Experienced Points: All My Hard Work and I Get THIS Ending?

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Oct 14, 2014

Filed under: Column 114 comments

My column this week is actually a Diecast mailbag question that I ninja’d from the rest of the cast. Wide and Nerdy sent in this one:

Dear Diecast,

I don’t understand this argument fans make about “after all this work we put in” in reference to playing a video game and the payoff that comes at the end. I’ve seen people defend this point.

It seems to me that if a game is work, you should be playing a different game, not hanging in there and then getting upset when the bit at the end fails to justify 20 to 30 hours of what is apparently considered “work.” Am I missing something?

It seemed interesting enough that I stole the question and used it for my column. Although, I might have drifted away from the question he posed. I dunno.

Hopefully I managed to answer his question somewhere in the column.

And yes, I avoided Mass Effect 3 on purpose. If you bring up ME3, then ME3 will overshadow the topic, and I really did want to discuss game endings in general. I’d be thread-jacking my own column.


From The Archives:

114 thoughts on “Experienced Points: All My Hard Work and I Get THIS Ending?

  1. Retsam says:

    I feel like there was a missed opportunity by not ending this column with some random non-sequitor, or ending it with some grammatical mess of a sentence, or cutting of mid-sentence… (or challenging the reader to a pointless boss-fight).

    Or maybe that’s just the sort of meta-humor I enjoy.

    1. rofltehcat says:

      Quicktime events! Random unexpected quicktime events are exactly what a piece using largely unrelated mechanics needs. Nothing like going from a cutsce… er, informative article to quicktime events!

      “Succeed in these quicktime events or you have to read the article again!”

      1. Mephane says:

        Quicktime events are the devil. Like, literally. I’ve had absolutely fantastic games turned completely uninteresting to return to by them. For example Saints Row 4. I regularly think “hey, why not fire it up again and do some mayhem in the matrix” only to remember that doing so would quickly summon a warden mini-boss that you can only defeat with a final button-mashing quicktime event. After which your status is cleared again as if nothing had happened. (But on the other hand, the warden would still be super annoying without the quicktime event. Can’t I just keep super-punching bad guys without having to deal with those buggers?)

        I should reinstall Saints Row 3 instead…

  2. NotDog says:

    I guess we should mention all those old games that only gave you a single black screen with some badly translated text?

    Or maybe the ending for Quake?

    1. Henson says:

      I remember being supremely disappointed when I finally beat Eye of the Beholder, which did pretty much this exact thing: beat the end boss, see a block of text pop up, and pressing ‘OK’ exits to DOS. You don’t even get to see the final boss die. Thank God the rest of that game was awesome.

      1. Shamus says:

        Oh! I’m still mad about that one to this day.

        That ending text wasn’t even GOOD. It was so unlike the rest of the game.

        Since I was button-mashing there at the end, I sort of clicked right through it. One moment I’m fighting a beholder, and the next I’m sitting at the DOS prompt.

        1. And how many FPS games ended with a vague cliffhanger (like Unreal’s leaving you in an orbiting life pod) or non-ending that promised a continuation which never came?

          1. Bryan says:

            Well, Unreal at least had Return to Na Pali, which started with you in that life pod and ended with you in an interstellar-capable ship heading back home. Wherever “home” actually was.

            So they at least made and sold *something* that was a continuation. Sure, you had to buy the addon (or buy Unreal Gold, which had it already), so it absolutely wasn’t in the original game, so yeah from that perspective it was annoying. But there was a continuation eventually, at least.

            (For that one. Not for others of course.)

          2. JT says:

            It’s not an FPS, but it was near the genesis of my love of videogames so it still holds a near-and-dear place in my heart: 1989’s Manhunter: San Francisco. After defeating serial killer and alien-collaborator Phil and chasing him from New York to San Francisco, you had to defeat him again, and the game ended with you hanging from Phil’s flying Orb-ship against a backdrop of stars, where we were promised a continuation, which at the time I believed was going to be on the Orbs’ home planet but was revealed later to supposed to have been London.

        2. Henson says:

          “Hey guys, I guess you killed the big eye creature or something, here’s a portal back to town, and I guess you’re now heroes and shit. Maybe you’d like to play some Tie Fighter instead?”

        3. Changeling says:

          Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

          After an unsatisfying boss fight the antagonist escapes and a dead villain of the previous game utters some cryptic lines.

          Fade to black.

          “To be continued…”

        4. The version I played actually had a (brief) animated ending if you pushed Xanathar into the spike trap with the Wand Of Push Beholder.

    2. Groboclown says:

      My favorites were the endings that were an ad for another game from Apogee. That’s what I get for playing so much shareware.

      1. DIN aDN says:

        Hahahahaha, yes!

        The one I remember still today was that early ad for Quake, where the description makes it sound something like an RPG or adventure game. ‘Unlike in other games, you do not start as a weakling – you play as Quake, the strongest in the land!’ or something along those lines.

        … hold on, I have to go fire up my copy of Keen 1 and check what the description was :D

        Oh my god they were making Bethesda’s sales-pitch for TES years before that was a thing.

        ‘Living NPCs’ indeed.

        1. batti says:

          well, quake started in development as an ambitious open-world rpg-ish, based on John Carmack’s own D&D campaigns. Later on, they realized the horrific feature-creep they had and decided to just do doom again, but with “true” 3-d models.

    3. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Not that extreme but I know my example would be Theme Hospital. The game was funny overall and I was expecting something similar to the intro at the end. What I got was somewhat disappointing.

  3. thesomethingcool says:

    You seem to have quoted too much; the last paragraph isn’t part of the question.

  4. Wide And Nerdy says:

    I’m just thrilled that my question fueled enough thought to give you an entire article even if it fueled it by setting off one of your own pet peeves.

    I can understand being disappointed by an ending, absolutely so. I just didn’t quite understand how that disappointment could negate an entire game.

    When you mentioned “world state” that makes a little more sense to me. If the game is designed to have you working towards a goal, then it denies you the goal in an arbitrary fashion, I guess I can see how that undercuts the incentive to play.

    But just as the gameplay doesn’t excuse the ending, I don’t like it when people say they worked hard and earned something when they were playing a video game. I’m sure there are exceptions but most of the time games aren’t work. They’re a challenge but I think a challenge is different than work. For one thing you’re choosing to undergo the challenge. I just think of work as something that has productive value for others (I use “productive” loosely here ok? Entertainment and Enrichment are ‘products’ in this loose case.)

    EDIT: Just in case I wasn’t clear, yes, the answer to the question was somewhere in the article. You kind of reframed how I was thinking about it with your answer rather than answering head on because I guess my question had some flaws in it’s premise. And that met the need.

    Actually, now that I think about it, I’d probably be willing to call rpg grinding work. I know its not productive but you’re doing to solely for something else and not because you enjoy grinding. It does feel work-like.

    1. Sougo says:

      As someone who demand for there to be grinding on the genre he plays (JRPGs), I’ll just say that just because you found it to be work-like does not mean that this is the case. Some people enjoy the grind because it gives them the freedom of not being constrained to what the developers put in front of them, to be able to break the game if they choose to. Heck, there’s an entire series of games devoted to the sole purpose of grinding. (Look up Disgaea) These games are successful because the player put in the ‘work’ to grind to the top. They thrive on the feeling of getting rewarded for the work you put in. Like Shamus said, people play game for very different reason.

    2. Jakob says:

      The ending is the goodbye. It is where the experience ends, the last place to reinforce the theme, the place where the gamer has the final chance to show mastery over the system. It is the last thing we do in the game. There is no more gameplay to make up for it, it is the last impression you will leave upoin your audience.

      When it falls flat, the gamer has nothing left to remove the sting. The story might not tie up properly, it is not a final exam of your mastery of the system.

      Notice that most of the best piece of fiction and games have an incredible tension of sorts build up at the end. If you thumble at the end, there is no cathasis and no hope for it. That is why some feel it is wasted, they haven’t had a reward for how much they put into it. The build up might have been fun, but they haven’t be given a way to let go of the tension.

      I assume that you feel it too when having a bad ending. The sour taste lingers a bit. However, how much it sours depends on the person.

    3. Zukhramm says:

      I don’t think play and work are at all as distinct as we’d like to think.

      1. Trix2000 says:

        Agreed, especially if you consider how often people can turn work into play (or vice versa).

    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “I don't like it when people say they worked hard

      Actually,even passive media(like reading a book,or watching a movie/tv show,or listening to music)can be qualified as work.Once you get really busy(get a job,start a family,gain a bunch of kids)your free time becomes a premium.So getting enough free time to enjoy a piece of art becomes harder and harder,to the point where you actually have to put in some work(do extra stuff at a job,preform extra house duties,etc)in order to gain some extra time.And if your extra time is spent on something that just pisses you off instead of giving you positive emotions,your hard work got shattered.

      Now this is doubly so for an active media(which is video games),because here not only do you put in work to gain some free time,but you also put in work to finish the piece of art.Because video games are not a finished product(so to speak)that you just absorb,your actions also play into the end product that gets into your mind.You cant just look at the pretty scenery and enjoy it,you have to position yourself in the correct position to take it all in.You cannot just absorb the fight scene and enjoy it,you have to actively fight through it to take it all in.

      What adds to this is the fact that rarely do you find a piece of art that you enjoy 100%,so your brain has to filter out the negative in order to enjoy the positive.The more time you dedicate to a piece of art,and the bigger percentage of stuff you dont enjoy,the more work your brain needs to spend filtering out the negative stuff.And games are the longest one of them all,so even 1% of unfun stuff can give your brain more to filter than 10% of wrong coloring in a painting.Games are also the most complex of them all,incorporating music,visuals,story,and your participation into them,so more stuff can fail.And then there are the bugs.

      Combine all of that,and enjoying a game from start to finish ends up being work even if you enjoy all of it,but especially if you enjoy only 90% of it.

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:

        This is why I’m somewhat fond of some of the shorter games I’ve played recently. Bastion, Child of Light, The Stanley Parable, Shovel Knight, and perhaps the best example, Portal.

        You can play all of them more if you want (you have to wait between playthroughs with Portal) but none of them overstay their welcome if you just want the basic experience.

        Don’t get me wrong, I still love my Skyrims and Fallout New Vegases that I can sink hundreds of hours into.

        Its really that specific wording “hard work” and “earned” that bugs me. I understand the “waste of time” argument except if you had fun playing until you got to the ending, how much time was really wasted? Again, I get being beefed over a sucky ending.

        And I guess I get that some things in any form of entertainment are things we endure because we’re expecting a payoff. We accept the jerk character because we just know he’s going to get his comeuppance. If that never comes, then suddenly that does transform the experience. I guess I get that.

        I guess its just the games I grew up with (I didn’t play games from my late teens to my early thirties). I didn’t play Mario to save the princess. When I first picked up that game I didn’t even know there was a Princess that needed saving “The princess is in another castle.” “Um, ok?” I think Chrono Trigger was the only game I played in my youth that had an actual decent ending (several in fact). I sort of view a satisfying ending as a bonus. So I’m still getting used to the idea that a good ending is EXPECTED now.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          A game doesnt have to be long to severely disappoint.If it cuts suddenly just when you get pumped up,it will achieve the same negative effect.Especially if it comes at the regular price of $60.

    5. You go to a theme park. It’s awesome. The rides are great, the food is great, you win at nearly every carnival game, and you leave with the phone number of an attractive person with “call me!” written above it.

      You go to the parking lot as the last of the fireworks are going off over the Ferris Wheel only to see your car has been towed and a bicycle left in its place missing the seat. It may or may not have been the person who gave you their phone number.

      That example is rather extreme, but I hope it illustrates how an unsatisfying ending can make all that came before it less meaningful, if not (in your mind) ruined.

      Another example is the old 80’s movie, Explorers. It had a pretty cool lead-up and middle part, but when they get to the third act (and, I believe, the budget got cut), it cast a bad light on everything that had come before. Games with a narrative (even not much of one) can suffer the same fate, as everything you were doing was leading up to the ending. If that ending has something ham-fisted like “this whole fantasy adventure was just a holodeck program” or “rocks fall, everyone dies” because the writers couldn’t come up with something interesting, it makes everything you did be what “deserved” the mess you received.

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:

        I think I’d still remember the day at the theme park fondly and for far longer than I remembered being towed. And I say this as someone who has been unjustly towed before. I’d have to see the “Explorers” movie to get what you’re talking about with that.

        But the thing with movies is the ending is a much bigger part of the experience both because of the shorter length of a movie and because the story is a much bigger part of the experience since you’re experiencing it passively.

        1. Jeff says:

          The analogy fails in that the events are separate. You wouldn’t equate getting towed with going to the park, because they are independent of each other. So there’s no regret you went to the park.

          Consider instead if you get on a roller coaster, have fun for 5 minutes, and then the roller coaster ends by spraying you with pepper spray. You’re going to wish you never got on the roller coaster regardless of how much fun the first 5 minutes was.

          1. Riiight. That’s why the ending to, say, Mass Effect 3 isn’t related to previous bits of the game because it takes place on a giant space microphone instead of on the Normandy. Got’cha.

    6. Matt Downie says:

      While games aren’t exactly work, a challenging game is pretty similar to work. You have to overcome obstacles. It requires effort and persistence to get to the end. The sense of achievement a good ending gives you feels very similar to the sense of achievement you get from a job well done.

    7. WysiWyg says:

      Try replacing “all the work I put in” with “all the time I put in”, and maybe it makes more sense?

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:

        To an extent, yes. Its certainly a less grating argument.

        When someone talks about a game being “hard work” I assume I’m talking to a teenager.

  5. Phantos says:

    Before I read the article, I’d like to respond to the question-sender that hard work CAN be rewarding, especially if it’s building up to a certain reward or sense of satisfaction(or catharsis). Something games like The Walking Dead completely crap on.

  6. Phantos says:

    A lot of this could be avoided if game developers had an ending in mind at a point in time earlier than four minutes to release.

    It baffles me that developers don’t think to work on the later sections early instead of half-assing it toward certification. We’re talking about one of, if not THE most important parts of your project, and it’s usually pushed aside until it’s too late to do anything with it but hope people will forget about it by the time the sequel comes out.

    1. RandomInternetCommenter says:

      Given the statistics regarding game completion, I’m not surprised and I don’t blame them. Most players will not finish your game. It makes more business sense to focus on the parts the majority will see.

      (Don’t take this as condonement. I love optional areas and nonlinear level design, two more things sacrificed on the productivity altar.)

      1. Steve C says:

        The idea is completely totally flawed from every angle you approach it. I know it’s the justification they use. It’s just stupid and wrongheaded.

        1. ehlijen says:

          It’s from the time when playable demos were a big thing, which consisted basically of the first level or two. Gotta polish those to make sure you get the sales.

          Also, testing early levels for balance is much easier in any game where you accumulate power over the course of it as you have a much clearer picture of what the player will have in the way of power when he starts those sections.

          1. Steve C says:

            Polishing the earliest levels or a demo is a completely different issue that does make sense. That is an effort to make a good first impression. That is good business. That’s why businesses spruce up the outside of the building or the decor inside that doesn’t matter at all to what’s being sold.

            Putting effort proportionally into the game based on the proportion of people who see that content is just stupid. Think of if it was a book. Those initial few paragraphs are very important. You do want a good hook at the start of a book. If you figure that only 20% of the people who read the first chapter are going to read the last chapter then you don’t use that a sliding scale for effort and quality. That just guarantees that the thing as a whole is terrible and sucks. Leave an audience wanting more- not the opposite.

            1. ehlijen says:

              Two things: You only have a finite budget/schedule for polishing the game, so the more you spend on the first half, the less you have for the second. (Probably less than intended in either case because for some reason all projects go over schedule sooner or later).
              Second: By the time a customer can experience and be disappointed by the ending they’ve already bought the game.
              Third: If most customers don’t finish the game and thus aren’t disappointed by the ending, the reputation hit is proportionally small.

              It does make a sad, annoying kind of sense.

              What it doesn’t do is ask why most people don’t finish games. Is it possibly because it gets gradually less interesting over its course?

              1. LD_Little_Dragon says:

                I always wonder where those stats about most players not finishing games come from.

                According to Steam I haven’t finished a single game – because I always play offline so none of the achievements get recorded.

    2. Ciennas says:

      So… the problem is that all stories are fluid til the audience is holding the finished version in their hand. What if you finally realized a theme, or somebody in your target missed the message or the foreshadowing? What if you’ve written a villain who hasn’t actually done anything villainous? Or you decide to throw in a scene in an operahouse?

      Depending on medium, it becomes harder to tighten up and make flow properly.

      Books? Easiest: go back and change the key segments, write an additional segment of foreshadowing, editing is literally drag and drop and throw words in as needed. Done properly, your cohesive whole is a success.

      Comics are harder: you have to redraw the scenes in addition to writing. Still relatively easy.

      And then…. then you have games and movies.

      Games are the hardest. Oh you wanna add something? Give us six extra weeks we don’t have and throw all thebvoice actors motion capture teams and etc etc.

      They theoretically could do it last scene first, but I feel that would work out like Gurenn Lagann did: an opening that has no real connection to the actual ending.

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:

        Exactly. At some point in the story you’d realize the narrative isn’t heading towards your ending so you have one of two choices

        1) Scrap the ending and try to figure out a new one that fits where the narrative is actually going. Advantages: Fits better with what came before. Disadvantages: Potentially not as cool or satisfying or unique or whatever. You’ve had less time to think about this new ending.

        2) Try to steer your narrative back towards the original ending. This means you get to keep your hopefully awesome ending idea but risks parts of the narrative feeling more contrived or forced.

    3. Mark says:

      Often, there is a decent ending in mind — or at least an ending that’s no worse from a storytelling perspective than the rest of the game, anyway. But then half the story has to be cut at the last minute because the developers ran out of time, and now suddenly the ending doesn’t make sense any more and has to be rewritten at the last, last minute, and there we are.

      One thing I always wished for some smart writer-type person to figure out is how to write modular stories for games. Operate under the assumption that any three bricks might be removed at random from this stack of ten, and make sure the structure will still stand.

      1. I do this (kind of) when I’m writing, and I’ve helped an author do it while editing. ALL stories are modular to a certain extent–they happen in discrete scenes, after all.

        What I do when I’m creating an outline is to make a “scene map”, listing all the scenes and giving a very brief note of what that scene accomplishes. Intro this character, reveal this idea, foreshadow this, etc. Then, when it comes time to make cuts, you go back to your scene map and start looking for how you can shuffle anything that’s super-vital into other scenes while, say, cutting characters or sub-plots that you don’t have space for any more. Maybe your protagonist doesn’t need a separate dinner date to learn about X, that can be added into the bookshop scene. Which means you can cut the date and that entire sub-plot out of the story.

        From what I understand with games, the story *per se* is actually not that expensive or that big of a bottleneck–it’s the voice recording and animating that are most problematic. So if I were working on a game that got its budget slashed, I would think less about “how can I remove parts of the story” with “what animated/voiced stuff can I remove–replacing them with text and panoramic shots or static artwork”. This will shrink your expenses much more rapidly and prevent your story from becoming incoherent.

    4. Matt Downie says:

      Do game developers do that? Some, maybe. But leaving the ending until the last four minutes (or, more likely, four months) makes as much sense as leaving any other aspect of the project until the last minute.

  7. Bloodsquirrel says:

    A story is like travelling on an airplane. Even if most of the flight is pretty good, a really bad last ten minutes ruins the whole thing.

  8. Blake says:

    One of the biggest things for me when an ending falls flat (in any medium) is that I have a much harder time recommending it to anyone.
    Conversely things with awesome endings stay in my head, keep me excited and I want to tell everyone about it.
    This in turn becomes more sales as I tell people to buy the game, and more sales on their next product as people were satisfied with their last one.

  9. rofltehcat says:

    First I thought: Wait, Shamus has already finished Shadow of Mordor? But then I remembered you just bought it last weekend, so that’d have been too recent to flow into the article.

    Can I add a question about that as a Diecast question? (hope someone reads it)

    “Dear Diecast, in the light of Shamus’ recent Escapist article about lackluster game endings, what are your thoughts about Shadow of Mordor’s ending?

