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Article - 'Game Endings' by Guest

An item about Game Design posted on Aug 8, 2003

Blurb

About time, you say?

Body

Hello, and welcome to my newest article on game development- making endings. During this I hope to explain my feelings on various styles and methods of endings, and hopefully help you determine what is right for your upcoming game.

Endings have many uses, chief of them being of course the final of your grand lil RPG. However, endings are tied very closely to the story, and for good reason- the player not only [in most cases] learns the fate of the various characters, but also quite possibly learns greater things such as the movers and shakers deep underneath the simple surface of the storyline, as well as the general themes of the game. Good care must be taken when designing the ending to a game, as disappointing endings can certainly turn off players from giving good reviews and playing the game twice. Your ending/s will reflect heavily on your ability as a story writer, so keep that in mind as you do your best to design something unique and entertaining.

To begin, I want to explain the three most common types of endings to RPGs and their advantages and disadvantages, as well as what you should focus on to bring out the full potential of each ending.

I. Everything Is Fixed and Better
I find these endings seem to clog most early RPGs I played as a kid, as well as RPGs created by inexperienced storywriters. Basically, the hero and his party defeat the villain and thus solve nearly if not all problems- the great world threat is ended and the world is saved, and all subplots are typically explained completely and clearly by the ending. Other possibilities include a love interest for the hero blooms into a full relationship, a second love interest goes between two otherwise dull characters, world peace is achieved under one rightful and wonderful nation of justice (notice its a nation, not an empire; empires are typically tied to evil and failure by cliché), and/or the hero or a main character becomes the leader of the single unified world. The party is recognized as heroes for their valiant deeds, everyone departs and lives happily under the sun, the evil dragon is slain, Mekesss eats a candy bar, yada yada yada. As you can see, this sort of ending can seem way too positive and happy for most people- no one plays an RPG expecting to have all the party’s aspirations fulfilled, and if that does occur the player will feel the story is cheap and nonsensical. To remedy an ending such as this, take several measures such as creating deep character subplots to add layers to the main story. One of my favorite ways to add depth and remove cliché is to purposely find and implement odd plot twists and changes; an example would be that, instead of the hero becoming king of the world, a scholarly semi-main character with personality flaws and a few minor roles in the story takes the position. Now although this is totally unforeseen by the player, I can change that and make it a pinch more predictable by adding clues along the story in small ways- that character could always try to assume power, or could be very popular or a very clever leader. However, the important thing is that I keep with the main theme of the ending by showing the hero’s acceptance of the unexpected event, as well as the hero’s gratitude of what he goes on to do instead- after he’s slain a vile dragon, no hero’s going to be plucking turnips at a local farm. That is a strong key point with any ending you make- always try to make the characters move onto something they want to do, so as to show them receiving even a small reward for their grand quest.

II. The Anti-Cliché
These sorts of endings seem quite popular with RM2K and other amateur games, and for good reason. Fearing that they cannot write a cliché ending to their otherwise-wonderful game, the gamemakers instead choose to have one final stupid plot twist at the end of the game- instead of the hero ascending to a good place (e.g. Marrying his love interest, becoming king of the world nation, or basically anything that would stomp flat any option of questing), the hero turns it down to take what many view as the low road (e.g. Running off to no place in particular with a buddy or two just to go questing, or turning down the love interest because of a newly-arisen ‘lone wolf’ instinct). In my opinion this sort of ending can be as horrible as a cliché one- it shows the gamemaker having put little effort into thinking up a more original finish. To remedy this, I would encourage editing the story itself to thrust the hero into the desired situation- perhaps the hero is charged with crime and thrown in jail for a depressing ending, or perhaps the hero leaves to continue hunting for the villain, who is thought dead by all except the wisdom-full hero. As map designers will tell you, forests aren’t shaped like boxes; likewise, stories aren’t meant to be neat and trimmed to the needs of the game designer, but rather fit to the needs of the game player. Thus, the story must look, sound, and ultimately feel natural and smooth, with clearly-expressed transitions from one part of the story to the next. And by pulling off the Anti-Cliché, you’re just drawing another unloved box forest.

