What makes a great ending in IF?

Hey all, I made a new poll on the IFDB. Any help adding to it is appreciated!


it’s asking for games that have great endings: finales/denouements, whatever. Any ideas posted here will get considered too! I want to see what others have done before me as I feel my endings need help, lol.


Like most problems in writing IF I believe Emily Short has written a little about this. This article about set-pieces is a good read, even though it doesn’t talk about endings per se (although an ending can be considered a kind of set-piece).

Personally I don’t believe there’s one right way to do endings, and what counts as a “good ending” will vary highly depending on the game in question. (In fact, maybe a better way to go about this would be to examine where endings can go wrong, or endings that are particularly interesting to think about.) But I do think that generally a good ending will provide a sort of capper for the themes expressed in the game, and wrap up most or all of the dangling plot threads.


Gun Mute
So, the hardest problem that endings in videogames have to face is that an ending (like more or less every part of the game) really needs to reward the player. But the best possible reward in a game is the ability to do more stuff, and obviously you can’t do more stuff after the game ends.

[spoiler]Gun Mute’s protagonist has two big character hooks: he can’t talk, and all his social interactions are carried out through the limited agency of nodding and shaking his head; and, of course, he is great at shooting things and operates in a world where most problems can be solved by shooting things.

Now, personally I found the big end-boss guy the least interesting opponent of the game, but that’s not the real problem: after the climax, there’s an epilogue, where you discover how the surviving NPCs are getting along and what’s happening to the town. On the one hand, I’m usually a sucker for this kind of The World According To Garp strung-out epilogue; but on the other, rather than being this upbeat sequence that reminds you of what you were fighting for, it felt to me like a diminished, sad remnant of a thing. Partly because you’re mostly good at shooting things, and there’s no shooting in the epilogue. Partly because the boyfriend is a bit too generic to be a really compelling love interest. Partly because, without shooting everything, the limits of Mute’s muteness become a lot more acutely visible. To me it felt like a hollow victory. I’m not sure whether this makes it a failed ending - pathos is a fine note to go out on -, but I’m not sure it was the effect desired.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]Right at the end, it turns out that Violet was actually watching everything you did: she had set up a secret camera to watch you. Also, she fake-out pretends to leave you as a joke. Both of these are totally not-cool things to do to one’s partner, and twist a previously quirky-and-conflicted-but-ultimately-sweet relationship into something dysfunctional and co-dependent and controlling.

This effect wasn’t intended by the author at all: the camera was put in to resolve some problems with the plot-logic (imaginary-Violet was hurt by the destroying of her gifts, but understood the context; it’s hard to see how real-Violet would.) More importantly, it’s sort of inconsistent with the general tone of the rest of the game. Moral of the story: test your endings with readers, and solicit feedback on things like tone and meaning and so on. Otherwise, you’re vulnerable to an interpretation that’s a) totally obvious to everyone except you, and b) turns your story into something you really didn’t want.[/spoiler]


[spoiler]Anchorhead is so damn good at the ominous buildup that there’s no way that any actual conclusion could live up to it. Uncovering the dark plans and evil machinations is great; it’s still pretty great when the mask has been drawn back and everything’s going to hell; but once you know how everything fits together and what you need to do in order to win, it kind of kills the atmosphere. The last puzzle is absolutely the least interesting.

And it’s got the problem of most Lovecraftian stories that, despite being Lovecraftian, want a heroic conclusion: you set up the Enemy as an ineffable monstrosity more unimaginably powerful and alien than a mere god could ever be, symbolising the total, monstrous indifference of the universe and the inability of small, insignificant humanity to have any meaningful impact on it, making a mockery of human rationality, faith and capabilities. Then you have a plucky hero defeat it with a shotgun. (Or, in IF, by the logical manipulation of machine components.) You can have one or the other in your story, but they can’t really co-exist without one or both feeling contrived.

These are pretty fundamental problems, to do with the sort of story Gentry was trying to tell, rather than any specific failing on his part.

I dunno about the moral here. There’s “your players do not have the right to a happy ending, even if they really want one,” that’s pretty important, although how much it applies here I’m not sure about. “Getting the ending absolutely right is sometimes not just difficult, but impossible” is probably closer to it.[/spoiler]

Wouldn’t the conclusion to ANchorhead come after the episode you described?

