How do you execute multiple game endings well?

There are a lot of games that feature alternate endings or different variations and lure people in with the premise of “replayability”. Being able to follow different paths is amazing and it leaves you with the impression that your choices matter but ultimately, a lot of games don’t do it well. Hence, I wanted to share some thoughts on the topic today and share some concerns I have. I may not come to a conclusion here but I feel like it’s a nice discussion to have and would love it if you, dear reader, would take your time and maybe comment your opinion on the matter and share some insights.

So, first of all, spoiler warnings: There will be mild spoilers for some games. The TellTale Games and their premise, Undertales different routes, and Catherine’s endings get very mildly touched on and it may be a small spoiler if you don’t know anything about those games. I also talk about the number of endings in NieR Replicant and how they work but I don’t touch upon the story itself or anything that is actually spoilery…. Also, I talk a bit about Fable and Beacon Pines, so, again, premise-spoilers so not actual spoilers but I don’t wanna get shouted at for not warning you. So if you don’t wanna know stuff about relatively old games then don’t read this. Thank you.

When I talk about different paths, I talk about choices you make giving you the freedom of splitting off into different story-arcs or changing the outcome more and more with every choice you make. Beacon Pines does this quite well by splitting every choice into a plethora of branches on a literal tree. Some of these branches lead to dead ends but you bring something back from that: Knowledge. So you can basically return to a previous point and try out a different solution to see if that changes the way the story goes, which is great, in my opinion. Meanwhile, you have chapter selections in the Telltale Games and while they also allow you to change things, I don’t think that that’s quite the right choice game-design wise. So, you may think that these two solutions are similar or maybe even the same but the issue is that all the Telltale Games have an inherent flaw that Beacon Pines doesn’t have: Your choices don’t matter.

On the one hand, there is Beacon Pines where you can hit dead ends, you can hit bad endings, you get good endings and other possibilities that change the outcome of the story and how elements unfold. I know stuff like that because of the demo that I played and the Kickstarter promises but also because of an interview that is coming to YouTube soon. On the other hand, there are the TellTale games where you have a story that takes one character from point A to point Z. There are plenty of points where you make decisions that save or kill one person over another… Point B gives you the option of saving one of two characters: NPC 1 and NPC 2. You choose one over the other and there may be consequences but in the end, you still get to point Z which is the end of the game and it may play out slightly different but it doesn’t change the way that the game is played.

One of my all-time favourite games is Catherine Classic. That game has nine endings: Three “morally good” ones, three “morally neutral” ones and three “morally bad” ones. I add “morally” because “bad” in this context is associated with sins, Catherine, and essentially, things that are outside of the norms and morals of society… Meanwhile, “good” means here that you commit to Katherine, conformity and effectively, conservatism in a way aka marrying, loyalty and getting old together in a romantic way, I guess. The choices you make constantly alter the path that you’re headed towards. There is this karma-meter that changes to the right or the left based on your choices… These choices are presented to you as questions that often can’t be associated with “good” or “evil” and it’s hard to understand how being a “dog person” or being a “cat person” means that you’re good or evil… I guess dogs stand for loyalty which is good and… cats eat food everywhere where they get food, which is “bad”. You also can send text messages to Katherine or Catherine which, based on your choice of words, also gives you points on the karma-meter changing the path you take… Ultimately, this sounds like a great system but in essence, you end up playing the same game the same way every time and in the end, nothing really changes, apart from the end. You have different endings but not different playthroughs. Getting all endings can be not only frustrating but also boring and it destroys the fun parts of the game, in a way, which is sadly something I dislike about Catherine, but it’s fun when you get a new ending once in a while and it’s interesting.

So, TellTale has great characters and great stories but only one ending. Beacon Pines branches out the story itself and may have fewer actual endings than Catherine but at least the gameplay aka the actual plot changes along the way according to the path you take, unlike Catherine. I feel like these three games do things very differently… and TellTale Games tend to have the issue of endazzling you at first with the magic of “severe choices” but in the end, it doesn’t matter because you realise in your second playthrough that none of your choices actually mattered as you SPOILER end up alone as Clementine. And you may already know that because Lee doesn’t show up in the second game.

My issue with multiple endings is that it’s just a buzzword at this point that is used to promote games. “Immersive”, “Multiple Endings”, “Choices Matter”, etc. are words that people use to advertise but in the end, these are just shallow words thrown into the mix to get people to spend their money. At this point, I hate “multiple endings” because games make me replay the full game again… but it becomes tedious. 

