Gameological In StereoPodcast

Bionic Commando ending

Episode 2: All’s Well That Ends Well

We put a lid on the discussion of urban design in video game cities and consider what makes a good game ending.

By John Teti • April 27, 2012

Contributor Anthony John Agnello and Gameological consulting editor Elise Vogel join me in this edition of Gameological In Stereo, where the topic of the day is game endings. Click here to listen.

Before he expounds on the strange poignance of the Bionic Commando ending, Anthony expands on his article from earlier this week, “Perfectly Unlivable: Urban design in a world of play.” Then it’s on to a chat about endings that include pathetic gamblers and exploding revivified Hitlers. (N.B.: The Super NES game I refer to as Vegas Dreams in the podcast was actually called Vegas Stakes in the United States; Las Vegas Dream was the game’s Japanese title.) Finally, Elise Vogel gets on the hotline to talk about an appropriately dark and stormy night spent playing Forbidden Island.

Bonus materials: After the recording, Elise passed along this YouTube review of Forbidden Island starring a board game enthusiast and a seven-year-old girl who doesn’t contribute much but somehow makes the video that much cuter with her fidgety, semi-bored presence.

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1,862 Responses to “Episode 2: All’s Well That Ends Well”

  1. Aaron Riccio says:

    By the description of the YouTube review with the seven-year-old girl, I expected it to be something more like that excitable daughter watching her father play Starcraft 2. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQTcazGNqyY&feature=player_embedded) Instead, we saw a bored game player and her dry dad, and that wasn’t nearly as fun. I’m jealous of the guy’s game shelves, though.

  2. root (1ltc) says:

    August 2, 2010.

    I did wonder if there was any hidden significance with the date. Otherwise, what an impressionable exposition – the final words written without any visual or aural fanfare, the signature and date presented over black.

    BC is one of very few NES games which I’ll still enjoy replaying today, and the ending is one reason for it.

  3. Spacemonkey_Mafia says:

    As a rule, I rarely finish games.  The closer toward the end and the more narrow the path and possibilities become, I rapidly lose interest.  In it’s most stripped-down terms, I usually stop right after I get the final power-up.  I guess it’s due to a trifecta of limited game time, constant influx of games I want to play, and frankly, most games not having compelling enough writing that I feel any strong need to see the resolution.
       I guess part of the reason I’m in such awe of the fooferaw around ME3’s ending is I haven’t been really satisfied by a game ending that I can recall since Bionic Commando.  They’re usually fairly perfunctory and pretty straightforward.
       Though it’s true that Bioshock had a pretty enjoyable ‘good’ ending.  I still can’t believe when Bioshock 2 was announced they opted for a Big Daddy protagonist, instead of one of the grown ‘Little Sisters’ returning to Rapture.

    • Effigy_Power says:

       I think the so-called “Multiple Ending” hype is a bit of a double-edged sword. While it’s great that your decisions weigh on the outcome (if they then really do), it’s sometimes hard to expect ONE good ending from most game-makers, let alone multiple.
      Maybe screenwriters should be more included in the game process. I’d gladly give up a bit of choice here and there for an honestly surprising finale in a game.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        As it’s the most recent game I’ve passed, and pertinent, I’m citing Deus Ex for both responses.

           Deus Ex was such a great game with a (mostly) admirable story.  But that ending… It wasn’t terrible, I guess, but it sure didn’t offer much.  Choice is such a pivotal term for game design anymore, but it really has some built-in limitations.  Endings being a big one.

        • itisdancing says:

          The ending to Deus Ex has long been one of my favorites, although I’m aware that’s somewhat controversial. What I appreciate is that you actually play the final level differently and encounter different events and dialogue based on which choice you make, although you can change your mind at any point up until the very end. And the ending cutscenes are agreeably short but distinct from each other and memorable.

          It’s much preferable to the recent model where you just choose whichever ending you prefer and then watch a cutscene with slightly different dialogue and frames based on what you chose.

