What is it with endings? Honestly, after debating with myself as to whether I should start this post more eloquently in an attempt to maintain my soggy bloggy affectation, there is no other sentence that could more accurately represent why I’m making this post.
Although this largely goes without saying, the introduction of photorealistic CGI imaging and motion capture technology in the videogame industry, alongside the widespread increment of the rendering power of the average consumer’s hardware has enabled developers to minimise the virtual distance between audiences and rendered characters in modern times. This has in turn lead to more opportunities for a cinematic approach to gaming, with leading AAA devs such as Rockstar taking advantage of this novelty in titles such as LA Noire.
This isn’t to say that those such as Kojima couldn’t execute a globally successful narrative before the widespread utilisation of mocap, with fleshed characters and arcs, but a photorealistic capturing of Snake likely would have been beneficial back in the PS1 days, with fully nuanced facial expressions to match Hayter’s wonderfully Japanese hyperbolic delivery. Facial expression and ability to mirror real emotion is more than just an asset in the art of cinematic storytelling, it is an unequivocal talent, and its advent raises the potential bar for relatable and believable development of characters.
I bring up the success of MGS’ deliciously Japanese convoluted and contradicting narrative because to posit the inverse of that narrative-graphic dichotomy, to have, say, The Walking Dead be released with PS1 style graphics, it is hard to imagine a similar success when such a large part of playing that game requires close attention to the changing of countenance. You would lose that vital dimension of trust and duplicity in countenance were the modern standard of mocap even slightly below the current par.
Rambling tangent now finished, what I’m getting at is that the new age of technology allows developers to release more character focused narratives by utilising facial features and intricacies that you could not exchange with written exposition. It is an often glossed over but vital part of many video game narratives, and I believe that this novelty itself is what has raised the bar for AAA narrative in general. Games like Mass Effect and The Last of Us would be wholly without their narrative trenchancy were they released even a year or two outside of their developmental chronology.
And this novelty has brought along with its many fruits some of the most divisive narratives in the past decade, and for some reason, that I hope to maybe fumble at with this post, it is always the coda of the narrative framework that undermines the competency of the whole story. I bring this up because of Firewatch, a title launched by two ex-Telltale crew recently which has a seemingly universal critical consensus, that the narrative and its incredibly innovative storytelling method are the sublime foundation which upholds a conclusion that is simultaneously too unbelievable and too expected, and too discordant with the preliminary quality.
I’ll admit, I kind of freebooted this game off of Jesse Cox’s YouTube channel, but finishing his playthrough made me angry for the millions of gamers who have been repeatedly let down because of a shitty ending, and it made me angry in general because of Firewatch’s self inflicted betrayal of its own quality, and when this epidemic seems to touch the minds of Rodkin and Vanaman, who have some of the best reputation in the entire industry, you have to wonder why this is a universal problem.
For episodically released narratives such as Life is Strange I suppose you can pinpoint the reason for the narrative’s downfall, which is that the overwhelming success of the initial episodes caught up to the developers before total development was completed, and because of that the developers experience a pressured corruption of quality, or they assume because of their success literally anything they produce will be just as competent. The Kanye-ification of narrative development.
You see the opposite a lot in other episodically released media, like television series or radio soaps that go on for decades like The Archers, where the original writers (if still alive) would have no idea about the way its story arcs would end and so they don’t have to worry about a narrative coda the way that other producers do, and so the general quality will fluctuate but if they are at a low point developers can simply return to pander to their audience with the criticism they receive. Sometimes writers of famous book series or of widely successful television series will admit in interviews that the ending of the narrative is entirely undecided. People can criticise, bitch and moan about Mass Effect’s apparently diabolical ending but that won’t really impact the developers at all, once it’s gone out the door it’s out the door for good, you can’t release a day one patch for narrative.
So, apparently, the reason for individually released titles with no overhanging sequel bait plotlines having poor endings, such as Firewatch, is nothing. There is no reason. I suppose what made me the most miffed about the ending was that the narrative chassis of Firewatch provided us with both a slowly bubbling tortuous mystery and a slowly bubbling psychological insight into the mind of our protagonist, which explored themes such as the tensile strength of love when faced with illness, and the perversion of a sense of safety in complete isolation.
Both of these elements had the gas turned off underneath them in a rapid and aimless effort at a conclusion. Through the main narrative body we expect that the overt sexual tension between our characters and the supposed introverted guilt that our protagonist holds will come to some fruition, be it a hefty monologue or anything else, but none of this was fulfilled. Firewatch keeps you at the end of your seat before abruptly removing it under you.
It’s come to my attention that, just like the games mentioned, I’ve run out of ideas. I attempted to look at why the ending tends to be the most discordant part of a AAA narrative, be it that the writer(s) fulfil their creative vision rather than pander to audiences, but it’s all vague and abstract reasoning. I just don’t know, but it’s something the blogosphere as a whole should look deeper into.
What’s a game or film or other media that’s had an ending which rustled your jimmies?