How many times have you found yourself playing a game, investing a huge pile of hours into it, seeing the finale in sight, only to be smacked hard in the face with crippling disappointment? It’s like there’s an entire little cottage industry of game developers who are simply out there to make sure that the ending of games can be downright terrible. This is not to say that all games end badly. It just that those that do, really go full out with the atrociousness, to things that don’t even make sense in the world that the game has created.
I’d like to think that this is part of why I have such a difficult time finishing games (even though, as I’ve pointed out many times before, the real reason is that I get too easily distracted). Simply put, there are definitely games that are gripping, have a fantastic story, and, when you get to the end, the story is wrapped up nicely, with a fancy (and fulfilling) bow. There are also games that have the player fully within their thrall, only to leave a steaming pile of dung where an ending should go. Look at Mass Effect 3. It went from being one of the most anticipated games before release, to one of the most reviled after, largely because of the ending (full disclosure: I haven’t even finished ME2, so I can’t speak about the ME3 ending from personal experience). Meanwhile, a game like Bioshock Infinite has plenty of problems with the gameplay, but many people praise the way it ended.
Look, I get it. Gaming is a multimillion dollar industry. Budgets are inflated, and, because it costs so much to make them, the need for profit is tantamount. If most gamers are like me (highly distractable), then this strategy makes perfect sense. Drop the big budgetary dollars on the first half of the game, knowing that most people will never get to the end. It’s only when you’ve got a perfect, gripping, complete story to tell should you even worry about seeing how the product ends. But the thing is, most gamers AREN’T like me, or, at least, I’d hope not. I’d like to believe that most gamers actually DO see the ending to most of the games that they play. Which means that there’s a chance of people being disappointed by the end result. And don’t think that having a fun and exciting experience elsewhere in the game makes up for it. That’s what The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion did, and gamers responded by crafting a mod that strips out the main storyline entirely.
It also shouldn’t matter if you’re producing a game as a big studio, or if you’re coming from an indy background. I just recently finished playing Contrast, which was enjoyable (even if there really won’t be replay value), despite some random glitchiness. However, the ending left with a relatively sour taste in my mouth. Not that it was bad, per se, it’s just that I was left wanting more. Not more game, but more explanation. I was hoping for something that actually fleshed out the story I’d just played through, but instead, it felt little more than a “Well Done Player!” type of screen. It’s hard to tell if the developers ran out of story, ran out of money, or truly felt that they’d completed the tale they had to tell, but it left me wishing that they’d done something more. I mean, there are hints throughout about characters, but it’s all very basic colors, with no real deep shading to help make things more alive.
It’s hard to balance the need for story with budget, and to tie it all together into a strong, viable package without relying on deus ex machina, but it’s important. Because, when your players get to the end of the story into which they’ve invested their time, they deserve a little more of an ending than the video game equivalent of “Rocks fall, everybody dies”.
Y’know, unless the game is set around trying to cause the events in 127 Hours.