In a normal video game, when the hero reaches a boss fight, the hero has to win. If you lose the fight, you’ll just have to try the fight again until you win. The alternative would usually be that the story couldn’t continue. After all, if the dragon at the end of the cave just massacres the hero, it’s time to roll credits, right? So writing a game like Boss Saga, which is exclusively about stories where you control the bosses to defeat heroes, poses some unique narrative opportunities. Today, I’d like to talk briefly about that storytelling process.
You Can’t (or Shouldn’t) Murder the Hero Every Time
On one hand, I could just have every story end with the boss killing or viciously maiming the heroes, putting a permanent halt to their stories. In fact, I think it would be pretty funny if several stories in a row ended with the same coroner desperately struggling to identify their cadavers. However, that would obviously get old fast, and it would frustrate players if every story ends in such a harsh, jarring, unimaginative way. So I’ve actually never approached storytelling in Boss Saga in this way.
Instead, like in any good narrative, I try to craft stories where both the heroes and the bosses have clear motivations, and you get to see aspects of the story from both of their perspectives. Often (but not always), neither side will be actively looking to maim the other side, and my hope is that you might be kind of rooting for both sides to win sometimes.
That being said, there are battles in Boss Saga where the heroes outright die or meet a similarly horrible fate. But they die because it makes narrative and thematic sense. Or in other words — they die because it makes the story better.
However, there is one crucial thing I keep in mind as I craft each boss and their story.
The Boss, the Villain, and the Hero Are Not the Same
A really popular and semi-recent example of a villain leading a narrative occurs in Avengers: Infinity War. People are quick to point to the ultra-powerful villain Thanos as the true protagonist of the movie, since the film often follows his perspective and ends with him actually succeeding in achieving his goal. This stems from the school of thought that goes, “Nobody ever thinks of themselves as the villain,” or maybe, “Everyone is the hero of their own story.” It’s an angle that works for Infinity War, and overall I enjoyed the movie quite a bit.
However, personally, I feel like there is a difference between a “villain” and a “boss” — at least within the context of video games. A villain is often a person who does “bad” things for selfish reasons or, in the case of someone like Thanos, does bad things for ostensibly “good” reasons. However, to me, a boss is simply an entity that has the power to establish and maintain a self-selected status quo. Or put another way, a boss is a character whose will cannot be challenged, regardless of how it benefits or harms others.
Bosses create the world order that is ideal to them, and heroes are the agents of chaos trying to shatter that status quo. Bosses don’t have to view themselves as honorable or righteous, though they might. But bosses also don’t have to view themselves as wicked or irredeemable, though, again, they might. The point I’m trying to make is that “bosses” provide compelling narrative opportunities because they have no obligation to behave like heroes or villains, nor do they have to think of themselves in such terms.
Bosses are just bosses. They have the power to take what they want in life. That’s often an attractive thing. It is also sometimes horrifying.
Consciously or otherwise, this is how I have approached writing the stories in Boss Saga. It has resulted in a lot of different opportunities for drama, comedy, romance, horror, and tragedy, as well as the opportunity to explore some surprising themes. It turns out that pretty complicated things happen when bosses exert their will and force the heroes to accept the consequences of being unable to stop them. In turn, I hope that some of the endings of these stories will surprise players. I’m working really hard to provide something a little more interesting than, “The bad guy won and the world blew up.” But you will ultimately be the judge!
I know this is probably one of the stranger, more “philosophical” posts I’ve written here so far, but I think it will all make a lot more sense when you actually play Boss Saga! Although, a release date is still quite a while away. Such is life.
In the meantime, if you found this conversation oddly interesting, we would extremely appreciate if you follow the development of Boss Saga here, on Twitter, and/or on Facebook! 🙂