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Repeat the Ending

by Drew Cook profile

Slice of life

Web Site

(based on 22 ratings)
8 reviews

About the Story

Explore an all-new "critical edition" of a 1996 Inform 5 game about mental illness, magic, and the second law of thermodynamics.

When D, a psychiatrically disabled chaos wizard, learns that an estranged family member is near death, he must brave the dangers beyond the trailer park to see them one last time. Can D reach the hospital in time? Can he escape a seemingly endless cycle of guilt and misery? Or is he doomed to forever repeat the ending?

Features artwork by Callie Smith.

cw: mental illness, self-harm, child neglect, profanity

As of release 4, Repeat the Ending offers an optional accessibility feature called "story mode."

Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: April 5, 2023
Current Version: 4.0
License: Freeware
Development System: Inform 7
Forgiveness Rating: Merciful
IFIDs:  E9A2EE13-8008-41D8-88F2-2459642EE5DB
TUID: eueqjtej7bvnfp5a

Adapted from Repeat the Ending, by Drew Cook
Makes reference to A Mind Forever Voyaging, by Steve Meretzky
Makes reference to Enchanter, by Marc Blank, Dave Lebling
Makes reference to howling dogs, by Porpentine
Makes reference to In the End, by Joe Mason
Makes reference to Photopia, by Adam Cadre
Makes reference to Trinity, by Brian Moriarty
Makes reference to Zork I, by Marc Blank and Dave Lebling

Adapted by Repeat the Ending, by Drew Cook


49th Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2023 edition)

Best in Show, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2023

Tie, Outstanding Game of the Year 2023; Winner, Author's Choice for Best Game of 2023; Winner, Outstanding Debut 2023; Winner, Trailblazer Award of 2023; Winner, Outstanding Inform 7 Game of 2023 - The 2023 IFDB Awards


I am excited to have completed (I hope) the final update of this weird game. It is primarily a feature release. Here's what's new on that front:

I've heavily revised the hints for earning every point, providing more incremental information and context clues. This comes as a response to player feedback. Please enjoy it!

The second feature is something I'm quite passionate about. I call it "story mode." A few people have worked or are working on their own approaches to guided playthroughs of parser games. I've thought of this primarily as an accessibility feature, though I think people who simply don't enjoy parser games may like it, too. It leads the player through the game in an automated way. The player can pause at any time to experiment or explore. The player can also quit the mode altogether, which may make it a handy tutorial experience for some.

Have a look for yourself! Just select option 2 when the game begins.

As always, if you find a bug, I will add you to the testing credits.

If you (or someone you know) have never played Repeat the Ending, this is the best time yet to give it a try. Thanks everyone for supporting this project!

-Drew “Drew Cook” Cook
Reported by Drew Cook (updated on November 16, 2023) | History | Edit | Delete
In the past month or so, I've worked to unify the builds for standalone and online play of Repeat the Ending, and that work is now complete. With this effort completed, I have decided to stop hosting multiple instances of the game files for Repeat the Ending. Whether you prefer playing online or downloading your own story files, you can find everything you need at my itch.io page (linked on the game's main page).

So far as preservation goes, I have uploaded an archive of all game files (including those needed for web publication) to the IF Archive and will always keep updated materials there.

Barring future bug reports or feature requests, I expect that there will be a final v4 release. The primary change will be revision to the hints related to in-game scores. As always, your bug reports are welcome.

Thanks for taking an interest in my game!


PS: If you have trouble with a saved game because of this move, let me know and I'll try to help.
Reported by Drew Cook (updated on September 12, 2023) | History | Edit | Delete
Callie Smith (illustrator) and Drew Cook (author) discuss the artwork in Repeat the Ending. This conversation was recorded before the Spring Thing ribbons were announced. It is primarily an audio recording, though the relevant images are displayed at appropriate times.

BEWARE!!! This recording is filled with spoilers!!!

Drew and Callie Discuss the Artwork of Repeat the Ending

Note #1: Every possible point is transcribed in the file "Full Play Transcript of the Game," and can be experienced in that way. This option was not available at the time of recording.

