Why do immersive sims have such bad endings?


#1

Prey crept up on me, and honestly, there’s no good explanation as to how it managed this. Prey is a sci-fi immersive sim by Arkane, whose lineage can be directly traced to Deus Ex, my favorite game, with writing by Obsidian’s Chris Avellone? I was destined to play this game, and I was destined to enjoy it. How did it manage to surprise me? Whatever the case, I loved it. I loved Prey so much that I was happy that it was clearly a little overlong, simply for the fact that it validated spending more time in its world, which is so richly saturated with detail and storytelling that, even after 35 hours, I believe I still haven’t fully exhausted what it has to show me.

And yet, as the sirens rang out across Talos One, and the threat inevitably overwhelmed all possible means of control, I found myself faced with what I knew would be a disappointing choice. It is the greatest obstacle of this genre, and one which very few have yet to overcome: do I end the game by pressing this button, or that button?

‘Immersive sim’ may be the only genre whose name itself is a complement to the games which it contains. Games like Thief, Deus Ex, Dishonored, Prey, and (to a lesser extent) the Shock games are, first and foremost, about their environments, and how the player interacts with them. Your exploration of these spaces tends to tell the story as well as (and sometimes, better than) any of the game’s overt efforts at plotting, and its your agency and perspective in finding these environmental details that gives immersive sims their unique feeling of emergent storytelling. Though these games are carefully directed, I as the player feel like my deduction and exploration are why the game is advancing.

Yet so many immersive sims seem to forget exactly what it is that makes them special as they sputter towards their (typically abrupt) endings. Prey, Dishonored, and the Deus Ex games, all of which offer multiple endings, tend to literally map the three menu options of “kill”, “forgive”, and “the third one” onto three environmental objects/people. You click or shoot your choice, and then…a cutscene plays. What?

There are a few different levels of storytelling violence here that I want to address. The most egregious is the prerendered cutscene with narration. Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Prey both inflict these upon the player as punishment for trusting the game to fully immerse them. They are short and poorly-edited, and the script for the narration is academic, distant, and dry as Saltines. Human Revolution’s ending is a terrible montage of news and science footage, and two of Prey’s endings are a single cinematic shot. (The third is worse still: cut to black.) The best of the lot (which is not a compliment, mind you) are those for Deus Ex: Invisible War, which at least visually depict some of the long-term aftermath from your decision.

An only slight improvement over these are the in-engine cinematic cutscenes. The original Deus Ex depicts the player’s JC Denton talking to other characters as the consequences of your decision play out before you. Throughout the game, Deus Ex depicts dialogue sequences by pulling out from the first-person perspective to a head-on third-person shot, so these are not exceptionally jarring. They are, however, disappointing, though some of this can be chocked up to the limitations of the technology at the time.

No matter how well or poorly these cutscenes are executed, they are all fundamentally poor choices. In depicting the player character from an external perspective, outside of the player’s control, the game breaks the immersion that the player has bought into. It’s a disservice to the game model. It seems to come from an underlying fear that games don’t yet really know how to tell stories their own way, so they turn to film for direction in how to finish them.

If anything, immersive sims at their best are evidence that games can tell stories in extremely effective ways that are wholly unique to games. I am perplexed that games like Prey and Deus Ex, which exhibit a profound confidence in their own environmental design and the player’s ability to parse it, essentially abandon their vision in the end by defaulting to a safe cutscene.

The best thing an immersive sim can do is never break immersion. Don’t pull back out of the player’s perspective; let them feel like the ending is happening to them, around them. By that measure, the ending that is truest to the vision of the genre is Bioshock Infinite.

Bioshock Infinite’s ending is the strongest part of that game for me. It’s so consistent and confidently executed that it almost completely validates that game’s existence (but not quite.) It trusts the player to advance the story on their own, and it never breaks from the player’s perspective, even as they seamlessly lose agency. The ending’s effectiveness is heightened by the game’s themes of agency and lack thereof (common themes in the genre). Say what you will about the story and the gameplay (and there’s a fuckin shitload to say there, baby!), but the ending is nothing if not visionary.

