I have just finished Pitfall: The Lost Expedition
, and I am here to rant to you about game endings. I liked the game, it was all pretty solid. I really liked the way it (much like our own Loonyland!) focused on gradually acquiring new abilities/items that let you travel to places you previously couldn't. I felt like it did a really clever job with that too, the way things were laid out.
But then I got to the end. And my wife said "I hate when you get to the ends of games", because she didn't want to listen to me shouting curses. And it's true! A very large percentage of games have this problem. Here's what I think it is: they know it's the big finish, so they have to pull something out that's really major for two purposes: to challenge you, and to impress you.
There's an obvious problem with the challenge thing - the game's been gradually getting harder all along, if the difficulty is well tuned, so why do I want it to suddenly jump up higher at the very end? Keep the same curve! It works! So many games have you going along comfortably only to slam you up against Mount Kilimanjaro at the very last moment. That's just fundamentally wrong. What if I can't beat the increased challenge? I played all that way only to just miss the ending and break a controller throwing it at the TV? Thanks.
The impressing thing is where the sneakier problem usually lies though. As it did in this game. See, you go along in Pitfall, the whole game, doing complicated platforming - leaping from vines to skinny platforms to the backs of alligators - and punching guys who die in one hit. Even the bosses - every single one
- consisted of platforming, figuring out the trick, dodging shots, and then doing some simple action (rinse and repeat, of course). But you get to the end and suddenly it's an all-out fist fight with a flaming demon jaguar (not a spoiler - you find this out in the first minute of the game, which is a nice compelling story element). It requires reflexes, dodging, and unbelievable luck since that thing is insane. The point is, it's a completely different set of skills than the entire rest of the game calls for, and it's very hard
. It's like I shut off the game and put in a new one, but started playing the new one at level 25, without having played through the easy levels to learn the concepts.
Both of these things happen in a lot of games (usually these same types of 'play through the story' games, as opposed to arcade type games), and it's a fundamental design mistake. Spyro: A Hero's Tail featured a similar problem (though only the challenge problem, not the new stuff problem). I ranted about that a few weeks ago. So, the game design moral to our story is this:
Make the end of the game just like the rest of the game!
Oh sure, you should definitely pull out some new and exciting visuals and all that. You want to impress the player. But don't make them do
things they haven't been doing previously! It doesn't make sense. And it should be a challenge. But don't make it a sudden jump in challenge.
As a side note, that 'final' boss fight was followed by another fight which was much more true to the Pitfall 'rules', and it only took me two tries to win that one (it was still a lame and unfun fight, hampered by an obnoxious camera, but at least it wasn't impossible). The jaguar took me upwards of 20 tries, and a lot of profanity. Luckily, I don't throw controllers.
In fact, you know what? Here's another idea: forget the bosses. Some games have awesome bosses. I love bosses in shooters, they're why I play. I like them in RPGs too. And fighting games. But in a platform game, just forget the boss. They always stand out and are weird gameplay, and just no fun. I'd always rather do the platforming and gem-finding than run in circles around a screaming banshee until it opens its eye for a split second so I can throw in a coconut. I got the game to play the main gameplay it offers 95% of the time, so rest assured that more of that gameplay won't upset me, while something totally different just might.