On True Endings (Day 18)

Many games feature multiple endings, ranging from tragic to optimistic to downright bizarre. Typically, games will have a “best” or “true” ending that is especially hard to discover and unlock. If said game gets a sequel, it’ll almost certainly follow on from this true ending.

I’m really conflicted about these. On the one hand, it’s something unique to games, and as long as you know in advance that your performance will affect the ending its a great way to feel like you have real influence on the game. On the other, there’s nothing like spending 20 hours on a game just to have your character get hit by a car out of nowhere.

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No, really.

Though this is a more of a problem with unsatisfying “alternate” endings, it’s still a total bummer and a terrible way to wrap up a game.

True Endings, in part, require these crappy endings to be successful. There’s no sense of victory without a risk of defeat, and the same is true here – if I can only get one ending, it’s as much the “best” as it is the “worst”.

Not that this means that all endings have to be unsatisfying. The Witcher 3 does a remarkable job of making all possible endings satisfying and unique, and while some are much more grim than others they still all manage to fit neatly into the themes and vibe of the world.

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True Endings are also a great incentive for the player to replay the game and/or improve their ending, though if the true ending is difficult to attain then only a tiny fraction of your audience will experience it.

This isn’t necessarily a problem, but may become an issue if the sequel continues directly on from that ending that relatively few people are even aware of.

What do you think of having a single “True Ending”, keeping in mind that it isn’t necessarily the “good” one? Do you have any favourite examples? Let me know in the comments!

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One response to “On True Endings (Day 18)”

  1. Robert McPherson says :

    Painkiller had an interesting example of this. The highest difficulty setting is locked behind unlocking all the black tarot cards (gained by completing a specific challenge in each mission). Part of how the game ramps up in this difficulty is you don’t have the ability to absorb demon souls which is a steady trickle of health, as well as 66 souls sending you on a demonic rampage.

    This actually effects the story as you’re player isn’t corrupted by all these absorbed demon souls and doesn’t do the entire final act. This is actually the “True Ending”.

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