Back in my day, I used to play Arena Mode 22/7. If I wasn’t playing Arena Mode, I was busy killing donators on a 24/7 Saigns Junction server, because I had no life and no friends and dominating a guy with infinite ammo and double jumps with a stealthy ninjaneering sentry was amusing to me. I’ve gone on about this so damn often that I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to kick me in the head. Believe me, I often want to kick myself in the head. But over time, the Arena servers died. The only ones left are either full of ultra pro players or they’re VS Saxton Hale. Or Freak Fortress.
We all know that boss fights are fun. The level of fun depends on the boss, with HHH and Monoculous being considered better bosses than Merasmus, and the Skeleton King from Helltower is more of a nuisance when everyone’s just trying to kill each other with spells. As to why Merasmus is a bad boss was simple, because he has too much health and not enough time to kill him. When it comes to designing a boss battle, it’s a delicate, intricate thing, balancing a big enemy to not be easily defeated but not be so difficult that no one can beat him.
Monoculous though as a boss was rather well balanced. Players would chase after him, damage dealt by different classes was fair so one class wasn’t required and stunning Monoculous was done by risking yourself and jumping through portals as he teleports. Going through the underworld, where you’d be pummeled by both the enemy team AND the trigger_hurt terrain was risky but you’d get a great reward; speed, Uber and Kritz to use against Monoculous. PvP problems were less of an issue here because all classes were effective against Monoculous and he didn’t do that silly hide and seek game.
Apart from the Halloween boss fights, we also have the giant robots and the tanks in Mann VS Machine. Let’s be honest, tanks are bloody awful bosses. They’re not bosses at all, just annoying blockades. But Valve calls them ‘bosses’ in the game code and stuff. When the MvM update came out, it was hinted that tanks would be bloody terrifying, just like they are in Left 4 Dead, but they turned out to be nothing more than huge, slow, non-lethal bomb carriers. A distraction, really.
Later on though, bosses appeared in Mann VS Machine, in the Two Cities update. A boss was also added to Decoy. These were basically giant robots with vast amounts of health and unique attacks, generally just firing at super speed with a health on kill effect or crits or something. These guys are also a challenge, but a smart team can and will take them down. Heck, even average teams can take them down if they all know what they’re supposed to do.
Mann VS Machine though told everyone that some people like working together to defeat a common enemy, even if that means getting annoyed at people who think the current goal is “kill the other team until the point is free to capture again” or “shoot anything BUT the current objective”.
Another success story, if you can call it that, is the Versus Saxton Hale game mode. The idea is really simple at heart: RED must defeat Saxton Hale. Saxton Hale must beat RED using his fists and a huge pool of health. The current form of VSH is actually rather balanced. The bosses are all melee only, they have a rage meter which gives them a special ability and they can super jump to reach those annoying jumpers. There’s a couple of other bosses: HHH Jr and Vagineer, both of whom are fairly balanced. But then there’s other bosses.
Problem is, the community doesn’t have the raw stats to be able to make bosses properly balanced. Christian Brutal Sniper is a fine boss apart from his ranged taunt attack, with which he gains a bunch of Huntsman arrows and ruins the whole “club them all to death because I am so powerful!” thing. Other bosses, from the extended boss version Freak Fortress, have similar issues. Either a boss is too weak (like some versions of Vagineer and the Dalek boss) or they’re just too powerful (like Seeman and Seeldier or whatever the hell they’re called). It’s a tricky thing to balance. The tons of downloads required also put a lot of potential players off.
My point is, we already know that Valve can produce bosses. We can see that boss fights are rather popular. Perhaps Valve should exploit that a bit more?