Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

What Endings Would YOU Change?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 23, 2012

Okay. So Bioware will be changing Mass Effect 3‘s endings (probably) by popular demand. I jokingly added a new ending to Frayed Knights in response (though I like the new ending better). Apparently some more indies are jumping in and doing the same, now. It’s a silly stunt, but it’s fun, and hey… isn’t that what games are supposed to be about?

But this isn’t entirely a new thing.

Bethesda retconned part of the Fallout 3 ending with DLC. I never played the DLC, but after that ending (which I felt was forced), I wasn’t particularly inclined to play the game any further. That and Microsoft Live sucked bitterly and wouldn’t work for me at all when I, in a moment of weakness, thought I *might* buy the DLC. All I can figure is that they were trying to be all edgy or something, and it just came out sounding forced and lame.

Portal had an extra few seconds tacked on to its ending some time later to make way for the sequel.

Some sequels have kinda-sorta retconned the previous games’ endings. The latter part of the Ultima series seemed to do a lot of hand-waving to invalidate everything you did in the previous games. While not quite the same as going back and actually changing the previous games’ ending, they did serve as a pretty significant modifier.

So here’s a thought: If you had great power to reverse time or re-release a game with a changed ending, what would you change? What endings would you modify, and how would you change them so that future or past gamers would have a better experience?

Me? Well, I’ll try and snake the good ones…

Ultima 9. I probably shouldn’t talk on this one, because I haven’t actually played it, though part of the reason I didn’t play it was because of how it ends the story.  The other part of the reason was extreme bugginess, and the fact that it’s really, really hard to get running on modern machines. All it would really take, in my mind, is getting rid of the whole “Guardian is the dark half of the Avatar” crapola. That one thing pretty much invalidated everything you did since Ultima IV.  The original Bob White storyline sounds like it would have done the trick.  Though I’d kinda have preferred keeping Britannia around.  Apparently the original Garriott-penned plot had you fighting the Guardian on his home world — meaning the whole Guardian-is-dark-half-of-the-Avatar crapola was never the original plan. An evil counterpart to the Avatar? Sure. Sounds great. But literally his dark side? Like, becoming the paragon of virtue is literally what caused all this evil to come into the world? Ridiculous.

Maybe what we really need is for someone to buy up the Ultima license (HAH! You might literally have to pry it from their cold, dead fingers as they go bankrupt…) and just retcon Ultima 9 with a complete do-over. Maybe Ultima 8 as well…

Diablo 1. The whole “I coulda had a V8” ending. What. The. Freak.  You pry the gem from Diablo, and he morphs back into the original form of the body he took over – some poor kid with a giant hole in his forehead where the gem had been.  And then, mysteriously, your character says, “Oh! Nevermind that’s how Diablo came to be, it looks like the gem is supposed to go… right… here!” *THWACK*. If I were an adventurer, let me tell you, this would be the very LAST thing that I would do. I’d be dumping it into the bottom of the ocean, dropping it in the nearby lava, or just about anything else BEFORE I tried to blunt trauma the thing into my cranium. And, as we know from the sequel, that didn’t end so well for us, either.

Wing Commander: Prophecy. Another one I wouldn’t mind pretending Never Happened, story-wise. Mainly, I’d have written Christopher Blair (formerly known as “Blue Hair” in the original games) out of the episode entirely. But leaving it ending in a cliff-hanger for a sequel that never really happened? Okay, there were online episodes – “Secret Ops” – that I never finished playing (they were really dull) which had very little story associated with them.  But overall, Prophecy committed the sin of wrapping up too little of the story. Not that there was much story, as I recall. It’s been a long time…

Wow – from this list, I guess my take-away from all of my most disliked endings involve killing / maiming the player’s avatar (or former avatar) at the end. Sure, it sounds all cool and martyr-y and stuff, but it usually isn’t. I imagine it is possible to do it right, but most examples come off as being cheesy imitations of far better stories, written by a hack who imagines him or herself as a better writer than they really are. I think the only way it can be done is if it is truly the player’s choice, and he is allowed to explore the alternatives.

But really, the question is for you: What endings would you change, and how? There are lots of older games with crappy, tacked-on endings. Here’s your chance to indulge your imaginations and try to improve upon the classics!

