Player character identity and the endings to Counterfeit Monkey and Wizard Sniffer (mega spoilers)

I hope there are a few people who have played both Counterfeit Monkey and Wizard Sniffer, as they are two of the most popular parser games of the last 11 years (and of all time!) Although I’ve found that less than 30% of people on this forum have played any given famous game, so if playing these two games are independent, that’d be around 9% of people here who’ve played both (I’m just making these numbers up).

For those who have played both, I’m interested in hearing people’s reactions to the endings of the two of them.

I replayed both of them in the last few days. When I replayed Counterfeit Monkey, I remember being dissatisfied with the ending the first time, and I felt the same way this time, and I was looking around to see if there was one I liked better that I had missed. I figured not, as I don’t think Emily Short is prone to writing escapist, happy ending literature, instead focusing on more nuance and (in my experience) some melancholy.

Hunting for more info, I found these notes on Github:

[Writing the end of this game was insanely hard and went through many revisions and even arguments. Originally the game was quite a bit shorter, didn’t include the Atlantida confrontation, and did end with the characters returning to the yacht and successfully gelling themselves into two people. But that felt wrong and disappointing, because it meant that the characters winning the game were neither of them the person you’d played.

Then I tried a variation where you only realize Alexandra is fused at the very end, when trying to put on the gel and having it not work. That solved one problem, but introduced another. There was no fictive explanation for what had happened; and it felt like a cliff-hanger, like it was setting up for one or more sequels in which Alexandra runs around the Mediterranean stealing stuff and looking for a tool that can de-synthesize her. Very briefly I was even delusional enough to think such sequels could happen. Then I considered the fate of every series ever, and discarded that idea. I needed this game to work on its own.

Next up I added the choice where the player had to gel Brock or betray Alex’s father, and that provided a fictive explanation for the fusion, but it was still weird having the results of the fusion explained only in the last move of the game. When the Atlantida scene came in, though, I realized I could incorporate that discovery into the action of her scene. Much better.

But we were not home free even when the endgame took on its current form. Graham argued that it should have an essentially happy ending: this is mostly an upbeat game, and the player has come through a lot and deserves a reward. I mostly agreed with this, especially when replaying it after some period away from the game. And Sam thought the rest of the game didn’t really provide enough Alex v. Andra conflict to make that a major point of the ending. One of my testers, and I fear I can’t remember who, said, ‘look, this whole thing is basically a superhero origin story.’ And at the end of a superhero origin story, the superhero is supposed to fire up her jet boots and fly off to the next world-saving adventure, right? So that made a lot of votes for putting a big smily face on the epilogue.

And yet. And yet. There are so many things that I felt were emotional loose ends, and it would be untruthful to just pretend they were fine. Alex and Andra are stuck with one another now, and while they may eventually work that out, it’s got to be incredibly confusing and traumatic, especially given that they have different goals in life and that Alex, having been a straight cis-gendered male all his life, is not going to feel sexually at home in Alexandra’s body. There’s some possibility that they might be able to use linguistic tools to alter their gender back and forth if need be, but they’re still going to be time-sharing in different bodies, rather than each having the one he or she would prefer.

What about Brock? Can he and Andra continue their relationship in some format, or is it just too weird now? Isn’t any sexual experience involving Alexandra going to be effectively a threesome, and are all three of them okay with that?

Then there’s the question of what’s just happened. Brock and Andra successfully pulled off a big heist; do we morally approve? And Alex’s utopian linguistic plans are very optimistic but full of issues when it comes to real-world application.

Finally what about Atlantida’s replacement (assuming the player went that way)? Even if there’s a new system that allows more frequent referenda, direct democracy of that kind tends to be pretty conservative. Most likely more major change is still needed.

So that’s all a lot to worry about, some of it far too complex to wrap in a single scene. And then on top of that I wanted to do something that honored the choices that the player had made in the last portion of the game: it should matter to the ending whether we did or did not leave Brock behind, did or did not kiss him in the room with the T-inserter, did or did not replace Atlantida.

Finally, I knew that I did not want this to be an epilogue with puzzles. The puzzles should be over when the player finally reaches the yacht.

