Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Your adventure ends here ends here

This is the conclusion to my analysis on what makes good endings in gamebooks.  Before I started going through all these endings to analyse, I had forgotten about the wide range of endings that we have available to us. 

In the past, I didn't pay much attention to bad endings - I would just go back to the last paragraph and try another choice.  You heard me; I admitted it.  I wasn't going to go back to the beginning again after all my hard work just because I had opened door x instead of door y. 

Next post:  I admit that I skipped combats too.  And 'rerolled' dice if I failed a roll.  And maybe sometimes, certain items would 'fall' into my backpack when I needed them.  Go on.  Who can honestly say they never did those things?

Anyway, I realised that I was missing out on a lot of creativity and entertainment by not reading the failure paragraphs.  Most of the ones I read went into great detail on how you died horribly or they had some other clever way of describing your death. 

Some of them gave you useful information which may help me in future play throughs and some of them gave you an idea of the moral tone of the book which gave me clues on how I should behave in future. 

A lot of death paragraphs are also a chance for humour or allow the authour to break the fourth wall; something which usually doesn't happen in the rest of the book.  Also, failure does not necessarily mean death. 

Books can have different endings with different levels of success or failure.  This increases replayability as there may be a better ending out there.

Failure paragraphs are a chance to do something new with little chance of annoying the reader.  After all, since they're dead, what have you got to lose?  I certainly was not bothered if I came across a two line failure ending saying 'You got shot.  Your adventure ends here.'  I just started again.  However, an entertaining or different failure paragraph is a good bonus. 

Victory paragraphs need a different approach.  They need to be entertaining and fulfilling.  The player needs to be rewarded as well as the character.  The two can go hand in hand. 

I'm sure players feel satisfied if their character gets tons of gold and fame.  However, they don't necessarily have to.  Some books have the character fulfilling a mission as part of their job and not getting some big reward at the end.  However, that does not necessarily mean that you can get away with a 'Congratulations.  A good day at the office.'  It does not reward the reader.

There are other ways of rewarding the reader besides having their character showered with glory and gold.  Stephen Hand's three Fighting Fantasy books, Moonrunner, Dead of Night and Legend of the Shadow Warriors do not have any gold and glory as part of the ending.  However, he makes the ending satisfying by making the personal motivations of the hero clear and fulfilling them at the end. 

Another great writer of successful endings is Joe Dever, who wrote the Lone Wolf series.  All of his books ahve very long successful endings which include characters you have come across and what your next challenge is.  Here is the ending of Flight from the Dark.

You enter the Chamber of State, a magnificent hall decorated lavishly in white and gold. The King and his closest advisers are studying a large map spread upon a marble plinth in the centre of the chamber. Their faces are lined with worry and concentration. A silence fills the hall as you tell of the death of your kinsmen and of your perilous journey to the citadel. As you finish your story, the King approaches and takes your right hand in his.

‘Lone Wolf, you have selfless courage: the quality of a true Kai Lord. Your journey here has been one of great peril and although your news comes as a grievous blow, the spirit of your determination is like a beacon of hope to us all in this dark hour. You have brought great honour to the memory of your Masters, and for that we praise you.’

You receive the praise and heartfelt thanks of the entire hall—an honour that brings a certain redness to your young face. The King raises his hand and all the voices cease.
‘You have done all that Sommerlund could have asked of a loyal son, but she is greatly in need of you still. The Darklords are powerful once more and their ambition knows no bounds. Our only hope lies within Durenor with the power that once defeated the Darklords an age ago. Lone Wolf, you are the last of the Kai—you have the skills. Will you journey to Durenor and return with the Sommerswerd, the sword of the sun? Only with that gift of the gods may we crush this evil and save our land.’
If you wish to accept the quest of the Sommerswerd, begin your adventure with Book 2 of the Lone Wolf adventures:
Fire on the Water.

So in conclusion, victory paragraphs have to be fulfilling - they have to reward the reader by showing them that their character has obtained something wonderful and of value.  It may be money and glory or it may be some other kind of fulfilment.  People don't like it if their victory paragraphs are short.  For example, there is a review of Space Assassin that can be found at this page which says that the ending is disappointing.  Space Assassin's ending basically just says congratulations.  I've never read of any Lone Wolf victory endings being disappointing.

Failure paragraphs are an opportunity to go a bit crazy and try something new.  After all, the worst that can happen is that the reader will not really read it and go back to the start.  Those that do read it will appreciate  your efforts.

Coming soon:  I'll be putting my gamebooks on the blog for people to downloadfor free.

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