Note #2: The requirements for earning the true ending were reduced to 17 in Release 3.
Reported by Drew Cook | History | Edit | Delete
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Number of Reviews: 8
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
"Love Follows Knowledge", indeed, June 9, 2023

To someone with sensibilities like mine, Repeat the Ending makes quite the poor first impression. From the very beginning, the footnotes already work to constantly interrupt the game's natural pacing, and the extradiegetic nature of the tutorials is puzzling, to say the least. This inability to leave the player alone speaks to a complete lack of faith in the text's ability to speak for itself, and is especially baffling coming from those who supposedly respected the original enough to help make a new version of it. That these people could have thought so much about this game and still ended up thinking so little of it strains believability.

But then I wondered if maybe, if it's so unbelievable, I'm not actually supposed to believe it — and that's when Repeat hooked me.

There's so much that could be said about this game, and what comes to me most easily are thoughts on its portrayal of trauma and mental illness. The scoring system that tracks game overs rather than progress is the mechanical highlight here, and the failure-obsessed playstyle it engenders in the player ties perfectly into those themes. Just as higher scores will lead to increasingly better endings for D, so too does surmounting his trauma require him to, through "us", look at his own pain, understand it, acknowledge it. As painful as this process can be (and it's certainly uniquely painful to him), only from that knowledge can love follow.

Well, that's the easy part of thinking about this game. The hard part is reckoning with all the fictional commentary on the game itself that's been included with it — commentary that, in my understanding, ranges from misguided at best to insultingly ignorant at worst. Most of it is content with merely ruining the play experience, as mentioned in the first paragraph, but the most egregious read so unnecessarily deeply into the material circumstances of the characters that they absurdly come to the conclusion the work is cruel for its own sake, and also misogynistic, ableist, classist, etc., which of course reflects quite poorly on the author.

Where does this leave me, the real-world critic? I'd like to say that I'm not like those commentators. That I'm above them; that I always approach texts sincerely, with an open mind, not seeking to impose my own view upon them. But do I really? Always? Can I truly say that I've never looked at something through the wrong lens, or dismissed a work due to having an incomplete view of it? I... can't. I just can't.

In a stroke of genius, the scoring system is relevant here as well, as it's said to also function as "a measure of [a reviewer's] engagement with the text". (For what it's worth, mine was 33/33, though I'll admit to liberally checking the hints.) A reminder for me to never take my critical process for granted, then. Even art that initially seems so confused and bad as to strain believability deserves the benefit of the doubt. To be looked at closely, understood, acknowledged. It's a laborious process, and it might reveal something of value, or it might not; but either way, only from that knowledge can love follow.

So here's my own contribution to the game's paratext. I'm a very slow writer, so was initially not planning on doing this... but then I saw the contemporary reviews of this, the Real real version of the game, also included with it, and I couldn't resist. Thank you for trusting your players and critics in this manner, Mr. Cook; I hope I've managed to return that trust in kind. (And, given that this is my first time writing a review here, that I've not unknowingly committed some unforgiveable faux pas.)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
The Meaning of Interactive Fiction, August 20, 2023

Of the many retrospectives on interactive fiction (some of them being outright games themselves), Repeat the Ending seems to be the one that gets to the essence of why people write and tell interactive fiction.

The "meta" premise is simple: this is supposedly a "critical edition" of a parser game that came out the same time as In the End and it predates influential puzzle-less and linear works like Rameses and Photopia, but it was so buggy and people weren't into these kinds of "personal games" that it was largely forgotten -- until people started talking about it again in interactive fiction Usenet groups and a "2003 transcript". This led to some interest from academics and critics to resurrect the game and publish it in Spring Thing 2023, with one of those critics lamenting it as part of "the unfortunate critical phenomenon of 'rediscovering forgotten classics' for retroactive canonization".

The "actual" 2023 game itself meanwhile is a pretty personal story. Think the works of Porpentine, especially their angelical understanding. The protagonist is on medication, poor, and he's learned that his mother is gravely ill. He needs to go to the hospital, but it seems that the text parser isn't very cooperative. You could simply type > WIN, but the game gives you a speedrun of the game with no catharsis. Instead, you are asked to contemplate the scenery and interact (more like dawdle around) with the objects. In fact, the game rewards you by finding fail states, usually ridiculous death sequences. There's some Enchanter-like magic systems to solve some puzzles, but it's a surprisingly grounded work.

Each puzzle, like wearing your clothes, is just an everyday task but rendered far more complicated by the introduction of a magic system that deals with entropy. While your protagonist can be a superhero, they're usually just trying to get things done on their end. I was somewhat familiar with the period of interactive fiction the game purported to be from and I imagined how players saw this then. To these players, they probably saw it as a puzzle. To me, the magic system feels like an interesting allegory on disabilities, much like the oft-touted "spoon theory". Am I reading this too deeply, like one of the many critics that is sapping the enjoyment of playing this game? Who knows, it's not my game.

