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Veteran Member - Level 11
Awhile back I blogged about how ending's affect the memories of our favorite games, movies, and books. I spoke about how endings are a final testament to a single game or even entire franchise that it belongs to, and how important they are. One thing I did bypass when writing said blog, was the difficulty of actually putting a fitting ending to a game or series into motion. It often involves stress, loss of focus when it comes to everyday things, and sometimes leads to fan disdain (see: Mass Effect 3). I'd like to point out the things that are required to truly make an ending stand out, as well as some guys who did these endings very well.
You Can't Fear Killing A Character...But The Death Must Serve A Purpose
When I say that a death must serve a purpose, I don't mean that it should be some sort of noble sacrifice. No, it has to be relevant to the plot. This can be traced back to a greater problem such as pointless characters, but killing a character has to carry a weight. If I'm expected to feel sorrow over the death of a crew member from Mass Effect, then I had better received some sort of noteworthy back story, or character development or else I'll be pressing the "skip" button. This is often a problem, as when making a game so many different elements are at work, that some get left behind. Sometimes those elements are vital such as explaining why we should care about the man or woman dying in our virtual arms. What's more, I find deaths very drab if they affect the overall plot in no way. Once again, there needs to be a significant weight to main character deaths. I don't want to just witness a head shot and then move on with my experience, without a second of remorse (Halo Reach, I'm looking at you).
Make Us Think
Often, whenever I'm trudging through a game on my way to the ending, I notice a sort of rush. The pace starts to quicken, and dialogue is brief and it quickly becomes apparent that the guys who were working on the game started to get the, "I'm almost finished!" syndrome, where they try to dish it out as quickly as possible, and in the end claim that it's good enough. I don't want good enough. I want a Portal 2 ending, that totally catches me by surprise, and delivers clever dialogue in the process. Yes I understand not every game has a sense of humor, or overwhelmingly thick sarcasm like Portal 2, but it's not tough to reel the crowds in with a few haunting phrases. Also, going back to my point of endings feeling "rushed", it seems like the final boss fight in most games feels tacked on, and about 90% of the time is one of the easier experiences in the game. I should be forced to use most of-if not all-the things I learned from earlier game play. It keeps you on your toes, and makes everything feel relevant, as well as messes with your head a bit.
So You Made Me Think...Can You Make Me Feel Too?
We're at the five year mark since Halo 3's release, but I'll say SPOILERS!!! just to satisfy those of you who feel I'm still saying these things too soon. At the end of Halo 3, Master Chief climbs into a cryo-chamber while drifting out in deep space, and says to Cortana, "Wake me when you need me." That short little sentence packed so much power and dual meaning, that it shook me up a bit, as well as my friends. That's something every ending-no matter how smart or clever-should have. The most important thing in a story is to involve your audience emotionally, or else the experience that you're trying to give to your players will fall flat on it's face. Characterization, the soundtrack, and atmosphere, all need to combine to make the person holding the controller feel something. Whether it be happiness, loss, loneliness, anger, or a sense of mystery, you can't expect an ending to be memorable without your audience sitting on the edge of their seat.
At the end of the day, I won't begin work on a story without having an ending planned first. To me it's more important than any other element in the tale, because it's that last note before the song ends. Endings are often taken for granted, and more often than not, have been either incredibly controversial, or completely unmemorable. But there are those who execute these endings well. Games like Bastion, Journey, Halo 3, the Portal Series, and even Mass Effect 3 (which I have grown to love). Congratulations to the games that have delivered awe-striking endings, and good luck to those who are about to attempt them. Just remember that when the credits roll, everyone will remember the game in question for it's final ten minutes.