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theend0

Technology is a relentless beast, careening forward at breakneck speeds. Hell, when I first activated my iPhone, I immediately received a text message from Apple letting me know that there was a new model coming out later that afternoon.

Gamers know this all too well. Particularly when it comes to software, we find ourselves drenched by a constant deluge of new titles. Even an enthusiast, with nothing but time to play games, cannot play all of the latest and greatest that our favorite hobby has to offer.

Combine the overabundance of new releases with the eternal need to “keep up with the Joneses”, and you have a recipe for constant pressure to leave games unfinished. Players are constantly quitting games before reaching the end, simply to be able to say that they experienced the next big thing.

How has this trend influenced the course of game development? Follow me over the jump to explore how game resolutions continue to be one of the medium’s greatest failings and opportunities.

I’m not a completionist by definition, but I am very adamant about seeing games through to the end. The cranky old man in me wants to chastise these capricious gamers who leave their plates half-full; Don’t they know that there are bored gamers in developing countries who would kill for the gameplay hours they’re wasting?

While it pains me to admit it, I really can’t mount a compelling argument against gamers who don’t finish what they started. As a player who has to see things through to the bitter end, I can say with certainty that they’re really not missing out. The ending to 95% of the games out there are unfulfilling, terribly executed, or simply non-existent.

When it comes to bad video game endings, I clearly remember my first close encounter of the truly disappointing kind. I’ve never been the best player of shmups, but I faithfully sank hour after hour into beating the 1984 NES release of the arcade port of 1942.

After working furiously for weeks to master 32 torturous levels of bullet hell, I finally conquered my foe. Ecstatic from victory, I waited to be regaled as the victorious hero. Imagine my frustration as a nine-year-old boy when, after all that effort, I was greeted with a black screen where a single word appeared.

Really, Capcom? You couldn't even give me the "S"???

In the arcade era of gaming, it made sense to focus design on keeping players from finishing a game, in order to maximize the number of quarters that gamers were feeding the machines. But, jump forward in time 25 years to the console age, and, sadly, very little has changed. Games continue to lack the payoff that players crave for their efforts. Even games tailor-made for storytelling regularly fall short.

Obsidian, the developers for KotOR II, got handed a fish-in-a-barrel style opportunity. They had an IP rich in story, and a fine example to follow in Bioware’s critically acclaimed Knights of the Old Republic.

Despite receiving good reviews, the game’s ending was widely panned for being incomplete and rushed. So much so, that gamers took it upon themselves to fix the ending to KotOR II to their satisfaction. If you doubt that game endings are truly important to gamers, I encourage you to google The Sith Restoration Project.

With the proliferation of XBL, PSN, and Steam, tracking progress and achievements has become much easier. Developers now have more data than ever available to analyze how gamers are playing through their titles. After the release of Half-Life 2: Episode One, Valve ran some numbers and determined that only 50% of players even reached the final level of the game. This statistic is very telling, given that HL 2: Ep. One averaged around only 4 hours to complete.

Game studios, armed with this knowledge, now feel freer than ever to play fast and loose with their development cycle. If a huge portion of your audience isn’t playing the ending, a fully fleshed out and satisfying resolution to your product can rapidly drop down your priority list as you progress into crunch time. From a financial standpoint, it’s hard to blame the industry for frontloading their titles.

Chicken or egg time: did developers continue to ignore crafting solid endings because gamers don’t play through to completion? Or, did gamers stop playing a title to the end because they learned, over time, that only disappointment awaited them?

It’s my contention that the latter argument is more true. In discussing this topic with other gamers, the argument arose that the lack of solid endings is really just a subset of the overall lack of well-implemented storytelling in games.

Sure, storytelling overall needs more TLC from game developers, but even this point doesn’t account for the massive amount of fail present in the back-end of countless games. Even a revolutionary title like Bioshock, which has done more to push forward storytelling in the FPS genre than any game in recent years, fell short in its resolution. The experience was mind blowing, but in the end, 2K Boston still left the money on the nightstand and snuck out the back door.

Gamer feedback is overwhelmingly positive when a developer goes above the (perceived) call of duty to give the total package to their audiences. Even though they are the exception to the rule, there are a handful of games that stand out.

"Y'all come back and see us, ya hear?"

Persona 4 is a wonderful example of craftsmanship in game resolution. Regardless of which ending the player achieves, the level of closure present in the storytelling is phenomenal. The player can visit with each of the characters they’ve grown close to over the course of roughly 80 hours of playtime, sharing final thoughts and expressions of sentiment.

In my youth I moved around a great deal, and had to periodically say goodbye to friends and acquaintances I had grown fond of. Persona 4 captured this emotion perfectly, and the feeling that I had upon finally leaving Inaba is one of the things that immediately comes to mind when I think about the game today. That’s an important component of a gaming experience. The greats in any medium are mainly defined by the degree of feeling we experience when recalling them.

More recently, Dragon Age: Origins is another title that illustrates the strength of this approach. It is similar to Persona 4 in that the player gets to interact with all the major characters from the story and commiserate about how their journey has impacted them.

After this, the game concludes by informing the player about how their actions have shaped the world they travelled in. Every major plot point is explored, providing insight into the new direction that the land of Ferelden has taken since the gamer left their mark on it.

This sense of a persistent world even after you’ve turned off the game is powerful. It keeps the story alive in the gamer’s mind, and also encourages multiple playthroughs. With rampant complaints about how the used-game market negatively impacts developer profits, including satisfying resolutions that entice the player to revisit the game, is a useful method for convincing gamers to hold on to their purchases for longer.

The importance of strong game resolutions is most apparent in the RPG genre, but it is worthwhile to note that nearly every genre of video game stands to benefit from an increased focus by developers in this area.

A great ending promotes a higher level of gamer affection and loyalty. A great ending reduces the impact of the used-game market on profits. A great ending creates consumer demand for sequels, and an increased likelihood that gamers will take a chance on new IPs from the same developer.

But most of all, a great ending…

  1. Awesome editorial, Sean. I must admit, I’m often one of those people that doesn’t finish games.

  2. This was a great read Sean! :-)

    I have to admit that I am one of those few people who see every game I play through to the very end. Unfortunately this means I don’t get to play as many games as I like, or I rush through games.

    There are some cases where seeing a game through to the end is very rewarding, like Mass Effect and Modern Warfare. I loved the end game on both of those games. Then there are games like Borderlands where the ending just makes you want to throw your mouse and keyboard in anger.

  3. Great article. Love Persona 4, although in some ways I feel that its worst ending tied things up better than its other two. At the same time I feel really saddened about the end of that game, knowing I’m not likely to be able to see all of those characters in another game again and be able to catch up with them.

  4. I’m in perfect agreement with both Shawn and Sean! I finish every single game I start!

    That’s not to say I don’t have a pile of games I haven’t started yet…

  5. While I can’t say I finish every game I start, I do finish the majority. Whether it takes me a week to finish or 2 years now thats a different story…

  6. Being a professional procrastinator and general “usually never finish the game I buy”, I found your piece entertaining. But I’ll be honest with you, I rather they concentrate and everything else so that perhaps I would be motivated to that that fabled end.

    I think the number one reason why I don’t finish most of my games is that I grow bored easily with the same bullshit padding and fetch quests that most games have. Why do I want to force myself to play a game that I’m not having any fun with when there is a potentially great game waiting for me to dive in. A great ending is like a great period after a sentence. It’s the words before it that resonate, not the end.

    Example: Fallout 3 to me was a great game. Had a god awful ending but that doesn’t change the fact that it was great. Developers need to concentrate on making the playthrough of the game be as fresh and exciting as when you first boot it up. Then perhaps more of us “anti-game finishers” may see the end, whether good or bad.

    Good read walkyourpath. Glad to see you haven’t lost anything from the cblogs transition.

  7. @Jimbo — I agree about Fallout 3 being one of the best games of this generation despite the ending (you almost make your own story in that game), and also about developers needing to remove the fluff in the middle game.

  8. @Jimbo
    The God awful ending was fixed with Broken Steel: sure you had to pay for it, but still! :D

    • avatar Muhammad

      For your roll-under system, ietansd of modifying the target number, rate difficulty by what numbers are too low to count as a success. So in order to succeed you have to roll under your Mastery, and over the Difficulty. Example: Bringing the plane out of a spin is a Difficulty 5 challenge. Ace has Pilot at 16. His player needs to roll 6 to 16 on 3d6.Also consider not having variable difficulty. All rolls are done at Mastery without modifiers. Less ‘realistic’ but will make the game go really fast. See Empire of Dust for an example of this.Cheers!

    • avatar Rameswor

      I will try to include a qdaurant of the Azri Drakara sector in Issue 10, if that would help. It’s a new sector of my own creation, about eight sectors to rimward of Sol, and will be the de facto background for my infrequent Traveller products. Many of the elements are designed to be easy to transplant elsewhere, so hopefully, you’ll find something you can use.Of course, if someone else contributes something, we may have multiple astrogation articles going on. With Regards,Flynn

    • avatar Ahmed

      And where exactly did you get that info? The egnenis certainly get stressed a bit more than conventional ones due to the nature of Wankel, but there is constant improvement based on the evolution of the? design in all Mazda RXs. “Dying after a year”?!!? That’s Youtube comments for you.

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  9. Nice article, Sean. Typically I finish most of my games through to the end, although there are exceptions with what I’m willing to put up with.

    I think the expected disappointment at a game’s ending is probably a big factor in gamers stopping halfway. I know ever since I played Final Fantasy 8 as a kid I’ve have unrealisticly high expectations about game endings.

    But so often even people with realistic expectations don’t get what they paid for. Take Fable. I’ve steadfastly refused to play Fable 2 after witnessing that train-wreck of a narrative. Actually levelling up your hero advances your “natural aging” until you look like the buffest senior you’ve ever seen, and then you rescue your mother, who looks 20 years younger than you are? And on top of that, on top of all the intricate moralistic choices the game supposedly utilises, you get a black and white good/evil choice at the end of the game, which rewards you with a single picture saying if you chose good or bad? Gimme a break.

    Can anyone tell me if they did any better in Fable 2? ;)

  10. Fable 2 does a little better, in that you get a good/evil/neutral choice at the end, and there is a little follow through after the choice. But it doesn’t rank up there in the “to be emulated” category.

  11. I rarely complete most games, as I usually play a game until it’s not fun anymore and with a lot of games, that does not last until the end.

  12. avatar Gorath

    I have a box in my cupboard full of games, and I’d say I’ve finished maybe 30-40% of them? I’m a compulsive game buyer, and as this gen has seen older games drop in price ridiculously, I’ve been picking up many gems I missed, occasionally finishing some and retiring other to the box, lest they mock me from the shelf. One issue I did have is, due to staggered release dates, Australia got Persona 3 around the same time the US got FES, prompting me to put off playing it in order to get the full experience. Then Lo and behold, we get Persona 4 not long after that.

  13. avatar iheartbustamove

    Well I wonder if most gamers would feel fufilled if they solved a puzzle in a game and they were spirited off to an ancient spaceship possibly never to return to Earth again as a reward like the character Eli in Stargate Universe! Probably not because I don’t think he has access to any of the newest releases now – but he does have his fill of elaborate “real life” puzzles to figure out!

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