        • Destroy Him My Robots says:

          @itisdancing:disqus Yeah, I find it weird how excited people get about simplistic Choose Your Own Adventure forking in recent video games. You’d think Silent Hill 2’s way of determining your ending by looking at HOW you play (or, hell, Hibiki’s story mode in Last Blade 2) should’ve put an end to this, but no. Even the rather also-ran-ish Way of the Samurai, which I consider to be a precursor to the massively hyped Mass Effect, did a better job at incorporating gameplay into the storytelling. Sure, there were a lot of simple yes/no flags, but if it looked like you might lose a fight, you could often give up and beg for mercy. That would obviously preclude you from getting a good ending, but if you died you’d lose your weapons. Weapons in WotS are basically your build, so losing weapons is a variation of permadeath. You sometimes really had to consider exactly how much you really wanted a certain ending. It’s not as simple as looking up a “Best Ending” guide, and that’s how I prefer it.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      Now that I think about it I rarely finish games myself. Mostly the writing isn’t compelling and lately games are trying be longer by stuffing in a lot of filler. Remember when Portal first came out and people complained that it was too short? That was a perfect length for me. It never once felt boring and didn’t overstay its welcome. I don’t want to have an 80 hour long game, that’s totally ridiculous.

      • Aaron Riccio says:

        Agreed. When I was just a poor kid living off of Christmas presents, I went for length — that’s how I got into RPGs in the first place. (There were also fewer games to choose from.) But as I’ve grown up, as I’ve utilized rental services, trade-ins, swaps with friends, etc., I’ve come to appreciate the initial experience — that savory flavor of something new — over the dullness that often accompanies a lengthier title, which is often little more than interactive padding (tampon gaming?).

        And even with the games I love, I find it very difficult to justify replaying them within a five-year window — I’m not a perfectionist, after all (Disgaea makes little sense to me; I wish I could just read it). These big titles with their big set pieces are one-and-done things: no wonder they’re so dependent on a robust multiplayer to extend the length of the game. 

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        And Deus Ex citation #2!
           I agree.  I used to love the 100+ hour rpg’s, but with a family and kid and job and all that nonsense, they’re just not practical anymore.  Well… as practical as games ever have been.  Deus Ex was a fantastic game, but even in that instance I feel like they could have clipped off a few sections.  It was mostly me being obstinate that I finished it, as the actual gameplay scenarios were beginning to wear a little thin.
           I’m just now playing Skyrim, but I know for a fact I’ll never finish it.  Just play it until I get bored and move onto something else.  Finally finish Skyward Sword, maybe? 

        • Effigy_Power says:

           One does not finish a TES game anyways.
          One tries to cram as much sigh seeing, crafting and dungeon crawling into the time one can stomach it for and then let it simmer for a few months.

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          @Effigy_Power:disqus : I thought you were going to say “One does not finish a TES game. A TES game finishes you.”

  4. AuroraBoreanaz says:

    For sheer amazement, I still think of Wing Commander III.  You’re getting beaten back at every turn, your best friend Kilrathi abandons you, people are dying all over the place, and in a last-ditch effort you manage to blow up the Kilrathi homeworld, but don’t make it away before the blastwave disables your ship, sending you hurtling into space…

    …until a Kilrathi ship grabs you in a tractor beam.  Oh shit…you’re dragged onto the bridge, expecting to be murdered like your ex was, only to have them SURRENDER to you!

    • Spacemonkey_Mafia says:

      I’d never played the third Wing Commander, but looked it up after reading your comment.  They made Hobbes a traitor?  That’s bullshit.  And narrative simplistic bullshit.  He was cool, man.

      • AuroraBoreanaz says:

        Yeah, it was pretty lame, I’m sure even more so for someone who knew him from the previous games.  I had tried to play WC I and II, but couldn’t get the hang of shooters with 2D graphics, and also had issues getting them to run slow enough for me to play, so III was the first time I knew of Hobbes.

      • itisdancing says:

        Yeah, that is the worst thing. He was the coolest damn guy in II. Considering how much time II spends on Blair learning to trust Hobbes, III making him turn traitor is a damn insult.