The way I interpreted this story has little to do with subjectivity, class, (good) criticism, game design, or even the history of interactive fiction. Instead, I'm more enamored by the need to express a story through interactive fiction.

Why did the in-game author create this game in a community that wouldn't understand the kind of storytelling he's trying to do back then? Honestly, even today, people still see parser games as that outdated mode of presentation with puzzles that boomers would only adore (oh, the Infocom trauma). We can only wonder what the in-game author was thinking when he made this game. In one footnote, he even joked about wanting a time machine to study Photopia. If we simply consider it in the realm of alternative history shenanigans, then this game would indeed be considered a classic. Or even better, if the in-game author saw what the Twine revolution was doing and picked that as a time traveling spot too. But, would it be the same story that shook the interactive fiction community? Would it just be something else entirely, the autobiographical work that we descendants of the "personal games" movement actually want but not the work that in-game Drew Cook made? Would it be Repeat the Ending?

I don't know. And I think that's the main point I got from the game. Whatever that in-game Drew Cook made was something special -- a parser game that seems to hate its own construction/self and revels in this paradox of identities -- and the academics and us the reviewers are trying to turn it into something more understandable at the risk of ruining its own uniqueness. It almost feels like canonization of something so personal and expressive to Cook can strip that away. That even the "personal games" movement can turn what is really a heartfelt game into a talking point about game design should raise some eyebrows.

I am reminded of nonlinear literature like House of Leaves that explore the (academic) obsession of a text to the point the text consumes those who read it.

But Repeat the Ending isn't interested in that angle: it is concerned about why people write these kinds of personal interactive fiction regardless of trends, canonization, or legacies. It takes the lessons of interactive fiction before and after to tell a story so therapeutic that it must be fulfilling for the author: "The never-ending discourse on fate vs free will in IF? Let's use that to tell the story I want to write."

The game is rich with rabbit holes that would excite the academics (indeed, that's the point of the paratext), but it eludes them that perhaps notions of "escaping the narrative" may simply come from Drew Cook's drive and not some grand theory on interactive fiction. Beneath all this claptrap lies a simple message from Cook: he wants to be heard.

Cook may devise stories based on witty narrative tricks, but in the end he's trying to write some story. He found an engine and played some games, so he's using it to explore his trauma and history. We don't know if we can understand what he is going through, but we get a sense that he found something cathartic and resonant doing this journey. All he is asking is to be heard, to be taken seriously not as some work on IFDB but as his own expression.

How do you hear a voice like Cook? Do you do close readings of his game like the critics before? Remake his game like the academics? Write a review that's meandering like this one?

It's difficult to know for sure, but I think this game gets to the heart of why people keep coming back to interactive fiction, including text parser games. There's something very powerful about playing a text parser game because you are interacting as someone else in a different world. For a few hours of your day, you are in this person's clothes and you are screwing around in this world. This simulation is what makes expression in interactive fiction so utterly fascinating and beautiful.

But for the designer, it is even more poignant: they are envisioning worlds they can interact with. There are limitations (and the game acknowledges that), but text parser games can be powerful essays that mean a lot to the creator (and nothing to the reader). While we readers may scratch our head and write analytical articles on it, the creative process of the game is the real reward for the creator of this game. It's why game making can be (and is) therapeutic.

In a way, the most important "reader" is the creator of the title themselves. That's the meaning of interactive fiction in my eyes: a mode of self-expression undaunted by what reviewers and critics think. Everyone else clarifies and obscures this self-expression from the author and we are surely important in this ecosystem, but the essayistic creator knows what the process has giveth and taketh away. Those who create and express themselves so purely must be commended, not simply "canonized".

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Spring Thing 2023: Repeat the Ending, May 27, 2023
by kaemi
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2023

Of the unstably mediated manuscript genre, let’s select The History of the Siege of Lisbon by Jose Saramago as our analogue: an initial idea is intervened upon by a cascading negative that creates a complex call and response between the text and the lived experience of its creation. Similarly, here we have a notional IF game from 1996, represented as a 2003 edited transcript, that encounters a cascading negative response, represented as a series of commentaries which assume a scholarly authority from which to belittle, delimit, and assail, which causes a revised IF game with renewed endings. Crucially, like Saramago’s novel, there aren’t delineated layers, which is why we should steer away from the decomposing mediator before the intractable artwork Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, but rather the vivacity thrives in the interplay, with a seething of paratexts and a dizzying chronology destabilizing the only complete layer, the parser game, into a melange of multideterminate frays.