I’m treating the ending of a game as comprising its endgame, dramatic climax, and epilogue. Endings are a lot bigger than the literal final scene. Unless you mean something a bit more specific by ‘conclusion’ here.

I’ve read small-to-no talk about the ending of Andromeda Apocalypse (including everything after the countdown Start). I’d like some feedback, if this is not a thread hi-jacking. :slight_smile:

Especially from you, Sam. I guess the “I was a teenage betatester” excuse is now outdated!

I don’t mind at all because the more I can learn about what authors are doing with their endings, the better. I haven’t played your game yet. I’m going through the list on the poll I made, but I might have to refer to the walkthrus because I’m terrible at actually playing IF, lol :laughing:

I understand you lumping it all together like that, but it’s just that the epilogue deals with some of the very things you criticised in the final confrontation.

To wit, the puny human did not win the day; darkness was not held at bay; the curse will continue(ay). A heroic climax, yes, a heroic showdown, definitely, but not a heroic finale or conclusion to the tale.

Sort of. But, well.

[spoiler]My personal feeling is that Lovecraftian gods don’t work as actual Lovecraftian gods if they’re basically Sauron. ‘You have, through exceptional efforts, foiled the evil god’s plans; but he still schemes and may yet return’ is a situation where, y’know, they were just an evil god, something that’s possible to mess with. Indefinitely delaying (rather than fully averting) the end of the world still counts as one in the win column for the puny humans, I think. The first round of the boxing-match has still gone to Amoeba rather than Freight Train, even if there are a lot more rounds to go.

(I mean, the story works if you’re cool with thinking of Ialdabaoth as just a moderately-powerful evil god, something within the scope of human comprehension and influence. So it worked for me when it was the only Lovecraftian story I’d ever read. And a lot of latter-day mythos stuff absolutely takes the approach wherein elder gods are just really big monsters, and perhaps I shouldn’t be such a purist.)[/spoiler]

I’m about to release my 3rd and I’m already working on my 4th. Out of my 4 games, 3 are Lovecraftian. Huge fan here. I sort of adapt my Lovecraft leanings to a mix of Indiana Jones vs Cthulhu, if you will (or even if you won’t). It adds more action, more ability for the players to “win”. But I agree they shouldnt win over “eternal evil gods” but rather the cults that try to summon them. (Just to use one of many Lovecraftian tropes). That’s my 2 cents on Lovecraftian adventures.

As far as endings in general, I don’t need the “happy ending”. I just want to see what makes a more satisfactory ending in IF than:

*** You Have Won ***


I like endings that give me a small chill.

Makes me wonder if people are okay with “Bad” endings to horror games (You die, can’t stop the dark god, etc.). It is the logical conclusion to horror fiction,
but I guess in IF, the “Game” aspects runs contrary to that. (The player wants to win, so to speak.)

And maga, please be a Lovecraftian purist. There is this german novel where a shoggoth is defeated by singing children holding hands foams at mouth.

I prefer an ending that is unlike the ending I saw before; unfortunately those are too rare in IF, which is odd, because if I play two iterations of your game and I went about it very different ways but got two near-identical ‘endings’, I will probably not play any further iterations of your game. So, you would think more authors would see the value of multiple optimal endings.

This is highly related to maga’s issue about the best reward being added play.

That can’t be correct because maga is a genius who knows everything, remember?

What about “The Dunwich Horror”?

Marshall, maga is one cool cat, and I wasn’t implying anything about the extend of his knowledge, merely that I agree with him that Lovecraftain horror should be nihilstic and bleak.

The obvious solution is to make the dark god the PC.

So long as >immanentize eschaton is an accepted command, I’d be happy being a dark god or even just a cultist.

Cast the player as a horror fan looking on as things are happening instead of as the main character. Horror fans cheer on death, so commands like OPEN TOMB suddenly make sense.

A lot of horror/ghost stories are driven by unwise curiosity, which also motivates a lot of IF players who want to see how the game is going to develop (and who can’t see a lock without trying to find a key for it), so that seems pretty consonant. But I don’t know if that works so well with Lovecraftian horror per se.