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LONG BLOG

All Good Things: Neverending Stories OR Schrodinger's Sequel

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It's not unreasonable to commemorate the end of a much loved game series or bemoan the fact that it never reached a conclusion.  But for this month's 'Bloggers Wanted', I'd like to offer a counterpoint and argue that some stories are best left unfinished.

Ultraviolet - about as far removed from Buffy the Vampire Slayer as you can get.

A few years ago there was a series called Ultraviolet, not to be confused with the Milla Jovovich movie although both of them shared a vampiric theme.  It starred a pre-Hollywood Idris Elba who, scowling his way through the shows six episodes,  helped That's Life's Jack Davenport hunt down and contain rogue bloodsuckers. The show made little effort to paint the vampires as likeable characters, nor did it depict the hunters as being without sin.  It tackled various themes and although it didn't specifically end on a cliffhanger,  it was clear that the conflict was far from over.

However, when the show ended I was far from disappointed. I felt that to reach any kind of conclusion would have taken a further seven series and even then the show's ending may have been far from satisfactory. I consider the original  X-Files series to be a prime example of this, a series whose subplot was so grand in scale it ended up just fizzling out without any real resolution. In a similar fashion, there have been many games where I've found myself wishing they'd left events hanging, rather than concluding them in a lackluster manner.

Take Mass Effect 3, a game which attracted a great deal of flak due to the patchy and vague nature of its three ending sequences. These sequences were so controversial that the developers later went back and expanded upon them, filling in some of the plot holes. Yet I wasn't concerned by how little information the endings provided – I was disappointed by the fact they existed at all.  Mass Effect 3 had its moments but, by and large,  it negated all the choices I'd made up to that point, offering me a final choice that left me feeling utterly unempowered.

There's many a true word said in jest.

This was doubly insulting because the series had allowed me to make Commander Shepherd, the series' protagonist, my own. I'd tailored her appearance, directed her actions and made decisions that should have had huge ramifications for the galaxy. Sadly, in the end my choices mattered not one jot.  And Mass Effect is not the only series that I feel would have been better left unconcluded.

I was equally disappointed with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords,  for similar reasons. At the end of the first game, I had was given the option of having my character conquer or free the galaxy,  a choice which I heartily welcomed. And yet the second game told me that my character had clambered aboard a starship and headed off for parts unknown. I appreciate that it would have been a mammoth task for Obsidian, the game's designers, to create a game that took account of both of these decisions.

It's true that both of the games I've mentioned so far give the player a great deal of freedom, allowing them to make the main character their own. Yet I have similar concern about other games where the central character is more clearly defined, my sentiments extending to games that have yet to be released.

There have been rumblings that The Last Of Us is going to receive a sequel, actor Nolan North having stated he's been doing voice work for the game. The Last Of Us was one of the most impressive games I've played in a long time, sporting a spectacularly strong storyline and characters who I found myself actually giving two hoots about. While I feel that a sequel is somewhat unnecessary, I would still play a game that was set in the same post-apocalyptic world. Yet my fear is that the game will reveal what happened to Ellie and Joel after the original game's conclusion, something I have no desire to discover.

Joel just won't stop clawing the furniture.

This situation reminds me of nothing so much as 'Schrödinger's cat', a thought experiment which suggested that a cat in a box could be in a state of flux between life and death.  When I complete a title, I sometimes find myself imagining how the characters' lives might have continued beyond the confines of the game. At this point their fictional fates are uncertain, until the release of a sequel at which point the narrative box is opened and the character's fates become concrete.

Not having a sequel allows the characters to exist – conceptually, at least – in a kind of narrative no-place, where anything could happen. And in some cases that situation has proven infinitely preferable to the disappointing reality of a genuine follow-up.

So what's your view? Have you ever felt let down by a sequel because it failed to continue the narrative in a satisfying manner?  Did you balk at a developer's decision to disregard your previous decision?  Or are my expectations just too high? Comment below.

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About ChrisHannardone of us since 4:27 PM on 09.03.2015