What kind of ending do you enjoy in a big parser game?

(Good luck on IFComp all you authors!)

I’m wrapping up my big parser game I’ve been working on for a while. I’ve started to sketch out the final areas, getting rid of all the temporary placeholder rooms I had and working on the intro.

I have the story and overall plot of the endings picked out, but not the puzzles. I’d be interested in hearing what you guys like.

Here are some endings for big games I’ve played in the past (spoilers for all of them):

  1. ADVENTURE: Teleported to another area with cool fourth-wall breaking ideas and a couple very difficult/unfair puzzles
  2. Mainframe Zork/Dungeon: A very complex puzzle about manipulating a colored box followed by a lore quiz
  3. Curses: Teleported to a new area with timed puzzles and a lot of ambience, not too long
  4. Not Just Another Ballerina and Mulldoon Legacy: I don’t remember much of the endings of these two, but looking at walkthroughs it seems they both involve Navigating a complex maze followed by a few simple puzzles
  5. Finding Martin: I also don’t remember this one well, but from the walkthrough it seems like it’s a fairly short sequence of thematically important puzzles with some leaps of intuition required.
  6. Cragne Manor: A combinatorial puzzle followed by a short, light puzzle sequence
  7. Blue Lacuna No puzzles really, just making a thematic choice and getting the consequences of it
  8. Hadean Lands: I remember the very end but need to look up what proceeds it. You put together your knowledge from earlier in the game to echo earlier content, although now with greater effort and preparation
    9.Counterfeit Monkey: You have puzzles of roughly the same difficulty as earlier but with really cool tools you didn’t have before.
  9. Inside Woman: A difficult riddle/combinatorial puzzle

Speaking of Mulldoon Legacy, the help text of that game says:

However, I’d like to stress that “The Mulldoon Legacy” is primarily a puzzle game, and using hints WILL spoil your enjoyment of it. There is no fantastic plot here which is worth a walkthrough just to see.

That’s pretty much where I’m at with my game. I noticed while making this list that the endings of big puzzle games are rarely what I remember most. It seems like most people opt to do a smaller, lighter set of puzzles at the end or to have one horrendous puzzle followed by more light options.

I’m currently planning on 2 main endings, but one of them having two distinct variants story-wise but not puzzlewise. So endings 1A, 1B, and 2. I’m planning on making each ending about half the size of a ‘regular’ dimensions.

I’ve already had a lot of hard puzzles in the game (of the 9 dimensions made so far, 5 are puzzle-heavy and 4 are puzzle-light). Some of the puzzles are hard enough that I have to sit down and work them out on paper even though I wrote them. So I don’t think there have to necessarily be hard puzzles at the end. But there could be! And the nice thing is with two different sets of ending puzzles (1A/B and 2) I can accommodate multiple ‘tastes’.

So what do you like to do at the end of a big puzzle game?

  • One very complex set of puzzles to prove my worth
  • A generally puzzleless area that is story focused
  • A set of puzzles that ‘puts it all together’ using the skills you’ve learned
  • An easy but timed sequence where death is possible
  • A few simple puzzles with hard solutions (like riddles)
  • Mild puzzles with big lore dumps
  • Something else I’m going to comment below
0 voters

Before seeing the results, my current plan is to have one medium-difficulty ending that echoes the earlier puzzles and to have one complex ending that’s timed and/or has possible death.


I prefer easy or no puzzles with story/lore dumps

I think that says a lot about my tastes in games. I like playing narrative-focused games, and I want to make narrative games. But that’s just taste, you are making something different.

For a more puzzle-focused game, I say Counterfeit Monkey is my favorite model. Add something cool/interesting to make the endgame feel special.


I really, really like the chance to mess up at the end, whether it’s an obvious or subtle one. Maybe even where the player has to see something! Of course, it should be fair, but I know as a player saying “haha, that’s funny and not really a cop-out” makes me happy.

Looking at what you put in spoiler text, I like that idea a lot. It feels like a long game shouldn’t be too railroaded, or it can feel like you were just suckered into a conversation where you couldn’t really ask questions. There’s a satisfaction to me in being able to say “Hey, I did well enough saving the universe, but it’s neat to see what I could’ve done better.”