I have nearly finished all of NieR: Replicants endings. I absolutely love the game and Ending A was great even if it made me a bit sad… but that’s just the way it is. Replicant is a dark game all in all even if it has its wholesome moments and I absolutely am in love with it. Now, NieR: Replicant actually features four endings plus one bonus ending that was added to the remastered version here. Ending A plays the story as normal. When you beat Ending A, you get to save the game and end up at a certain point in the second half of the game. Then you replay that second part and get more insights on the story and more background information on top of another ending after the final boss fight. After that, you get the same thing. You play the game with a bit more new content regarding the story and background info and you keep your stuff and go to the final boss and there you actually get a new final boss where you’re presented with a choice to make: Decision C or Decision D. C or D lead to different endings. If you pick D, you can now in Replicant get Ending E when you start a new game. 

Now, this approach may be something that you just kind of accept at first but over time it has the risk of losing your interest. When I noticed that I got more insights into the backstory of other characters and parties in the game, it got me invested but I ended up backing up my save file and instead of playing through Part 2 for the fourth time in a row, I ended up just reloading that save file and going for Ending D instead of C. Sure, you keep your weapons and you can fully upgrade the Fool’s Lament which is arguably the strongest weapon in the game, especially at Level 4 where it has 999 attack damage… Sure, you just breeze through the game and one-shot most stronger enemies that gave you trouble before but it gets stale fast if you do it too many times. Having different endings is amazing in a way because you get to see different parts of the game and tying new content to your choices is great but I would have loved it more in NieR Replicant if you could select chapters and reload more than three save files. I would have loved it if there were other options.

Undertale, another example of a game with different routes, basically has two routes that you unlock after your first playthrough: The pacifist route where you don’t harm enemies and find other ways of dealing with them… and the genocide route where you kill everything. Now, I haven’t played that game yet really apart from like an hour or something… but I like that concept and because of something that happens in NieR Replicant, I would have liked to see that as an option: Being a pacifist or not killing whoever in the game… It would have been great.

Having the option of choosing your playstyle and being able to choose the ending through the choices you make is great. Fable, at last, had stuff like that and despite it being an old game I feel like it ultimately did a great job at letting the player choose their own adventure and it shaped the way they were treated and looked at in the game as well by making people fear or hate them if they did bad stuff or praise and love them if they did great deeds. It’s not perfect but I feel like Fable was quite nice and NieR is quite nice and I’m looking forward to the full release of Beacon Pines and I’m looking forward to playing Undertale someday.

Essentially, I don’t think that there is one solution that I could think of but there are many ways of creating meaningful player choices and multiple endings that actually add to the game instead of taking something away. Having replayability with new content mixed into old content makes it interesting and intriguing, like in NieR Replicant, however, allowing players to skip to certain sections or chapters like in Beacon Pines and allowing players to try out different options in those scenarios also makes the game more engaging and makes “multiple endings” seem like less of an empty promise. Allowing alternate playstyles like in Undertale, Fable, and even The Binding of Isaac: Repentance (where you can decide to not kill a certain boss and you get rewarded for it) to create the choice of killing or not killing someone or something is great. Allowing players to create their own story is amazing but it doesn’t mean anything if your choices lead to one end and one end only, rendering every choice meaningless like in the TellTale games… so uh, those are just my thoughts from this post all summed up and I don’t have a degree in game-design so take all of that as just an opinion. I’m just someone who likes to play games and everyone knows that players don’t know what they want. So uh, there’s that.

I’d love it if people could have a discussion on this matter as well in the comments and I’d love it if you could add a comment with your opinions or good examples or anything you wanna say on the matter and I’d love it if we could engage in a discussion. You, me, other people. Could be very cool! Just keep it civil, we’re all friends here. 🙂

Also: At last, (I didn’t know where to insert this) I love NieR: Replicant and made that header image there by editing together a press image with my character and Emil’s face, so uh, overall edited by me and credits go to me and all of that stuff. I figured it’d be the best header image for this sort of post since Replicant inspired me to make this post. Also, this post features screenshots from Beacon Pines, NieR Replicant and Catherine Classic. I didn’t have any screenshots from Fable, Undertale or The Walking Dead, so I wasn’t able to link any of those/embed any of those into the post, so bear with me.

Hope you enjoyed this post! Stay safe, healthy, kind and hydrated!

Cheers!

This post was first published on Indiecator by Dan Indiecator aka MagiWasTaken.

I want to be evil but not too evil

Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved the idea of summoners and necromancers. Skeletons are cute and the idea of resurrecting fallen (potentially enemy) warriors to fight by your side is a great idea and I love the whole thematic around it. However, when it comes to games, I feel like there aren’t enough games that let you do something that is so immoral. In a way, reviving corpses is desecration, after all, right?

