The Alpha: An Apex of Aggression

Emil Esov, Game Director


“As soon as we finished our prototyping phase and implemented some basic systems like movement, shooting, and early stages of combat, I started thinking about how to teach the player a thing or two about the combat mechanics of Scars Above.

This is a story of how we approached the design of our first boss fight – The Alpha.”



The idea for this enemy starts with its weaker, yet still beefy as hell, counterpart – Rock Goliath.

For the longest time in the early phases, our very FIRST enemy that the player gets to fight was a regular Rock Goliath. We had a whole idea of how the player would go through the mud, moving slowly…. and then, as you walk out of the mud puddle, you would see a rock monster sort of exit its camouflaged state, ready to fight. It’s bigger than the player, and the space for fighting it is limited, so we imagined it would be a very scary experience for the player.

It was supposed to come to the player, swing his huge arms, and toss the player around like a sack of meat – overpowering him as a gorilla would.



Ultimately, it became the worst and most frustrating experience. We discovered that it was too much of a difficulty spike in gameplay, as defeating it required advanced mechanical skills with good aiming and timing. Not many players were able to beat it.

So it was back to the drawing board with this enemy. We did, however, learn what the major pain points were:

  • It is too aggressive. It does not leave the player room to breathe.
  • It’s too beefy, and it appears too early in the game.
  • It does not possess clear AND/OR smart win condition.



We immediately knew this needed to be a fight for a bit later in the game, at a point where players got comfortable with controls, basic mechanics, and the environment. So we designed the level to encounter this enemy on a rocky plateau just after the Swamp, keeping the idea of the enemy having a rock-like camouflaged state while it sleeps.

As soon as we started testing the sequence of the first 20 minutes of gameplay in the swamp leading up to this Rock Goliath, it all felt much better, more natural. The player got some narrative beats and easy-to-medium combat encounters with Arachnids and Scorpiods in the swamp.

Since Scars Above is a game about being weaker than most of the creatures you encounter, we wanted to make a statement, so we decided this first Rock Goliath would become the first significant difficulty spike. We wanted to make this fight tough, but fair… and also give the player a chance to be smart and efficient about it.



From our initial tests, we knew its behavior was too aggressive. It was basically attacking non-stop, and the player would only be able to get a shot once in a while. Our new goal was to keep the aggressiveness and create more opportunities for the player. Let’s break it down into some basic concepts:


Since it’s a melee enemy, we wanted it to have different attacks that present other challenges for the player. They should be unpredictable yet readable. So we have:

  • Regular Swings – Those are basic swings that can be dodged in any direction;
  • Combo Swings – 2 swing attack that will usually punish you if you dodge to the side;
  • Delayed 1-handed slam – An attack that will punish you if you dodge too early;
  • Overhead Slam – Multiple slams that will do damage in a straight line. This will punish you if you dodge backward.


The most significant change in its behavior was ensuring it has aggressive and passive stages so the player does not feel overwhelmed.

  • Aggressive State – It will chase the player and attack several times with different attacks.
  • Prowling State – It disengages by jumping backward and then slowly creeps toward the player, entering a running state after several seconds.

Creating a prowling state and tweaking it for the best experience, we felt it was on a good track, but something was missing. Since it used to jump to create some distance from the player, there was a window of opportunity for the player to just spam the headshots. We decided to solve that by creating a condition that would make Goliath appear more intelligent.

So after a certain percentage of its health is gone, it will start protecting its head with its rocky armored arm while approaching the player. Ultimately it all plays out like the Rock Goliath learned after some time that it should protect its head.

Strengths / Weaknesses

We also looked at the core combat system of Scars Above, designed around elemental strengths and weaknesses. There are 3 major components to that system, all featured on the Rock Goliaths.

