I was just listening to the latest episode of Podtoid in which they were discussing video game endings, how good they are and their favourite endings as well as unleashing their verbal fury at Americans in airports.
They discussed the idea that game endings have become progressively worse over the years and my thoughts on that echo what Jim said in the podcast, which was basically that video game endings have always been pretty poor. In the past most games would pit you against almost impossible odds only to give you an rudimentary and underwhelming screen with Ďcongratulationsí thrown along with the occasional poorly rendered 8-bit fireworks display but as production values of games have increased so have our expectations, unfortunately the majority of endings fail to meet these expectations.
In my opinion the reason the majority of endings usually fail to impress is because of the intention and motivation behind the game, from my personal experience it usually boils down to two approaches, the first is rare and to be honest probably not the most economically appealing approach -- to create a game with the intention of having it be one game where the story plays out to completion and nothing is held back, basically itís creating a self-contained game without any thought given to a sequel, the best example of this approach is Shadow of the Colossus. Itís clear from playing the game and experiencing the ending that there was absolutely no proposal to make the game part of a sequel and thatís why itís a satisfying experience. To some extent this can also be seen in Final Fantasy and Zelda games and is something that is supported by the formula of the games, because each of the games usually take place in their own self-contained world that remain disconnected from anything established in previous titles they have a satisfying ending, the stories are allowed run their full course as the following games arenít direct sequels. It is an undeniably risky approach but the payoff for the player is immense.
The second approach, and more widely used approach is to create a game with the intention of making it one part of a series of games, an example of this is Assassins Creed, Halo, Gears of War and to some extent Bioshock. These are games created with the goal of being a big-budget series; games such as these almost always have a thoroughly disappointing ending. Assassins Creed, Gears of War and Mass Effect are a few games among many that were created with this mind frame, more often than not they end up holding things back to use in the sequels and end in a lacklustre way in order to setup the next game. While it would be easy to point blame them for doing this it isnít entirely their fault, theyíre creating a game in a world where if you donít have mind blowing production values and market aggressively it will end up buried underneath the competition, it has become ridiculously expensive to make a successful game, a great idea and engaging gameplay just doesnít cut it anymore and for most developers and publishers the only way to keep going and remain economically stable is to succumb to the sequel approach.
Bioshock was an amazing game but most people would agree that towards the end it became everything that it had set out not to be, a derivative run of a mill shooter, the ending was one of the most anti-climactic moments in gaming history. Ken Levine told Kotaku that he wasnít too pleased with the way the endings played out;
Ď..it was never my intention to do two endings for the game. It sort of came very late and it was something that was requested by somebody up the food chain from me. Ď
When I finished the game I couldnít help but feel that the endings were crafted in order the leave the door to another Bioshock game open, I think I would have been more satisfied if the ending was a definitive and focused conclusion to the story as opposed the two situations that they showed.
Then again some games can do the sequel approach properly, its rare but it happens, the God of War and Metal Gear Solid games are examples of this and it is something that Valve have perfected and implemented successfully in the Half-Life games, although they conclude leaving the game open for sequels the endings are usually intriguing and well thought out cliff-hangers that create enough intrigue to keep people excited until the next game as opposed to frustrated like Gears of War or Halo 2 did.
I for one would like to see more one shot games that pack a punch, more Shadow of the Colossus type games and less money grabbing Assassins Creed type games, if you canít give me that at least take the time to write and craft a story and ending that will give us some sort of satisfaction, after the money we spend and time we invest I think we deserve it.