So then we had several drafts where the epilogue is that Brock effectively breaks up with Andra and Alex and Andra muse on how they’re stuck with each other. These were gloomy! Then there was a try where Brock and Alexandra have a fairly enigmatic, truce-forming sort of conversation and then drive off into the waves. This was not very satisfying either.

Ultimately, I decided to back-load as ruthlessly as I could. Wherever possible, I took hints of future ambiguities or problems (how workable is Alex’s plan? can it be afforded? would it wipe out or replace local cultures? would it be remotely welcomed by the people there? etc.) and moved them back into the main body of the game somewhere. Likewise, I dealt more extensively with Andra’s sexual memories of Brock in order to set up that Alex is a bit uncomfortable with them, while trying to establish that Brock is a fairly patient guy who has already stuck with Andra through some sexual weirdness and might be willing to do so again, under the right circumstances.]

I was thinking about this, including the part that says:

But that felt wrong and disappointing, because it meant that the characters winning the game were neither of them the person you’d played.

Then I thought about The Wizard Sniffer, which has more of a traditional happy-ever-after ending, although not everything is exactly perfect.

In that game, you play the whole game as a pig, only to find out at the end that you were a princess the whole time!

So, in a way, the character at the end is not the character you’ve been playing the whole time. On the other end, mentally, it is…

Both of these games are good games with good stories. And I kind of agree with Emily Short that changing Counterfeit Monkey’s ending wouldn’t really fit with the story being told.

So my question is, how did you feel about these two endings? Did one resonate more strongly with you than the other? Can you think of any other IF games where your identity at the end is different than the one at the beginning?


Oh, this a good topic.

CM is, at heart, an escape game, and the problem with escape games is that in the end, you escape (or don’t, which is unsatisfying). You can try to throw a twist in, but the Alex/Andra twist was known all along, so some people were going to be unhappy with them staying fused, or with them separating. And in the end, you were going to escape. There’s no real surprise to be had there.

I was terribly disappointed at the end of CM, but I think a lot of that was because I spent so long playing it and I never wanted it to end. And then you get out of the tunnels and are on the beach and then the boat, and stay together (do I have that right?) and bam, it’s over. And I was not ready for it to be over. But what did I want the ending to be? I don’t know. The awesome characters and mechanics sort of obscured the fact that it’s an escape game for a long time, so I think the ending was always going to fizzle no matter what Short did.

WS, on the other hand, is a fairy tale, and fairy tales have stock endings that readily lend themselves to twists. Someone is going to be rescued, but WS twists the hell out of that and milks it for all it’s worth. Everybody is saved, some in unpredictable ways! (I think my favorite thing was when the Horror turned out to be so awful because of-- was it ribbons in her hair?)

So some types of stories, like escape games, aren’t easy to do great endings with, because there is no great ending to be had. And others, like fairy tales, are much more easily manipulated into surprising endings that both play on your expectations and bounce off them. That’s why Fairest was an easy game to do a good ending with, and why I have a WIP that’s an escape game that fizzled for me, because there aren’t a lot of options there for endings. It’s a hell of a great setup, but I hate all my ending options, so there it sits in the file of shame, waiting for me to reconfigure it until I can find an ending I like.


I haven’t actually read this post except for the last paragraph, because I’ve only played like the first five minutes of Counterfeit Monkey (I know, I know – when my current spate of IF commitments ease up a bit I might actually do a Let’s Play of it…) but I won’t let that stop me from contributing to the discussion! I’m not sure if they go all the way to a full identity switch, but I feel like a lot of early aughts games messed with the player’s assumptions about who the protagonist is and what situation they’re in – All Roads and My Angel do this to a fairly large degree, Vespers and Slouching Towards Bedlam to a certain extent having to do with the protagonist’s perceptions and mental state, and of course 9:05 is the ultimate expression of this in some ways!

My sense is that this kind of thing isn’t so much in fashion these days, but to the extent there’s something interesting about what CM and WS do with the idea, it might be worth considering in that context.


Could you elaborate on why you were dissatisfied? Was it specifically because Alex and Andra could not be separated?


