Like A Boss

Contributed by DJMMT

In Tetris Effect Connected, there’s a mode not ironically called “Connected”. This is a three-player cooperative mode where a group of three players team up against an AI controlled boss. It’s a cool mode, when you get a team of good players, that really forces you to think and play strategically as a team. It’s a Tetris experience that I can say I’ve never had before in more than two decades of playing Tetris. It’s very innovative, pretty well done, and quite challenging. Especially in the higher difficulty levels. I was enjoying this mode a lot, until they added the limited time event PVP version of the mode. That’s when I fell in love.

The PVP Connected mode is exactly the same mode as I just described save for one key difference: the boss is controlled by a fourth player. The rules are exactly the same. The gameplay works exactly the same way. It’s just that instead of playing against AI, your team of three has to face another random player. And for the most part it’s not too challenging compared to the AI, unless I’m the one playing as the boss. At first, I didn’t want to play as the boss, because I thought I would get destroyed. Even as an advanced Tetris player, it was still a three versus one scenario. But I decided to try it and immediately fell in love.

I don’t know if it’s accurate to quantify this as a traditional multiplayer experience. It’s PVP, but it’s not really. Because the power structure between players is very different. The boss has a number of advantages over the other players, as is the case in just about any traditional boss fight as well. But there’s something about the idea of the boss being another player that really changes the entire experience. Regardless of which side of the conflict you’re on, there’s something about the other side being human rather than AI that changes your perspective of the experience. More so, in my opinion, than when it’s a fair fight. Going up against a boss that I knew was human made me more confident, because I’m better than most players at Tetris. Even if I’m not the best in the world, which I’m not, I know that I’m better than probably a minimum of 80% of players. So going up against a human boss didn’t scare me at all. Until I got saddled with a junk team of other players anyway. But the other side of that is if you’re not good at Tetris, then knowing the boss is a human becomes really nerve racking. Because the AI is programmed to limit its performance to a certain skill level. A human player isn’t going to do that.

When I was playing as the boss, I loved it. I loved it because I’m really good at the game. So I knew that I was going to either dominate these teams of three or at the very least give them a serious challenge. Of the six or so matches I played as the boss, I lost only one. And that was before I learned about one of the boss’ most important abilities. After that, I never lost another match while playing as the boss. And it felt awesome!

There is a fear that comes when you face a boss in a game. Doesn’t really matter what the game is. If it’s your first time meeting a boss, there’s fear. Even when you’re really good at a game, you still have at least a small sense of worry the first time you face a boss. But what if the developer could recreate that experience every time? Now for some that probably sounds terrible. But for others that’s probably a dream come true. A video game that never gets stale. A challenge that never stops being challenging or at the very least surprising. That’s how it felt going up against human bosses in Tetris Effect Connected. And I have to imagine that other players felt much the same way when they faced me as the boss. When the boss is controlled by a random player online, you never know what the outcome is going to be. You could have trained hard for countless hours. You could have mastered every move, special technique, and spell. But if the person controlling the boss is at your level, or even better, you simply can’t predict the outcome of that fight. It’s a gameplay experience that never gets stale.

Why isn’t this a thing in more games? Imagine how crazy it would be to be able to play games as the bosses. And I’m not talking about crappy games like Evolve where they try to construct a semi-balanced experience that focuses more on tracking and picking off adversaries one at a time. I mean like imagine if you could control Bowser in a Mario game against another human playing as Mario. Imagine if you were playing Dark Souls and Ornstein and Smough were controlled by two random guys online. Those gameplay scenarios would potentially be insane. If you played God of War (2019) on “Give Me a Challenge” difficulty or higher, you know how difficult the Valkyries were. If you did manage to beat them, which I did, do you think you could pull it off if they were being controlled by humans? Part of you thinks that sounds miserable, because it could be. But another part of you is intrigued. You’ve honed your skills to the point of no longer fearing the AI. But how good does that really make you? The AI moves in patterns. The AI doesn’t really respond to your behavior dynamically. It just pretends to. But a human could genuinely take advantage of your weaknesses and give you a true run for your money, no matter how advanced of a player you think you are. Wouldn’t that be more interesting? Maybe not on a first playthrough but in subsequent runs of a game, I think it could be something special.

Now for me personally I’m not so interested in the bosses I fight being controlled by humans as much as I am in being the one controlling them. I want to make people afraid to turn the game back on. I want to destroy the confidence of other players. Yes, that may be a little sadistic but is it any different from the people who camp in Dark Souls and constantly invade players so they can’t move forward? I don’t do that by the way. I think those people are scum. But a boss fight is supposed to be hard. What’s harder than fighting another person?

I think it would be so fun and so different for games to have a mode where the bosses are other people. I don’t want that to become the default where developers just stop creating fully single-player games and force players to wait for other players to enter their games. That sounds terrible. But in a special additional mode unlocked after completing the game, I think it would be really cool if players could be the bosses. And I think everyone could find some kind of enjoyment from it. Some people would prefer fighting the boss and some would prefer being the boss, but everyone would have fun.

We are starting to see a bit more of this concept added to games, but mostly in roundabout ways that don’t really do the concept justice. Like in Deathloop. A human player or AI can control one of your eight targets, but that’s not really a boss scenario. There are also other games built around the concept of having a player control a nemesis like in Predator: Hunting Grounds. But again, this is not actually a boss. In fact, you don’t even have to kill the Predator to win as the humans in that game. I want the real deal. I want to play as the boss(es) in a story focused game built around a single-player experience.

Obviously, the idea would need to be implemented in a way that’s balanced to some degree. But the fight would still need to feel like a boss fight. The person controlling the boss should feel powerful and the person controlling the protagonist would still need to have a fighting chance. I think it’s a concept that could work really well if implemented in a way that didn’t make the boss too weak in the name of balance but also didn’t leave players unable to progress because of the difficulty being too lopsided. But again, I don’t see this as the main concept of a game. I see it as an additional mode.

Would you want to play a game as the boss?

XPG Terrence

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