So, how can immersive sim endings improve? Creators need to see their visions to their logical conclusions. Infinite is, in my estimation, not only a bad game, but a bad immersive sim. It’s linear to a gargantuan fault, there is very little emergent storytelling, and it offers no real player agency (while this is a thematic choice, it also means the game is only barely an immersive sim, perhaps by lineage alone). However, it follows through on its vision with unparalleled confidence. We need more of that in this genre.

At minimum, immersive sims need to portray the ending from the player’s perspective. And at most? Let the player literally play it out.


#2

Endings are hard to write. Especially for longer forms and particularly in games that have a lot of player choice. Every meaningful binary choice the player has exponentially increases the number of possible end states. Writing endings that ties all of those possible permutations up in a satisfying way is an enormous challenge and why giving players meaningful choices is so hard to do pull off. Writing one good ending is hard. Writing, directing, voicing, and animating a dozen is an enormous task.


#3

That’s true, and I’m sure this is also largely why the ending in Infinite is so good compared to other immersive sim endings, as it only has the one ending no matter what. However, I’m not taking issue with the ending to these stories so much as I am with the mechanical implementation of the ending. Too often, they just cut away to depict the ending in a brief, often cheap cutscene, and I want to see them stay with the player.

For example, I liked the ending of Tacoma a lot, and feel that one of the endings in Prey could have benefited from emulating it. In Tacoma, the player walks to the final location, activates something, and then, without changing perspective, the player character carries out the action while talking out loud (she starts up a shuttle and speaks to the rescued AI about where they’re going). The game then cuts to the credits - no cutscene, as none was necessary.

I think these games feel compelled to step too far back to show the wide-reaching ramifications of the ending you got, and in doing so, become too distant, too removed. In the endings of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the narrator is your player character, but he’s just talking…to you. It doesn’t make sense. I think staying intimate would be wiser, as it would feel more consistent with what came before, and doesn’t force the game to outstretch itself by trying to emulate a different medium.


#4

I’m… not quite sure what the difference is between Bioshock Infinite and most of the other immersive sims. I mean. That ending is a cutscene. Elizabeth talks at you (Booker) and then drowns you. Which is not meaningfully different, in my opinion, from The Hidden Location where Alex and a bunch of people(?) talk at you and then you have a choice. The brief wide shot of blowing up either Talos I or the Typhon don’t really change that for me, and I don’t even think that that counts as the actual ending given The Hidden Location. The entire point is that everything on Talos I didn’t matter, because it was a simulation.
(Whether or not that’s a cop out being a different thread.)

I also question where the “ending” of Prey starts and ends in this estimation that it comes down to the push of a button. For instance, to self-destruct, you have to plant both arming keys in the reactor, come back to initiate the self-destruct sequence, and then optionally run to escape. All of which is done in-game, and it seems is at least as interactive as following Elizabeth around some lighthouses. (I’ll admit that my memory of Bioshock Infinite’s ending is hazy since that was years ago, but given that that’s all I remember, nothing else must have made a huge impression.)

I’m talking about Prey because I happened to have finished it two days ago so it’s fresh on my mind. I don’t think it’s perfect by any means; I’m just puzzled with the direction of your complaint that it breaks immersion where Bioshock Infinite doesn’t, when they both seem similar to me.

I guess I think your issue actually does come down to the story itself being told, because the story being told does directly influence the presentation. Bioshock Infinite has one ending that you can’t change. That makes portraying it in any manner a matter of stylistic choice. I’m only halfway through Tacoma, but given the nature of that game, I can’t imagine there being a lot of endings – the player character is an observer of things that happened in the past that largely can’t be changed. (I mean, if I had to guess, maybe the PC in Tacoma decides to report to the evil corporation or not (that is, do the job she was hired to do or not), but even that would be a pretty small scale decision compared to ‘kill all people with bionic implants’ or ‘murder half of the ruling class of a kingdom’ or something like that.)

But Deus Ex, for instance, does want to step back and talk about the broader consequences of the player’s choices, and it’s pretty difficult to do that without some sort of narration/cutscene. Presenting wide, societal changes from first-person perspective is unwieldy already. Trying to do that in-game with multiple possibilities becomes exponentially more difficult. Putting aside whether the choices/endings are well-written or meaningful, there just aren’t that many ways to handle that kind of breadth. Off the top of my head, I can think of 1) cutscene/narration, 2) jump to the future and have a short epilogue type scene where you can move and talk to NPCs, but this is also pretty removed, frankly, 3) just don’t actually show any long-term consequences. 3) is fine in principle, I guess, but goes against the expectations of most people who are fans of choice-heavy games.

tl;dr: I think it IS a matter of writing good endings, not a matter of presenting them “immersively,” and it’s pretty hard to come up with one good ending, let alone three or four that are satisfying.


