Greedy Goblin

Monday, August 8, 2011

Boss fight

In almost every games, not just in MMOs you encounter boss enemies. It's "obvious" that the leader of the "trash" monsters is a very strong fighter, who alone put up bigger fight than any pack of his minions.

This design "feels" obvious, despite it's completely unnatural. No one would expect the corporate CEO to be stronger than the security guards or the president to fight better than his bodyguards. Yet everyone assume that the boss of the monsters is stronger than their minions.

In the real war there is no boss fight. You rarely encounter even lieutenants. You fight grunts after grunts, until no grunts left and the enemy surrenders. The enemy grunts die, the bosses usually just lose their power or not even that.

Of course games are not real life simulations. In WoW you don't have to eat, pay rent go to toilet. These actions are "mundane" and not "epic". The game reality fits to the thinking of the target audience, so they find it fun. But why do people find the unnatural boss fights standard? One could design raids with the same failure chance and rewards without boss fights. The faction champions in ToC or the Majordomo Executus in MC were like that. But lore-wise they were also high standing members of the enemy.

I have this post for long because I was seeking the link of the social science result below. I gave up, I hope someone finds it.

The social people consider their competitors "bad" and believe that the bad enemy responds better to threats and violence than bargains and compromises. Test subjects are taken into competitive situation (for example playing a PvP game) for a while to see the other guy as "enemy", then tasked to negotiate something with him. They are given both cooperative options (some form of trading) and threatening ones. They choose the latter of course. However when asked how would they respond to the same options, they say that they would accept a compromise and would not surrender to threats.

The monsters are "bad". So they must be uncooperative and respond only to violence. It means that anyone leading them must be very strong and violent. The idea that they just agree with him and follow him willingly, like we do our leaders is alien to people.

This is why a good mediator can make a miracle.


Tazar said...

I think that this idea comes from a leader that have to fight against others to achieve his status of leader. It's completely common in the nature. Every alfa leader can be challenged for his status therefore only the strongest is leading. In human society it's not common and you can find this only in few tribes.

Sven said...

It seems to me that this (rather silly) reliance on the boss fight is a carry-over from Western cinema, where audiences want:
a) be a big fight in the end
b) a neat ending.

A classic example of this is Star Trek: First Contact. The Borg are clearly established in the TV series to be a faceless commune, whose power derived from the disposability of individuals, but to suit the needs of the block-buster movie audience, they are ret-conned into having an end-boss who much be defeated to stop them.

It's scary how much this movie-thinking affects people's world view and decision-making. They want real-world conflicts parcelled up into neat "goodies" and "baddies", which has terrible consequences for finding resolutions, as you said.

Squishalot said...

There is no reason why an Orc would defer to and follow King Varian, anymore than you would defer to and follow Barack Obama. For what reason would you do so, if their values are different to yours? If you want them to follow your lead, but they will not come, how else to make them other than to force them through violence? (The alternative being for yourself to walk away.)

The main reason why boss monsters are the strongest is from pen/paper RPGs, where the boss monster is also the one with the treasure. Think about it as a pecking order - of course the strongest monster is at the end with the big treasure trove, because they are the ones who have earned that position by defeating others who would challenge it. It is the alpha male / female dragon that owns the hoard.

The difference between the 'monster' society and the 'real' society is that in our real society, the boss is not determined by physical strength. In the monster society, as in the wild, the boss IS determined by physical strength. The only reason it feels unnatural is because you are comparing two societies that should not be compared in that manner.

Anonymous said...

"No one would expect the corporate CEO to be stronger than the security guards or the president to fight better than his bodyguards."

Not physically; more powerful.

In PvE negotations would be more like roleplaying since AI are not advanced enough for this kind of mechanic.

