The End of Us

One of the things I find fascinating about experimental games is their minimalism. When developers limit themselves, either by sound, visuals or the mechanics, their artistic sensibilities really shine. This is on full display with The End of Us.

The End of Us is a browser-based game where you are a meteor hurtling through space. You can control your position on the screen and nothing else, just using the arrow keys. Soon, you are joined by another meteor which begins to playfully follow you and dodge in and out of your comet trail.

The game is remarkable for what it manages to do with hunks of rock hurtling through space for 5 minutes. I not only got attached to the little guys, but found their story was actually moving. If you haven’t played it yet, go play it before moving on in the discussion thread. It’s almost certain we’ll ruin the ending through the discussion.

Talking Points: How did the inanimate hunks of rock somehow evoke empathy? What could some bigger games learn from this? Is this game basically a giant escort mission? The End of Us manages to tell an emotionally moving story in 5 minutes with no dialog, isn’t this kind of the opposite approach to Half-Life 2’s non-interactive bits in a way?

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Comments

I think it shows up how seldom in games you have an AI companion who is on the same terms as the player, most of the time either the player is trailing a invulnerable killing machine, or leads a bunch of disposable subservient AI. I'm struggling to think of an AI companion that's even to the player and knows it, Alyx or Barney from HL2 is close, but not really there. As kind-of noted in the summary, the movement of the companion asteroid anthropomorphises it that it appears intelligent.

There are a lot of decent NPCs in escort missions, but they don't tend to stick around afterwards.

I contrast this with HL2 by thinking about the physical communication here. In HL2 most of the story was delivered by people sitting around and talking while you jumped around the room smashing crates. Here, the thing you do to play the game is how the story is communicated to you, physically through the movement of the meteors.

Also, the only reason the mechanics have any meaning at all is through this physical interaction with the story.

Could you tell a more traditional story this way? Parts of it, at least. I'm thinking of The Darkness and sitting on the couch with your character's girlfriend for several minutes.

Interaction between Player characters and AI characters is really limited, but that's probably down to the fact that killing is the primary interaction in the majority of games. For instance I can't gently bop someone on the head with the crowbar in HL2 if they did someone stupid, it's all or nothing.

I'll be honest... Everytime I pushed down, the window scrolled down. I bopped my companion about eight times, and he hid in the lower right corner for the whole rest of the time...

What's the experience for anyone else that abuses their companion?

Of course my DM is the abusive one.

I've only tried it on my netbook so far, and it was almost unplayably choppy. I'll try it on the gaming rig now.

That's a cute thing. Not too sure what to make of it, but it's evocative, and competing for the stars 'just because' is cool.

That was cute, but didn't have any effect on me. I spent the majority of the time just aimlessly zipping around. It was pretty obvious that it was trying to mirror my movements a bit at first.

Spoiler:

In the collision sequence it darted behind me, I figured I was meant to take the blows. When Earth appeared I tried to see if I could avoid it somehow by moving to the side. At that point the game bugged out it seems and my comet just stood there on the screen and the arrow keys scrolled the browser window. I was able to move the comet around with my mouse, actually, but it seemed to be on some loop.

If it's flash you need to click on the animation to activate it and give it focus. Regarding the end:

Spoiler:

Moving up or down you're swapping places for which meteor will take the hit, you or your companion.

I didn't pay attention to the positioning at the end.

Spoiler:

I was too busy thinking 'Suck it India'

It didn't really have much of an impact on me. ... uh-huh.

I played it twice, the second time after reading about the philosophy. Um... yeah, it was ok. It was pretty and I enjoyed the music but neither ending brought me to feel any sense of loss. I was also disappointed by the lack of a visual ELE.

Mister Magnus wrote:

It didn't really have much of an impact on me. ... uh-huh.

I played it twice, the second time after reading about the philosophy. Um... yeah, it was ok. It was pretty and I enjoyed the music but neither ending brought me to feel any sense of loss. I was also disappointed by the lack of a visual ELE.

I tried really hard to not talk about the emotional impact because, this being the internet, everyone would play the game going "Nuh uh this isn't going to affect me no sir" and then it's meaningless.

It's hard to point people to these games without ruining their impact. The very act of saying "hey this had an impact" ruins that impact on alot of people.

Well, other games spotlighted here have touched me emotionally in certain ways. This one did not, so I wanted to mention that. EDIT: Basically, at the end -- both times -- I sat there waiting for something else to happen and was left thinking, "Is that it?"

I also wanted to use the word impact. Because of the meteors.

Mister Magnus wrote:

Well, other games spotlighted here have touched me emotionally in certain ways. This one did not, so I wanted to mention that. EDIT: Basically, at the end -- both times -- I sat there waiting for something else to happen and was left thinking, "Is that it?"

I also wanted to use the word impact. Because of the meteors.

Spoiler:

If you push up/down you can switch places with the other meteor. So you have to choose who hits the planet then you watch the survivor drift through space alone.

Yeah, we did it both ways. Both ways I was waiting for more. That's why I mentioned the lack of emotional pull that I experienced when playing and after I'd finished. Their goal was to make me feel something and they did not succeed with me.

Spoiler:

From Our Philosophy: " 'The End of Us' was designed to evoke friendship, attachment, and affinity without overt narrative.' "

That's why I mentioned it. I don't regret playing the game, it was time fine-spent. It just wasn't a "win" for me. I look forward to future browser-based game recommendations.

I thought it was a cute little piece, but I'm not sure how exactly I was meant to feel. As far as I'm concerned, drifting through space and smashing into something much, much larger than itself is the entire motivation, desire and destiny of an asteroid. Hell if anything

Spoiler:

the lone remaining asteroid would be ecstatic (as much as any inanimate lump of rock and ice can be) , that the sacrifice made by the first asteroid would allow it to travel farther, perhaps accelerate further and with any luck smash into something even larger than its short-lived travelling companion

Spoiler:

Maybe that was the intention of the developers all along. Maybe, it's not a sacrificial act after all, maybe it's all just a race.

edit: I'll spoiler that bit too.

Maybe I'm just a romantic, but I liked it. Think of it this way: basically this game recreates every romantic comedy ever, just with asteroids: purple meets orange, purple vies with orange, purple dances with orange...

Really, this is nothing more than you would see in any sort of silly cartoon or movie.

But, this is the first time I really have seen it work so well in a game, and it was all based on some really simple AI. Good Job.

Awww

The ending made me sad. Maybe I'm the only one it did this to. YOU ALL HAVE NO HEARTS!

I kind of realized what was going on in the end and tried to save orange-asteroid but I failed. Now I have to live with that for the rest of my life