The monster sits stunned for the final time, Kratos leaps into the air and pulls the beasts head down towards the wooden spike. The Hydra fights back but after mashing the circle button like a crazy person the monster gives out as his head is forced into the shattered mast. With brutality you could only come to expect from GoW the beast is pierced from the inside of its mouth, through its head and out its left eye socket, trapped and screaming bloody murder the whole time as its forced down the mast, until finally all life is expelled from the sea terror... Just another day for Kratos.


3. Shadow of the Colossus, Avion

The bigger they are...

I'm not even really sure where to begin with Shadow of the Colossus... Simply put, this title heightens video games to another level of artistic respects by producing an amazingly unique and beautiful experience, unlike any other I've ever played. It feels more like a journey than a game. An epic adventure in a vast, desolate, lonely but absolutely gorgeous world. I suppose that if you've already played this game I don't need to explain the premise much, it speaks for itself.

The fifth colossus is Avion, the massive flying creature made of stone and earth who dwells in the skies above a large, pristine lake. Sprinkled about the body of water are fragments of ancient structures, including large perches for the bird-like titan to rest on. Avion's introductory cut-scene shows its massive size as compared to Wander, the pale, young protagonist. The colossus soars through the sky overhead with magnificent grace, its wings collapse the air as it steadily comes to land upon a large stone spire tower... There the beast will watch and wait.

Wander starts atop a tower that peers over the blue lake, Avion can be seen in the distance settled, seemingly content. Wander will have to destroy the colossus to proceed further in his quest to resurrect Mono, the sacrificed and apparently accursed young woman behind our hero's motives. After jumping several stories from the starting tower, Wander splashes into the waters below and begins swimming towards a column of platforms that rise inches from the lakes surface. Climbing out of the water, Avion can now clearly be seen, no obstructions stand between the two combatants. Raising his bow, Wander takes aim at the still beast, carefully predicting the trajectory of his arrow, making sure not to under or over compensate and then releases... The arrow soars through the air shrinking quickly into the distance until it seems to disappear and suddenly the titan shrieks and stirs, the arrow has struck its target. With one massive wing stroke Avion lifts from its perch and proceeds to literally, dive bomb towards Wander. Within seconds the speeding mountain is about to crush our hero with its stretched out wings and at this critical moment wander quickly springs up jumping directly into the titans furred body, grasping tightly as it begins to soar into the sky.

Now the real battle truly begins. Wander clings to Avion's thick fur and cautiously begins to navigate over the soaring monster. With each step the beast is constantly moving, flailing its wings to stay airborne and bending its body vertically, all while Wander clinches on and begins the search for the colossus's three weak points. The first is located on the very end of Avion's landing strip sized tail, the second and third sweet spots rest on the tips of the wings.

Falling off the monster is not uncommon and after enough perseverance and 'grip power' Wander will land the final blow on Avion. The creatures massive body collapses, hitting the water like a glacier crashing into the sea. This colossus has been slain but this exhilarating gaming experience is as alive as ever.


2. Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear REX

"Number 5 is alive!"

Metal Gear Solid was the first game I played that really effectively introduced a cinematic backbone to the playing experience. Just like any good movie, MGS relied heavily on plot movement, character development and the emotional connection created between the viewer (player, in our case) and the experience. Not only was this new form of 'cinematic-based' gaming introduced but also included were a variety of new gameplay mechanics that had never been fully explored. Calling on a strong emphasis for situational discreetness, stealth and cautious actions helped create a scenario that forced the player to keep their cool and watch every corner for signs of danger. Warning: Not following these MGS codes of conduct may result in a squad of terrorist soldiers that search tirelessly for Snake and yes, they even look under boxes.

The boss fights in MGS revolve around the same cinematic principles as the rest of the game and by doing so, each boss character is introduced to the player as a person with a history and their own personal motivation. Associating the members of Fox Hound with unique personalities creates a strong emotional sense between the game and the player, invoking deep connections all the way from vengeance to sympathy. A great achievement in video game history was reached the first time we, as the player, actually felt bad for a character that had just been killed by our hands. Even today this emotional association is not easily reached in games.

The boss fight between Solid Snake and Metal Gear REX ranks as one of the greatest (in my humble opinion) because it indulges in all the climactic glory that the Metal Gear series is known for delivering. To go into the glorified details of this battle's story would take a bit too long for a top ten list so lets just cut the chase...

A giant, death wielding bipedal robot capable of launching nuclear weapons from any location on Earth is now in the hands of Liquid Snake, one the most sinister rogue agents alive. The only thing standing between him and the end of the known world is one man, Solid Snake. Snake was literally, born to fight and as one of the worlds greatest 'tactical espionage' soldiers now only he can stop the mechanical monstrosity and save the world. One man, one robotic terrorist and only one victor... Que dramatic music.