    Personally, I liked the game but felt the last 30 minutes and the ending to be a mix of most examples made by Shamus in his first paragraph.”

  10. Hal says:

    KOTOR 2! Run! Run while you still can! This place isn’t safe for you!

  11. Tizzy says:

    Can we talk about games with quality endings instead?

    My favorite has to be planescape torment

    1. Jakale says:

      Ghost Trick is one of my tops. Game builds up to a dramatic event and then pays it off beautifully using the rules established in the gameplay and story up til then and manages to pull off happy, tragic, and bittersweet all in one go.
      Man, now I want to play it, again.

      To be honest, aside from that, I’m not sure what I’d call favorite. I remember a lot of enjoyable games with fine endings, but not much jumps out at me as particularly moving and/or memorable.
      Slight exception: Some narrative LPs I’ve read did do really awesome endings.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Well obviously.But then theres also the walking dead season 1,spec ops:the line,american mcgees alice,starcraft 1 and especially brood wars,hordes of the underdark,…

    3. Arven says:

      I was never a big fan of narrative in games (unless it’s an rpg (and by rpg I mean CK2)), therefore I always considers ‘ending’ to be the last level instead of the final cutscene. This makes me rather tolerant of whatever BS writers pulled at the final cutscene (and if I get a lame gameplay, I will most likely dropped the game, so no harm done). As for quality endings, I got 2 games that I put in my how-games-should-end pedestal. In no particular order :

      Ring Runner has a huge last fight (there are several bases and one huge base, previous levels establish that taking down a base is a challenging task) and a really though boss, but you also get an OP skill (class based, not random 11hour superpower like in xcom) during the opening cutscene. So it establish both player empowerment (with your OP skill, taking down bases becomes easy) while still providing challenge in the form of ultra tough final boss (I died on my first time because I accidentally picked a ship class I’m not quite good at). It also gives a decent narrative closure by avenging all your dead friends (your character says something like ‘this is for dead_friend_a’ when he destroys a base) and obliterating the big bad and every single one of his assets. Bonus point for pulling off the ‘ride to west while having a banter with sidekick with sun in background’ in space and an awesome credits song.

      Monaco (before the expansion) has a last level which uses mechanics to convey the big plot twist (there’s only 4 thief all along, therefore you dual-class at the last level). It also uses level design to send a message that the point of the game is to collect all coins, that’s where the fun is at by allowing you to just walk out by following a straight line unhindered. It’s still my favourite level to this day.

    4. Ravens Cry says:

      Mine would be Grim Fandango. Not just the ending cutscene, but the final act leading up to it.

    5. Mephane says:

      Probably my favourite ending of all times was the one in Bastion where you break the cycles of the calamity.

      Directly follow by The Stanley Parable, as in the entire game.

      Oh, and Portal 2. I still have no idea how Valve pulled it off so that I intuitively shot the portal at the moon. I mean, this is not something you expect a game to allow. But the moon was just hanging there, and there seemed no escape anyway, so why not aim and pull the trigger…. spaaaaaaace!

    6. Grudgeal says:

      Chrono Trigger.

      What can I say, sometimes I like a happy ending. Also, I consider it revenge by proxy by how us Europeans never got that game on the original SNES and had to suffer through Terranigma instead.

      Seriously, that ending should have had a suicide hotline number in the credits.

      For a more recent example, Little Inferno.

    7. Groboclown says:

      I still love the endings to both Little Big Adventure games (Relentless and Twinsen’s Odyssey in the States). Their endings feel both complete and rewarding.

  12. Rick says:

    “If you bring up ME3, then ME3 will overshadow the topic.”

    Hm, you’re right, but why do we think of ME3 during subjects like this? What was it about ME3?

    I think this can only be resolved by a lengthy discussion.

    1. I think we need to start with at least an hour-long study of the iconic and beloved character, Kai Leng.

      This is to be followed by a two-day seminar called: “The Rachni: Your Decisions Matter.”

      I believe the rest of the week is spent discussing the symbolism of Samara’s chesticular area, why you should care that a random kid died, the insignificance of second acts, and how life truly is about grinding away so you can pick from three colors.

      1. RCN says:

        “The Rachni… yeah, we liked their art assets too much to not use them, and art is expensive.”

        But haven’t you heard, the theme of Mass Effect was fatalism! Your decisions don’t matter! That’s why completely destroying the Human Reaper into a brown dwarf meant… that Cerberus would get Reaper tech on ME 3 regardless. They had the technology to harvest deep within a brown dwarf, apparently. Why do they even need Reaper tech? One was killed by a brown dwarf and the other can harvest delicate electronics deep within one.

        You also forgot to mention Miranda there somewhere. While Samara was mostly a pair of Lawful Stupid breasts, Miranda was the Stupid Evil buttocks at the end of two legs.

        Oh, but if we keep talking about ME 3, we’ll stay here all night… and the next day… and the day after that.

        1. I think we’ve stumbled upon the Reapers’ true plan to destroy sentient life, here.

          1. ehlijen says:

            They want to destroy the world by critically overloading a water filter?

            At least the final gameplay levels were ok (the rocket trucks and stuff). Yes, it was more of the same, but it was more, including more challenging, and I don’t have a problem with game designers assuming players like their games for the gameplay and thus making the final level about that gameplay. It’s what all finals levels really should be, it’s just that it turned out the ME3 gameplay was ok, not great.

            After the story leaves all gameplay behind…well enough said. I still think the water filter is just as bad, if not worse.

            1. At least after the water filter was out of the way, you could sandbox all you wanted. If I had the time, I’d like to play a game where I basically sprint through the Project Purity stuff and just go do random questing and DLC and what have you, where the game is strongest.

              Side note: For extra F3 combat challenge, install Broken Steel and head straight out of Megaton for Smith Casey’s garage to free Dad. That way, you have to fight your way through GNR plaza and probably some Super Mutant overlords without any BoS help, and instead of making you go get the lunar lander dish for info about Dad, Three Dog has to cough up the key to a pretty nice weapons cache in a doomed survivors’ cave.

              The trouble with ME3’s gameplay is that it still means the last thing you’re going to do is pick from 3 colors at best, then game over. You can’t even amuse yourself with “murdering” annoying NPCs over and over, not to mention the whole problem inherent in ME3’s actual premise for how large-scale combat against space Cthulhus works is ridiculous, even for pulp sci-fi. I see all this war going on and I’m thinking, “This isn’t how reapers should be fighting. What happened to their plan being incomprehensible? What was the point of Mass Effect 2 regarding these things?” and so on.

              If the reply is “it’s just a video game,” then that kind of means we didn’t need all that effort making the Mass Effect series look and feel like a halfway-decent sci-fi movie with realistic looking assets. If suspension of disbelief isn’t needed or isn’t at least lampshaded with a wink and a nod, we might as well be playing Starfox.