III. Everything In the Gutter
Ah yes, and now a warped version of the above-mentioned ending. This ending takes the Anti-Cliché to an extreme- the hero may ultimately complete his goal, but in turn something tragic like world destruction or the death of the lover occurs. Some gamemakers take pride in endings like this, believing they’ve truly done something majestic and steeped in tragedy and originality- the theme is of the small joy and greater sadness occurring simultaneously, yet that may not be what the player picks up. Gutter endings can truly disappoint a player if executed like a bad Anti-Cliché. The remedy to this kind of ending is to make a driving force of motive and reason behind all the bits and pieces of your machine- namely, make it believable in all instances. Try to make the world destruction believable and somewhat foreseeable,

ALEX: Whahey, we destroyed the Evil Moon Castle! Now the Arch Villain cannot destroy the world with the forbidden magic!
AV: LIES! I HAVE SECRAT MOON KEY SO YOU = TEH DEAD KTHX.
ALEX: … the hell? When did you get that key? That’s not fair!
AV: TOUGH SHIT NOW GO PLUCK TURNIPS OR SOMETHIN >8-)))))

The above example is ridiculous to make you laugh folks, so LAUGH DAMNIT. But, the main point being illustrated is that Ending 3 can possibly be executed like a sucker punch, which isn’t a good thing. One of the biggest rules of stories is that everything must play fair- essentially, this means that everything must be backed by motive and explanation. If this rule is broken, and some bit of plot/story isn’t explained or justified, the player will feel rejected, cheated, and mostly angry. So then, always remember the driving law of reason and this ending should do fine.

---Multiple Endings

Generally most RPGs are very linear, with a fixed storyline of events that must happen no matter what. Although this generally is okay, most people agree that linear games are more boring to play through twice than non-linear games; however, the key problem with non-linear games is that they typically lack the deep storylines of linear games. Multiple endings are one of the proven remedies to extreme cases of linearity- although they don’t help reduce linearity too much, they are easy to employ and also make the game more professional looking and original. Multiple endings for a game typically consist of ‘the good one’, ‘the bad one’, and ‘the mediocre one/s’. Thus, players are provoked to work their hardest towards the goal of the good ending, just to maximize their playing experience [and possibly gain bragging rights]. Because of this, multiple endings will help encourage players to bury themselves into your game’s side quests, secrets, and dialogue. Following is a short list of tips to making multiple endings, as well as making any ending in general.

-Keep the number of endings below 5 or so. Also, make sure to diversify the endings from each other so as to truly individualize each ending. These two steps, when done properly, will make each ending special and unique. Besides, no one is going to play some game 10 or more times to see every damn ending.
-Make your endings long and interesting! I think a good length for any ending is around 10 minutes of cinema.
-You don’t need nice graphics to make an ending, but they sure help! I’d recommend AT LEAST having the character/s walk and move about, acting out the last scenes of the game without the player pressing a button, if possible (I think players feel the ending is more ‘out-of-their-control’ when it plays on its own; for example, when dialogue boxes close automatically without the player’s expressed consent). If you wish to really spice up the ending (Which you probably do), you’ll want to consider making endings with pretty pictures, or possibly making a huge pretty cinema. That’ll truly help your game’s ending stand out and look special.
-Make your story/ending natural in feeling to the player- everything must be fully explained and rational in thought. If you fail to do this, the player will feel rejected and cheated out of a good game, and thus will probably dump your game with a bad rating.
-Just like when making an intro to your game, you should make sure not to overfill your ending with dialogue- endings are all about pretty visuals and a climatic finish. Another concept you can use is making your ending mysterious- that is, don’t solve all the questions about the story or plot in one large narrative at the finish. If you have a truly complex storyline, try this out- show clues about the major villains and secrets of the game in side quests! For example, perhaps the player will find a mysterious diary in the sewers of the villain’s former home; however, the diary’s owner’s name is not found anywhere in it. The player can read it and learn all sorts of things about the villain, yet won’t understand until having finished the game! Another possibility is that these sorts of events will convince the player to go through your game TWICE, a real honor for an amateur game maker like you. I call all non-professional companies ‘amateur’, so the 20-some guys making sequels to FF7 shouldn’t be offended, XD.
-Make sure to always have the driving force of reason and motive in your ending. And no, it doesn’t hurt to have that when you’re writing the story and plot, heh heh.