So alternative endings (even good vs. very good) are something I try to put in my own games. “Me me me” and spoiler alert ahead. But my hope is it may help the lightbulb go off for other people who say “I have something great but the ending’s in limbo.”

Under They Thunder, for all its pig-latiny faults, definitely was big, and I was really happy with how at the end you could STAND AND STAY or make a heel turn and STRAND AND STAY. Or in A Roiling Original, you could make Elvira ALIVER. This may not fit the comedy tone of your WIP, though!

On the other hand, Shuffling Around had a puzzle with alternate solutions, much like the others (two, in fact, with slightly different text.)

There’s just something that makes me feel not-railroaded by it, one more secret to uncover, that I’m not railroaded into being the good perfect guy.

I also like final commands that are lampshaded, if possible. For instance in Very Vile Fairy File, you may work out the final command on move 1, but it won’t work until the end. Here, it’s a bit different, there’s something to look forward to. I don’t have another example of this at the moment … well not yet :slight_smile:

And I still am pleased with Threediopolis’s get-all-the-points ending which could be denouement (“Oh, I see the last location and it’s not too bad, with the bumpers I got”) or very tense (“Geez, I have clues now, shouldn’t I be able to figure this out?”) so it could be different things to different people.

I do legitimately feel it’s rewarding to sit down and work through a puzzle I made but can’t remember–I feel I made it intuitive, and I feel sharp as a player. Of course that’s hard to judge straight off the bat and a good reason why people should (at the very least) let a puzzle sit for at least a month if they can, whether or not testers see it!

This next bit is off-topic but in case it helps anyone close the deal on an ending I wanted to add it – it relates my first experiences with games subverting the “build up party, find ancient magic items, and defeat everyone bad” formula, whether through fight mechanics or stories.

6 Apple II RPGs
  • Wizard’s Crown had something that feels well-worn now (Evil guy asks if you will join and rule with them. You lose if you do) … but I enjoyed 1) defeating the enemy with a clever handicap placed on me (magic weapons disintegrate if they touch him) and 2) the mad rush back to town where all sorts of enemies attack you and drain your spells/karma, especially when there was great treasure but no room in the inventory! Eternal Dagger the sequel had a different ending, where you jumped through a portal and couldn’t carry anything, and you had to avoid the usual RPG final fight.
  • Magic Candle: there’s a big ceremony at the end, which was kind of fun, but the really fun part was bursting the bubble the big bad guy was in, instead of finishing the ceremony properly with the right spells. I was so pleased they’d considered that! As much as I loved building up a party that blew away the bad guys, it was neat to be more than a numbers game.
  • Neuromancer was similar–you were stuck on an island slowly losing health, and I remember getting something to eat, dying and getting resurrected and winning a rematch before later seeing “Oh, I could have used certain skills” in a walkthrough years later.
  • Wasteland, I remember frantically planning to get out of the exploding base in time, then wondering “Wow! Is there a cool different ending if some or all in my party get killed, too?” There was.
  • Dragon Wars, there was a critical fight at the end (versus a big dragon army). The bizarre thing was, when I played it on my Apple, I won a big long exciting fight. Then when I played it on an emulator years later, I abused a cheat that let you pump your party up like crazy. Then the fight was actually still tricky, because my players would all go first. But they had too much dexterity. So the enemies took a hit then swatted my party back. With an un-cheated party, I staggered my heals with their attack spells and slipped through. (I managed to up the damage my party did with spells. But I was amused how the brute force solution didn’t work at first!) The kicker here is that I missed using an item I’d gotten and wondered what it was for. (Spoiler: you use the dragon gem from a dragon you healed to gain a Dragon Queen’s alliance–I actually enjoyed overpowering my party to defeat her later.) I remembered this even more than the clever funny bit where Namtar kept resurrecting as you got closer to the pit to throw him in.

So in each case I enjoyed the exploration beyond the ending, seeing what I could’ve done instead of brute force, etc.


