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Positive-negative endings VS. game length.

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Originally posted on IGDA forums, this post is about how gameplay should interface with narrative endings. An example of a moving sequence in a game: You have the opportunity of escaping a disaster zone (early) in SOS Final Escape, but to do so you have to betray the people you have been travelling with up til then. There is almost no chance that they would have made it out alive on their own. The character hangs his head in defeat and mortification as he is rescued. In effect he has betrayed himself, particularly if he has been nice to them up to now as opposed to nasty. It makes you wonder if you would betray others to survive. However, if you don't betray them you lose that chance to escape (personally) and have to keep going. You could argue that from a game viewpoint that isn't the 'correct' ending because you don't keep playing, however I think that in a sense it is still a legitimate ending because it reflects a strong choice. Obviously it isn't a good ending in terms of game, but it is a dramatic ending. Games are often intrinsically linked to the main character's survival. So maybe one way of including 'bad but legitimate' endings is to put them earlier in the game. Ie. If you nuke 99 percent of the planet the 'game' ends and you get an epilogue. Saying we defeated the CommieFascist front, but at the cost of a ruined future, we are barely surviving our people are dying of radiation poisoning and those in the bunkers fear that there will be a long nuclear winter that may devastate the earth. Ending E. BUT, if you manage to obtain peace, you get the Ending. After a long drawn out period of brinksmanship and diplomatic negotiations, we have defused the hostilities. An uneasy peace reigns, but for how long? Ending B. If you get blown up, it says the CommieFascists have won, the future of the planet is in their hands, mankind will now suffer. Ending F. (Game Over) So there are a number of major end-points with their own ending and *epilogue*, the best condition probably involves the longest playtime > ie. drawn out negotiations to ensure a lasting peace, and the bad-endings involve shorter playtimes. Of course in real life this isn't necessarily so, the best ending might be running away when the disaster starts, because no-one can guarantee that you will survive? However, there might be more satisfaction in rescuing people, but you may end up a hero -- a dead one. But having the longest playtime correspond to the "most positive ending" would be more satisfying to gamers because it rewards them for character survival. You don't want to play 20 hours to get the worst ending, and 10 hours to get the 'best' ending.* Also endings should reflect character choices > ie. self-betrayal, courage, cowardice, chivalry, dominance, submission. If a character chooses to betray their own values just to 'win' then they have also lost something. I'd rank endings in order of positivity for the player and the other characters. *Players tend to get very upset if the "true" game ending negates what they have been fighting for ie. survival.

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As a first step, I'd at least stay away from endings that are basically only glorified "quit" options or gameover sequences. But if each ending path has some nice challenge/climax in the end, then each could feel rewarding, even if the end result is questionable.

Though, having to use the terms "bad/good ending" at all seems somewhat .. unpleasant. I mean, is the (hidden) purpose of a "bad" ending to punish the player of a wrong decision possibly made long ago? Or the "good" ending a reward for obsessively hunting for the trigger to get on the good path, making the players possibly feel paranoid at each decision? IMO ideal multiple endings aren't easily measurable on a good-bad scale, but rather different solutions to some hard dilemma.

Cave Story is btw. again quite an interesting example:
- Easy "chicken out" ending at about 2/3 through the normal path, no real climax
- Normal path with average difficulty climax. Optimized for most people :)
- Hard & longer path with some obscure triggers to activate and true I-hate-you-gamedesigner climax

You get the full (back)story & feeling of completion only on the hard & long path, though the game tries its best to keep each ending satisfying and to downplay the inherent "bad-medium-good" aspect. The difficulty difference in each of the paths/endings is remarkable, so it's really a question of "which ending are you good enough to achieve" rather than a question of character choice, moral dilemmas etc.

[Edited by - AgentC on June 30, 2005 8:11:23 PM]

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