#5

(I actually think the ending to Infinite is hot garbage. But…)

So, you kind of laid out the fundamental problem. A big appeal of immersive sims is inhabiting space and being immersed in it. There’s no convenient way to end this experience. Instead, we end the narrative that was taking place within that space. This ends the story, yes, but it doesn’t end the space, and thus, the appeal of the game is not resolved. Truthfully, I think most game endings have this problem. There are few games I’ve played that felt truly “complete” after finishing them. If I’m spending, what, thirty hours in a game, and get an abrupt three-minute long cutscene, it feels a little lopsided and silly.

What are some good video game endings? Specifically mechanically driven games? It depends on what you want. I love the endings of Super Metroid, of Quadrilateral Cowboy, of Undertale, of Snake Eater. These games have radically different endings, all of them. But there is something similar: all of these games have endings that tonally resolve the narrative they’ve been setting up. Further, they all have a lot of time for the ending to breathe. The narrative had time to settle in, and lie down for it’s ending sequence, even if it was bombastic and wild.

The goal of an ending (for most games) is to, as stated, resolve the holistic tone of the narrative and world. With immersive sims, it’s hard to do this when the overall narrative and tone is one that is not plot driven as it is driven by pensive player inhabitation of that space.

I think the real ending of Prey (after the credits) is actually a really clever one considering how immersive sims function. The game essentially judges you for the choices you made over the course of the experience. But the game mostly judges your smallest narrative choices. Whether you saved this person, whether you picked these upgrades, who you didn’t help with a sidequest. This is an ending based on the part we like about immersive sims: the actions we take within the space, rather than that narrative actions that inhabit the space.

I actually think the ending of the original Deus Ex is a good example. Like, yeah, it’s a little cluttered, but it gives you a set of endings that are actually handled through diegetic mechanics. It gives you a brief cutscene that shows the consequences of your choice, and then the game ends. I think that’s exactly what I would look for in an immersive sim.

But I donno. THat’s me! Im tired


#6

Prey’s ending is fine?

I don’t understand the complaint about breaking immersion. It has a metatextual function in Prey. “Can this simulation teach this creature empathy?” is as much a question posed about the spooky shadow alien subjected to the experiment, as it is about you, the player. Pulling you out of the sandboxy gunshooter fun and making you aware of it as a constructed, textual experience with some purpose and context outside of itself is not something that games should be condemned for; if anything, they don’t do enough of it.

I think the demand of no immersion-breaking cheapens the narrative and artistic possibilities of games; I also think it’s unrealistic. Binfinite’s shit politics have already broken the immersion for me hours before the ending has a chance to happen; all I remember of the final bits was how the evil slave revolt replaced the uhh i think George Washington (?) killer mechs with Abraham Lincoln ones. If that itself does not take you out of the experience and leave you either laughing hysterically or rolling your eyes, that’s fine, but please acknowledge that your immersion is conditioned by what does and doesn’t seem absurd, ridiculous, etc. In effect it is difficult for me to read your argument as anything but an explanation of why this game and not that game does a better job of not breaking you, specifically, out of its illusions.

I think a more fruitful path for designers and writers to explore is to assume that one way or another, the illusion will be broken, and set about to do it in as interesting a way as possible.

EDIT: I want it to be crystal clear what I am saying about Binfinite here as well, because I know how much the Internet loves a good misreading, and I don’t want this to be taken for one of those declarations about how it’s more moral to enjoy entertainment option A than entertainment option B.

I thought the drowning scene was very good, because I felt like Booker is both a terrible person regardless of the timeline, and, as the player’s avatar, symbolizes an active yet disinterested participant in this both-sides, truth-is-in-the-middle narrative: the person who consumes it, nods their head sagely and moves on, reassured that no matter the amount of blood on their hands, there’s a perspective somewhere from which it’s fine and alright really. I think it’s right to acknowledge the pernicious presence of this viewpoint, its thorough wrongness, and to work to eliminate it. Again, in my opinion, it succeeds only insofar as it transcends immersion, because my immersion was long gone by this point.

