Making a Puzzle-Platformer Boss Level

Back a year ago, I was experimenting with making a boss battle. This is the link to my old thread: Making a comedic Boss Battle

I thought about continuing the thread, but I’ve realized that my perspective and some parts of the game have changed and a new thread might be better. For instance, I’m looking at this concept as a Boss Level instead of just a battle.

Here’s what I got so far. The idea is that you need a key to unlock the door in the final room to move to the next level. You need to beat the boss to get the key.

This seems simple enough, but there’s one big problem:

As you go through the game, the best thing you can do with enemies is to stun them, not beat them. This is introducing a new mechanic in the game. While I can make the argument with myself that this is the first level, so I technically can introduce new concepts, it feels like a bad left turn to do it with a boss. The other levels are supposed to teach you what to do for the boss room so I need to make that the goal.

I decided to document my ideas because I like looking back on them and I haven’t seen a lot of threads about making a boss room even though that’s an important feature in a game.

First thing is the purpose of the boss room and what you need to do.

I want to keep the original idea of fetching an item, so finding the key will still be the main goal.
The room is tall, so there will be vertical platforming.
The way to win the boss room is to get up to the top area, search and find the key, and then get back down.
The way to lose is to make too many bad decisions. There’s a morality meter instead of a health meter, so there’s moments where the player can do actions to make decisions. Too many bad decisions and it’s game over.
The player has short to mid-range thermal abilities. Using these helps boost their movements, but it can affect the environment and anyone around them, which will affect the morality meter.

So, what could the room look like?

The player starts at the bottom of the room. There’s two or three floors that they need to travel up. However, there’s hazards and the boss lurking around. The player needs to platform their way up the tower while avoiding the boss’s attacks and using their powers strategically. This is just the first level, so there isn’t anything too complex, but enough to make players want to look before they leap.

Okay, I’m in a bit of a problem.

So, when I get a block for any of my creative projects, I find it’s usually because I don’t know what to do next. So I make drafts or plans and then I usually know. That’s not the case with this. I got plans, but I have no motivation. When this happens, I find that it’s because I’m not achieving what I REALLY want out of the game.

Off the top of my head, the things I want are Fun, Exciting, and Challenging. That would usually involve fighting. My main character can’t do much to fight back; his abilities are mainly for movement.

I don’t like the idea of him just dodging, however. I like the idea of him getting to defend himself, at least. I’m thinking about games I love where the player didn’t have a direct attack. I found what made the games fun was either the player’s movement and/or the level design. For the player’s movement, you could go fast or jump high. Maybe have cool animations. For the level design (aside from the art), there was some kind of challenge where you had to time things or the area gave you enough room or freedom to let you navigate it as you want to.

Honestly, it would be great if I could afford more playtesters and get more perspectives, but that’s not possible right now.

I think I’m making some progress, mainly with communicating the mechanics.

I don’t like mandatory drawn-out tutorials, so I tried to get away with putting the instructions in the pause menu or on a sign. I think that’s helpful, but I think giving the character a chance for more concrete instructions and a chance to let them experiment would be more helpful. This is optional, however, and the player can choose to just continue on with the game if they’ve played it before.

This also let’s me put together what my basic mechanics are and the main ways on how to use them. In the screenshot, I wrote up a rough draft of what McInnes the tutorial NPC will tell the player about the Morality Meter and what the player can do.

This also exposed a flaw with this enemy, so I’ll need to fix that.

Okay, I managed to fix and tighten up a few things with the Enemies programming. Might tinker with it more, but I can save that for another time.

The setup I have is a poster behind the desk to tell the player the controls and an optional tutorial that the player can go through to learn the Morality meter and other aspects of the game. I made it optional because I detest mandatory tutorials, especially if I’m replaying a game.

I’ll put the NPC and his dialogue in later. I’m going to move onto the Boss Room, next.

As much as I wanted to get onto the Boss Room immediately, I’m glad I took the time to tell players what they can and can’t do. I can look back at what I made here in the first room and use that to redo the the Boss Room with these aspects in mind!

My opinions on tutorials haven’t really changed, I still dislike them if they need to be a big event, but I can see how they’re helpful not just for the player, but for the Game Dev, too.

Alright! I made some basic changes. It doesn’t look like much, but two main things have changed.

There’s now a key and Hammon is not at his usual spot. This is because you now have the option to talk with him and understand the level’s mission - which is to get the key and get out. After that, you can make your way through the kitchen again and to the garage. There, you can use the key to unlock the garage door and win the level!

There’s more I want to add, but I’m glad I got a version that’s much closer to my final vision than what I had before. I’m glad that I’ve been making these notes on this thread to reread when I got overwhelmed or forgot something. It really kept me on course.