July 1st, 2005


thoughts on endings

Long long ago there was this game called ZZT (yes, that's a google search, all the big zzt pages seem to be down.)

We're talking *long* ago, by the way. 1991. That's practically before time itself.

The coolest-by-far feature about ZZT was that it came with a full-featured level editor. Very, very full-featured. I suspect the whole game was originally written in the game level editor.

And so I started making levels.

To be entirely honest, they were uniformly horrible. I mean, I was proud of them then, but looking back on 'em? Yeuch. I don't know what the hell I was thinking. But I got a lot of early mistakes out of the way then.

For example, you're the level creator. That means you know everything about the levels. The players of your levels? They don't. Make it easy on them - of *course* the puzzles are going to be easier for you, you designed 'em! Be very very very careful to not throw anything in - like, say, hidden doors - that people can't discover through logic.

Don't spend too much time on any one part. You'll probably want to go back and modify it later. That's the way it goes. Deal.

And most important, end the damn thing already. I started off with the player in a crossroads - you had to go one way to get the item to unlock the next way, and so on. So you went off in that one direction and, to get the item, you had to go get three other items. So you went to pick up the first of those and, in order to get *that* one, you had to get *five* other items . . . and I think I had started building the way you'd go get the first of *those* and got bored and abandoned it.

That's just plain stupid.

Write with an ending in mind. Nobody wants to read a long rambling story that never goes anywhere. Same goes for game design. Same goes for everything. We want a beginning, a middle, and an end, unless you're just writing some comedy series on TV.

Which isn't to say that you can't have loose ends. Isn't to say that you can't have sequels. Isn't to say that you can't have more things show up later, and give the experiencer/user/player/watcher that "oh shit something big is going down" feeling. You can still have all of those.

You just need to tie things off *once* in a while.