Choice, Ambiuity, and Family: a Desperation Postmortem



(For Desperation, obviously. So it’s not really a big deal at all, but if you wanted to play my game, I would recommend you play it first before reading this.)

When I worked on Desperation, it was done as an experiment on player choice that was done within game play, outside of specific player choice areas like dialogue options or clearly indicated  and fixed decision points. The decisions the player makes in what to acquire before leaving the play space determines how the ending plays out. Whether or not the player gathers 100 gold, Medicine, or the Book from Lizzie and Ethan’s childhood determines the flow of dialogue between the two in the final minutes of the game, as seen here.

Desperation Use Case Diagram-Endings

While that diagram says there are eight endings, that is not really true. There are indeed eight different paths of dialogue the ending of the game can move through, they all end up at the same point. They all have the same final lines, ending with Lizzie and Ethan saying goodnight to each other. Yet, they should all take slightly different meaning, as the context of that goodnight differs depending on the dialogue they spoke before that moment. The less resources you bring back to Ethan at the end game, the less optimistic the dialogue turns, and the less optimistic the player is that Ethan will live through the night. And that point is a universal uncertainty, as the game ends as they go to sleep, with no ending continuing on into the following morning, leaving Ethan’s fate up to the player’s mind. Even with getting everything, there is the possibility that Ethan doesn’t live, as he has to make it through the night for the medicine to have actually done its job.

Desperation-The First Branch (No Money)

Alternatively, the player could also like to believe that even without bringing back money for a doctor or medicine to treat him, the bond they shared over their mother was enough to keep Ethan going through the night and live.


The characters of Ethan and Lizzie came loosely from the relationship I have with my sister. No, I’ve never been in a life threatening situation which she has worked to get me out of, but she always has been the more mature one who has acted more like a big sister than a little one, looking after me when it should have been me that was looking after her. Hiding the fact that Lizzie was Lizzie until the final moments was intended to allow more of a cipher character during game play that anyone could place themselves into, and then separate her into her own identity during the end as it is her actions and emotions that are being displayed at the end, not the players’.

One thing that I think could have been better for adding risk-reward to the game and and more incentive for resource management in players is replacing the specific Medicine key item with having a certain amount of health items (say 5) with you when you leave the game.  That way, when you go out looking for more resources, you have to balance your healing yourself with making sure you have enough to bring back.


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