In PvP Blizzard has made it difficult if not impossible to negotiate. It isn't possible to negotiate with players from other faction since it isn't possible to communicate with each other. In arena and rated BG it is possible you end up against players from same realm and faction, there is realID, there is out-of-game communication, and the possibility of multiple accounts 1 on horde 1 on alliance or relogging. All of them are rather cumbersome. However even though you do not negotiate in written word (English) you do negotiate in a rated battleground or arena: by playing. You can have this base Farm, as long as I have Lumber Mill. If you attack Lumber Mill, I will defend it. If you zerg Lumber Mill while we are attacking Gold Mine (failing) and Blacksmith (succeeding) we are effectively negotiating. The same in Tol Barad. Of course, we are not negotiating _peace_. We are negotiating the outcome of the battle.

In a game like Utopia, negotations were part of the game. In this game, you make an account and end up with 24 strangers from all over the world in a so-called kingdom. You as player have your own race, speciality, and your own province (a bit like civilisation but text-only, with a few pictures, all in HTML browser). You could attack any other player (province), but your kingdom could also wage war against an enemy kingdom. Waging war could grow your acres if your attacks succeeded on which you could build more, if you had the resources. The resources were an upkeep, and the bigger your army the bigger your income. While your kingdom is at war your income/resources are lower so it is in your best interest to have a short war, win as many acres as possible, and declare peace. Hence your king/queen (province elected by majority of provinces to be leader) settles for a certain trade off with the enemy leader. The enemy has similar interests however, some kingdoms form "pacts" where they protect each other, or outright "alliances". The strongest alliance I remember was Kaer, and they were known as bullies yet also good players who ended up top. Anyway, some kingdoms were without elected leader. Some leaders were absolute retard who were unable to negotiate, or WRIET LIEK THES. Others, like my leader, were able to negotiate even with bullies like Kaer. Since the game is "merely" a text game with some maths you run into a sim (called Utopia Calculator) it takes little time. You only need to log on a few times a day. This makes the negotation/leadership aspect more important yet that isn't programmed into the game itself. As I said, PvE is scripted and not smart enough to do such.

Maybe it is smart enough in a game like Civilisation? The last time I played a game like this was in the 90s. If I remember correct it was called Colonisation or something like that. Ugly graphics. From what I remember the negotations were kinda random. What I'd do was save game and if I did not like the outcome go back a little and retry with changes in my actions (resources allocations).

Anonymous said...

I have always accepted the the boss with be stronger than the underlings in all games by always just accepting that the organisation that they lead is based on a position of strength as in nature.

The strongest member of the organisation will rise up to assume leadership but is always facing challenges from those looking to seize power so they have to continually prove they are the strongest and most powerful....this leads to me being able to suspend disbelief a lot more easily.

Anonymous said...

Of course the big bad boss is the strongest dude around in evil and vile cults. Just imagine it, the baddie cultists are doing their evil thing, wanting to destroy the world! So they whip up a neat summon spell to summon a god of awesome destruction with chaotic powersOMG! Going by any logic available to mankind, this god is gonna be pretty bad-ass and strong. No point in summoning him otherwise.

Evil cults in fantasy =/= modern corporations.

maxim said...

Well, first off, a CEO is worth twenty assistant-level mooks when it comes to corporate "battles" of politics and strategy. There is just a twist that all good CEOs are buff-type characters, which work their power by making everything around them work together better. In WoW terms, think very old school paladins who spent most of their time in 40 mans refreshing blessings.

Secondly, friendly factions have bosses too, so it isn't necessarily ruling through fear in every single case of existence of a boss. Both Vol'jin and Cairne Bloodhoof rule their people through good diplomacy, but that doesn't make them kick any less butt on a battlefield. In WoW battle power is tied to the concept of "level". Higher level has near 100% chance to beat a lower level, even if it is a higher level fisherman versus a lower level bandit boss.

Heck, every high level PC character in WoW could probably take out a good score or two of elite city guard without much trouble.

You need to remember that there was a time in human history when a single guy could take on large groups of people and win. This guy was then called a hero and had legends made of him.

Bosses are just enemy faction's heroes. No more, no less. Some heroes lead. Others just enjoy the benefits of hero status and whoop butt every so often.

Our age is not conductive to heroic deeds. Greatest results are achieved not as much through individual effort, but rather through effective collaboration.

