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2048: End Game
One of the most popular games to hit the iOS market in the last year is the tile sliding puzzle game, 2048. The game is a test of logic and wits in which like numbers are combined to create higher numbers in a sequence; two and two becomes four, four and four becomes eight, and so on until the user hits the fabled titular number, 2048. The game is simple but good and it scratches the same itch as, say, a Sudoku puzzle. But then you learn how to play it. The winning strategy, once you learn it, is simple. What was once an interesting brainteaser becomes a slurry of repetitive actions until you either succeed or get screwed by blind luck. The solution ruins the puzzle.
This problem is evident in many games; in fact, it could be argued that there is an expiry date on every game. This isn’t an inherently bad thing, and sometimes excepting that something is over can refine your own enjoyment of it. Final Fantasy Tactics, for instance, is a game that I have a huge amount of affection for but nevertheless find very difficult to play – if only by virtue of the fact that it’s so easy to play. I’ve played the game to the point of knowing every trick in the book, so that the act of playing it feels almost trivial. However, in gaining this knowledge of the game’s quirks I’d gained an appreciation for the systems it uses, and for the fantastic story that leads you from campaign to campaign. I feel like it’s a game I’ve played to it’s fullest, and I feel like I’ve gotten the fullest experience out of it; something which can’t be said for 2048.
Other games allow for a changing experience that extends its own shelf-life as you play. Minecraft, which has been constantly updated since its alpha release, is an example of this. The game is refined and tweaked, allowing for an increasingly diverse experience. Factor in all of the community-made mods and modpacks, such as Feed the Beast, Resonant Rise and Tekkit, and you have a game that’s continuously being reinvented, allowing for an experience that has yet to reach a conclusion. This is something that can’t necessarily last forever, but it’s a key part of the game’s design that extends the life of the game, and it’s hardly unique to Minecraft. Games such as World of Warcraft and Civilization similarly allow for reinvention of the core experience.
It’s tempting to forgive 2048’s failings purely based on it’s caliber as a game. It’s obviously no-where near as big a title as any of the comparison’s I’ve mentioned. And, after all, it makes no effort at a narrative; it’s a simple puzzle, nothing more. But whilst I can’t condemn the game because of the solution that’s inherent to it, it certainly lessens the experience in retrospect. It poses as a puzzle with near endless solution and strategies, but this is simply smoke and mirrors. The game doesn’t end through natural diminishing interest or through any kind of conclusion. It ends because you realize the game you thought you were playing and the game you were actually playing were two very different things.
Every game has its game over. The way it takes you to that ending and how it finishes, however, has a phenomenal level of importance. The ending is, after all, ideally the last experience your user will have of your game; their last memories of playing will come from this time. An abrupt ending that rounds off a good narrative works well, as does a fulfilled set of goals through a series of challenges. A slow fade-out also works, whereby the player experiences the game in different ways until their interest begins to wain. But a narrative that provides no final denouement, a game that simply fails to reach a climax and simply peters out of existence or, as in the case of 2048, a solution that in no-way feels conducive to the experience can leave you feeling empty. It’s a problem often found in mobile gaming, where it’s tempting to give players the opportunity to play ad infinitum, thereby maximizing their exposure to ads and in-app purchases. And whilst the lack of a strong ending can’t really set you back, it certainly wont make you stand out from the pack. By no means is 2048 a bad game; I’ve certainly had enormous fun learning its ins and outs. But my completion of it still feels like a hollow victory. It just ended.