Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On Endings

Joystiq is celebrating the year-end with a piece entitled "Telling Stories: What's Up With Lame Endings?" (link) in which they ask story-writers for games to chat about delivering satisfying endings to stories.

The most interesting section has them talking to David Gaider, who's apparently doing the work on Bioware's Dragon Age: Origins. Bioware is generally known for some of the most fantastic game finales in the business, with Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect being two stand-out examples, which makes Gaider's comments all the more baffling.

"Endings [...] get the shaft when it comes to development time. It would be nice if we could go and do the ending earlier in development so that it's as complete and polished as every other part of the game, but that just never happens. Nail down the ending too early and you run the risk of the rest of the game catching up only to find that it needs to be ripped up and re-worked all over again. So [...] the ending gets pared down simply by way of the fact that it comes last."
This may be true from a gameplay perspective; the ending should be the culmination of the gameplay leading up to it, and if gameplay gets tinkered with you'll need to change the ending. You can imagine in something like Zelda that a change to the way the hookshot works might significantly impact on a final boss battle.

But that's not the sort of game Bioware does. They do story-driven RPGs. They have the luxury of doing narrative the right way - that is to say, have a meaningful ending and make sure that every aspect of the rest of the story serves to support that ending. And in fact that appears to be the way they've done things in the past - it's hard to imagine that any significant aspect of the KOTOR's story was developed before they knew how it was going to end.

Gaider also says:

I've seen many players disappointed that an ending "cut them off" from continuing to play, even without a guiding story or further changes to the world. While I doubt that would be as satisfying as they think it might be, I suspect that the feeling comes from a desire to see their personal narrative continue even if the story's narrative ends. They're involved in their character's fate and they don't want to see it end. Endings suck.
I think this is also a fundamental misunderstanding of the medium. What Gaider says may not be totally without base, but I think it's less about story and more about gameplay. Players want more of it. If you've created an engaging game world and a solid game enginge, players want to stay in it. They want to keep exploring the world, they want to keep interacting with the world, they want to finish mapping the game space. This is the same instinct that leads to fan-fiction - the urge to experiment with possibilities that were not engaged in the first instance.

It's important that stories have an ending, and that that ending be absolute, but it's equally important that an arbitrary ending not be brought to the user's play. Intelligent "extended play" or "new game plus" options don't take a lot of development time, comparitively speaking, and they're the sort of things that really help players feel like this is their their game and their world.

That's my Xmas Eve ramble. There'll probably be no post tomorrow, and possibly none on Boxing Day, but I'll see you all back from at least the 27th. Have a Merry Decemberween, everyone.

1 comment:

Morgan said...

I agree with you on this, and have noticed it in two titles recently: Fallout 3 and Far Cry 2. Admittedly, one could just start a new game of Fallout 3 and go where they want, but Far Cry 2 had such a build up.

*breaks down into tears*
I just want to keep playing it!

...moving on; who didn't want more when they finished GTA:IV? The obvious answer would be Hitler.

And it's probably the only answer.