I didn’t even realize there was a post-credits sequence in this, I skipped it completely and only saw it later on Youtube when a friend pointed it out. I don’t remember what it even is off the top of my head, but it left me feeling like the interpretation I formulated in the above paragraph was invalidated and only existed for a few fleeting hours. I’m gonna go look at it later, but my very vague memory is that the post-credits scene ends up reasserting the “immersion,” the reality-on-its-own-terms of the fictional world, rather than allowing the drowning scene to stand as a metatext ending.

From the above it should be clear that both of these endings are valuable to me mostly in how they fail to hold up the “immersive” and overwhelming reality of the fiction’s world, that in Prey’s case that move is in much better accordance with the overall themes and story (if Infinite was really possible to collapse into that interpretation, it wouldn’t have fumbled so much and contradicted its thrust along the way), and that’s why I think Prey succeeds where Binfinite fails.

DX:HR I consider hardly even worth talking about, because I value my blood pressure level, and it has many of the same problems of thematic coherence as Binfinite, except it coheres even less, and doesn’t leave the door open for any kind of metanarrative save I could make, except for “Jensen is a cop and this is how a cop sees the world: as fragmented, bereft of meaning and fully in his power.”


#7

First of all: Prey is so good. Please play Prey.

The ending to Prey is bad. A game that did endings well is The Witcher 3. It locked you into one ending along the way, by decisions you wouldn’t necessarily guess would have that impact. I wish immersive sims could work the same way. Lock me into an ending halfway through and don’t tell me about it.

I’ll tell you, in all of these games I’ve ever played with a choice of three buttons at the end I will reload to press them all. If I can save scum the ending, the mechanic for deciding the ending is probably bad.

Immerse the player in deciding the ending so much that they don’t even know they are doing it, that’s my solution. Now figure that out, game designers.


#8

There’s no way to ask this without sounding smarmy, but did you see the actual ending in the post-credits, after the weird abrupt 30 second cutscene and janky credits? Because I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t.

I think Prey has the best ending out of any immersive sim, the literal exact thing I was hoping for since I heard Avellone was on this game turns out to be real as hell. However, it also made me legit hate what damage the post-credits trend has done.

The literal whole point of the game, one that’s scripted to change based on invisible flags you hit throughout the game, the whole thing that ties the game together and makes the abrupt cutscene make any sense… is hidden behind a Bink video that abruptly smash-cuts to a pop-in riddled static video-game-camera-ass shot of a random section of Talos with AI scripts shoddily popping off and a dude ragdolling. It’s so bad, and it’s set to that doofy Mind Games song that’s the worst part of a sparse-but-stellar and otherwise cleverly eclectic OST.

Like with a lot of other things in Prey, I think the real ending does better by most of the genre’s tropes, but with caveats largely stemming from budget, engine and/or time constraints. I think this touches on your question, though: Immersive sims are still a relatively unexplored and complex genre, one where a lot of production pipeline stuff wouldn’t be optimized the way it is for most other games, even ones that imitate some IS tropes (i.e, most Ubisoft games). Satisfyingly wrapping up such a monolithic production task would be hard to execute on without budget concerns, let alone when you’re probably on the shoestring leftovers at the tail-end of budgeting.

Funnily enough, the best way to a satisfying ending here is having a consistent thematic throughline. Death Of The Outsider literally tells you what ending it’s all working towards in the title, so it’s almost a surprise when you get a binary choice instead of a singular one, but it keeps it tonally and thematically consistent (i.e, there’s no way to not effectively kill him) so the wrapup is appropriate either way.

Lastly, it doesn’t help that ImSims are… well, they largely err towards a lot of immature nonsense dressed in tactical engagement and flourishes of competent writing. I think they can be a lot more than that, but until very recently, that’s where they’ve stayed. Deus Ex had some really cool political waxing that almost makes you wonder how the PC gamers that meme it to hell ended up liking cryptofascism so much, then you remember literally everything to do with Hong Kong and then the grey aliens and then the actual implications of “every conspiracy theory is true” that stops being cute when you think of the gross stuff and oops this smartest ImSim is still overindulgently ignorant.

Good endings are predicated on bringing together the ideological themes of a piece, harmonizing everything you’ve worked towards. That’s real tough when your game’s been too focused on the utility of level design and blindly experimental systemic interplay to consider the ultimate meaning you’ve stumbled into. After all, DX is still a game where you can commit child murder with no comment from the game at all, because you know, something something immersive cohesion something something logical.

edit: i need to spend this energy writing a piece for prey instead of talking the ear off anyone that vaguely mentions prey gdi i’m sorry


#9

Hi! Thank you for all the replies. I think they all make valid points.

To the politics of Infinite: I am not going to argue with any critique thereof. I agree. The only thing that I am praising that game for - literally the only thing I think it executed properly - is its ending. If I extricate the execution of the ending from the rest of the game, I can admire it on its own, for its choreography, pacing, and editing. The most notable aspect with regards to my argument is that it never breaks from the player’s perspective, which I think makes it more powerful. If it was shot cinematically, it would undercut the themes of agency - themes that, I think, play a significant role in all immersive sims.

@unhaunting @sbrn10 : I think I’ve been misunderstood. The recontextualization is not the problem; that’s one of my favorite parts. The problem is this:

In writing, Prey’s ending is great. Imagine this, as an execution on one of the existing possible endings:


You turn the keys, and initiate Talos One’s self-destruction. You sprint to the shuttle and hop in. Everyone is tightening their harnesses anxiously. “SIT DOWN, LETS GO!” they scream. You approach your seat, and sit down, buckling in tight. The pilot declares, “Okay, let’s do this,” and fires up the thrusters. You look ahead as the shuttle bay doors open, sparks flying, bouncing wildly and into the unveiled vacuum. Objects in the bay rise with the loss of gravity. A body floats in front of the ship, its blackened maw locked in a terrified gape.

The thrusters engage with a profound energy as the ship rattles violently around you. A passenger screams. You and your crew blast forward into space with a deafening roar.

The shuttle arcs slowly as top speed is reached, and you, still in control of your view, turn to the right and look out the side window as Talos One explodes in a blinding flash. Suddenly - cut to static! ERROR MESSAGE - SIMULATION END - and the post-credits sequence plays out just as it does in the finished game.

Breaking into the ending to show a cutscene, and then on top of that, running credits over a shitty game capture before coming back to finish the ending properly is the thing with which I take issue. The post-credits sequence only makes sense if we suppose that the player is still in a first-person perspective, but we can’t suppose that, because we’ve just watched two cinematic cutscenes. We can make the connections (like obviously that’s what’s happening,) but it’s inarguably sloppy. In comparing the game to Infinite, I’m asking for immersive sims to remain immersive to the very end. I don’t think the endings are always written poorly (though sometimes yeah, totally, they are), but I think they would benefit greatly by being consistent in how they execute their endings.

Even in the case where the outcome of your decision is world-changing, I’d like to see that in the same way I saw the rest of the game: from “my” perspective. I think they would be SO much stronger for it.


#10

So, I really don’t want to yuck your yum, but I wanted to clarify why I don’t think Infinite’s ending is a good ending. Originally I wrote like, 250 words on why I dislike it, but I think it’s ultimately not that important. Two Short Reasons: 1) Grandfather paradox. The ending, to me, does not reflect the rest of the game, narratively or mechanically. This is just a personal beef, in a lot of ways. I honestly get way to mad about this game every time I talk about it and I should stop bringing it up…

Now, seriously, I’ve played a scarce few games that have had actually effective endings. I think the bigger question is, why do games have such lackluster endings? I can think of very few endings that really made an impact on me.

I think the reason, for me, actually has to do with my personal preferences in endings. My favorite endings, the ones that stick with me, and how I end my own fiction, are of a very particular style and philosophy. They’re abrupt and ambiguous. I’m pretty much never going to get these kinds of endings in games outside of a few outliers and interactive fiction. Games require more investment from the audience than any other art form. When a movie or book ends, the life of the characters is no longer in sight, and the narrative arc is over: it’s complete. When a video game ends, perhaps the character’s arc is over, but the most important element of the game, which is the player themselves, is still there. The relationship I build with the world and the mechanics is still active, and I can return to the experience. My arc is still open.

Okay I’m really rambling I apologize it’s like 4 am where i am and i’ve totally lost my point.