The reason why this battle is so magnificently epic is because it truly is the culminating event that the player has invested everything into. It's almost as if the fight is earned, as Solid Snake and the player sneak and fight their way through Shadow Moses Island for the entire adventure, from start to finish. The fight with Metal Gear REX delivers the amazing climactic finale that the experience and journey undoubtedly deserve by maintaining the authentic and powerful cinematic and emotional immersion consistently throughout the entire game leading all the way up to the showdown against REX.

When it comes down to it, this title has to be played and absorbed to fully understand why the cinematic values are so crucially important to the cellular make-up of MGS... As well as what the potential for an interactive experience can amount to when executed efficiently.


1. Mother Brain, Super Metroid


Since I've started this site I've come to realize just how much Super Metroid has influenced me throughout the years. I've picked up considerable aspects of creature design, creative processes and linear problem solving thanks to this one, lone title. It's as if my young brain had soaked up as much as possible from Super Metroid, teaching me lessons that no institution ever could and the results are apparent every day in my creative life. Along with being first on this list, Super Metroid was also the first game I chose to profile and review... The obsession factor is obvious and with due cause.

If you've already played through Super Metroid than maybe you understand why this one is at the top of my list, in fact it's at the top of many of my lists. Aside from being my favorite game of all time it has also become one of my greatest influences and it seems to act as almost an embodiment of my childhood... A link to the past if you will. All the reasons why I love games and why I've chosen to dedicate myself to this art form is because of the qualities this title has carried and taught me throughout the years.

As for myself, this is why games are not only a means of entertainment but also an equally important factor to our very nature. The human condition relies on the pleasures and the experiences we receive from having fun... Whether it be in the form of literature, film, music or Super Nintendo, the need for escapism by entertainment is as crucial a necessity for mankind as the very oxygen we breath.

Super Metroid is the tangible reason why I continue to explore my own creative dreams. A crystal clear reminder that our potential is as limitless as our imagination... And I owe it all to Mother Brain.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Lock Lips

Back in 2nd grade I brought two of my new and coolest toys to school with me one day. They were called MadBalls and were creepy, gross little foam monster heads compacted into ball form. Great for any activity involving ball uses! The two I bought were Freaky Fullback, a football player with an oozing empty eye socket and Lock Lips - the creepy fellow you see below (A high quality version can be seen here). Naturally when recess was called I brought my new ghoulish friends along to play with, everything was going fine until some nasty little girl got a hold of Freaky Fullback and proceeded to throw him over the school fence into a residing backyard ... I was never able to retrieve him. To say the least, I was heartbroken. Unlike his unfortunate brother, Lock-Lips stayed with me for a long and happy time, even though I always felt bad for him because his mouth was locked shut. I always figured it was because he had a terrible potty mouth and thus, was cast away into his iron shackles of suppression for all eternity. I guess it works better than soap in the mouth.


Drawn completely in Photoshop in about ten hours (yes, I took my time with this one) as an homage to one of the great toy series of the 80's. BUT WAIT! Awesomely enough, MadBalls have been reintroduced to warp yet another generation of young minds. I think they run for about five bucks at most retail stores ... GIRLS BEWARE!

James Groman is the talented artist behind the duty of reinventing the gruesome gang and he actually has a Blogspot page dedicated to the job! Check it out here ... And yes, I totally have the new MadBalls shirt from Hot Topic and yes, it's galaxies beyond cool.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Red9 Entertainment Logo

This was a logo I created for the use of Red9 Entertainment, a company name I've been playing around with for awhile. It was designed in Illustrator CS3 from scratch in about three or four hours. It was fun to create because I pretty much started out with a blank screen and I had no idea what the logo would look like or what it would consist of. After awhile I decided that an electric light bulb spider would be pretty sweet ... and, voila! Partially inspired by the robotic spider boss from Mega Man X.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Caedes - Arcade Pinball: Breaking the Mold

When designing the mechanics for Caedus I first asked myself what could I do to further engage the player into a pinball game ... How could I make pinball even more fun than it already is? In tackling this challenge I knew that I had something that most pinball machines don't have - The medium of video games. By creating a pinball game centered around the limitless possibilities of a video game I've been able to incorporate many features that could not be re-created on an actual pinball table. This advantage has the power to break the mold.