        Not to mention, you know, you can’t let the evil space-cat Nazis have at least one guy who’s not a dick?

  5. Effigy_Power says:

    I finish games as a rule, even if I have to cheat my head off to get there… Unless the game is really tedious and I know there’s still hours to go with no fun to be had for me (Dead Island was such a case lately), I feel as though my time invested is wasted… Of course any time invested in a game you don’t really enjoy is wasted, but I think there’s an intrinsic value to the end…
    It’s sort of like having sex you don’t really enjoy. No matter how uncomfortable the mattress is and how clumsy your lover, what are you going to do? Leave halfway through? Not unless she turns on the TV and watches Gilmore Girls along the way or starts eating a sandwich.
    I also find that if I don’t finish a game that I don’t really dig, I might be tempted to go back and play it again, yet again disappointing myself and wasting more time, whereas if I complete it, I can sort of put it behind me. Closure is the word, I guess.

    This column really will eventually need an episode about the most profoundly disappointing endings in gaming history… Bioshock being certainly somewhere in that list.

    On Anthony John Agnello’s segment: I find this sense of home he’s talking about really is something that I look for. I live quite a bit away from my family or old friends, so having something to come back to is nice. Fable (great game or not is neither here nor there) has been very great at this… the same world revisited, slightly altered every time, yet familiar. Also Fable managed to at least hint on the possibility that games can convey a feeling of, well, if not love, then at least companionship, by emphasizing the relationship with your dog. Even if the dog is never all that vital, helpful or even necessary, it is something that I got so used to and saw as such a connected part of myself in form of the avatar, that its loss was almost traumatic to me.

    On Elise Vogel’s segment: My girlfriend and me played all Bioware games mostly against each other side by side, her always picking virtue and order, me always playing the path of chaos and often callousness. It’s interesting to see that as a matter of fact, while evil characters have more fun, some decisions are just downright heart-breaking… well… not so much recently, for me ME3 for example had only a single really heart-string decision. Without spoiling anything, it had to do with Quarians, of course.

    PS: Elise has the fresh, happy voice of someone who is playing ME3 but hasn’t finished it yet. I will miss it.

    • Aaron Riccio says:

      Some people might get even more aroused (George Costanza) were she to start eating a sandwich or to turn on Gilmore Girls. 
      On a more serious note (agreeing with a point you made elsewhere): achievements have made me more invested in even the dullest of games. (::shakes fist at PopCap::) I’m convinced that’s not a good thing though . . . I was grinding my way through Tales of Graces f and suddenly stood up, put the controller down, turned the system off, and sold the game. I didn’t *want* to put another seventy hours into maxing everything out; I’d already had more than my fill of my characters, and I could feel my enjoyment with what had come before being eroded by the work-like expectations of what was yet to come.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        Yeah, achievements with no tangible in-game reward attached never hold my interest for long.  Pretty much the only games I even pay attention to achievements on are the Sawbuck-style browser games where getting all achievements represents a couple of hours at most.

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          A particular pet peeve are these achievements that you get for either absurd amounts of time invested in the game OR for messing something up — i.e., dying in a spectacular way. Like, I know that the developers spent a long time coding every last scenario, but that doesn’t mean they have to entice me to actually try and experience every single one . . . that’s what testers are for!

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          @google-19efbd0104cbaffa5782aef5b7104019:disqus  – That makes me wonder…it would be really funny if the first Achievements were just a checklist for game testers that someone forgot to remove from the game before release.  Unlikely, of course, but you never know…

        • Merve says:

          I usually don’t bother with achievements unless:
          a) they’re achieved in the course of playing the game, so there’s no way not to achieve them, or
          b) they’re stupidly easy to achieve (e.g. winning Rock Paper Scissors 3 times in a row in the Portal 2 co-op).

          Plus, the way Steam logs achievements is kind of flawed. If you’re running Steam in offline mode, then whatever achievements you get during that time won’t register. For example, I just beat Stacking having logged only 3 out of 21 achievements, which is technically impossible. (Steam does the same thing with play time too.)