              1. ehlijen says:

                I couldn’t, actually. DLC wasn’t gonna be out for a long time when that stupid super mutant first told me that the obvious solution to the radiation problem wasn’t allowed due to lack of destiny on her part.

                So yes, the last thing I did in FO3 until years later I gave it another go (other than point lookout, I didn’t like any of the DLCs either), was sit in front of the big decision door and refused to make either the evil or the stupid choice because of course the door I just came through is now unpickably locked!

                ME3 was bad, and showed a clear lack of plan. But I say it has competition. FO3 didn’t even manage an interesting premise on its own. ‘Fight of a fleet of space cthullus or die’ was much better in concept than ‘find your dad, or something, maybe’.

              2. Ciennas says:

                In reply to your side note: There was a mod for Fallout 3 called Ties that Bind. It adds your character getting an older sister who would follow you through at least the original main campaign, and maybe broken steel.

                She gets kidnapped and taken to Paradise Falls early on. This led to a truly epic display of one man armyship, travelling up through the wastes armed with starters equipment trying to get her back, fighting off raiders, super mutants, and the entire town of paradise falls with the equivalent of a wooden stick and tissue paper armor versus rocket launchers and minigun toting fiends clad in steel.

                It was awesome. If you have the PC version, I’d recommend you grab it.

                1. I might have to slot that into the ol’ schedule at some point.

                  If I had all the time in the world, I’d love to take a crack at re-doing the whole quest behind Project Purity. It’d depend on what could be done with the assets as well as how much alternate dialog I could get for “dad” from Liam Neeson’s many movie roles. :)

            2. DIN aDN says:

              For a second there I missed the reference, and assumed you meant a really small water filter of the sort that you get underneath a kitchen sink – which led into the wonderfully weird mental image of miniature giant space robots delivering a triumphant baritone villain speech about how all life was doomed now that they had broken the water filter, followed by said water filter bursting and shorting out their tiny selves.

              1. ehlijen says:

                That would have improved either game :)

              2. DIN aDN says:

                And now I have drawn it, in case anyone wanted to see that?

  13. Vermander says:

    Honestly I’m fine with something like the first Dragon Age where they just had a few paragraphs of text explaining what happened to all the characters. Surely that has to be one of the cheapest solutions and still gives obsessive completists like me a sense of closure.

    1. kanodin says:

      Right and anyone who’s really into the story is probably perfectly fine with reading about all the loose ends being tied up and letting their imagination fill in any gaps exactly how they want them to be filled. Really I don’t see why this isn’t the go to solution.

    2. Alan says:

      Reminds me of a trick for running tabletop RPGs at a convention: at the end ask every player to say one or two sentences about their characters future. It creates a sense of closure that can be hard to capture in a one-shot game.

      1. Tizzy says:

        That’s a cool trick. It can also work well in other media, see “Animal House” for movies, or any novel by Carl Hiaasen.

    3. ehlijen says:

      Yeah, they had the text things, but they also had the coronation scene where you got to talk to all of them. I’d count that as part of the ending, and I really liked it.

      Sure, the story was a bit by the numbers, but honestly, if you do a decent job with some visible effort, that can still work.

    4. IFS says:

      I’d argue the first dragon age had a very solid ending, you beat the final boss and then you get to wrap up loose ends talking to your companions and certain other figures, get a boon from the ruler of Ferelden (if you’re still alive) and get some text and images as an epilogue to tell you how your decisions play out in the long run. Certainly a step above of leaving a ton of unfinished plot threads and obvious sequel hooks.

  14. Count_Zero says:

    What I generally want, in a game ending, is a sense of catharsis in the boss fight, and a good sense of denouement in the ending – something where even if I don’t get answers to all the questions and all the loose ends don’t get tied up, the important ones get resolved.

    Which ones are important? Well, if the story is linear and rigid, then the writer knows what parts are important when they wrote the story. Does the game’s narrative allow for player choice, with a variety of carefully (or semi-carefully) crafted party members? Then keep track of what characters I spent time on, or what recurring NPCs I chose to give my attention to, or what choices I’ve made over the course of the game (or just give an Animal House style “Where Are They Now” ending for everyone).

    However, the player’s emotional response to the ending should (ideally) reflect the emotional response you’re shooting for on that last level or dungeon or whatever – particularly once they’ve cleared it.

  15. “That’s like saying the plot of a movie doesn’t matter as long as the stunts are good. You’re saying style and craft don’t matter.”

    Oi…where to begin…

    Okay, first off, the ‘stunt’ analogy is…not a good one. Stunts enhance a movie, but they’ve never been the core of what a movie is or even a necessary function of one. You can’t say that about gameplay. A movie can be a movie if it doesn’t have stunts in it, a game is not a game with out a ‘game’ to ‘play’.

    It’s also patently ridiculous to say that dismissing narrative over gameplay is dismissing the craft and style of a game, as if that’s the only way a game can exhibit style? I genuinely don’t know what this statement is supposed to mean, cause taken as it is, it doesn’t make any sense.

    Not to say the overall point isn’t valid. Naturally a good ending is always preferable, but this article makes it clear we have very different opinions about how and why that is.

    1. Shamus says:

      “It's also patently ridiculous to say that dismissing narrative over gameplay is dismissing the craft and style of a game, as if that's the only way a game can exhibit style? ”

      I never said it was the ONLY way. It’s one of many aspects that go into a movie. Score, cinematography, acting, costumes, etc. Saying “bah, aspect X doesn’t need to be good” is making the case that craft doesn’t matter.

      1. Again, that absolutist perspective makes no sense to me. I don’t see how dismissing one aspect of a game equates to dismissing the craft of the whole.

        1. Chris Kerr says:

          It’s very simple:

          You can make a movie without stunts, and it will work.

          But if you put stunts in your movie, and they’re bad, it will make your movie worse.

          You can make a game without narrative, and it will work.

          But if you put narrative in your game, and it’s bad, it will make your game worse.

          Dismissing any aspect that IS PRESENT in a game is nonsensical – if it can be dismissed, it ought not be in the game.

          1. That certainly makes more sense, but I’m still not sure that I buy it.

            It’s just too broad a statement to have any validity even with that qualifier. There’s all sorts of contexts and exceptions to make it worth anything. How’s the narrative incorporated? How does it effect gameplay/design or vice versa? What’s the author intent? Is it deliberate? Does it matter? How do you tell?

            The reason the ‘story don’t matter, gameplay does’ has more validity is like I said: games require a ‘game’ to ‘play’. Gameplay is an aspect that DEFINES what a game IS, so you can’t avoid it. It’s the core element from which all other elements derive and they are always going to be both in service to this core aspect and, to some degree, superfluous. Not even movies require an actual plot, good or bad. We just assume they do, because that kind of movie is what encompasses almost the entirety of our experience with that medium.

