No Snickering, Games Climax Too Late

Grumpy complaints about bad game endings are not news. But a podcast complaint that games don't have what they called "falling action" and "denouements" in high school — that's worth being grumpy about.

A listener of the Listen Up podcast recently asked the show's hosts to talk about the poor quality of game endings. The listener was blue over the arguably poor endings of Metal Gear Solid 4 and BioShock.

The hosts debated whether they should lament the state of game endings or delve into the problematic staying power of end-boss-based design.


They settled on a more interesting nuance: What about making the most exciting moment of a game not be the very last thing? Maybe that's a problem?

Here's Listen Up master of ceremonies Garnett Lee and Gamasutra's Christian Nutt on the last Listen Up at 1:49:40:

Garnett Lee: The exigency of making the game come together at the end and hitting the [development]milestones was what undermined building out the ultimate end of the game. They were working on the journey, they're building all this stuff. And then they get toward the end and they're like: "Oh shit, we've got to wrap this thing up. Let's wrap it up, get it done and get it out..." ...If you followed a classic story progression, the end of the game wouldn't be the climax. You'd have the climax prior to the end of the game and then you would have the rest of the run-out.

Christian Nutt: Ico had a denouement...

Indeed it did, Christian. And the denouement was playable, which is more than one can say about the long post-climactic-end-boss-battle of games like Ocarina of Time or BioShock or just about any Metal Gear.

Most games give the gamer little to experience after the final major battle other than a cut-scene or end credits. An exception — that doesn't satisfy what's being called for here — are open world games that continue after their story concludes do. They, in a sense, have denouements, just based on the fact that the player can roam a Fallout 3, Fable II or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas world after the final narrative confrontation. But that's not quite the classic way it's done.

What about going back to visit the home town your game started in? Or chatting with the characters who helped you slay the final boss?

Why is the climax the last thing you play in most games? That's a good question from Listen Up.

07-17-2009 Listen Up Podcast


    Games ARE NOT movies.

    The only movies that have 50 hours of playtime are the ones by Peter Jackson. They have a very different structure and you have an entirely different relationship with the main character. Why do people insist on comparing them? For the most part games have as much in common with movies as they do with music, painting or cooking.

      Games may not be movies, but the narrative formula in discussion is hardly exclusive to film and in fact pre-dates cinema by at least a few hundred years. To say that this is a call for games to be more like movies is far too dismissive.

      I, for one, would like to see more games employ the traditional narrative structure with a more fleshed-out conclusion, rather than "conflict, conflict, conflict, climax, whoops I blinked and missed the resolution." Not all games need this - I think that gaming has established this short resolution formula quite well - but I'd certainly like to see it more often.

      I think developers have this idea that gamers won't want to keep playing after the climax, and to an extent I think there's truth there. I've already beaten the bad guy, do I really want to go and experience deeper emotional closure with support characters? Probably not in Gears of War, but in Mass Effect? Sign me up for that.

      Games are not movies, true, but that doesn't mean they have to be different just because of that fact. Borrowing from other mediums is healthy, and is the way of all fledgling media (which, in comparison to some others, gaming still is). I think this particular movement would, in the hands of skilled writers, be an incredibly positive step forward for satisfying narrative in games.

    Long Form:
    Like with any design, while certainly open to the idea that there 'could' be an aftermaths rather than the climatical 'last sephiroth boss fight' gimmick, all these game design decisions should tie closely to what the game emphasises. In Fable 2 or Fallout 3 its only appropriate to allow the player to continue exploring the world. In Final Fantasy 10 conversely, the experience is more cinematic. The ending is a culmination of all the emotions welled up through the entirety of the journey. The developers feel that they need absolute control over what the player sees here in order to punch out the maximum effect.

    Short form: It all just depends.

    PS: FF7 Crisis Core had both.

    I would agree with the notion that the climax is too late in many story-based games. To me, something like the new Prince of Persia is an example of a story-based game where the climax was perfectly placed, even if some people didn't like it.

    However, my point for the ending would be that many developers do either too much or too little with the mid point of the game. On one hand, some games have exceptionally memorable moments throughout the game, but the climax feels secondary to some [too much]. On the other side, sometimes the middle feels like nothing more than a means to the end which is usually good, but by then you're over the game anyway [too little].

    Stories are made of many parts, but the climax is always followed by a resolution is the point here. I would agree with this idea, but the problem is often that developers HAVE to shoe-in sequels, and further play may actually answer things properly and ruin their sense of 'mystery' which runs into a sequel.

    @Death Duck: music, painting and cooking also have quite a bit in common with some 'types' of games. Comparing movie/book writing themes to story-based games is fair, believing they are one and the same is not of course.

    You couldn't roam the land after the ending to the first version of Fallout 3. It really pissed me off that they chose to do it that way as well.

    "They were working on the journey, they’re building all this stuff. And then they get toward the end and they’re like: “Oh shit, we’ve got to wrap this thing up. Let’s wrap it up, get it done and get it out…”"

    I think they're quoting Obsidian after every bug-ridden game they've ever released... broken ending to KOTOR2, anyone?

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