Ask a Dork: Multiple Game Endings
What are your thoughts on games with multiple endings? What do you think is the best way to handle such a concept? And which games have actually succeeded in using it?
The unfortunate thing about a lot of modern video games is that they aren’t exactly long. That’s a problem in a world where 8-10 hour games are just as expensive to buy as 60+ hour games. To add life to the games, for gamers who are willing to play a title more than once, many developers incorporate multiple endings via in-game criteria and narrative branching points. Which ending you get is generally dependent on the choices you make in your playthrough.
In a good game, this means that you will have to do options A, B, and C in order to get Ending 2 (where, doing all but C would lead to Ending 1). A game that doesn’t understand proper story branching *cough, cough* Mass Effect 3 *cough* will simply provide a black and white choice between a “good” and “bad” option, leading to a pretty cut-and-dry ending. Sometimes morality systems are pulled into the game’s narrative as well, with your in-game karma determining the outcomes you receive.
Generally speaking the ending that involves the least effort on the part of the player ends up being the Standard or Canon Ending. Usually it is somewhat fulfilling, but short. Good/Bad/True Endings are usually thrown in, depending on the effort you put in on your playthrough, and either create alternate universes (for better or worse) or answer questions left unanswered in the main narrative. Sometimes a joke ending is also thrown in for giggles. All require different levels of effort, and some even are dependant on how many times the game has been played, but they definitely enrich the gaming experience if they’re done well.
In my opinion, a game should only incorporate multiple endings if there are more than two black and white endings, and they align with the way you chose to play. The Team Silent developed Silent Hill titles were great at this. Did you search every room? Do every subquest? Protect the girl you’ve been escorting? Save your cop friend? Good. You get the best ending. Is this your second playthrough? Have you used all the channeling stones in all the right locations? Good. You get the joke ending. Have you don’t almost nothing? Protected no one? Taken a lot of damage? Unfortunate. You get the worst ending. None of the endings retroactively alter the game’s tone, and they can all be different because each game was open-ended.
A few of the post-Team Silent developed Silent Hill titles (0rigins, Homecoming, and Downpour in particular) are not sitting in the same boat, however. I like these games a lot, but some have endings that actually alter the events of the main narrative. That’s a problem because it makes the threads of the main plot seem disjointed and adds more questions than answers. I mean, games like Mass Effect 3 are just lazy in how they deliver endings, but at least the endings make narrative sense.