Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Length of Video Game Endings

Legend of Zelda
I recently finished Dishonored, the stealthy RPG-like action game from Arkane Studios. The game is built on player-driven choices. The world is of your making and it feels responsive to how you play Corvo, the game's protagonist, be him a rat-king murderer or a lurking pacifist. For a that lets players take their time, I was genuinely surprised to see such a rushed conclusion.

When the last enemy has been dispatched, a cut-scene kicks in that eulogizes Corvo's past-deeds and the way they shaped the history of Dunwall. To be fair, it's not a terrible ending by any means. It actually pulls off some neat visual tricks during its post-game montage, but it still felt too short, like I was being rushed out of a theater while the credits were still rolling. I wanted some closure, a longer denouement, some way to step out of the spotlight gradually. There must be a video ending "sweet spot", right?

Thinking back on past video game endings, the "run-time", if you will, varies dramatically. Apparently Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots has an ending that lasts nearly an hour. Red Dead Redemption, which has one of the best game conclusions ever, essentially has no ending. Alternatively, the game has multiple endings, each better than the last, before continuing once the credits begin. Alternatively, the original Super Mario Bros. has an ending that literally lasts four seconds: "Thank you Mario! Your quest is over."

Good endings are clearly not defined by the total length of a game, otherwise Mario's ending would be a travesty and Skyrim would demand an ending of epic proportions. So in our end-length calculations, we must rely on the painfully subjective and amorphous idea of "investment". The more investment I put in a game, which itself is an amalgamation of emotional investment, gameplay investment (I'm thinking the RPG aspects here), and time investment, the longer an ending should. Of course there should be diminishing returns as well - no one wants an hour long conclusion to a game (I hope).

My ideal ending need not follow the traditional cut-scene format. I think Red Dead Redemption has a perfectly suitable tail for the investment I put into the game, and most of the ending is playable. I consider Mass Effect 3 one giant denouement for all the investment I put into the series in the previous two games. Similarly, Flower has two levels I would consider "ending" like - the final city-rejuvenation level and the playable end-credits. Of course I always prefer quality over quantity, but when looking for an ideal game ending, an excellent conclusion demands room to breathe.

1 comment:

  1. I find that the best endings bring together the skills and mechanics covered throughout the game and layer them together to create higher levels of challenge and engagement. If the story/context can tie into that, then it adds further weight to the ending.

    For some reason, the opposite seems to be a long-standing trend, endings which abandon everything the game's essence in favour of something else. Metal Gear Solid 4's fist fight with Liquid and Metroid Other M's shooting gallery stand-off are such examples.

    Perhaps, I'm talking a bit broadly here, including the "final boss" as part of the ending. >_>