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?