  6. OhHaiMark says:

    I don’t always finish games.  I am definitely one of those gamers who will play the crap out of a game and demolish it 100%, but it really has to catch my eye and keep me interested in it.  My favorite game ending of all time, the one that I found to be the most shocking and satisfying, is probably the end of Chrono Cross.  There is just so much happening in that game and you want to know all the characters you meet in the game so much more.  That game has a huge amount of heart and power that I feel is often missing in a video game ending.

    • Effigy_Power says:

       That 100% finish thing is something I am still wrestling with.
      I remember it first from the old Leisure Suit Larry games, but I guess where it really went big was in some of the FF games, where it unlocked marginally different endings? I am no expert on JRPGs, so I am guessing.
      I think that only the invention of utterly meaningless and yet very infuriatingly driving achievements a la XBox 360 have made me want to max out stuff… I can’t quite tell why, but I want those meaningless points.

  7. Raging Bear says:

    If you count final battles as part of the ending (can’t really listen until I get home), and speaking of poignancy, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more powerful ending than Earthbound’s, and I don’t expect to in my lifetime. I still get chills just thinking about it.

  8. Effigy_Power says:

    Wow, I am writing a lot today.

    John, you guys made a fun page to hang out and talk about games without some near-choleric gamer-kid telling me I am a noob and insulting other ethnicities and sexual orientations for no reasons. That is a good thing.

    Also, unlike on the AV Club, this is still nice and empty, so I am getting in on the ground floor.

    Well done. (My thing this week is to thank people for things I am glad about and encourage them, so there…)

    • John Teti says:

      I really appreciate your saying so. It’s been great to have your comments on the site this week, and I’m glad you plan to stick around.

      For our part, we have a very low tolerance policy for aggro jerks on this site, so we intend to keep the comment threads civil and fun. But we haven’t had to do very much policing, partly because it’s still early days, but also because everyone has naturally set a good tone. It’s so gratifying not just for me, but also for all the contributors, who definitely notice your comments. You all are the audience we have been seeking for quite a while.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         Aww, we had a moment there.
        See, this is where “50Cent_Halo_KILLAH89” would call you something rude.
        I on the other hand tip my hipster-Fedora to you.
        More pretentious. Much more civil.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        Agree that commenting here is a lot of fun. There is always someone saying something insightful or telling a funny anecdote. And lots of different points of view and I haven’t seen anyone shouted down for liking the wrong game or whatever. It’s really great to have a civil, intelligent, mature place to talk about games. 

        GG WP

      • itisdancing says:

        Yeah, hear, hear! Good job!

      • HobbesMkii says:

         John, would it possible to create a bit of the site where we might be able to organize some sort of Gameological Society Gaming Society (or something)? Building off @Effigy_Power:disqus’s comments, I’d love to be able to play multiplayer games with a group that maintains the same tenor of these comments. I know a Steam group was mentioned earlier, but I think integration with the community here would be incredible.

        • John Teti says:

          I’m happy to consider it. Can you give me a little more idea of what you envision such a thing looking like?

        • HobbesMkii says:

           @JohnTeti:disqus Uh, oh. I never live up to expectations when people challenge me to put my money where my mouth is, but here goes nothing:

          I guess what I’m seeing in my mind’s eye is some sort of combination of a forum and teamspeak/ventrillo, or possibly some sort of text chat function. I feel like it’s important to provide people who need to plan on when they can play an option to schedule playing with people and provide people who just want to jump into a game and are checking to see if anyone would join them in that moment with the option to do that, too.

          Of course, now that I brainstorm it, all that might be far too complicated. It might just be easiest to create a forum (the community could help moderate it, if that became a chore) and break it down by platform and then we could put threads up to find people interested in playing game X or game Y and organize from there.

          Another idea that’s just occurred to me is profiles. Something like the AV Club’s notifications about TV shows, except with a list of multiplayer games that you can do whatever the gaming equivalent of “following” is (playing, I suppose) and maybe a list of people also playing the games you’ve selected and some sort of comment board for each game to facilitate socializing.