I haven’t really nailed down why, but in thinking about it just now I think it’s because getting infused is presented at the beginning as a challenge, and all other challengers in the game are presented as puzzles to be solved. So having it unresolved is like ending the game with a score of 99/100.

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But is it unresolved? I mean, in WS the goal is to save the princess, but the princess never needed saving. So that’s “unresolved” in a similar way. I tend to think that why it feels unresolved in CM is because the ending seems really abrupt. There are 2 escapes presented in CM: escape from Anglophone Atlantis, and escape from your integrated state. It actually presents a pleasing dissonance that you escape from one but not the other (the only 2 possible endings for an escape game); I just think it happens too fast. I played CM too long ago to remember whether it was well signposted that you might end up glued together forever, so maybe it’s a case of Short not laying the trail of breadcrumbs well enough for this ending? Can someone who has played it more recently comment on that?


In the final battle, Atlantida shoots the player with the restoration gel rifle, and then pretty much tells them outright that they are stuck that way:

Atlantida lowers the rifle, surprised. “Fused,” she says. “Isn’t that interesting. And so recently, too. If the gel rifle won’t separate you, nothing will.” She smiles, not warmly. “Pity. You would have been easier to deal with separately. Cold Storage for Andra, house arrest for Alex.”


I think most players of computer games have had moments of frustration after thinking “That didn’t turn out well. I better go back to an earlier save point and prevent that,” and then realising that it is impossible. Or perhaps preventing the bad thing causes another even worse thing to happen. It is especially annoying when it goes against the game mechanics. Most of the time, though, the frustration goes away once you see how it makes sense from a story perspective.

It is the narrative clashing with the crossword, or perhaps the game creator’s storytelling ambitions colliding with the player’s power fantasy.

That said, I would have been fine with Counterfeit Monkey ending with a complex puzzle where you will have to use every tool and trick you’ve learnt throughout the game, after which the protagonists walk separate ways into the sunset. But that would have been more of a computer game ending, and less like the ending of a great piece of art.


I wanted post a reply to this topic last night. I had in mind something about the way agency creates a sense of audience ownership that really doesn’t exist in other art forms. I would say “entitlement,” but that’s a negative word and I really don’t mean it that way. An expectation of wishes or fantasies fulfilled, I guess. Perhaps one has the thought that this is not the character’s story, but the player’s. Anyway, it was too long and a little half baked.

I’m glad I deleted it, as I like yours better.

I thought the decision to “back-load” the story with darker implications of the fusing worked well for me. It was a little pinch that I felt, even as the fun continued. I would have seen a win-win solution as a cop-out.

(I haven’t played The Wizard Sniffer yet! It’s on the list)


Yes! I’m a 9-percenter.

To be honest, I can count the number of games where I have a clear memory of my reaction to the end on one hand.
What I do remember of games I particularly loved is the feeling of being in the thick of it, delving deep into the story/game world with puzzles or narrative development stretching before me as far as the horizon.

Now that you ask, I didn’t have a notable reaction to the end of Counterfeit Monkey beyond “Oh, that’s what happens.” The story took the path the author intended it to, and I was fine with that.

For Wizard Sniffer, I remember a lot of the shenanigans (“YOU’RE MY WONDERWAAAALLLL!!!”) and the hoops to jump through to get one or the other of the humans to follow piggy’s nudges. Until now though, I had even forgotten that the pig is a princess.

I have this with books too. Less with movies.


The forum saw fit to suggest this topic to me, so I just read through and am replying months late because I had kind of strong feelings about Wizard Sniffer’s ending—namely, feeling frustrated that I’d spent the whole game not knowing who I (i.e., the PC) really was! In hindsight there were definitely clues to the pig’s real identity, but I tend to take things at face value so I just accepted that I was a very clever pig. So the twist kind of had me rolling my eyes a bit; I felt like the author had just pulled one over on me, and I didn’t enjoy that feeling. It’s a great game, I quite liked it, but I didn’t like only retroactively learning the PC’s true identity.

CM’s ending felt fitting to me. I do think I would have found it somewhat alienating to have the PC I’d spent the whole game with cease to exist in the same way at the end.