Historically, the answer is yes, and the experts who wrote these classic games have written all of them. Enjoy these classic choose-your-own-fiction examples of Bad Ends I stumbled on, from the insightful to the ridiculous.
I remember those old goosebumps books.
Games should have bad endings however it doesnt work in COG for 1 major reason:
You cant turn back to your last choice and change it.
In all those old books youd always remember the page number of the last choice so you could run back and do it again when you died like that. In COG when you die you have to replay the entire game which is irriating if you cant remember the choices you made or you cant remember where the choice went wrong.
If you have a bad ending it still has to have the same payoff as reaching any other ending of the game, closing any loose ends and really giving proper closure to the story so the next time you read you can make different choices and go a different path without feeling like you missed something.
There is a save system “at any point” now (look at Monsters (WiP)) for an example.
This is true, ive not really used it on those WIP as im used to playing published games without it.
You could save scum your way through COG but I still feel theres a lot of investment in character that wasnt in those goosebumps books. An ending of “you opened the door and monkeys ate you” just wouldnt feel like a proper payoff unless you designed your game that way
WIPs can have the save system, but I don’t think published games do. This is one of the main reasons why I think games should have “return to last checkpoint” as a standard choice after death; it’s one thing to have to re-do a battle, but to replay the entire game just to not die (especially from what may not have been that stupid a mistake) is just aggravating.
That said, I do quite like some of these “very bad ends”, and I think one or two from my WIP might count (e.g. you leap off a building to attack a flying monster, miss, and tumble thirty floors to your sticky end ). In fact, I liked the (very early) bad end to Choice of the Star Captain so much that I’ve never played it again, so as not to dilute my memories of that glorious insane suicide.
But what if the really bad end isn’t death?
I think a game should have bad ends, but not all of them should be just “you died, game over”. Ends where more than just your life is at stake are really interesting to me. Especially if they put things or people you’ve grown to care about at stake.
So the really bad end could be a normal ending, length and placement wise, but could be bad because instead of “happily ever after”, you failed- on one aspect or another. Be it your RO died, you failed your ultimate goal, you’re outcast, or even the “sacrifice yourself to save the world” kind of ending.
The kinds of games and endings where it’s not just you at stake but those you care about can be really interesting.
Perhaps the worst end of all would be if everything you love is gone, everyone you love is dead or missing, and you’re left alive- stuck watching it all slip away. At that point, the “you died via epic battle and sacrifice” option might not seem like the worst of the bunch.
I would like to a see “a fate worse than death” ending.
With CoGs and HGs, I think a “bad ending” is great but ONLY if it’s foreseeable. The bad ending shouldn’t be random. The player, when reading the bad ending, should preferably be thinking, “Yep that’s MC for ya!”
I don’t think anyone is arguing that these kind of endings shouldn’t exist, it’s more about premature endings that are only there to make the game more challenging, and serve no purpose in the story. There’s a big difference between, “you just died during the climactic battle because your fighting skill wasn’t high enough, play the game again to find out what happens next!” and actually completing the game, getting some closure, but not having a completely satisfactory fairytale ending.
That said, I do think having an ending where the MC dies can be good if it’s done correctly. Like an ending (a proper ending, one that you choose) where the player can sacrifice themselves for the greater good, or some other purpose. It just has to be meaningful, and not just one page or paragraph of text explaining how the player died.
Signposting is a must. For example with Mass Effect 2 you really have to work to get the worst possible ending. It’s even harder than the best possible ending. And since you can’t import it to the next game the only reason you’d pursue it is to see your poor characters get killed horribly. (Then again, is there another reason to play video games?)
See also Undertale. If you get the worst possible ending it’s because you’re a horrible person who’s done nothing whatsoever to earn themselves a happy ending.
I agree one of my favorite ending in a CoG game was the ending in a Study in Steampunk where you actually become Jack the Ripper and Finch ends up killing you it was quite clearly a bad ending but I loved it.
For some reason I kind of like collectible Game Overs (and other endings) but I don’t like blindsiding bad ends all that much.
I have a couple free text adventures with hundreds each. They’re kind of fanficy though.
I love that ending too. I got it while going back through in my attempt to get as many endings as possible. And I think that is a great example of how sometimes players don’t have to be frustrated by a bad end, either. It can be emotional, and seriously impactful, when done well, and can add a lot to the story or provide a really cool twist.
A really bad end done well, like Study in Steampunk’s, can be lots of fun.
I totally agree, and kinda like I just said above the “you died” endings can be very impactful. Especially so (imo) if there’s some kind of epilogue where you get to see how your death affected the world and peek in on the lives and perhaps even mournings of your friends and family.
Our CoG guidelines say:
Every ending should be awesome, even if it’s a failure or a tragedy. There should be something dramatic and satisfying about every ending.
- In Choice of the Dragon, the PC can get killed early…by getting struck down as divine retribution for setting themselves up as a false deity.
- In Psy High, the PC can get arrested, but have the awesomeness of knowing that they’ve destroyed the magical mind-control device.
- In Choice of Zombies, the PC can succumb to the zombie hordes, but have the awesomeness of knowing that they were able to not only save their foster child, but also get word out about how to fight the zombies.
- In Hollywood Visionary, the PC’s movie can flop at the box office, but get the awesomeness of having it turn into a cult classic
Finally, the player should understand why they got the ending they did. There should be enough clues in the text to show how the story led to that destination: references to past events, allusions to stats, etc.
I meant the question to be rhetorical, as a way of introducing the classic “you failed and died” moments from old CYOAs. But I guess the discussion isn’t quite that one-sided.
I do have a scene in Day 1 where one of the characters can succumb to their monstrous instincts, descend in a haze of blood, and be taken out by a SWAT team… while it’s a quick way to end the story, it also serves as a cautionary tale that this particular monster is always two steps away from losing control. And it was fun to write.
I’ll probably write in a thing later where you can restart from the beginning of the scene with a hit to your stats, like Heroes Rise does with Legend points.
In my opinion these games and books should always aim to stir up an emotional reaction. If you’re going to have a bad ending make it emotional and not just an ‘Oops you died’.
So yeah bad endings should be possible
I always put in bad endings. Some of them death, some of them worse than death, some of than worse than death and then followed by actual death.
If anything I find it harder to put in endings that aren’t bad, but still prematurely end the story in a positive way (Like you didn’t reach the “winning” ending, but you did okay or broke even)
Though it all of course depends on the setting that’s being written. Fantasy stories for example tend to lend themselves better toward death endings for obvious reasons. My more modern settings tend to have less death endings going on (A couple don’t have any) but there are still a lot of those where you can get some REALLY bad endings.
Talking about “Bad end”, Zombie exodus “Zombie nightmare” ending is also a bad end, right? I mean… all of those thing you did was nothing more than illusions… curses. My empathy to let everyone alive and happy lead me to a unexpected ending.