What's interesting in this in regard to social / anti-social topic is the fact that - regardless of obvious benefits of efficient collaborations - people still dream of being heroes and having epic struggles with other heroes.

Steel said...


maxim said...

I think you mean this:

Zazkadin said...

The concept of Boss-fights is just a carry-over from lieterature and cinema.

It makes sense: when the boss is dead, the story ends. Since stories are supposed to end in a climax, the boss fight must be the most spectacular fight in the story. Therefore the boss must put of the best fight of them all.

It doesn't have to be realistic. If reality were fun, I could entertain myself by reading the economy pages in the newspaper. If reality were fun, I wouldn't waste my time playing computer games!

Cathfaern said...

Well until modern times the rulers usually had the biggest power among their group members. Though its a bit more complex due to dynastys and legacy. But in those old times (and more or less in modern times too) if the ruler wasnt the most powerful, some group member would challenge him, and eventually someone defeat him, so he will be the ruler (and the most powerful).
It's only since the industrial revolution that not physical power makes the rulers.

Btw. a CEO is the most powerful in his "group" it's just not physical, but mental and/or social power.

Yaggle said...

If was was the boss of a dungeon, I probably would not be the most powerful monster, I would pay the most powerful monsters to protect me whilst I laid out my evil plans of controlling the world or just pillaging the nearby towns. I would not have the most powerful monsters stay in the room with me to protect me, I would have them guard the entrance or just inside the entrance. You are right Gevlon, none of it makes any sense the way things are in the game.

chewy said...

You're thinking too literally. "In the real war there is no boss fight." There isn't a literal boss fight but there is an iconic boss fight. The leader of the opposing forces is the boss. Whilst he may be physically weaker as an individual he is perceived to be the boss that has to be defeated.

In the game we meet the real boss but that is only because it's a battle based game rather than a war based game despite the name. Players aren't constantly at war, they choose to participate in encounters (be that PVP or PVE) and so the battles have to have an immediate outcome - the boss.

You could have encounters that didn't have a boss, the outcome simply contributing to "the war effort" and players were rewarded accordingly until the leader of the opposition forces surrendered. But there's all sorts of complications with that model.

Horpner said...

The bosses in World of Warcraft come from the computer games that were the jumping-off point for the MMORPG genre. I don't think there's a reason to look further than that for World of Warcraft's inclusion and our enjoyment of that game design.

Deathwing is just the latest incarnation of Werdna.

Campitor said...

Boss fights still exist today. Just look at the hunt for Osama despite his original organization being in tatters and ineffectual. The reason boss fights still exist is because they still are the most dangerous; through their ideology and demagoguery they will just raise up another army. Hitler, Pablo Escobar, Noriega, Saddam - all boss fights.

Bristal said...

Disagree that CEO's or presidents of nations would be easy boss fights. You would have to include their resources and access to armies and technology in the fight.

Comparing a fight with Obama v.s. Ragnaros doesn't, make sense if you don't include access to control armies.

And a boss fight with Oprah wouldn't be to the death, it would be to bring down her corporation, that's where her power lies.

That boss fight with Osama Bn Laden was sure something, but despite his death, his power continues.

Gevlon said...

@People with "boss is powerful via other means as strength": yes, but killing them would mean fighting with their "trashmobs", not them. If you defeated their guards, they are easy oneshot.

@People with "we still must kill bosses to end the war": stupidity. Killing Osama made no difference, his "minions" are just as busy as before, just scoring the biggest hit in Afghanistan ever against US troops:

Anonymous said...

Your logic is good then you think about normal world. Fantasy world has some differences obviously. First - the magocracy in which magical power equals authority. Second - batles with 'creatures' - animalistic monsters can have animalistic 'alfa' leaders.

Tonus said...

I think it is based more on mythology, where heroes were tasked with killing dragons and literal monsters. Movie "bosses" seem to be a descendent of that, with the army of minions serving as a way to fill the time before the final epic encounter. In MMORPGs, trash and sub-bosses (ie, not the final boss) fills a similar role, artificially stretching out the raid time.