Filed Under: Design, Mainstream Games, Retro - Comments: 20 Comments to Read

  • Califer said,

    Haven never beat Diablo, I had been wondering how he had taken over the main character. I thought it was something like an infection that he had picked up from fighting Diablo. A disease of the soul, if you will. I am so disappointed now.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Nope. I mean, maybe your character was out of inventory slots or something, and it was all he / she could think of at the time…

  • Void said,

    I’ve seen that some people don’t like that Shepherd dies in the ending, but I was happy to kill that bastard and revenge Roach and Ghost.

  • Noumenon said,

    I’d like someone to change the ending of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for Nintendo so it comes before that hall with all the robot troopers so I could actually get to it.

  • Melissa said,

    Fable 2. Right here, right now. I’d like to get back the twenty minutes of my life when I endured that stupid, railroady piece of crap that implied that it was somehow heartwrenching to force my character into one of three choices that MADE NO SENSE. There were all sorts of other possibilities, but none of them were available. Also, I resent the way the female avatars looked bulky even if they survived on a diet of celery and water.

  • Melissa said,

    I’m also grateful to the Rampant Coyote for letting me watch him play the ending of Diablo I so I didn’t have to do it myself. It was so idiotic I even wondered if something had been left on the cutting room floor that made it make sense.

  • Flux said,

    I haven’t played Diablo in a long time, but I always figured the crystal compelled the character to do that. The thing is an ancient, evil artifact after all, much like the ring from the Lord of the Rings.

  • Ruber Eaglenest said,

    I love the Diablo ending. Was amazing at the time and now. Feels ok in the fiction, feels ok for the fans (Diablo 2 is possible), and feels ok for the money (Blizzard got for this franchise).

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    I think the only way to have a martyred main character at the end of a game’s story and make it work is to have it be the player’s CHOICE. Lack of choice is what was so infuriating about Fallout 3’s ending. Not only where you likely to have companions with you that could accomplish the same thing and NOT die, but if you chose not to commit suicide to save the day (unnecessarily) by perhaps drawing straws with an NPC, the game ending SCOLDED you for being a coward. Hey, Game – screw you!

    Dragon Age did the martyred hero ending right – you had choices, options, and choosing to die yourself was really the most noble path of those available, and necessary. I doubly loved the fact that because of previous choices and a certain romance, my character was prevented from sacrificing herself even though I tried to make her do so. It was beautiful and dramatic.

    What game endings would I change? Fahrenheit / Indigo Prophecy, definitely. The first half of that game was wonderful, then it turned into a generic action fest with aliens and matrix style aerial fist fights. Ugh.

    And does Half-Life 2 count? Getting frozen motionless at the top of the citadel is a shitty way to end a game – no sense of closure. I’ll add Episode 2 to that list as well – ending on a cliff hanger and staying there for 5+ years is awful. I don’t even care anymore.

    The first Saints Row had a bad ending as well – you reach the top of the gang, take total control of the city, have the world in your pocket, then you get one final mission – where you get blown up on boat. Cut to credits. We had to wait years to find out that, no, our character didn’t really die.

    Elder Scrolls: Oblivion’s whole main quest plot was awful, but the ending truly stunk. You get to sit and watch an NPC save the day and get all the glory. It is the climax of the game and you literally get to do nothing – oh, except remind the NPC to use his ultimate MacGuffin. Good thing you came along when you did, you hero you! That fight might have lasted a minute or two longer otherwise . . . .

    Fable 2, I also have to agree with Melissa. First, if you wait to listen to the big bad’s speech, someone else besides you gets to kill him! Arghh! Then you get to make a wish, and your only choices are money (what the hell?), resurrecting all the millions of people the big bad caused to die, or resurrecting your family and dog. What the WHAT?! The big bad killed your family and dog, too! Why the hell don’t they count or get rolled in with that second wish? That isn’t a meaningful choice – it is false and arbitrary.

  • Xian said,

    I may have mentioned it here before, but the worst ending in my opinion was the PC version of Eye of the Beholder. A one line congratulatory message and it drops to DOS. It would have required another floppy and they figured most people never would get to the end anyway, so they left it out to save on costs. The Amiga version that came later had a proper ending.

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    I liked the Diablo ending, I thought it was in keeping for the sort of game it was. It wasn’t a role-playing game, it was about killin’stuff and getting more powerful. You keep doing that, and you keep doing that, and you finally take down the big demon dude, and promptly fall to the dark side yourself and give in to the crystal’s ultimate power. Perfectly reasonable!

    If, on the other hand, you had been making decisions throughout the story, it would be much more annoying to have your hand forced like that.