          I dunno. I’m sure someone else has a lower-budget higher-accessibility concept than I do.

        • Effigy_Power says:

          All honorable things, @HobbesMkii:disqus , but as you said, probably way too complicated.
          Why not just a weekly article in the fashion of: “What does the GS do this week?”
          People can comment on what games they are playing this week and “where” they are going to be.
          The following week a second article, mostly comment based, can follow up on that.
          “What did the GS do last week?”
          We all rip on multiplayerish exploits or glorious hours of reclusive single player fun (totally with spoiler-tags of course) and have a laugh.
          It requires no tech, nothing more than a splash screen for the topic, some text by the GS staff on what they did and then nothing but sitting-back-ness and seeing the comments rolling in.
          It gets people talking, will provide you with a lot of ideas and, I assume as a hobby-editor I have that sniffed correctly, will give you direct feedback on what games will be in the heads of at least your commenting readership, which will allow you to tailor your articles accordingly, if you so please. If 20 people are going to be playing game X next week, some perhaps even together, an article about game X sometime after that would probably find a lot of readers with a lot of fresh comments.
          It’s basically a huge dish of gaming anecdotes for everyone and free market research for John and the gang.

          PS: Provided Hobbes doesn’t feel as if I just slapped the dick out of his mouth. :P

          PPS: I am so smart.

        • HobbesMkii says:

           @Effigy_Power:disqus See? I said someone would have a better idea. I think my ideas were colored by the clan model of PC FPS gaming. I used to a member of a pretty awesome family-friendly clan that met its end when it exploded in drama, and as such my suggestions were something of an attempt to capture some of the magic I experienced there through structure. But I’m almost sure it doesn’t lend itself to a magazine site. And I’m almost doubly sure it’s not so much the structure as it is the group that makes a community excellent.

  9. Merve says:

    I tend to finish games (even if I have to consult a walkthrough) because I like to experience as much of a game that I enjoy as possible.

    But there are a few exceptions:
    RollerCoaster Tycoon 1 & 2: I just didn’t feel like completing every scenario. Besides, some of them (especially in 2 were really, really tough.)

    Bioshock: I wanted to finish the game, but I was playing it on an old computer, and hardware issues prevented me from getting past the first couple of hours. I might try it again some day.

    Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: This is embarrassing – I was fine with the difficulty level of the platforming and the puzzles, but the combat was so difficult that I couldn’t complete the game.

    Far Cry: The only game that I have ever rage-quit. Seriously, fuck Far Cry.

    As for memorable game endings, I’d have to go with The Operative: No One Lives Forever. It’s a silly, ridiculous ending, but it’s supposed to be a parody of ridiculous endings. (SPOILERS: You find out that your mentor was alive all along and that one of your allies was actually a bad guy in disguise.)

    • Effigy_Power says:

       I usually get the hate for certain games, but I never got it for Far Cry… I liked it and finished it… okay-ish… the final hour was pretty damn tough… actually everything after hang-gliding from the lighthouse was pretty brutal. Than and the fun weaponless time down the waterfall.
      Far Cry 2 on the other hand I only finished cheating. It’s a game where the prowess of my computer worked against me, since the foliage and grass were so dense, I couldn’t see the guy in front of me, shouting at me in Bulgarian and eventually killing me with a point-blank “kapow” from his shotgun.

      • Merve says:

        Far Cry just didn’t click for me on any level. It wasn’t just the hilariously bad voice acting or the brutally unfair checkpoint system that got me. My main problem was the inconsistent AI. They’d shoot you through tent walls, yet they’d just stand there like idiots if you walked up to them.

        I had other problems with it too. While each individual piece of foliage was beautifully rendered, the jungles ended up looking like a robot’s idea of what a jungle might look like, not actual jungles.