This won’t be a surprise given that you’ve already looked at Hadean Lands. But my favorite ending is when the ending echoes the beginning, only in a surprising way. For a puzzle game, that generally means revisiting puzzle mechanics but somehow expanded. New possibilities that weren’t visible when the player started.

Loom is a very classic example. The first spell you learned, OPEN, turns out to be capable of opening the boundary between Life and Death. Myst is another.

It can be tricky, because you don’t really want the final puzzles to be harder. It’s embarrassing for everybody if the player gets stuck at the end and gives up.


I lean toward the “puts it all together” sentiment, although it doesn’t have to be a set of puzzles. (I’m thinking of obstacles that are not technically puzzling.) It could be story focused, or it could be the “prove my worth” ending. All three revolve around answering the question of “Why was this story told?”

I don’t care for big lore dumps in any medium. By the end of a work, I would expect to be so well-acquainted with the world the author has created, additional dumps of lore would be unnecessary or seem out of place.


I like endings that make you go “no way!!” and require a logic leap on part of the player. The example that comes to mind immediately is the moon ending to Portal 2.


Like @pinkunz, I like to be surprised. The reveal of a twist, learning more about the situation your character was just in and being able to ponder it beyond the game. Something special and unexpected, basically.

I like games that feel like they have ended well and things are wrapped up sufficiently, but then present additional game-play.

For example, you could stop the villain to finish the game, but maybe you sacrifice yourself in the process and you roam the castle as a ghost, listening in on the other character’s opinions and see the results of what transpired. Maybe you run into the ghosts of those you vanquished. Maybe sacrificing yourself wasn’t an obvious choice (a logical solution upon reflection though) and the ghost world is just the super secret ending.

I think authors need to not be afraid to put really cool stuff in their games that not all players will see. Do that with an ending and then it becomes something even more memorable and special. The 20 people who played it will talk about it years later. Of those 20, 5 or so will go back and replay the game to experience what they missed. (We have to keep our expectations in check. :wink: )

Either way, I like having some additional game play that explores the game world after it’s over, though very few games actually do this deliberately.

I’m scarred for life with Dragon Warrior on the NES. You get the choice to join the bad guy after struggling through the final castle, and then the screen turns shades of red upon accepting his offer. I thought there has to be more, can I kill the townsfolk now? Oh, maybe the king will be the new enemy! How cool would that be?! Will my character look different now?! Alas, the game literally hangs and you have to restart the system.

Does anyone remember Symphony of the Night on the PlayStation? That game has the best “pretend” ending ever!


Agreed, but suprised you didn’t chime in here then.


What can I say? I’m unpredictable. :wink:


Kinda turning this over in my head it occurs to me that I don’t really remember the ending to a lot of games, IF or otherwise. I’m more likely to remember some basic game mechanic, story beat, or something like that than the ending. Probably because I’ll spend many more hours poking around in the game thinking about the stuff in the middle but once the game’s over I’m probably not going to spend a lot of time thinking about/engaged with it in the same way.

And of the game endings that I remember, I’m waaaay more likely to remember an ending because something about it irritated me (mechanically in terms of gameplay or thematically in terms of the narrative). So I overall enjoyed Yakuza 2 and Mass Effect 3 but the endings stand out because of: (Y2) the quicktime event after the endboss which, if you fail, means you have to re-do the boss fight; or (ME3) because it failed to resolve so much of the stuff that had been set up narratively. Same kind of thing with the ending to the original Psychonauts.

The game endings that stick out for me for reasons other than annoyance seem to mostly be because of “thematic closure” or whatever you want to call it. Off the top of my head (and intentionally picking different genres) Persona 3 and Infidel (one of the few Infocom games with what I’d call a memorable ending) are memorable, I think, mostly because the “shape” of their endings is essential to the player’s eventual understanding of the meaning of the narrative.


My responses turned out to be the top two options (at the moment, anyway).

I definitely want the final part of a parser game to be a kind of climactic, meaningful moment in the story. I don’t want to lose the puzzle element altogether, though, if it is a game based on puzzles. I like the idea of a group of puzzles that tie together all the skills you’ve learned, so that the puzzles feel like they are leading towards something.