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Game Endings Going Out of Style? 190

An article in the Guardian asks whether the focus of modern games has shifted away from having a clear-cut ending and toward indefinite entertainment instead. With the rise of achievements, frequent content updates and open-ended worlds, it seems like publishers and developers are doing everything they can to help this trend. Quoting: "Particularly before the advent of 'saving,' the completion of even a simple game could take huge amounts of patience, effort and time. The ending, like those last pages of a book, was a key reason why we started playing in the first place. Sure, multiplayer and arcade style games still had their place, but fond 8, 16 and 32-bit memories consist more of completion and satisfaction than particular levels or tricky moments. Over the past few years, however, the idea of a game as simply something to 'finish' has shifted somewhat. For starters, the availability of downloadable content means no story need ever end, as long as the makers think there's a paying audience. Also, the ubiquity of broadband means multiplayer gaming is now the standard, not the exception it once was. There is no real 'finish' to most MMORPGs."
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Game Endings Going Out of Style?

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  • by ATestR ( 1060586 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @08:06AM (#30749036) Homepage
    Depends on the MMO... The one I am currently playing has LOTS of endings... and also lots of beginnings. As with any good game or story, it is composed of a whole bunch of substories, each of which can (somewhat) stand on its own to some extent, within the framework of the overall game.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @08:07AM (#30749042)

    "My real bug-bear are the games which eschew a real ending because they're angling for a sequel (or even an entire franchise), but never deliver on this."

    Oh, how I hate this. Games, movies and series increasingly often just stop mid-story, on the off chance they might be able to milk the IP for more money. The only thing you can do is not buy from big publishers. Medium/small ones usually know there won't be one or for some magical reason find a way to continue a finished story. Big corporations design the story as part of an IP portfolio that would lose value if they would ever finished it.

  • by ultral0rd ( 1595449 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @08:27AM (#30749136)
    You can compare gaming to the movie and TV industry. Games designed with no end in sight are like TV shows whose life is controlled by the interest of the public, where other games with definite endings could be compared to movies. Sure TV shows do give you that feeling of really getting to grips with the characters and the story, and lore.. But who turns down a great Movie for that dose of fast paced intense action? If gaming with set endings ever came to an end, it would truly be a horrible state of affairs for the gaming world. IMHO that feeling of "clocking" a game should never vanish.
  • by krou ( 1027572 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @08:28AM (#30749140)
    Completely agree. Sequels should be about fresh ideas and new stories, maybe reusing some old characters, or allowing you to import save data from the old game. Otherwise, what you end up with is the computer game equivalent of some never-ending TV series. It's incredibly frustrating to play through to the end and have no conclusion, and have no real idea whether the end will be in sight at all. At the very least, if a game company plans on angling for the sequel, then make sure you've got the funding to design the release of your game as a trilogy or similar so that it's clearly marketed as such, like with books.
  • Divergence? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by malkavian ( 9512 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @08:52AM (#30749288)

    For some games, I can see that there's no need for an ending (the 'arena' styles). For many (personally, I'm an RPG fan, and love story), there needs to be an end. Or at least a 'volume end', where you can say a subplot has finished, though the world goes on.
    With DLC, I think it may well be that the world does carry on, and producers will make the longer episodic content where the 'end' of the main story still has the characters with 'loose ends' to tie up, and hints that more will be going on.. That will allow greater engine and world reuse, giving more content per release, and longer story arcs than possible with individual releases.
    'Ends' meet a nice psychological satisfaction point. You've seen the trials, tribulations and interplay that creates an end point, and you get to reap the rewards of your endeavours (so, multiple endings should be de-facto these days; play the way you want, and get the reward you deserve). You get the 'payoff' that keeps people striving for something. Nothing wrong with having sequential 'ends' and ongoing subplots, but in a lot of games, certainly for the story minded (which is quite a few), I don't think true 'endless' games, especially in single player, would work that well in the long term..

  • by lorenlal ( 164133 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @09:06AM (#30749364)

    The first thing I thought of when reading the summary was "I don't think Square fits here." FFVI had a half hour ending, and that was on the SNES.

    But I don't really see this effect. For example, GTA IV does have an end to the plot. Now, there's still the open world that you can keep playing in, but the storyline has a conclusion. Modern Warfare 1 had a concrete ending, and it was pretty good.

    I'd argue that this isn't an industry wide trend as much as EA... I mean, their biggest franchises are the sports games which of course have no ending and rely on multiplayer as the platform... and EA has a history of taking great franchises and tanking them.

    But IIRC, EA didn't have anything to do with EA. That was Activision.

  • My take... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Crock23A ( 1124275 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @09:28AM (#30749518)
    Video game endings have always been of interest to me. Ever since my siblings and I first starting Super Mario Bros. in the 1980s, that and subsequent game completions were fun to discuss and play around with. We discovered that turning the volume all the way up on the TV during the ending song produced a much different sounding song and purposefully annoyed the adults around. Then one of us beat Castlevaina 2: Simon's quest and I discovered not only that game endings could have awesome, uplifting music, but that there could be alternate endings!. The simple fact that there were 2 endings gave the game great value in re-playability. Fast forward to today and game endings have less of an impact. More emphasis goes to the 'completion' of a game, as in getting 100% achievements or the equivalent. You also have to factor in the cliff-hanger endings. Too many games leave it open to a possible sequel. As the area matures even further I'm sure things will continue to change.
  • by RogueyWon ( 735973 ) * on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @09:32AM (#30749554) Journal

    Yes, getting a bit off the original topic, the anime industry does seem to have a few specific bad habits that it falls into regularly regarding endings (and even middles).

    The most common, of course, is the "shonen power escalator", where a show that might originally have been interesting and quirky (the original Dragon Ball being the classic example, though there are others) eventually boils down to having the (teenaged, male, skilled-in-martial-arts) male lead go through a never-ending cycle of power-ups to fight apparently ever-stronger foes. Apparently this kind of thing sells really well to 13 year olds (internationally as well as in Japan), so the temptation to take this direction with show (or manga series) that has the potential to fit the template must be huge.

    Then there's the "rolling cliffhangers", you mention, with, as I agree, Code Geass being one of the worst examples. For a show that made such a strong impression with its first 10-15 episodes, that show ended up as a complete train-wreck. When they did finally "resolve" the cliff-hanger of the first season ending, they copped out massively and then spent most of the second series doing a near-identical re-telling of the first. From what I've heard, Geass had a pretty troubled development, with the production team being messed around something rotten by the studio/networks etc. I kind of hope this is true, because it would at least add some semblance of reason to the matter.

    And then there's the "incredibly abrupt ending", particularly prevalent in action series, where the end credits start rolling as soon as the "big bad" bites the dust. Gundam series have a particularly awful record here; Wing and the original SEED being perhaps the worst. That said, Turn A's ending was done properly, and the extended version of the SEED Destiny ending works reasonably well. But yes, if you're going to make me sit through a 26 episode series, I kind of want a bit of "aftermath" at the end. If it's a 50 episode series, then giving proper closure is absolutely not optional.

  • Stargate (Score:3, Interesting)

    by phorm ( 591458 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @10:39AM (#30750250) Journal

    One of the things that was perhaps best for the Stargate Atlantis and SG-1 series was that they were fairly faithful to their "meme" throughout the series, and then came to a fairly definitive conclusion.
    OK, well actually in the case of Atlantis the wraith are still out there etc - which might leave room for a movie - but the series was "completed" rather than be allowed to trail off until it was just a murmuring gurgle as it was pulled off life support.
    IMHO, Atlantis was a fairly successful way to "conclude" one series (SG-1) and start another. There's a definitive relation between the two, and even cameos and intersecting plot-arcs, but the overall focus of the two series was different enough to lend it some uniqueness, and the characters were different between the two.

    Unfortunately SG-U seems to break-down because, while having a new setting and characters, it also tries was too hard to focus on some fairly tired memes and doesn't seem to have nearly as strong a plot base as its predecessors.

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @10:50AM (#30750414)
    The only way I've seen it work is to end the game for everyone in the MMO. For example, there was a web-based MMO called "FaitH" that ran roughly 2000-2007. It was a real time strategy game where people had abstract kingdoms (the group was a "kingdom" and the individuals were "emperors", I kid you not) and launched various "attacks" on rival kingdoms. The game ran in cycles called "eras" about 2-3 months long. The goal of the game was to harm other players. You could receive points for growing big (that was a valid strategy), but most of the time, the real points were in hideously bloody battles (the bloodier, the better). At the start of an era, everyone grew up as fast they could. Then the middle stretch (which lasted most of the game) involved a long, brutal grind of coordinated attacks and spells (usually some sort of speed up or war boost) among members of the kingdom. Finally, there was "Chaos" (I'm not spelling it right) where score from anything bloodshed-related was doubled or tripled. A lot of stuff was saved up for that. Then the era end, scores were calculated, and a huge list issued of everyone who played - sorted by score. Shortly thereafter, a new era would start.

    A second approach was used by a web-based game called "Kings of Loathing", a parody of fantasy RPGs like WoW and Final Fantasy series. The player levels up, defeating more and more powerful monsters. At some point, they reach the final stage where the big boss (called the "Nasty Sorceress") is finally defeated and then the player reincarnates as a new player. As a reward, the player gets to keep a single skill permanently throughout the rest of their career (their stuff can be carried over, depending on the difficulty the player chooses).

    To be honest, I can't think of other natural ways to end a player experience in an MMO except to end it for everyone in a big bang or to have some sort of reincarnation as a new player with a little something carried over from the old character. The fundamental constraint of MMOs is that they want the player to come back and play again. If you play through and finish, then what's going to draw you back?
  • Re:Half baked (Score:3, Interesting)

    by delinear ( 991444 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @11:26AM (#30750956)
    You probably already know, but there's a project to try and restore the missing segments of KOTOR2 [team-gizka.org]. I didn't play it so I don't know how bad it was or how good the restoration project is but it might help give you some sense of closure :)
  • Re:Divergence? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zerobytes ( 1607393 ) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @01:14PM (#30752636)
    I'd have to agree with you here. For me, gaming is all about the story and I have yet to find a story that I loved SO much that I didn't want it to end at some point. Harry should finally face off with Voldemort, Luke should finally face his father and save the galaxy, and Mario should finally find the princess. Preferrably, all this should happen before I turn it off because I feel it's wasting my life.

    It seems so many games nowadays will carrot you as long as they can until you leave the franchise in disgust or boredom rather than satisfaction. Kill it till it's dead then reboot or revive it till it's dead again. Wash, rinse, repeat. This zombie-like creativity in our producers AND consumers is unfortunate. There is nothing wrong with ending a good thing while it's still a good thing and then moving on to something better. Sadly, it is, of course, all about the amount of money that can be sucked out of our emotional attachment to a character or a world or a cause. Hence, teenagers and college kids are revolutionizing our industries because they haven't figured that out that it's all about the money yet. As they see it (and we should as well), there are still great undiscovered stories, worlds, and characters out there. We're just too scared or too lazy to explore them.

FORTRAN is the language of Powerful Computers. -- Steven Feiner