The end? Yes. Not the end of gaming, but the end of the game. All too often, game finales leave much to be desired. Not so much the usual Foozle Fight – though some have been less than stellar – but what comes after in terms of the final reward or payoff for the player. Too often, designers put a lot of effort into making a very fancy intro sequence, and little into the closing one.

In the early days – when everyone had 8-bit machines – quickie endings were the norm. Of course, there wasn’t much room on those floppies, so players didn’t expect too much when a game was finished. Those who go back that far will remember the infamous “drop to DOS”: you won the game, saw a “congratulations message”, and then were unceremoniously plopped to the DOS prompt. (For you youngsters out there, this was similar to the command prompt function in Windows today.)

With the coming of more powerful computers, games became bigger and fancier, but endings still remained bland and unsatisfactory in many of them. This has always seemed strange to me, because the ending is what we work for, and it takes the edge off victory when the epilogue is disappointing.

Still, over the years, there have been products with finales that stood out, either because they were unique, or were first to provide a satisfying resolution of a particular type. Here are the ones that come most readily to mind:

Questron. An Ultima-lookalike from the 8-bit days. The conclusion took many – including me – by surprise. Instead of the typical “Congratulations, you’ve saved the world” ending, your character went marching into the throne room as trumpets blared, and the king thanked you personally. For its time, this was spectacular.

Phantasie III, which closed out the series, also gave you a goody. Here you could choose between becoming a demi-god or going on with mortal life. Those who took mortality were treated to a paragraph or so covering their futures (one for each character in the party).

Dark Heart of Uukrul had the most daring conclusion. About three quarters of the way through, you defeated Uukrul. However, you also had to destroy the entire place (this was inside a mountain), and you were told up front: there wouldn’t be time to get out. Yes, the party made the ultimate sacrifice here. Mindboggling!

The Summoning had a quick ending, but a unique one, also. After disposing of the troublemaker, you disguised yourself as Foozle to sneak out of the dungeon. Just as you head for the door, a messenger arrives with the news: “your” armies have been victorious. You, as Foozle, now rule the world. Hoohah!

Fallout, the best post-nuke game since Wasteland, treated us to an epilogue that detailed what happened to the various towns as the result of our actions (or sometimes, inactions).

And finally, my personal favorite, the one I enjoyed most:

Quest For Glory II: Trial By Fire came up with a really satisfying reward. A big crowd is gathered in the Sultan’s throne room (this was a desert adventure). The Sultan asks, “Who will speak for this stranger from the north?”. Someone steps forth and relates how you helped them.

It goes on like that for several rounds, ending with the Sultan himself speaking on your behalf and naming you his son (male character only here). What made this such a pleasure was the personalization. No bland speeches, no cheers from an anonymous crowd, but individuals who acknowledged in public your heroism. It doesn’t get better than that.

So we see that, with a little thought, some designers – even back in the 8-bit days – were capable of creating original and gratifying conclusions. Surely some of the developers today are equally capable. All they need do is turn their attention to the ending instead of the beginning. Then we could have games that provide true rewards at the finish, and an extra incentive to play again. Why not? We work hard to win, and we deserve it.miniscorp

Technorati Tags: