Unhappily Ever After

The other night, i could sense that I was close to beating Borderlands. When I get that feeling, I can’t stop and leave that game until I beat it. In spite of the game’s flaws, I was having a ton of fun with the game. However, Borderlands suffers from a problem that has plagued video games since games were designed with a clear progression from beginning to end: a crappy endgame experience. I ended my Borderlands experience with a bad taste in my mouth, feeling like the extra time I could have dedicated to sleep that evening were wasted on a poor endgame experience.

To qualify my damning statement, when I say ending, I mean from the final gameplay sequence to the absolute end of the game, credits included. In defense of Borderlands, I will go as far as saying that the majority of games do a poor job of closing out the experience.

In the early days of the medium, technological limitations definitely played a role in a game’s ability to create a satisfying end. Yet with each console cycle, technology has improved, but the endgame experience in games has not evolved at the same rate. In the era of video game consoles with super computer level power, even the best games of today suffer from this same problem.

Each game carries its own reasons for suffering this fate. I’ll do my best to not ruin any games for you, but I would like to back up my points with some examples. Batman: Arkham Asylum was a fantastic game right up until you fought the last boss. Street Fighter IV featured a horribly unfair final battle and terrible ending sequences. Both Gears of War games, (while not being the most story-driven games) feature awful endgame experiences and cliche endings. Gears of War 2 in particular ended on a sour note by having the player go through a poorly thought out and executed sequence that boils down to players just holding down the fire button till the credits roll. Even Bioshock, a game lauded for it’s story, atmosphere and plot progression, can’t escape a crummy final battle and multiple crummy endings. I could dedicate an entire site to bad endgame experiences, but that’s being overly negative towards the matter.

Why do video games still often end on a downer? Each game has its own unique reasons for slipping at the end, but I think that the two phases in development that can make or break the end of a game are the design phase and the production phase.

Often times when I play a game, I feel like the games mechanics and systems aren’t designed with an endgame sequence in mind. This can be seen in games where the game sticks too closely to the main gameplay throughout and the end feels like any other level in the game, even when the developers add extra frills to beef up the experience. Without going into too much detail, this is how Borderlands slips.

Many games feel like the designers realized late in the game that their gameplay systems aren’t built well for an endgame sequence that meets their standards and attempt to counter that with something totally different. When done incorrectly, this route feels forced and is guaranteed to disappoint. This is how Gears of War 2 missed the mark.

Batman was a unique example of a game falling apart at the end. Arkham Asylum was a game built on hand-to-hand combat, but everyone knows that the Joker wouldn’t put up much of a fight against Batman. What do you do then? I’m not happy with how that game ended, but I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have any better ideas as to how to close out that game.

While the design phase is probably the most integral step in creating a great endgame sequence, there are technical considerations as well. Do developers have the time and resources to complete a game? I’ve heard of many games where the development team had to rush putting together the endgame to meet publisher deadlines. The developers behind Bioshock even admitted that this was the reason their endgame was such a disappointment.

Does that mean developers should just be given more time to polish their games? Realistically, that’s not going to happen. Business doesn’t necessarily care whether or not a game is complete if there’s money to be had. Today, games often receive patches after the fact because publishers want to push their games out the door faster in spite of a games imperfections. Ive heard multiple reports that indicate most people don’t finish any of the games they play. Could this too be a reason for endgame experiences not being good? Even with more time, any given development and design team could still faulter.

To take an even broader look at this situation, this medium is still in its infancy. Music and books have been around for centuries, while film has a roughly 60 year head-start on gaming. It’s easy to see that gaming narratives have a long way to go, as most games are still designed with teenage boys in mind. As the medium grows, there is a good chance that endgame experiences will in general be better across all games.

After spending all of this time writing about games with bad endgame sequences and not providing any solutions to the overall problem, I do want to say that not every game has a bad ending. It would be a shame for me not to mention some games that did manage to close out on a high note.

Just to give credit to a few games i thought had great end sequences, Assassin’s Creed II ended wonderfully thanks to a great story hitting a peak at the very end. I never saw the end of the first Modern Warfare (which the sequel takes a lot of cues from in the ending) but I thought the intensity and gameplay twist at the end of Modern Warfare 2 fit great. Going back to the Super Nintendo era, Yoshi’s Island has one of the most memorable endgame sequences of any game thanks to its at-the-time technologically amazing (and still great to play) final battle.

As it stands, I feel like there are way more games that end poorly rather than end well. Asking for all games to end great or even asking for parity between the two is a bit much, but a greater percentage of better endgame experiences would be more than welcome.

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