Similarly, I love it when games let you perform choices that are immoral in a way, even when I myself in real life (at least the human that I pretend to be) would never do anything like that. In Fable, for instance, you can decide if you want to be an angelic hero of justice… or you just slaughter people, rob the poor, take bribes, and sacrifice people to the Chapel of Skorm in order to gain your lovely devil horns and your demonic aura.

And I know, I know… Being bad is… bad. Obviously. I’d never kill anyone in real life or I’d perform robbery… but the aspect of being this character that you could never embody in real life is actually quite intriguing and I feel like there are not enough games that let you do. Of course, you have these few titles with two different endings that let you be “bad” or “good” and it influences your ending which then… blablabla… Bioshock 1 and 2 did that btw where you could show mercy on people and rescue the Little Sisters or you could kill them and harvest the little brats and it would give you a different ending… but I feel like those games aren’t going far enough. You basically just have two choices: Right or wrong. Good or evil. But there are a lot of things beyond good and evil (great game btw) that let can’t just be seen as inherently evil or good. Robbing people would be bad but what if you redistribute the money you rob to the poor to enable them to live, for instance? Or what if you have to kill someone to save someone else (like with the Trolley problem)?

Games often try to make you believe that there are only two choices and that you can’t be in the middle or go even further… it’s a bit of a habit that some companies have to make it easier for themselves, and I find it somewhat lazy.

Catherine Classic does a great job by letting you achieve one of nine endings ranging from “very evil” to “very good” and it has some neutral endings in the middle… but the problem with that game is that it still abides the traditional values of “good” (aka marrying, only having sex to reproduce, no fetishes, etc.) and “evil” (aka Lust, hedonism, cheating, fetishes, etc.). You have to answer some questions and based on your answer it (sometimes rather randomly) assigns a value to your Karma that basically influences your ending. Your texts with either Katherine or Catherine also influence your ending… and generally, the game wants you to think that going for Catherine is bad and that going for Katherine is good… despite there being plenty of things that are wrong with Katherine. Just a hot take, I guess.

Overlord does a great job of letting you chose what to do. You get to become an “evil” Overlord and either save towns and be celebrated or enslave them and be hated and feared. You’re not just some bad guy but you’re actually THE Overlord that rules Hell itself… or at least your dark domain. The game lets you perform whatever choice you want to perform as you’re kind of the hero of your own story. The heroes that are in the game that oppose you, more often than not, seem to be twisted themselves and resemble caricatures of hero tropes, which is a great take, in my opinion. Dungeon Keeper lets you experience the story of some sort of evil being that is creating the living space for the undead, the monsters and the other evil beings that get threatened by those pesky humans. Fable lets you be a devil. In Skyrim, you can be an outlaw.

My point is that these games don’t judge you for being bad but they don’t condone it. When you perform an evil deed, you’ll notice and the characters will treat you differently. Fable has this weird thing where you get booed and insulted by everyone if you go for an evil playthrough, even though everyone is afraid of you… which is kind of silly in a way. In Overlord, you actually receive rewards for being the good guy and saving people and stuff. In Skyrim, you can murder bandits and nobody will judge you, even when murder is bad… and you can join a creed of assassins… which is quite cool, y’know? In Carrion, you’re the monster that is escaping a research facility… and you murder everyone… and that’s cool. The game WANTS you to be evil and I love that!

But how far can you take this? I feel like there are boundaries that you shouldn’t cross, I’d just love it if we could still move more freely into this chaotic evil kind of playstyle in games where you’re the villain and do bad things but don’t take it too far. I feel like it should be possible for you to be the bad guy in games without getting judged for it by the developers and without the game putting you at a disadvantage. I’d love it if games would more often get into that mindset of this evil lich or other villaineous beings that try to conquer the world. I’d love it if you could play as a skeleton (like in Skul or Osteoblasts) more often instead of this scrawny Prince Charming that saves the day yet again.

Obviously, games shouldn’t take things too far. I don’t think that you need to show how someone slowly thrusts a knife into someone’s throat (talking about The Last Of Us 2 btw) or how your character tortures someone by pulling out their fingernails or by breaking their fingers one by one (like in GTA V)… I also don’t think that you need to murder children (I’d never do that in Bioshock btw) or that you need to r*pe women in games to be “evil”. You don’t need to kick puppies or burn people alive in order to be able to play out that fantasy. I think games don’t need to go that far but they still should allow some sort of freedom. They should restrict the player when it comes to things like the points mentioned above but also allow you some freedom of choice when it comes to “do you want to be evil or good or somewhere in-between?” and I feel like I haven’t seen too many games that pulled that off well. Beholder has some interesting mechanics and ways of letting you do things that aren’t ethical to potentially save people… and it also allows you to do similar things to do bad things or punish people or frame them. Meanwhile Catherine Classic was quite obvious when it came to what choices the game wants us to make to achieve certain endings.

