Upon completing the new game Red Dead Redemption I found myself pondering the general evolution of game endings. Why did I start thinking about this you ask? Well, it's quite simple, But it will take a bit to explain, so bear with me.
Red Dead Redemption is a game very similar to the Grand Theft Auto series, not only in it's play style, but also how it looks and generally feels. Because it was produced by RockStar Games (the same people who make GTA) this is to be expected. However, I also expected it to follow the same story formula which the GTA games have, even though I knew it would be somehow different.
Yet when I drew to RDR's close I was faced with some very surprising plot twists, and even more surprising were the choices the developers made to allow you to continue playing the game after finishing it. The ending of Red Dead Redemption aside, I came to realise the general constraints on story telling in games which allow you to continue playing after the main story ends.
This phenomenon is generally tied to the sand box/world builder gene. I suspect this is primarily due to how much there is to do in such games, even after you finish them. This means it makes more sense, and is more critical, to be able to keep playing than in traditional linnear games, such as first person shooters, turn based RPGs, or adventure games.
Now if it is expected that you can continue playing after completing the main story of the game, what does that mean about how the story can end? Well for one it means the main character has to survive, you can't play a tragic hero. Secondly, the world cannot end, everything has to still be there after you finish. Third, your empire, achievements, power, money, etc. has to stay intact, otherwise it feels like you played through the game for nothing.
Looking at those three stipulations it becomes rather clear that open ended games will all likely have a rather similar and predictable ending. This in turn means repetition is inevitable for the genre. However Rockstar seems to have anticipated this little issue, and in turn decided to make some bold moves to alter the fate of a "play after the end" game like Red Dead Redemption.
I'm not certain of exactly how I feel about how Rockstar decided to change this trend. In their efforts to prevent a predictable ending but still allow you to play afterwards they looked at those three rules with contempt. One rule they obeyed, another didn't apply to how the story worked, and the other one they directly disobeyed. It took some creative writing to pull off, and I have to say the story was far more unpredictable, further into the game, as a result.
In the end Rockstar has made it clear that they are making profound efforts to refine the open ended game, and change it. And even though I'm uncertain of how I feel about how they did so I can say one thing. If a game can be defined as good by weather or not it was worth the money it cost, then Red Dead Redemption can be called a good game.
Red Dead Redemption Début Trailer
Now I'm off to crack into a non story heavy game called Super Mario Galaxy 2.