I guess I get the feeling that immersive sims are doomed to awkward endings due to their defining traits: player agency and epistolary storytelling. These are some of the most important parts of an immersive sim, but can do very little in an ending.

I really like what @mango was getting at. I would like to see immersive sims take a page from Pyre, using the narrative agency I have as a player to influence the arc and resolution of the story. Prey (Hey! They’re anagrams!) did this in an interesting way. Because your actions don’t have an overt mechanical impact, you really are being judged on your actions for their moral merit. You don’t save anyone or kill anyone in that game for any other reason than that you want to, with the exception of the inmate. Deus Ex had some nice things. See: Jock’s death. (I tried to stop it, but didn’t do quite the right things. :frowning:) Dishonored tried to do this, but it was in a weird, amorphous, way, that didn’t really have a clear cause-and-effect.

It would be good to compile a list of immersive sim endings in this conversation, I think.


#11

I think you and I are talking about two separate things in a few ways. Most notably, I think you are talking about the value in the meaning of the ending, and how it relates to the story that preceded it, and I’m talking about the mechanical and cinematic execution on the ending, regardless of its meaning. It’s totally valid to dislike Infinite’s ending for how it relates to the story, but I’m specifically referencing it for never breaking from the player’s perspective. I also don’t think I feel as strongly about Infinite as many do, so I get why this is a divisive mention. Don’t get me wrong, though: I think it was an extremely pretty game that is very bad.

However, I think our desires overlap in your taste for abrupt edits-turned-endings, that don’t tie up all loose ends. This would be extremely interesting to see, if it were executed well.

This is what comes to mind for me: An alternative execution for a world-changing Deus Ex ending could potentially involve the player making one of the major decisions, and then the game cuts to black. It fades in again, giving you control somewhere in a major city center. Let’s say you’ve decided at Majestic 12 headquarters that you and the alien council are going to make all cell-phones self-destruct or something. You walk around the city center, no goal in mind, and suddenly - BANG! a pedestrian nearby drops their smoldering phone to the ground, shaking their hand in pain. Then: BANG! BANG! POP! Cell phones all around start going up like so many Mission Impossible briefings in their cassette decks. Your view tilts down as JC Denton pulls out his own phone. POP! Cut to black, credits roll.

The implication of where the story goes from here would be compelling on its own, without actually getting a cutscene and omniscient narration that depicts the far-flung future. Put me, the player, at ground level while shit starts to go down. Perhaps this aligns slightly with your preference?

The crux of my argument is I’d like to see immersive sims never break the ‘immersion’, and I think there are a lot of cool ways this could be explored - I just think, even when they’ve gotten SO CLOSE (Prey), they still chicken out and do something traditional, like show credits with a shitty Bing video or cut to a prerendered cutscene.

I also just like reimagining sci-fi game endings


#12

“Mechanics” and aesthetic devices carry meaning in and of themselves though? A game where your perspective never shifts from your POV character is communicating something through that framing device, just as zooming out to a panorama with a voiceover narration communicates something.

By the criteria you propose, Skyrim has a “better” ending than New Vegas, which, to me, seems absurd. Through its ending slideshow, New Vegas communicates that while you were involved in this story as a major player, it wasn’t really about you, but about the Mojave and the people who live in it. This works because it’s coherent with what the game had been showing you all along.

The example you suggest works because it has a sense of immediacy and the player’s personal presence, and recalls other familiar endings from the genre such as the Matrix. I would argue, though, that its weakness might be overfocusing on the main character (which is admittedly just a constant Deus Ex problem). How’s this instead: for the ending scene, the perspective shifts you to some nobody street kid you’ve met before in a sidequest, who’s just been caught shoplifting by the cybercops. As you’re being dragged away to their cyber van, the cops’ cyber implants suddenly all short out and they fall to the ground hollering as you make a dash for your dear life. You bump into a tall guy in a trenchcoat and keep going, but look back as you turn the corner, and it’s JC, looking back at you with a cryptic smile. Scene.

I think that’s a good example of preserving the sense of immediacy and “being there” that also manages to accomplish something that I think is the goal of the zoomout-and-voiceover style of ending: showing you your character’s connection to the wider world and other people, and the consequences of their actions. I don’t really have a very strong preference for this kind of more cinematic scene, but I would love to see it done now and again. I really don’t think its absence is “bad” though, as long as the story knows what it’s doing.