Excerpt taken from the Design Document:

Pinball Meets the Plague…

The appeal of Caedes comes from a mix of classic and updated pinball elements, appropriately named Arcade Pinball, combined with a new and immersive action RPG experience. While the main focus of the game is on the pinball tables fast and frantic gameplay, Caedes includes a world outside of the familiar table that houses extra gameplay elements, using a World Map layout the player is able to travel in-between different locations, buying and selling items and upgrading various gameplay affecting stats using stores located around the World Map. While the first pinball table (the pinball tables are known as Plague Dungeons) is available to play from the beginning of the game, the remaining Plague Dungeons are unlocked after specific objectives have been met in previous Dungeons. Each Plague Dungeon will have a unique theme (The Crypt, Furnace Mountain, The Frozen Fortress etc…) consisting of its own set of objectives, enemies, a Bonus Room, a Mini-Boss Room and a primary Boss Room.

Objective Synopsis:

Every Plague Dungeon has six different objectives that must be completed to acquire the possible 100% rating per table. Objectives may include defeating a certain enemy type, shooting the ball into a hard-to-hit specific spot or completing a bonus room. While most of the objectives vary from table to table there is a standard objective that remains consistent throughout the game. To advance to the next Plague Dungeon the player must defeat the current Plague Dungeon Boss; once the Boss has been defeated a new path opens on the world map leading to the next table.

By destroying enemies and completing objectives the player will be rewarded with money points (called Lucre) which act as currency, which can then be spent outside of the Plague Dungeons to buy items, upgrades, information or whatever may pertain to the gameplay. This element of the game gives more meaning to the Action RPG aspect of the game. For the hard core pinballers the familiar high scoring of pinball will still very much exist in the game. After completing a table by destroying the Boss, the table will then become available to play in ‘Free Play’ which is a throwback to classic pinball with the money points replaced by standard pinball points. Other key differences noted in Free Play mode are explained in the ‘Free Play’ section of the document.

By entertaining the idea of giving the player a world to traverse, items to collect, upgrade enhancements, solid controls and an engaging story to follow coupled with Arcade Pinball elements that could only be incorporated into a videogame I believe that this game could be received well by new and veteran players alike. Simply because all the elements incorporated into this game have already been tested for decades and still, today remain popular and friendly to all player preferences. It’s pinball with perks … It’s Arcade Pinball!

After months of research and development these features arose from the dust to be molded into the game that is now under construction today. This is one of the many aspects I love about creating games - the ability to encapsulate a specific genre, using the solid traditional rules and processes forged in the past and then building upon that formula, adding your own unique features, in attempt to create something new. I truly believe that this potential for creativity is essential for all aspects of life.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Last Stand

This project was my first attempt at using After Effects to create an animated short, done in 2008 for a class mid-term. Last Stand was created by using the same technique used on the Creature Feature project, by drawing out body parts separately I then connected them together to be animated. It was mostly a trial and error process (a few strange layering/effects 'glitches' are apparent) but all in all I'm satisfied with it as a first time experience. It was completed in roughly three weeks.

Note: The uploaded video quality is about 50% of the original AVI's.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Caedes - Arcade Pinball: Introduction

Back in 2006 I began tinkering with the idea of a new kind of pinball video game, the result three years later are the blueprints for Caedes - Arcade Pinball. Inspired by developer TechnoSofts's Dragon's Fury for the Sega Genesis and Devil's Crush for the TurboGrafx-16 (two different console versions of the same game) released in 1992, it was one of the most memorable games I had played growing up. Even though I was only able to play it a few times when I was younger its pure awesomnicity has stuck with me since. The premise was to take the thrill of pinball and incorporate it into the medium of video games. The result is spectacular, the game plays like pinball should with the familiar silver ball, flippers and high scoring action but adds to the experience with a huge three leveled table, roving enemies, objective specific bonus rooms and a wicked dark Gothic theme filled with all kinds of creepy special goodness. The fact that a game like this was never really replicated afterward is a total mystery to me, so I've attempted to take up the opportunity myself with Caedes - Arcade Pinball. Essentially I'm taking the universal language of pinball already evolved digitally thanks to the Dragon's Fury/Devil's Crush premise and expanding upon that potential by adding even more unique elements to the mix, hopefully evolving the genre even further.

Devil's Crush, the inspiration for Caedes - Arcade Pinball is now available for download on the Wii's Virtual Console.

In the coming weeks I'd like to post my progress, ideas and development strategies as I continue working on this project. My ultimate goal is to have a playable prototype of the first pinball table in the game, as of yet no date has been set for a deadline. There are a lot of fun ideas and game mechanics I've wanted to incorporate into Caedes and I'm hoping that with a little diligence and patience, a cool new way of playing pinball will be developed and ultimately, shared.

Expect more details soon!