I recently finished reading a book that had a good thirty or more pages after the climactic fight scene. It shook out the ramifications of the fight over a few encounters on a couple different days and let you know the status of all the people involved who had survived and even gave a hint at the direction future books might take without actually dangling a cliffhanger on the reader. Movies are often like this too. The climax hits and then you get anywhere from five to twenty minutes of tying up the story and letting you know what the climax means to the world this story has inhabited.
Games aren’t often like that. Many games practically end with the climax. Boss monster dies, “You win!!” flashes on the screen and the credits roll. Other times, games slide in a movie ending, a pre-rendered cut scene that ties up the story and maybe lets you know what the climax means to the world the game took place in. But that is sort of a cop-out. That isn’t really a game ending, its a movie ending tacked on to a game.
This months Round Table tasks us…
How can the denouement be incorporated into gameplay? In literary forms, it is most often the events that take place after the plot’s climax that form your lasting opinion of the story. A well constructed denouement acts almost as a payoff, where protagonists and antagonists alike realize and adjust to the consequences of their actions. Serial media often ignored the denouement in favor of the cliffhanger, in order to entice viewers to return. Television has further diluted the denouement by turning it into a quick resolution that tidily fits into the time after the final commercial break.
But the denouement is most neglected in video games where it is often relegated to a short congratulatory cut scene, or at most–a slide show of consequences. This month’s topic challenges you to explore how the denouement can be expressed as gameplay.
So, how can the denouement be expressed through game play?
The simplest answer is just to continue the game mechanics into an interactive version of the cut scene. If the game included NPCs throughout that you would talk to or exchange items with, continue that. After the fight, put the player back in the game and make them take the sword they took off the demon lord back to the town and see it destroyed (try, of course, to avoid cramming in another boss battle or cliffhanger by making a town elder or someone grab the sword and fight you or run off with it).
A slight twist on that is to leave the actual end of the game up to the player. Maybe during the game several people expressed interest in the sword, either for destroying or using, and let the player take it to whom he thinks deserves it most, let them pick the ending they want to see. After the final boss battle, let the player go finish up some quests or other elements that give them story pieces concerning their actions and the other characters in the game world.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance did this in a way. The game could be completed without actually winning every level and side quest, and one level in particular required you to choose between two characters which one to save. While the end of the game was nothing more than a series of cut scenes, it was a series that was built on the actions you did or did not take throughout the game. The denouement of the game changed depending on the player’s performance. The only failure here is that during the playing of the game, the player has no idea that this denouement will happen, they just play through so the choices they make don’t have the weight they might because the player isn’t really aware those choices are going to matter.
In the future, I’d love to see more games go at least as far as Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, but would really love it to see them go further and let me explore and control the end of the game a bit more. The worst thing I think that could happen is to have a single player game climax and then roll into an MMO where you’ll meet up with other players who experienced the same single player game, where each of you was the hero and fought alone against the same bad guy boss. That, in my opinion, would just render the entire single player game story irrelevant. I suppose that’s why I tend to dislike most MMO tutorials.