  • Davzz said,

    Yeah, Diablo 1 ending was supposed to be a deconstruction of the dungeon crawling genre.

    Diablo needed a better host body than a weakly kid. What better way to do that than to create a huge dungeon filled with enemies and all those loot and goodies to make the adventurers powerful? I mean, if the adventurers had just sat in the tavern ordering ale and wenches all days, this ending would totally be reversed.

    It just doesn’t come across very well storytelling wise that by the time you pick up the crystal, your character doesn’t really have any free will any more. Canonically all 3 classes became corrupted and different characters which you kill in Diablo 2.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Hmmm… I never really got that, though I know I won Diablo a couple of times. I vaguely remember something in the ending scrawl about you trying to contain the spirit of Diablo within yourself or something, but I just never saw how that all connected.

    Though I do remember that they talked about having originally planned a LOT of quests for the game, but ended up stripping most of it out to make the game work (especially in multiplayer). Maybe a better explanation was left on the cutting room floor.

  • Anon said,


    About “bad endings” in mainstream games:
    That’s what you get if you hire second-rate script authors or none at all! 😉

    About “twist endings” like in Diablo:
    Somebody really creamed his pants over this at Blizzard and Blizzard fans are of course too happy about it.
    But there *is* a problem with it: The whole game the gem is disregarded, only Diablo himself is seen as the enemy.
    Then in the end sequence the player character takes the gem and – without hesitation – rams it into his/her forehead.
    If they had at least added some struggle/fighting against it or gave the stone a voice to tempt the player to do it. Something like that – instead of the cheesy music.
    I knew the end for years but had I actually finished the game back then I would have been very disappointed, to say the least.

    About players craving for dramatic, realistic endings:
    Read carefully: These games are all about fantasy, every single one of them. Simply adding a dramatic ending doesn’t change anything!
    The ending in ME3 where one destroys an entire class of beings is pure and utter fantasy, too. This fits the game, but don’t tell me the ending is “realistic” as life is sooo hard.
    You may like the ending because it makes Cmdr. Shepard shine a bit more (like a knight or samurai that sacrifices himself if the need is there) but this isn’t realistic, it’s wishful thinking, too.
    Compared to this the movie Armageddon is excellence in storytelling (not even mentioning the far better Deep Impact which is leagues above it).

    About players wanting a “V8” ending:
    That’s equally unrealistic – but as games *are* unrealistic they have at least the charm to leave most of the players in good mood. If the game sucks in the first place nobody will remember the ending anyway as either nobody will see it or nobody will remember it. They will only remember it to be a bad game.

    One should also consider this: A bad ending (for the title character) makes the audience THINK more about it and not forget the entertainment piece as quickly (especially popcorn movies).
    One should have a good reason for a bad ending, though, like an actual “message” (greed is not good, nuclear energy is harmful, masturbation shouldn’t be overexercised).
    Simply killing off the title character betrays the player and everything he fought for.

    I remember a Half-Life mod where you practically had to replay the game: Survive in an underground complex against loads of enemies. Then, when you actually leave the complex you were surrounded by an Army troop that shoots you without hesitation and no chance of survival.
    This was one of the few times in my gaming life I was downright PISSED.

    So what do we need to make a player swallow a tragic end?

    There are indeed two major ingredients to make a good tragic ending:
    a) What LWR said: The player must be in control to some extent. Simply giving him three options where his character dies is not interaction. It’s idiotic.
    Killing him off without warning is utter nonsens, too.

    b) The ending must make sense.
    Remember the final God of War (part 3)? Without going into details: There is exactly one ending where the player character dies in the end. And guess what: Nobody really complained. No public outcry. Nothing. A Greek tragedy is a Greek tragedy, after all. With tits for adolescents. 😉

    c) Players expect closure to some degree.
    This depends on what game we have: Is it a linear story-based game with a definitive end point or is it more of a sandbox game with an integrated story?

    The linear game can’t do without an end and here is where it is easier to install a tragic end because you can streamline everything to it. The player usually also has more limited options compared to sandbox games.

    The first Deus Ex for example offered three endings – but you could “comfortably” select between them in the final mission, depending on what you did.
    This was nothing more than a gag, though, as the end sequence and text was different and the sequel didn’t expand on this. Add to this that it didn’t matter what you did in the plenty missions before the final one.