So, frankly, I’d love to be the villain in more games. I’d love it if I could be that demonic character that conquers the world or that heroes want to defeat… I’d love it if I could play games with characters like that more often and I’d love it if games would let me have that choice without pushing me onto some sort of path that is rather obvious.

I feel like that could be great. I feel like that’s something that I’d enjoy and that other people could potentially enjoy playing as well and that games need to explore more often. Obviously, we don’t need a game where you just assault people and r*** them and whatever. I think that certain boundaries are obvious to anyone.

Edit: I’ve added the example of Carrion to one of the paragraphs as I love that game and I forgot to mention it despite intending to. #fixed

What do you think? Do you know any games that do this quite well? Let me know!

Cheers!

This post was first published on Indiecator by Dan Indiecator aka MagiWasTaken.

Achievements in Video Games

Today, I wanted to talk about achievements in games and replayability. This is just going to be a rather quick take on it but I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for ages and thought I might just go ahead and write about it. 

There are a lot of different ways to enjoy games. Some people play games casually to enjoy the ride from beginning to end (or until someway through) while others try to beat it on the hardest difficulty possible or with some sort of handicap. There are times where I try to reach specific points in games without using the intended way or without touching the ground, for instance. Other people enjoy the harder and more challenging experiences like no-hit-runs in Dark Souls or wherever, and while that may not be my cup of tea, it’s perfectly fine for them to enjoy the game they want to enjoy them. In the same fashion, completionists love getting all collectables or all achievements, trophies or rewards in a game, which is lovely in its own way.

Achievements are a great way for developers to bring more replayability to their games or to bring more life into a game’s world. Obviously, not every game is doing this perfectly as a lot of them either give you achievements for just following the main path/the story… and other games just make it an achievement to collect a ton of collectables scattered through the map, which is suboptimal and something that I dread… but some people may enjoy that aspect of collecting everything and looking at items in the menu that they previously worked hard for. 

My favourite type of achievements, however, is the kind that encourages playing the game differently or doing something that the player wouldn’t think of themselves. 

A great example of this would be “speedrunning” Outer Wilds aka finishing the game in one loop! This can be a bit tricky but it is fairly achievable and it’s actually something that you wouldn’t do without knowing anything about the game, as all the clues that lead you to the solution have to be collected throughout multiple loops. On top of that, there are other achievements in the game that make you try out some rather hard things… but it is do-able and it never feels like a hassle or anything like that.

Some games, however, don’t manage to do so very well. Fable, for instance, has a lot of different achievements that either tie into the story or that work around the mechanics of the game. At the same time, though, it also features achievements that require you to collect at least ten legendary weapons, all the dolls, all kinds of books, and all silver keys, which kind of turns into a drag once you’ve beaten the game and want to get those achievements. I’m only missing eight achievements in that game, including those that I just mentioned, and I’m not too sure if I want to get them. Meanwhile, Hades has one achievement where you’re supposed to level up all keepsakes/trinkets to the maximum level, turning it into a grind of sorts. Obviously, Hades is a rogue-lite, which is why it is meant to be played multiple times. What makes this achievement different from the collect-em-all-achievements in Fable, is the fact that the game encourages you to play it with different keepsakes that all focus on different boons or playstyles, which is actually quite a good idea. 

There is something about games that wants me to 100% them. I’m not a completionist at all with my measly 28% average completion rate on steam and the 11 perfect games I have… but I still try to complete at least some of the games I’m playing in order to feel this sense of accomplishment when the number of achievements on Steam goes up (currently at 3,619!). I just dread those “collect-em-all”-style achievements that all kinds of games implement on Steam while I love the specific things you have to do in Risk of Rain 2 to unlock those new items, abilities, features and characters in the game. I love it when the game makes me do something that I haven’t thought of before. I love it when it actually has consequences for me if I complete something, be it an unlock or an upgrade. I love it when the game rewards you for exploring every nook and cranny of a level.

But I dread it when it turns into a hassle or when the backtracking gets too annoying. I dread it when just storing at the achievements makes me want to not play it again after I’ve initially beaten it.

On another note, by the time this post was fully written, Razbuten also published a piece on it that you can find right here. I can recommend his videos a ton and can’t wait to watch it myself later once I’m back home again. 

I hope you enjoyed this post! What are your thoughts on achievements in games? Do you agree with the points I made? Do you think differently about them? Have you completed a game and set out to do so? 

Let me know!

Cheers!