I don't know if it's meant to make it feel more epic, or if it's meant to make the time commitment matter. Would it really be so bad if you walked into the dragon's lair and simply battled the dragon?

masterlooter said...

It seems you almost have two seperate posts here.

Regarding no such thing as bosses in RL: I will say that when people used to fight with sword and shield, bow and arrow, the leader was most ceratainly more powerful (skillful) than his minions, and you were often likely to see him on the battlefield. Examples: Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, etc. Only in modern war do you not even see the commanders on the battlefield.

Regarding negotiating with your competition:
I believe this is an outcome of modern culture. We are tought 2 things these days - via video games, movies, etc. First, "we" are always superior to our enemies. If we fail, it's because we used the wrong tactic, or the wrong weapon - but never because we are inferior. Secondly, (and ties very strongly to the first) at the end of the day, "we" will be triumphant, and "they" will fall. "Us" losing is unthinkable.

Combine the two and that's why the testers were unwilling to compromise, and very agressive. Why would I compromoise with an inferior enemy? I'm supposed to win, I'm just going to smash him to bits until he realizes that.

JackLeManiac said...

This is an odd post. There is no real point being made, other that ape subroutines make most people try to threaten rather than negotiate.

Personally, I do try to negotiate first, and find there are better results.

People don't want to give in to threats because of a subroutine where it makes you look beta.

I rather give in to threats than get my ass kicked. At least I'll live to tell about how I survived.

Pride is overrated. At the very least, it's a concept that only appeals to social. I have pride, I just don't feel the need to put my personal safety on the line to maintain it. In fact, I can maintain it no matter what.

The parallel with WoW is unnecessary, tough. In fantasy, since old times, the leader was always stronger. Maybe not a difference from a trashmob to Ragnaros, but still stronger. Satan is stronger than his lesser demons, God is stronger than his angels, etc. This model is used in fiction. The knight must slay the powerful dragon to free the princess. The evil witch must be slain. The King was a fine warrior. Altough his champions are or may be stronger than him.

It doesn't do a very good parallel with war, which is based on reality. War is more similar to a RTS, where "Heroes" can be overpowered by a couple grunts. Like in war, Generals may not be overpowered by cleaners, but a couple soldiers could probably do it.

You don't need to do parallels with WoW to prove a point that works in real life.

In Fantasy, this works. In real life, this translates another way.

Also, in WoW, we are figthing irrational villains who don't see negotiating and just want to take. It's more like a preventive offense/counter attack. They want it their way and they attack first.

Subroutines, all that.

Steel said...

@maxim - hillarious, we both got bitten by the text truncation.

Anyway, the trope described in Gevlon's post is called "Authority Equals Asskicking", and it's described in details on URL
(or just do a search). Then you can waste hours of your life reading the examples, and then the rest of the site.

Azuriel said...

@People with "we still must kill bosses to end the war": stupidity. Killing Osama made no difference, his "minions" are just as busy as before, just scoring the biggest hit in Afghanistan ever against US troops:

Since when was Osama the leader of the Taliban?

A lot of people are completely over-analyzing the otherwise easily understandable art of pacing. This has nothing to do with the animal kingdom or competition or modern culture (lolwut?). If you played a videogame where the 2nd level was more difficult than the 3rd, 4th, 5th and final level, you would call that a badly designed game - a smooth, consistent difficulty curve is the hallmark of good game design. The same goes with boss fights in videogames, plot arcs in books (if most interest twist is on page 2, and rest of book is boring exposition, then why continue?), and the pacing of movies. You want things to get more exciting over time, not less. Why this almost universally feels better to everyone is really neither here nor there; maybe it is from our monkey brains that say the silverback is the leader because he's the strongest, maybe it is similar to why we desire to find patterns in the chaos/invent gods/etc.

Bosses are tougher than the mooks because we fight them last. That's it. If we beat the boss first, then fought mooks for the rest of the game, the last mook we killed would be the "last boss" by definition. And other than the novelty of turning traditional conventions on their head, the game would probably be pretty dull unless the last mook was actually stronger (or more difficult of an encounter) than the boss at the beginning.