November 21, 2004

2004: The Year Of Bad Endings

I just finished beating "Half-Life 2" less than five minutes ago, and it really seems to me that the last twelve months have included some of the worst endings ever made.

Whether it was due to internal quality bars and street dates colliding like "Halo 2," or hope for a sequel like "XIII," or whatever the Hell drove the "ending" that I got for "Half-Life 2," the vast majority of the video game titles I have played to completion over the last twelve months have made me regret spending the money, time and effort to do so.

I'm a relatively patient gentleman with games. I've been involved in their creation from inception through shipping through patching. I know that in the video game industry, there is a nearly universal drive to make the ending "worth it" for gamers. The designers, programmers, artists and testers really focus on making their endings amazing because they realize that if a person has a crappy final impression, they won't be as anxious to play another game from that studio again.

I'm more forgiving of the Bungie guys than I am of Valve. While both games essentially promised to be the second coming of the gaming Christ, while Bungie's title brought you to the brink of greatness and left you hanging, Valve's title brought you to the brink of greatness and let you down.

I'm sorry, Valve, I really am, but I just can't forgive this ending. Hell, by the end, I had almost forgiven you for the totally pathetic experience I had activating "Half-Life 2" and the heinous load times. But that ending...I know you want to make the series a franchise, but if you have learned anything, it should be that you must at least finish your story arc. Building up for a mad dash out of the building and leaving you trapped for eternity in a dark room isn't an ending. It's placing the player in storage until you drag the franchise out again.

Of course, your defenders are now going to jump in and use the "Lord of the Rings" movies as an example of recent entertainment releases where they didn't finish their arcs. The difference here? With "Lord of the Rings," we knew exactly how long we had to wait for each installment. How long will we have to wait for "Half-Life 3?" With "Lord of the Rings," we had a one-year maximum gap between installments. A lengthy bit of time, but doable. Given your track record, we're looking at five years for "Half-Life 3." I don't want to wait that long for a real ending.

Oh, well. I can only hope that the 2005 releases are better than the class of 2004.

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