            My guess is that the original sentiment – “games are about gameplay!” – isn’t really communicating what the real issue is, which is the fallacy of judging a narrative that isn’t actually a part of the game through context that is also not part of the game. Shamus has a history of doing this, which is understandable. Games have become very segregated in this regard, particularly AAA releases. The Last of Us is a perfect example. That game’s ‘story’ is so separated from the game, that it could be excised completely without effecting the actual experience at all, so critiquing it makes no sense be it good or bad. It’s assessing something that’s not part of the game and doing so on terms that are also not part of the game.

            Joel going through his character arc doesn’t change how you play the game or the inputs you put in, so knowing why he does what he does is irrelevant since you have no effect on what or how he does it, because the interactive nature of games makes the how and what both relevant and vital, where a passive medium wouldn’t. I think Chris talked about something like this in his Max Payne 3 video.

            Point being that a narrative CAN be dismissed since it’s not a defining part of the experience, but if it IS included in a game and you want to judge it, you have to be aware of 1) whether is actually IS a part of the game and 2) critique based on how it affects the core aspects of the game.

            Now if there are people who want to judge game narratives otherwise, yeah of course you can. Free country and all that. I’m just saying that if you DO, you’re doing it wrong.

            1. Vermander says:

              What about something like the Telltale Walking Dead series which is almost entirely story driven. I doubt the gameplay mechanics were much of a draw for most people who enjoyed that game. The core of that series was about making choices and seeing how things played out for the characters. If you removed the storyline you’re left with about 30 minutes of a guy picking up tools and clumsily swatting at an occasional zombie.

              1. Ivan says:

                To look at this from a different perspective. I play Magic the Gathering. Someone once asked me, would you still play the game if all the cards had nothing but the relevant mechanics on them? I.E. No name, (Crawling Cadaver) no picture, (a corpse missing everything below the torso, laying on the cobbled street and reaching out to a fleeing crowd in front of it) no flavor text ( People are such fickle beasts. One minute they’re shouting for you to open the door, the next they are fleeing off into the night. –Fblthp, Homunculus assistant to the Master Alchemist–). All it is, is a set of mechanics (2/1, Fear(this creature cannot be blocked except by Artifact or Black creatures, 1B) on an otherwise blank piece of cardboard.

                And no, I would not play that game, I would have never played that game, I doubt that I would have ever enjoyed playing that game. Even though the mechanics are the only thing that matters while I play, the game is so much more fun when it’s about your Trained Orge and his Viserdrix fighting each other to a draw as opposed to it just being an equal trade, like a queen for a queen in chess.

                Sure, not all games need stories to be fun, but a story allows us to explore the world that the game takes place in and it gives context to actions that might otherwise be very mundane (like the music in Guitar Hero). If the story sucks though then you are not only less invested in the experience, but you might be outright repulsed by it. Why would you want to explore a world that gets stupider and stupider the longer you’re a part of it?

            2. If you do, you’re doing it wrong.

              I’m really starting to question whether or not you’re being serious or trolling.

              RPGs: Remove the story and there’s no sensible reason for you to go anywhere or do anything. Put in a bad story (i.e. where your decision to go somewhere or do something is out of character or makes no sense and it’s not meant to be humorous) and it’s often detrimental to the game (see: The water purifier in Fallout 3), but at least you have some explanation for why you’re doing what you’re doing. In Fallout 3, there was Vault 87, which Spoiler Warning didn’t care for overall because the narrative in that location wasn’t very good. Contrast that to what was said about New Vegas’ Vault 11: Both games and vaults had access to the same mechanics, and yet the narrative determined which one was crappy and which one was held up for praise.

              FPS Style Games: Portal wouldn’t be half the amazing game it is without the story that accompanies it, as it’s very well-told, acted, and presented. Even a nonsensical one like Serious Sam is held together by the threat of an alien overlord, and it works because it’s played tongue-in-cheek.

              Arcade-style games: Even in their simplest form, they have who you are, who the bad guys are, and a nod to why you’re there. If it works, you have a franchise, because people not only love the game, they love the characters and what meager story they have. There’s a reason why everyone knows who Mario and Luigi are and what they do (largely rescuing someone or a kingdom from Bowser, which is the narrative) but Buzby? Not so much.

              I really think you’re off-base saying that judging a game on narrative is wrong, since it’s the why you’re shooting dudes and what your goals are supposed to be. If labeling every mook with a simple color and number on their foreheads works for you, great. For me and a lot of people here, that’s not enough.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “Okay, first off, the “˜stunt' analogy is…not a good one. Stunts enhance a movie, but they've never been the core of what a movie is or even a necessary function of one.”

      I see you arent familiar with hong kong movies.Stunts ARE the core of plenty of movies.

      1. Peter H. Coffin says:

        The comparison between Hong Kong action films and “game play is all” games seems a particularly fair one. They feel very similar to me. But even those films have spent more time on plot than a lot of game developers seem to.

      2. Deoxy says:

        Jackie Chan is a great example of this. I break up his films into “Jackie Chan films” and “films with Jackie Chan in them”.

        The latter group are generally pretty good (Rush Hour, for instance).

        The former and generally quite enjoyable for the stunts, and the plots are… um, poor, if you are being generous (there are a few exceptions, but even those have LOTS of cliches and stereotypes).

  16. Steve C says:

    I just (as in a few mins ago) finished F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin. Now that is a poster child of a terrible ending. Perhaps the worst ending of any game I’ve ever played.

    I don’t know what happened. Not in a “What did this all mean?” kind of way (which is something they were obviously going for to some extent,) but in a “WTF just happened?” kind of way. I couldn’t tell. There were flashes, hallucinations and the color pallet made it hard to tell what was going on. The parts I did understand were unsatisfying. Whatever… I just don’t care.

    I already own FEAR 3. It’s unlikely I’ll play it. I heard it wasn’t as good as 2 and 2 didn’t impress me in any way but did leave a bad taste in my mouth as an ending.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Ive never bothered with any of the sequels.To me,the only draw of 1 was the enemy ai.Everything else(the story,the art direction,the BOO scenes)was just meh.And from what Ive heard about the sequels,they dropped the only thing that interested me,and focused on the rest.

      Any comment like yours just makes me glad about my decision to not waste time on the franchise.

    2. I own the FEAR games on Steam. I remember liking the first one, and I vaguely recall the second one being kind of a re-hash of it (filling in backstory, I think), and I honestly can’t recall the third.

      Other than the same setup for identical mooks coming after you, what was 3 about and/or why did it stink?

  17. Alan says:

    A story is a trapeze act. At the start the author throws you into the air. You soar, are weightless, and thrill of the barely controlled fall. But you expect the author to catch you in the end.

