I definitely didn't want the story to be an allegory. That definitely was not the intent at all. Allegorical stuff, I think, can feel kind of cheap - "Oh, you're just trying to teach me a lesson about Iraq." It's kind of a deflating feeling to realize that something is preaching to you in that way. The game was definitely not meant to be preachy, and I think, thankfully, the feedback around the ending and the ending choices has been very strong. I think the reason those choices worked for people is because they really are dilemmas; it's not like moral grandstanding or anything. We wanted to present choices that were totally justified, whichever way you chose, and not about, like, do you want to be the good guy or the bad guy? How do you feel about this world that you're in at this point, and to give you options that could reflect that range.
You have to decide what's right without the game spelling out for you that you're going to get
The ending is very different from the rest of the game - you can't freely switch out your choices. Once you pick, that's it. Was that a conscious decision?
Yeah, that was very conscious. We weren't sure exactly how it was going to go, but I really liked the idea that, in this game - to back up a little bit, we have no last boss or anything like that, right? The metaphorical "last boss" of the game is just an expressive choice that you make. That is the ultimate challenge. In a game where you've been making cool, fun gameplay choices the entire time, here, now, is a choice whose consequences are unclear. You have to decide what's right without the game spelling out for you that you're going to get, like, +25% damage, or something like that. The idea that we're going to save these expressive narrative choices that don't necessarily have any gameplay impact at all for the very end seemed pretty exciting. We thought those choices could have the highest impact by sort of coming out of nowhere in that way near the end. But I don't think they come out of nowhere [totally], because they really are the first moments in the actual story of the game when the character is confronted with situations where he does have to make this kind of choice. So it all seemed to work out nicely, and we liked saving that sort of thing for last.
We felt that, either consciously or not, if the player was gonna invest that much time into the game to get to that point, chances are he would feel something about the world and about these characters and could make a choice accordingly. Whereas if we put those kind of choices in early on, they would be less meaningful, because you would have less time to basically get to know everything about the world. It's like, "Why should I care what happens?" We didn't end up using this as a tagline, but the sort-of tagline we had for the game early on was, "What will you make of the world?" - both speaking to how you build up the world around you, but it's also speaking to [the player] deciding what to make of it, I guess, in a more spiritual sense; you get to decide what happens to it. Because, ultimately, in any story, it comes down to: how is the world different between the beginning of the story and the end of the story? We wanted that difference to be pretty profound in the case of our game.
Marc N. Kleinhenz has written for IGN, Gamasutra, and 18 other sites. He's the editor of Tower of the Hand: A Flight of Sorrows and has even taught English in Japan.