#13

Yes, you’re right, that is also true. I wasn’t saying they don’t. I was addressing that person’s issue with the plot’s ending, rather than how it is mechanically executed.

As an aside, I really very much do not want to talk about Infinite’s plot anymore. I’ve done everything I can to preempt discussion of the plot, and it somehow keeps happening, and I have nothing to say about it and it isn’t why I brought the game up in the first place. It’s bad, everyone knows it’s bad, let’s all just operate on the presupposition that we’re all on the same page about that. I just want to talk about the mechanical execution. I think it is totally possible to just talk about that.

That ending would be cool, too. I still think perspective is important to this type of game. I also think that most immersive sims make poor decisions in their choices of perspective - choices that are, sometimes, baffling.


#14

For all the talk about being “in character” I’m surprised no one’s brought up Half-Life. Sure, it’s not an immersive sim and it’s endings are all pretty bad, but there’s a lesson to be learned from it: if a game’s going a step beyond just being first-person and really making you inhabit a character then it needs a damn good reason to break that perspective. A slow pan out before fading to black is not enough. It shows too much of the creator’s hand saying “Okay, now it’s over. The end.” By taking you out of the character it takes you out of the story, minimizing the impact since you’re not really them anymore but are now a disembodied camera.

It’s also just a missed opportunity to do something cool. In Half-Life there were no cutscenes and you were always free to move around (minus a few scripted events) leaving you free to roleplay and pay attention or stack cinder blocks on someone’s desk. The only time this rule was broken was when the G-man showed up and took that away from you. The game had repeatedly said, “You’re in control. You’re in control. You’re in control.” before pulling the rug out and saying, “Actually I’m in control and always have been.”

By using a device as common as cutscenes and turning them into something sinister it gave them way more impact then a game filled with scenes could ever have. That’s why they feel so out of place in immersive sims: if you’ve stuck to your first-person guns for maybe dozens of hours why change things up in the last 90 seconds without a good reason? I don’t want to watch a video telling me what happened, even if I get to choose which version with different buttons, I want it to happen to me in the same way I experienced the previous 99% of the game.


#15

So I think this problem is kind of what I was trying to get at earlier: it’s extremely uncomfortable for us as players, when we’ve been in control and in the world of the game for so long, to suddenly have that control and world-immersion taken away.

At the same time, in order to “properly end” in the ways game tend to (this is what I was trying to say with how games take more investment and time than any other art form), you need to literally inform the player what happened.

@kcin I absolutely value mechanics in endings, which is why I think very few games are able to have effective “gameplay-endings” (the only one I can think of is Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number). I think that’s why the original Deus Ex ending is actually pretty effective. Yes, the ending is kind of awkward, but your final choice isn’t you choosing a button (see: Human Revolution), it’s you choosing an objective among a group of objectives that represent your choices. Yes, there’s a cutscene, but it functions kind of as a denouement, or a clarification of the implications of your choice.

I think cutscenes are kind of an unfortunate necessity for storytelling a lot of the time, like voice-overs and lore exposition. There are stories that don’t need them, but they are an immensely useful shorthand for a writer when “Listen, I just need to tell you what happened.”


#16

I guess this is just where we differ - I don’t care at all whether the camera pulls back or not. I’m chalking this up to my own idiosyncrasy though, because I play 1st and 3rd person in exactly the same way and mindset – I don’t feel any more ‘immersed’ in 1st person than in 3rd. In other words, there is no meaningful emotional/narrative difference, to me, between playing Shepard and playing Morgan Yu. I respect that others feel differently though.

(Also, tbh, I buttonmashed to skip the credits of Prey immediately and did not even realize there was a dancing gag video or whatever. I went straight from wide shot to loading/glitch screen to ending – and that sequence in itself makes sense if you assume that the “simulation” that “I (the typhon)” am in ended with the cutscene before spitting “me” out.)

Randomly, this reminded me of Nier: Automata’s ending where the game erases your progress – that was a really interesting feeling. It was actually MY progress (and not 2B’s/9S’s/A2’s) that was being erased. Not the same thing as being discussed here, since the game is breaking immersion completely, but perhaps that is closer to the visceral feeling of something happening to me, the player, that I don’t get anyway from immersive sims.