    (Not an original idea, I cribbed it from somewhere and sadly forgot the source. But it stuck with me. Like all metaphors it breaks down under scrutiny, but for me it captures an essence. “Catch” doesn’t necessarily mean a happy ending.)

  18. Dev Null says:


    “sometimes you want a challenging emotional experienced where you’ve got some agency”

    (Or too-clever-for-me reference to the column name…)

  19. Dev Null says:

    there’s an expectation that the end should tie together all the gameplay elements.

    Personally, I think this is often part of what they get wrong. To drag it back to 8th-grade English; the ending of the game isn’t the climax, it’s the denouement. The climactic final battle / moment of the game probably should tie together a fair bit of the gameplay elements… but the game should keep _going_ after that, and it doesn’t have to try to tie up the plot with a firefight. Wrap up the story with _story_, not gameplay.

    1. Tizzy says:

      Agreed. But I blame movies for being the first to blur that particular line and neglect the denouement.

  20. Mephane says:

    Since the article mentioned Deus Ex:HR – I started it again this weekend, only to find another way an entire day has been wasted with it. I always quite liked the story, even the ending which I chose (the button thing was stupid but I could ignore that and just enjoy the final cutscene).

    I had completely forgotten how borked the XP mechanics in that game are. Like, you are supposed to get into some facility and retrieve an item or some data. Get past cameras, guards, traps, sneak through tunnels, find codes to unlock doors etc. Cool.

    But the game punishes you for all those things. Using passcodes voids the XP to be had from hacking a device. Sneaking past a guard gives you nothing, shooting them dead gives you some xp, knocking them out gives you more, knocking them out with your bare hands gives you substantially more.

    I wanted to do play stealthy this time, after doing the cover-based shooter approach the last time, only to find myself compelled to sneak up to and knock out every single guard because, hey, thats several dozen free XP standing around. I’ve had entire rooms that I managed to get to the other side unseen, only to turn around and think “hey, those are 500 XP I am wasting if I just continue the mission”.

    It completely broke the game for me. The annoying part is that many of those things could be avoided. Taking out a guard could simply yield the same XP regardless of the way you do it – just do it the way that fits your style or the situation. Opening a door or unlocking a computer with a keycode you just stole could simply reward the same XP that you would have received from hacking it. And getting through an area undetected could simply reward you the XP for every guard that is still alive but hasn’t seen you.

    I don’t suppose there is a mod that does all that?

    1. Grudgeal says:

      You mean like a system like the original or in Bloodlines? I haven’t been able to find anything so far, but I’d really like that too. Nothing ruins my immersion quite like the game taunting me to game the system.

      And the worst part is, the most XP-expensive route — going in all guns blazing, is the path that paradoxically awards the least XP, but also the one that’s the most optimal for taking down the boss fights. DX: HR had some really weird priorities in places.

    2. That’s why in Fallout games, until I hit the level cap, I try to hack the terminal AND pick the lock on the safe so I get XP from both. :)

    3. IFS says:

      If you ghost a level (sneaking past everyone without ever getting noticed) then you get a solid chunk of XP, which does address part of your problem although admittedly its a bit too much of an extreme. I’d say that the game dumps so much XP on you in general though that a bit lost here or there is more tolerable than it would be in some other games.

      1. MrPyro says:

        The thing is you can Ghost the level while doing takedowns on all the guards; if you do a takedown from behind then the guard is not classed as seeing you for the purposes of the Ghost award (even if they look at you during the cutscene).

        Therefore the most XP optimal route is to do non-lethal stealth takedowns on all the guards, netting you the individual XP for all the takedowns and the Ghost XP.

    4. Vermander says:

      I’ve said it before, but that game is a great example of why traditional boss fights are becoming obsolete. I think Alpha Protocol was an even worse example. It really takes me out of the game when suddenly shooting a guy in the face at point black with a shotgun has no effect and the only way to beat him is to shoot a series of panels in a particular order or whatever.

      1. Grudgeal says:

        At least Alpha Protocol’s bosses worked from a narrative perspective. I can still remember Marburg, Brayko and Deng as characters. DX:HR’s bosses were just SUDDEN CYBORG SUPERSOLDIER OUT OF NOWHERE and received neither properly integrated gameplay nor any narrative justification.

  21. Mephane says:

    Clearly the worst cliffhanger ending of all times is the one in Half Life 2 Episode 2.

    1. That’s kind of Schrodinger’s Half-Life Ending.

      Until Valve either releases HL2P3/HL3 or announces they never will, HL2P2’s ending is both the worst and the best cliffhanger at the same time. Until the data is officially decided, its non-resolution or segue into a lackluster sequel dooms it, or the awesomeness of the next game makes it an amazing lead-in to one of the best games of all time.

      It’s quantum computer games, guys! :)

  22. Ilseroth says:

    Want to talk about bad endings, one I experienced first hand without spoilers was Spore. As opposed to other people i hadn’t really heard the hype, I just found the creature creator before launch and decided to pick up the game when it did launch.

    As someone who rarely plays strategy games, I actually really enjoyed it… Sure a lot of the strategy elements were underdeveloped but i had a lot of fun. so eventually I got strong enough to get to the ending, which for the record requires a lot of effort. Getting to the center of the universe is a massive pain in the ass since they have a feature that the closer you get the smaller distance your ship can jump. On top of that the entire center of the universe is completely clogged with the aggressive race that attacks on sight.

    Now that I have done things like, heck how other people did it I know I could have done it much more cavalier and bolt of the center, or tricking the hostile race, or so on so forth, but no I fought. One system at a time.

    Eventually I got to the center, dozens of warning messages flashing informing of my colonies collapsing under the weight of the enemy empire (the only significant losses my species has had in war) and then I got that non-ending.

    I’ll put it in spoiler text even though I am sure noone cares.
    A gentleman in the center of the universe gives you a silly talk about the meaning of life, then hands to a magic rod that can instantly terraform a planet. An effort that takes practically no time at this advanced stage of the game, which also has limited uses…

    So I get the ending, the game boots me up and thankfully it was kind enough to port me out of the center (I think? maybe I died) but sure enough nothing is resolved. My empire is in shambles from the evil species counter attack, all the forward colonies are being ravaged and even some of my further back ones. There is no method of defending against an attack proper unless you are present so this ruined the game for me as now I had a neverending flood of warning messages.

  23. MrGuy says:

    I think a lot of this comes down to expectations.

    Let’s say you’re going to see a Michael Bay movie. You’re expecting a lot of explosions, improbably attractive “scientists” wearing very little clothing, a plot that’s incredibly contrived but serves to keep the tension up and move the action from place to place where the ‘splosions can happen, a shoehorned love story, and an ending where the guy gets the girl while saving the world.

    And that’s fine. Sometimes that’s what you want to see. It’s mindless, escapist FUN.

