Disco is Dead – Development of The Disconomicon

Currently, our team is working on development of a showcase level for the game – which will be the second level of the overall experience, out of three main levels. In order to finish off this experience, and provide a real reward to players at the end, we wanted to design a boss to close out the experience. Throughout the level, the players learn about new types of enemies, and then are tested on that knowledge, as they must fight them. thus, the boss is the culmination of learning and testing, designed to challenge the player to prove their mastery of the systems. The design of this boss is the challenge I am currently undertaking.

Learning Outcomes for Boss

Level two will be introducing three new kinds of enemies – Projectile enemies,  enemy balls, and lane shifting enemies. The design of each should be explained:

Projectile Enemies


these cannot be slapped directly – they throw projectiles towards the players, which can then be sent back to kill their thrower by inputting the correct key press or joystick direction. These teach players that some enemies can only be damaged using their own attacks.

Zombie Ball Enemy


This is a singular, large enemy that slowly rolls towards the players – in order to defeat it, they must beat it back rapidly by slapping repeatedly in the direction indicated. this builds off teaching this mechanic using shield enemies in earlier levels, but invites players to cooperate to overcome a more powerful foe by attacking it together. when beaten, the ball flies back the way it came, wiping out all zombies on the screen. this thus extends from the teaching that the projectile enemies carried – that, in some cases, enemies’ attacks can be used against them.


Lane Shifting Enemies


These enemies are unique in that each time they are hit, they switch between lanes, changing the player they are targeting, and the player that can hit them. they shift slowly so that players can clearly see what they are doing, and react in turn. These enemies teach cooperation and coordination, forcing players to cooperate to avoid being hit – it is not simply enough to swat the enemy away, you must also ensure that your teammate is ready to take on the new threat as it shifts into their lane.

So then, from these three ideas, I can begin to shape a concept of what the boss should be like

Prototyping and Inspiration

Thematically, the boss has already been conceptualized through the development of the narrative – as our game is themed around both the undead and Disco, we have decided upon the “Disconomicon” an evil, sentient book that is causing the zombie menace.

Before starting the level two boss design, I had been doing a bit of prototyping for a potential level one boss, which has since  now discarded, designing a projectile and charge attack for it. This design exercise showed that getting the boss to come in close to the players and then back off again as somewhat cumbersome, and that throwing enemies as projectiles made it hard to see what buttons were required to hit them.

flinging     charge

                   Throwing Pattern                                                    Charging Pattern

In order to resolve the issues presented by this first prototype, I made a few design decisions as to how to approach :

A. the boss should not charge in, but attack using projectiles – this supports its nature as a book, and prevents the awkwardness of the charge attack. It also allows for the use of different types/patterns of projectiles.

B. Who the projectiles are aiming at, and the inputs needed to repel them should be immediately clear – we have placed colored rings around enemies, but the projectiles themselves should be color coded, and should not be placed so high on the screen that the inputs required to reflect them back at the boss are obscured.


A partial source of inspiration for the Disconomicon’s design was in the form of bosses from other games, such as Phantom Ganon, from The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, who required you to reflect his attacks in order to damage him, and the Monster Book of Monsters from Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, which was a similarly malign book which attacked by shooting waves of its pages at the player. Both of these bosses presented unique styles that made them memorable experiences for players, that shook up the game’s traditional formula. That, along with reinforcing the learning presented throughout the level, is what I am hoping to accomplish with this boss’ design.


The Monster Book of Monsters – attacks indirectly using projectiles


Phantom Ganon – a boss based around allowing the player to reflect projectiles

Design and Development 

Initial brainstorming for the design of the boss brought certain concepts to light. obviously, the boss would need a variety of different patterns of attack, and challenge should increase within the fight as it progresses. to facilitate this, the boss was designed to have four initial attack patterns corresponding to the enemies introduced throughout the level – a barrage targeting one player, a barrage alternating between two players, a giant attack that both players need to strike repeatedly to knock it back, and a wave of six zombies that charge towards the player.


Meteor attack – Draws on learning from the zombie ball. Players must quickly mash the indicated direction to slow the massive shot’s approach and then repel it back towards the Disconomicon.


Barrage – Draws on learning from the throwing zombies, firing a sequence of fast-moving fireballs towards one player. these can be repelled with only a single hit, and sent back into the Disconomicon.


Alternating Barrage – Draws on learning from the throwing and lane changing zombies, as it attacks players sequentially one after the other. players must time their hits according to the intervals.


Summon Horde – Draws on general learning form enemy types,and presents players with a sequence of enemies to be defeated. this attack is an additional challenge, as the enemies cannot be used to hurt the Disconomicon.

Testing and adjusting these functions led me to tweak some of their functionality – the zombies that the boss spawned in accelerated too quickly, and the boss was boring without a means of ramping up the difficulty. in order to do this, I added functionality to ramp up the boss’ speed and aggressiveness as the players damaged it more, drawing from the “Bloodied” mechanic that many other games have applied (bosses gaining new attacks or changing up their patterns at lower health.) This served to make the experience more varied, and rewards the players with greater challenge as they progress through the fight.


When at low health, the Disconomicon becomes far more aggressive

Conclusion and Plan

Through observing the learning objectives from within the level, drawing inspiration from the designs of other bosses throughout past games, and testing and iterating upon my own design, I was able to develop a prototype for a boss that should cap off the level two and showcase experience nicely. The boss utilizes attacks that draw from the behaviors and learning taken from all enemies that were introduced throughout the level, and combines them into an experience that should challenge players and test their skills, while not being overbearingly frustrating. From this point, I will be taking the boss in for testing, and getting feedback on the experience and how to improve it. I will also be requesting art assets from the art design team, in order to replace the placeholders that I currently have in place. once the play-testing has been completed, I will follow up with another Development Log to review what was found, and the changes that I will be making to develop the experience further. at this time, we will not be including the boss fight in the trailer we will be submitting for Alt Ctrl GDC, as we do not anticipate it being polished enough to show off, but we do have plans to tease its existence, and make sure it is finished in its entirety before the presentation at GDC, should we be accepted.

Disco is Dead – Development of The Disconomicon

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