Who’s the Boss?

OK, so last time I was talking about Hydrophobia Prophecy and how much it annoyed me when it suddenly broke my suspension of disbelief by suddenly throwing in elements of what was essentially “magic” into what had been a science fiction thriller.

Well, I’m not through beating the dead horse of Hydrophobia yet. Because shortly after gaining magical powers from nanotechnology, our intrepid heroine Kate comes face-to-face with another one of my pet peeves in game design; a boss battle.

All along Kate has been facing two things. Environmental hazards (in the form of the ship she is own being on fire and sinking) and the agents of the Malthusians attacking her. These hazards and opponents have been slowly increasing in difficulty as Kate’s resources (and the player’s skill) increase. Then suddenly Kate has magical abilities and, two rooms later, is suddenly locked in a battle with a rocket-firing turret that she has to short out with her water-based abilities then shoot in one of its flashing weak points. There is no room for error; hit the turret and weak point exactly right or die.

As I have said many times I play games primarily for the story, I want to experience the story or the world as an active participant, not as a passive observer. Boss fights take me completely out of the story. They are sudden reminders that I am playing a game.

At one point boss battles made sense. In the arcade days you needed a way to get players to continually pump quarters into the machine. By adding a boss to the game the players had to take the time to learn the precise moves and timing needed to defeat it.

In some ways this has carried over. In order to defeat most video game bosses a player has to master the concepts of the game. Except now there is no reason to get the player to keep putting in quarters. I already own the game. Now, all the boss battle is doing is preventing me from continuing in the game I own.

Now some people will undoubtedly come back with some variation of “Learn 2 play noob!” or the slightly more polite “Well, if you just want to see the story, just watch it on YouTube.” Well, there are a couple of problems with that. First, I’m a Paleogamer. I don’t have hours upon hours to practice my skills to get the timing down just right in order to defeat the thing. Secondly, I said I wanted to experience the story as an active participant, not just watch it. YouTube defeats that.

Apparently some people look on games as something where you have to “earn” the right to the story. Why? If so, this is the only field of entertainment where this applies. If you are talking about a competitive game (say Modern Warfare multiplayer) then sure, player skill becomes important. But people are playing those as competitions, not for the story.

So if you have to give me a boss battle, give me a way past it that doesn’t require that I spend hours learning exactly what I need to do. Flag my game with a negative achievement saying “Skipped Boss Battle!” if you must, just let me get on with what I’m playing the game for.

I don’t have the time or patience for anything else anymore. I’m just a Paleogamer.

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