    Sometimes you don’t need a meticulously choreographed long take, or beautiful use of light and shadow, or complex three-dimensional characters. You know what you’re getting into from the trailer, and if it’s 10 minutes into the movie and you don’t understand what’s what, you’re not paying attention. It’s formula and spectacle over high are, but hey, it’s my $10, and that’s what I want to see some times.

    The reason people get all worked up about bad endings is (to me) the departure from those expectations. You’ve built up “what this game is and what it’s about.” And if they player is into what your game’s about, they’re having fun, and everything is great. If I’m into Borderlands, it’s because I like shooting lots of dudes with improbable weapons. If I’m into Thief, it’s because I’m into the thrill of sneaking. If I’m into Deux Ex, it’s because I’m into the idea of creating my own playstyle through the game. If I’m into Tetris, it’s because I like catchy music and colored blocks.

    When you come to wrap up your game, you need to be true to what got you there, or your audience will hate it, no matter how “good” or “bad” that ending would be taken standalone. If the last 30 minutes of the Michael Bay movie had the hero leave the military, and spend his time chasing the girl, and we focus on their quirky, up-and-down relationship, full of misunderstood unusual situations and a possible breakup, but then they get together in the end, then I’m really, really pissed. What happened to my ‘splosions? Where’s the “saving the world!” payoff? This would be a great ending for a romantic comedy. Heck, it might be a really GOOD ending to a romantic comedy. But it’s not the movie I signed up for.

    You don’t have to have a complex story, but if you do, I expect you to wrap it up in a way that makes the complex story make sense. You don’t have to be non-stop action, but if that’s what you’re about, your ending has to be action packed. You don’t have to be The Chosen One to save the world, but if you go that route you better save the world at the end.

    1. Purple Library Guy says:

      Actually, I think it would be pretty hilarious if you had a Chosen One and he ended up just kind of kicking back and having some brews, going bowling with The Dude or whatever. But it would have to be deliberately played for the comedy, making it a different kind of film rather than just an accidental mismatch.

    2. I didn’t like the end to Borderlands because it built up the whole “vault hunter” thing, and in the end it was just a boss fight with Nintendo-style “shoot the glowy and dodge when the glowy is covered up” mechanic, completely unlike the rest of the game, pretty much. And then no vault. For no apparent reason.

      I think that’s why the DLC was so liked: It was more of the ridiculous shootin’ dudes and what have you, which is what people came for (and multiplayer, I guess).

  24. Zekiel says:

    With a really good movie or book, you’re kind of sad when it ends, but if the ending is powerful, moving and/or clever enough you can be satisfied.

    With a good game, even if the ending is powerful, moving and/or clever, you still have to deal with the fact that the gameplay – presumably one of the principle reasons you enjoyed the game – has now finished.

    That’s why I really appreciate games that have some sort of challenge mode which you can play after you’ve finished the story (a la Arkham Asylum, Bioshock 2 etc) because is allows you to continue enjoying the gameplay after the splendid story has concluded.

  25. Darren says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t bring up Neverwinter Nights 2 (although Mask of the Betrayer kind of made up for it).

    Sometimes, however, I think that people can dislike endings for the wrong reasons. It shocks me, for instance, at how so many people find the ending to Red Dead Redemption to be awful, when I found it to be one thing the game absolutely nailed.

  26. Dragomok says:

    Yaaay, you’re linking to your wonderful Fable II again!

  27. Mike S. says:

    A couple of weeks ago, I attended a performance of “All Our Tragic”, an incredibly ambitious and largely successful effort to combine all the surviving Greek tragedies into a single play. The performance is twelve hours long (including breaks), and against all reasonable expectations manages to stay engaging throughout. (One critic observed that in the future, he’s going to be a lot less tolerant of mere three hour plays that make him restless towards the end.)

    But the final act is arguably a little weaker than the rest of the show, and the author was at least aware of the possibility: Heading into the home stretch, Odyssa (gender-swapped Odysseus) leans on the fourth wall to say, “If you read a 1,200 page book and only liked 1,150 pages of it, would that stop you from recommending that book to acquaintances?”

    In the case of that particular play, it absolutely wouldn’t. (And if you’re in the Chicago area, they’re remounting it next summer.) But it’s also true that there are stories that really are retroactively poisoned for me by their endings. I haven’t been able to get up the interest in rewatching the Battlestar Galactica reboot, whose early seasons I found fascinating, for example.

    I think that for me, part of it depends how much the story hinges on its ending. For a story that’s fundamentally episodic, it’s a lot easier to separate the ending from everything else. All of Star Trek TOS isn’t much affected by the fact that various characters have dumb (dropped a bridge on Kirk) or bizarre (Spock dies, is resurrected, then decades later winds up in the past of a parallel universe guiding an alternate version of his younger self) endings to their arcs, because none of the individual stories really hook into that.

    The sitcom How I Met Your Mother had all sorts of serialized pointers to the future that either failed to pay off or paid off badly in the finale. But most of its episodes are self-contained enough that that’s an annoyance rather than a dealbreaker.

    But BG spent so much effort sowing and playing out mysteries that when you know the truth about the Cylons’ nature and identities, or Earth, or various prophetic events, etc. it’s really hard to separate that out. (Which is fine if you liked the ending, not so much if you didn’t.)

    I suspect that’s one reason that I like Mass Effect more than the average here. The Reapers were always a plot device to me. I never thought they should be directly confronted, but if they were then the means of their defeat had to be pretty arbitrary given how they were set up. (I was still (very) disappointed in how it played out, but it was something I could mostly wall off from the stuff I cared about.) But it was certainly marketed as an epic hinging on the Fate of the Galaxy, and so it’s understandable that badly resolving the fate-of-the-galaxy plot killed the game for so many people.

    On the other hand, does anyone really care that much about how well the main plot works in, say, an Elder Scrolls game? If it’s a dumb plot, it’s a dumb plot, but it tends to be more or less independent of the plot to become head of the [X] Guild, or serving various crazy Daedra, or becoming the most important person in a given two-bit town. Some are good, some are bad, but none of them really have the power to completely alter most people’s feelings about the game.

  28. kdansky says:

    > I’ve never liked the “who cares about story, games are about gameplay!” defense. That’s like saying the plot of a movie doesn’t matter as long as the stunts are good.

    You just equated the core thing that makes games games (their interactivity) with a minor window dressing detail in movies (namely stunts). Of course you can make a movie without stunts, but if you make a game without play, then it’s not a game any more, it’s just a movie or book. A visual novel with no choices (these actually exist) is literally a book with pictures (and not a game), as its name reflects.

    I care about the game part in my games, because if I didn’t, I’d be watching movies instead. On a further note, you can make games without narrative without any problems whatsoever. In fact, I’d claim narrative gets in the way a lot of the time. Last of Us is okay, but Tetris and Chess will be around in a hundred years still.

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