    Now, for sandbox games players demand that they can continue to play infinitely. This is both their right (it’s a sandbox game, after all) but harder to implement as a story.

    Let’s compare two recent sandbox games: Skyrim and Red Dead Redemption

    We have a classic single-player first-person fantasy CRPG, based to large extent on something that looks like nordic mythology, where 90% of your enemies are already dead or reanimated (the others are mostly generic wolves, trolls and bandits).
    In the course of the main storyline you die and go to some sort of Valhalla, meet up with some dead NPCs and fight the big boss enemy. Nothing out of the ordinary but you get pretty colors in the sky and some nice music.

    But this couldn’t really be how the game ends as Skyrim still has so much content, couldn’t it? I demand to play on! And also Bethesda wants to sell me some DLC, right?

    So, after your glorious three minute fight you are being sent back to life, with your pals at Valhalla waiting for you when you are finally dead, some day (which you will never see again, even if you are getting killed by a troll. The only afterlife you will see is the main menu of the game).

    You can then continue to play and the inhabitants of Skyrim won’t even know or notice that you saved all their lives. And even though the big boss dragon that revived all those other dragons is dead now other dragons are still popping up around you…

    Read Dead Redemption:
    A third-person action-adventure in a western setting.

    I don’t know about you but I’m wary of anything with “Redemption” in the title. Usually this telegraphs the ending in advance and this game is no different.

    The rough plot: You, after having worked as a bandit in your former, “pre-game” life, are now a “bounty hunter”, forced by the government to hunt down your former colleagues.
    Apart from dealing with your former gang members it’s basically up to you how you play this one out – and in fact you can be completely legal about it, doing countless jobs without going on rampages, killing only in self-defense etc.
    The end is always the same though: Your nemesis stands before you and let you eat some major lead. No way around it. But at least you saved your wife and kid.

    But it’s a sandbox game! How can I die and play on?

    Simple: Now the game skips several years and you are suddenly the barely adult son and your first (and last) story mission is to kill the nemesis, which of course is no major problem. The problem is that even though this happens in a duel you are now an outlaw yourself. Something that your father (your first and main character) wanted to avoid. Your future is uncertain but you can continue to play in this game world, use DLCs etc.

    Lots of gamers were actually applauding on the internet about this one. Their argument is mostly that RDR is “like a spaghetti western” and most of these were as relentless with their heroes.
    I’ll dispute this as I have seen loads of spaghetti westerns and in most of them the title character not only lives but usually reaches his goals, because HE is relentless.
    Other things do characterize a spaghetti western:
    The bleak world these stories happen in (usually filmed in a part of Spain that looks like a desert), the “dirty” hero (usually staying dirty) who tricks the even dirtier enemies in the end (remember the machine gun in Django or the metal plate in A Fistful of Dollars?). The hero in spaghetti westerns also never has a family in the first place. He either always was single or lost his family because of the war or murder.

    In the classic American westerns – until Sam Peckinpah went amok with his triumphant Wild Bunch in the mid sixties – the hero usually lived in the end, wasn’t broken but healed, often got the gal (or the horse) and rode into the sunset.

    While RDR doesn’t really mimic a western genre – it is perhaps close to what movie buffs call “a late western”.
    Under the influence of the Vietnam war, the peace movement and people losing their beliefs in corporations and the government artists began to revolt against the system, too. Shortly after right winger John Wayne was making “The Green Berets” Ralph Nelson directed “Soldier Blue”, which translates the My Lai massacre into a Cheyenne village where the cavalry slaughters hundreds of innocent indian women and children. The “hero” of the story is nothing more than a spectator who witnesses what has become of his world and belief system. He lives but everything else just turned into blood and shit.

    So is the RDR ending really that dramatic? Simple answer: Nope.
    In the end the player character saves his whole family (shining knight) and gets shot (last stand and martyrdom). This is of course to make the player hate your enemies even more. It’s nothing else than an emotion trigger as the game isn’t finished, yet.
    The game then skips three years to your young adult son as your rescued wife gets no added screen time (she lays buried next to you – didn’t get much out of the rescue, didn’t she?) and you then can avenge your father’s death to continue playing, with the exact same inventory and even your current horse (at least it survived!).

    Here’s how RDR should have ended:

    You reach your farm too late, your wife is shot before your eyes and your ranch burned down with your son still in it. You are wounded and captured to get hanged but some of the friends you made in the course of the game rescue you.
    After your recovery you launch a final attack on the bad guy HQ with no intentions of survival. You bring down the whole house, murdering everything in sight except perhaps the hapless cook. In the final standoff the boss enemy will make it clear to you that even if you kill him and survive (which you will) your life will be over.