  • Hard Points – Spots that are extra resistant. Since the enemy has a rocky shell we decided to use that and make it really tough. So the player would do literally 1 dmg to rocky parts while the Goliath has 800 health. We wanted to create a scenario where the player wants to shoot the flesh but the rocky armored parts are HARD POINTS. We also wanted a classic “shooting of armor parts” feel, and we made it, so you can shoot off parts of armor with repeated shots – but you waste ammo, and it’s not a very optimal way to kill it.
  • Weak Points – Spots that are vulnerable to a specific element. We decided to have a central Weak Point that can be broken with a heat-based weapon. Due to the natural body posture of a quadruped, we decided to create this weak point on its chest where it’s mostly protected. However, during some attacks and recoveries, it will be vulnerable to hit. It then becomes “just” a matter of selecting a proper weapon and aiming at it.
  • Critical Points – Universally vulnerable points that take extra damage (for example, headshots). When you hit a weak point and set the Goliath on fire… it will rage and roar, opening its mouth. Hitting it in the mouth will do massive critical damage and, in most cases, kill it.
Alpha's strengths and weaknesses



With all the changes mentioned above, we accomplished what we aimed for. The Rock Goliath was a large difficulty spike and an opportunity for the player to learn to aim at weak points and exploit them. There are several ways to kill the rock goliath:

  • Most Optimal – Wait for it to do its double swing attack. This attack has a long recovery time, making it very easy to hit its weak spot. 1 bullet from the Thermic Charger into the weak spot will set it on fire and make it roar. Switch to V.E.R.A and hit the mouth with 1 bullet for the most damage. That will kill it. The fight can be over in under 10 seconds with very little ammo spent.
  • Medium Optimal – Wait for openings and shoot at the fleshy parts. This takes 20-40 seconds, depending on the aim. Alternatively, shoot off 1 rock armor piece and shoot flesh underneath it. Medium amount of ammo spent.
  • Sub-optimal – Spam shoot everything and do not care about what you are hitting, eventually it will die. A lot of ammo is spent.



The work on the Rock Goliath ultimately led to the design of its big brother, The Alpha. It is a goliath on steroids. The ultimate killing machine with very few weaknesses. The Alpha is the biggest and most dangerous creature on that part of the planet. We wanted to communicate that from the intro cutscene to the fight itself.

The idea for the setup here was to create a false sense of security for the player while he is crossing the same part of the level where he fought the original Rock Goliath. The first thing that the player sees is the corpse of the original Rock Goliath being eaten by a bunch of Scorpiods who courageously stepped outside swampy terrain onto the rocky plateau, but then The Alpha jumps on top of them and shows them who’s who. After that display of power, all of its attention is on the player and the boss fight starts.


The mechanics are pretty much the same as the Rock Goliath, with few exceptions and improvements. We wanted the player to have a sense of familiarity with this creature while keeping some surprises and ramping up the difficulty to get that boss fight experience.

  • Size – The sheer size of the Alpha makes his attacks have more reach, and they are more dangerous by default.
  • Move-set and Attacks – The Alpha has the same behavior pattern with aggression and prowling, but it also has a new move – Charge. Instead of prowling slowly, it will just charge like a moving truck.
  • Impenetrable Armor – Compared to its weaker brother, The Alpha’s armor cannot be broken by any means.
  • Self-Heal – A mechanic that can be frustrating, so we had to balance it carefully to avoid overdoing it. Basically, it will roar and heal back some portion of the health.

We wanted to keep all types of challenges for this enemy compared to the Rock Goliath. So dodging, aiming, and timing your shots is all very much part of the core experience for this boss fight. The prize that the player gets is also in line with the whole narrative around this boss. As a player, once you defeat The Alpha, you will be able to extract ingredients to craft a personal shield gadget that is fueled by the stuff that makes its armor so tough.



The Goliaths in Scars Above are probably the most worked-on enemies. We tested a lot of various mechanics and systems on them and it was a lot of fun but also an opportunity to learn more about the game we were creating. They changed quite a bit from their first iteration, and we feel The Alpha presents a cool, fun, and challenging fight – while providing the player with a sense of accomplishment, and rewarding him with another tool to help him on his journey.

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