FUNDAMENTALS OF GAME DESIGN, SECOND EDITION

PREMATURE ENDINGS DON’T COUNT!

By ending we mean a true conclusion to the story, not a premature ending caused by the player failing to meet a challenge. Although dying in the middle of a long role-playing game does amount to losing the game, it's not really the end of the story, simply an interruption in the player's experience of that story. The player will undoubtedly restart the game and continue if she finds playing the game a compelling experience. Premature endings should be quick because they're only temporary, so don't squander resources creating a lot of narrative material to accompany premature avatar death. Nor should you make the player wait a long time to get started again. Many modern games don't even require the player to reload the game after a premature ending; they reload automati­cally for her, restarting near where she left off. Other games simply don't let the avatar die at all, to avoid the whole issue.

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CHALLENGES AND CHOICES

Ordinary competitive games, those without stories at all, still offer more than one ending: The player wins or she loses, depending on how well she played. So if the player meets your game's challenges well, you might want the story to end well, and if she meets them badly, you might let the story end badly. Just as the final score of an ordinary competitive game reflects the player's skill in a numeric way, so the outcome of the story can reflect the player's skill in a dramatic way. In gen­eral, players expect that if they meet all the game's challenges and make it to the end, the story will end in some reasonably positive way, reflecting the skill that got the player successfully to the end. If bad play produces a premature ending, you don't have to create a full-fledged conclusion for it. When a game's dramatic actions consist mostly of those taken to overcome challenges, players usually toler­ate stories that offer only one ending.

If, on the other hand, the different possible endings reflect the player's dramatic choices—critical decisions the player made in the course of the interactive story— rather than her ability to overcome challenges, then the player will definitely expect her choices to affect the outcome of the story. If the game tells her that a choice is important, and she finds out that it really wasn't, it will be distinctly dis­appointing. You may wish to create a number of endings to show the consequences of the player's dramatic choices. Games that include a lot of decision-making— especially moral choices, which feel dramatically important—should be nonlinear and offer multiple endings.

WHEN TO USE MULTIPLE ENDINGS

Devise multiple endings for your story if—and only if—each one will wrap up the story in a way both dramatically meaningful and emotionally consistent with the player's choices and play. If you didn't give the player a lot of dramatic freedom, then there's no point in giving her different endings. On the other hand, if you have told the player that her actions and especially her choices are crucial to the ending, then you should live up to that promise and give her whatever ending her actions earn. You may have to create several endings, depending on how many crit­ical choices you gave the player.

For a more detailed discussion, see the Designer's Notebook column, "How Many Endings Does a Game Need?" (Adams, 2004).

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