Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Great video game endings - a lost art

Makers of the lost art.

Just say NO to 'Glitter.'
Just say NO to 'Glitter.'

That's how I feel when I sit through a two, three-hour movie, dragged to the edge of my seat and thrown back into my recliner. A great ending is one of the best parts of a movie. For me and others, it's the payoff. A great ending? The ultimate payoff.

Now, think about how you felt after seeing Gigli, Glitter or Battle of Los Angeles. They can leave you steaming like broccoli on a Viking oven. You think about how much you just spent to see it (God forbid if you had to spring for a date), you think about the two hours you won't get back, then you think "Who greenlighted this garbage?!"

Usually, you are out just $15 max on a horrible flick. However, when you invest $60 in a video game, countless hours playing it - and the ending is broken, or the multiplayer is meh, the letdown can ignite anger.

An awesome ending can literally erase all of the flaws, warts and the like of a meh video game. Nail the ending and all is often forgiven. Botch an ending - on a mediocre video game and you may be out of a job.

Most video games end ok. A lot of recent games end make you think 'Why did I just play this again?' Only a few - notably the two Mass Effect games, Legend of Zelda series and most recently Gears of War series end in classy form. There's no denying if their studios wanted to end the series right there, the games can stand the test of time. They are great games that could easily spawn another game - or two - or three.

Here are five things developers should NOT to with video game endings.

1. Don't end the game to meet a deadline.

Blow your budget - you have already. Don't release a half-polished turd and expect rave reviews. Put in the work to make the game shine. And make sure the ending works - and will stand if your studio gives up the ghost or if the world loves your work and can't wait for the next installment.

Chief offender: Duke Nukem Forever

2. Don't end the game with a sequel in mind.

Too Human

When a game ends without the chief antagonist getting the end of my katana or my Desert E, I smell a sequel. No. End it. Spawn a new title off something else. Don't just have me play through the game, hit pause and see i have 99 percent complete and my main foe is blasting off in a spaceship. No, don't leave me hanging. I have played hours through this game and you send the enemy packing. Urgh, no. Tie up the loose ends in that game. Please, oh please, for the love of Odin, do that, devs!

Chief offender: Too Human

3. Don't end the game so you can make money off _______ (insert your thought here).

These days, more and more developers and publishers are trying to make more money off consumers. They will release downloadable content - which should have been on the game to start off with - and force you to pay for it. What's worse is - content that we pay to unlock that's ALREADY ON THE DISC! That's just wrong. Don't you want to keep your customers? Follow the greedy path and you'll end up like Colecovision.

Chief offender: Burnout Paradise

4. Don't make me play through a campaign for a meh ending.

I have had more of these than I can count. You have invested hours - yes, hours - into a video game, unlocked mad stuff, then when the final boss battle comes, you defeat your foe but look back on the game and have no sense of a payoff. I play video games to escape, yes, but after an ending that leaves a lot to be desired, I just shake my head sometimes. Is it too much to ask, devs, if I am going to play this game for over 20 hours, please give me an ending worthy of my time. Don't just leave me wondering "Wait, did that just happen?!"

Chief offender(s): Call of Duty: Black Ops, Blacksite: Area 51, Dead Island

5. Make us want to play it again, Sam.

There are a handful of video games that make me want to pick it right back up after playing it for hours. This. This is what a developer should aim for. Replay value. Make an ending so awesome that I'll immediately want to play through it again. Engage players so much that they have to take a breath after finishing a tough boss. Make people love your game so much that they will keep coming back to your game, years after the game is played out.

Chief offender: Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, Gears of War 3

Bonus: Don't make a game that forces me to choose an ending I didn't sign up for.

I just played your game. I have chosen the good path. At the end, I decide to make a stupid decision. Please, please, PLEASE. Let me make that stupid decision. Life is filled with decisions. A person can decide to live a good life for 20 years, and one day decide to experiment with drugs. He dies. It was a fatal choice. If you do NOT let me make that choice, my ending isn't really my ending. It's an ending you choose for me. No, thanks. If I want to dress in drag and play the hula, let me. It's my life.

Chief offender: Infamous 2

An awesome ending - be it in a movie or a good video game, is truly a lost art.

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