Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Sticking the Landing

I've recently been reading through "Swords v. Cthulhu" - an anthology of short stories.  For the most part, it's an interesting collection of fantasy/horror fiction.  The one big exception being an annoying tendency for many contributing authors to fumble the conclusion.  It's not a problem exclusive to creative writing.  Far from it, most forms of entertainment media have the same kind of issues to varying degrees.

Sadly, when it comes to video games, I can't say it has been a recent problem.  Many older games have had notoriously awful endings, in no small part due to the assumption that few players would actually ever make it the finish before moving on to something else.  Hence, developers rarely felt the need to put real effort into that last bit before the credits roll.  A couple of games that I think concluded on a strong note are Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Vandal Hearts, Ghouls and Ghosts, as well as the original Valkyria Chronicles.  Contrary to expectation, a large number of highly regarded story-driven games kind of drop the ball at the end.  Pretty much all the Silent Hill titles have overly obtuse finales, and the Soulsborne series (for all the attention I give it) unanimously finishes up in a manner far too abrupt for the amount of time and effort it takes to make it there.  That's not to say every game needs to conclude with an hour long cutscene, but when you look at the amount of building up the Mass Effect trilogy did you're left wondering what the heck they were thinking by slapping on those half-ass red/blue/green endings.

The problem can be so pronounced within the industry at times I sometimes think that, when coming up with a narrative arc, game designers should figure out the ending first and then work their way back from there.  Otherwise this whole player-not-finishing-the-game-because-of-crap-endings becomes a self-perpetuating loop.  One way I've seen developers try to circumvent the issue is by playing up the idea of a trilogy, or at the very least a definite sequel.  Everything from triple-AAA titles like Halo 2 to indie games such as the Banner Saga 2 try to pull it off.  Occasionally, it works out well enough, but more often than not we get Half-life 2.  Some games don't even make it that far.  The Order 1886 just stops abruptly at what would normally be the second act in a three act story with no sequel forthcoming.

These sorts of screw-ups are why I prefer self-contained plotlines that give a sense of closure even if there's a sequel in the cards.  From a business perspective, I get it.  Publishers are convinced they'll make more money off their IPs if they leave the customers wanting more.  Sometimes these sort of monetization techniques can get blatantly exploitative; such is the case in Dead Space 3's real ending being paid DLC.  Obviously, a non-trivial number of players got sick and tired of all these half-baked story arcs to the point that companies like EA and their ilk decided that narrative driven experiences are no longer profitable.  Gee...I wonder who made it like that...?  Maybe it's not good business sense to trash an integral part of game design just to make a quick buck.

No comments:

Post a Comment