        I might pick it back up in a year or so to see if my opinion has changed. It’s a well-loved game, so maybe there’s something I’m missing.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        I got 2/3rds of the way through Far Cry twice, but never finished it.  Don’t think it was difficulty, think it was two separate PCs breaking on me at the wrong time.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      I’m with you on PoP:SoT. I think I was on the last boss when I gave up. That game was a lot of fun, but man, the combat did seem disproportionately hard compared to the rest of the game.

      I played a bit of Far Cry recently, and holy shit the AI in that game is just… I stopped playing after 20 minutes.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        Oh boy, I just remembered what PoP:SoT reminded me of: Hologram Time Traveler, the world’s first “holographic” arcade game!

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_Traveler_%28video_game%29

        If you’ve ever seen one of those little desktop hologram generators, it’s basically a curved mirror inside that reflects something above itself so that it appears to float in space.  They did it with a video screen, so it floats, but the screen is still flat.

        The gameplay itself was similar to laserdisc games or current QTEs – move the joystick or push a button at the right time to move, dodge or shoot enemies.  There was also a “Time Reversal” button, which could be used to rewind time for a few seconds to retry an action that just killed you, but only if you had Time Reversal Cubes available.  (The game gave you one once in a while, or you could throw more quarters in the machine to buy them.)

        On occasion, upon death, what appeared to be a drunken wizard would stumble across the screen, saying something like “You should have used a Time Reversal Cube!”

        My friend and I came to hate this game (and especially the wizard’s useless advice) very quickly.  We imagined situations where the wizard would offer assistance:

        *Marshall gets shot in the head by an enemy* “What a mess!  Next time, use a mop!”

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          I remember those! Incidentally, “The Gunstringer”  comes with free DLC of “The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles” — it’s basically a Tromaville version of one of those old Western “interactive” shooters in which actors suddenly draw on you, and you’ve got to gun them down first. The difference is, Troma’s at least *trying* to be silly . . . those old cabinets that you’re referring to had Wiseau-level acting. 

      • Aaron Riccio says:

        Which one of the PoPs had the game-breaking glitch where you theoretically could end up trapping yourself? Where was the rewind feature then?! (The lesson for all the grand viziers, I guess, is that you kill the prince with a slow poison — you can only go back so far.)

      • Merve says:

        Wow. I don’t think I even made it past the third hour of PoP:SoT. That’s how bad I was at the combat. It’s a shame, because the platforming part of the game was really fun.

  10. caspiancomic says:

    This podcast made me really, really want to play Bionic Commando.

    As for game finishing, I almost always do it. Partly I think this is because I usually do a lot of research into my games purchases, and rarely bother playing anything I don’t think I’ll see through to the end. Although I have been burned before, of course. I couldn’t finish Disgaea 2 despite loving the original, nor could I finish Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (too boring, too different from the original). And while I usually enjoy playing them, and I’ve played almost all of them, I’ve only ever beat one Pokemon game. I just lose interest in them, almost always around the time when you’re supposed to be collecting your last badges and battling the Elite 4.

    I also almost never go for 100% completion, with a few exceptions. I normally never bother with hidden collectibles, although I often try my hand at fighting bonus bosses or challenge modes.

  11. I’ve always enjoyed the “victory lap” ending, such as you get in “Link to the Past” for example. Every little arc gets a happy ending, and every character celebrates your triumph. Back when beating a game felt like a legitimate accomplishment, that was an enormously satisfying way to cap off the experience. 

    It’s even better when the denouement is interactive, like in Persona 3 Fes.  

    • Effigy_Power says:

       Dragon Age: Origins did that pretty well. It seemed that every character had a certain amount of closure and everyone had a chance to appreciate your influence in their lives. That was nice.
      That is, if you happened to be on good terms with them…

  12. MSUSteve says:

    Loved the podcast again.  I really enjoyed hearing Anthony wax poetic about Bionic Commando.  

    • Mike Ferraro says:

      Anthony missed the detail that the game starts with “I’ll talk about the person I met when I was young…” setting you up to think this is the game’s hero talking about Super Joe.  But like The Road Warrior, only at the very end is it revealed that your narrator is actually a character in the story you didn’t expect, and now he’s very old, and the whole piece was him telling the hero’s story.