    This is no V8-ending either, leaves no questions open and you can continue to play – as a totally broken character with no future (=no family) and nothing except values to cling on (and to get a 100% rating in the game).

  • Anym said,

    I thought the ending of Diablo fit very well with the mood of the game and made perfect sense with the background story (at least before any retcons) and while most of that was admittedly only in the manual, I think the ending narration that’s read after the cutscene linked above makes it sufficiently clear: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvVYiSMO0CI

    The gem (soulstone) is not how Diablo came to be, it’s what used to keep him at bay. Quick recap: When Diablo and his brothers were first banished to the mortal realm after the demons of hell had rebelled against them, they could take over humans pretty much at will, leaving destruction in their wake. So, an archangel gave a bunch of mages three soulstones with which to imprison them, which the mages eventually managed to do. Years passed, the mages died out, the secret they were guarding was forgotten and eventually Diablo’s soulstone begins to crumble. He’s still imprisoned, but can reach out into people’s dreams and stuff. Doing so, he convinces the local archbishop to come down and shatter his soulstone. The shards of the soulstone aren’t able to fully contain him anymore and a free, but weakened Diablo tries to take over the local king, but the king’s will is too strong, fending him off, but going mad in the process. So Diablo instead takes over the king’s son instead, twisting its body and slowly regaining his power, which draws the attention of the hero who manages to defeat this incarnation of Diablo, killing the prince in the process. The shard of the soulstone alone can’t contain Diablo, but the shard together with a strong enough will just might (as that’s how Baal was bound when his soulstone was shattered even before he was captured), so the hero does what a hero has to do. It might ultimately be in vain, but they didn’t try all efforts so far would definitely have been in vain, as Diablo would just take over somebody else soon.

    Of course, some of this was later retconned in Diablo II, which also turns what was left open in Diablo I’s ending into a clear defeat. Come to think of it, Diablo II’s own ending, also turns your victory into a defeat, so if I’d change one of those endings, it’d be the latter one’s.

    However, if there’s one game which’s ending I’d definitely change, it would be Wing Commander III’s. I hate it! Blowing up a whole planet with probably billions of sentient creatures on it always rubbed me in the wrong way. I thought I was the good guy. I don’t want to do that in a game. I don’t want to have to do that in a game. Especially when I’m supposed to be the good guy and especially when said good guy acts like an ass about it. I don’t care if your game is the pacific theatre of WWII IN SPACE, I wouldn’t want to fly the Enola Gay in a game either.

  • Silent said,

    The only endings I would change are cliffhangers that lead to non-existant sequels. Such as “Manhunter : San Francisco”, “XIII” or “Undying”. I’m not easily annoyed by endings. Okay, “Kotor 2” was special, I would have changed the last six hours – but I feel such cases are involuntary, so they hardly count (and “Stalker 2″‘s last extremely linear moments also felt artificially rushed).

    I don’t know what the fuss around “Mass Effect 3” really is, as I try to avoid spoilers, but I’m already furious at the idea that I might not be able to see its intended ending because of the taste of whiny players. I think that one category of endings I would change are the retconned ones (and yes, “Portal” is an exemple), but I’m not even sure that changing them back to what they were count as changing them.

  • Andy said,

    Pretty much anything that ends on a cliffhanger, or ends with some really weak variation of a simple text message like “You are a winner you! Thanks for playing!” If I put in all that work to win, I want something that sends me away from the game feeling good.

    I’ve generally found that a lot of endings to games that try to throw some twist to it don’t work because, frankly, the industry doesn’t do story in general very well. Developers need to make sure they can consistently stick a normal, straight ahead, feel good plot and ending before they start trying to mix it up with self-reflexive twists.

  • Vatina said,

    Hmm, I’d pick Wing Commander Prophecy as well, for the exact same reasons as you. That was such a let down…

    Completely forgot about the Diablo one though. Will have to watch that video later to freshen it up, the discussion about it here is interesting.

  • eedok said,

    I thought the Diablo 1 ending was your hero trying to imprison diablo within himself like Tal Rasha did with Baal – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJ3hMfFK09c

  • lempar said,

    Wait, there were people, stupid enough to NOT GET the ending of Diablo ? *facepalm*