Which compounds the complexity of our already heady with subversion traversal of the acupunctured text. The game is structured around identifying failstates before progressing to the required action. In each phase of the game, you get points for discovering alternative endings, with different final endings depending on how many points you’ve collected along the way, with the normative ending, as represented in the 2003 transcript, is itself a failstate that you need to subvert, sloshing us nauseously back where we began: “You open your eyes and stare at the pocked expanse of sheet rock before you. “Not this shit again,” you say, referring expansively to the totality of matter, movement, and time. You keep turning up for these days, again and again, and the best that you can say is that things haven’t gone downhill. Well, unless you die, 1996 is going to be better than 1995. You know what? It will be better even if you do die.” The goal, then, is to break the cycle, find some way to invest the disparate energies around you with enough rebellious reinvention to eschew the repeated ending, the increasing certainty of closure against which we must rebel in defiant expressions of agency, writhing of the wounded animal opposed to the depressive selfloop to decay, banging desperately at the edges of possibility to rearc your terminal momentum.

Charging us to defy this progression is the notional maxim the author supplies us to refuse their construction: “Refusing the tyranny of the author” unites the metafictional edge around the narrator’s ability to confront himself, resulting in the deconstructive moment that unarms the patterns that have crowded out the blank page’s freedom. You can escape the laws of ever increasing entropy to suture a sense of moreness you have been bleeding all the while, resurging lost energy to achieve some equilibrium sustainable against the worldcrashing loss of your mother, a newfound capacity to believe in alternatives to recapitulation that sustains the endings we freshly envision against those preprogrammed: “The author of my troubles stands before me. How many times have I entered that hospital room? As many times as I have entered, I have never once left. Not really. Not like this. I have never been here, talking to him. I have been in the dark, but I have never been in this dark. It belongs to him, not me. I never had the courage to escape this day. I only ever tried to run past it as if it were a cemetery at night. I wanted to end what I ought to have overcome instead. This day, repeated endlessly, is a thing he has done to himself: a trap he has laid for himself. Everything, all of it, has always been about him. “I want to apologize,” he says. “I haven’t been kind to you. My own father was educated. He had a doctorate in American Studies. I grew up surrounded by books, reading them and talking about them. I took that from you. I never let you have that. My own father went around cleaning up after my mother his entire adult life. With his help, she was able to live a long time. Have a career, even. Almost everyone that she knew considered her a success.” / I stare at him, this dimension-hopping non-uncle of mine. “Why did you do it? How could you do it? You made me and my mother so sick. How could you force someone to be that way? What’s wrong with you?’ As soon as I say it, I know that there’s no answer. He’s even more messed up than I am. He is driven to relive his shitty childhood in a loop, again and again… he can’t help but repeat the ending. / “My boy,” he says, “my son. That’s why I am here. I am setting you free. You’ve found the edge of this simulation, of this narrative. You’ve broken through. You’re free to push beyond it now, to do what you will. To live.” He turns, and begins walking away, into the void.” The healing moebius twist occurs through a beginning, a path that leads beyond where all else ends. The repetitions are revised in a new reflection, no longer collapsing upon itself, but capable of believing external to its textual recursions. Crawling through the metafictional layers from 1980 to 2019, we supersede the prayer for cessation “If you had the whole thing to do over again, you wouldn’t” with a redemptive second chance: “I am deeply grateful to all who have given Repeat the Ending a second chance; perhaps this phenomenon is better called a kind of grace.” The torment from the original ending can be overcome, we can become someone new.

This therapeutic selfdialogue isn’t quite so easy, of course, repeatedly battered as it is by a relentless hurricane of voices, endotextually through the demoness and paratextually through various reviewers and scholars, infusing various strains of disdain into the process. For a game that generated enough interest to warrant a critical edition, basically everyone seems to hate it. Layers of (self)loathing compress basically every feature: we invest order into a pile of clothes, and the resulting cleanliness shimmers a brief reprieve: “For the first time in a month or more, we feel a profound sense of peace disrupt the unending yammer of hateful self-talk that runs through our brain.” Except essayist A.H. Montague bursts in to characterize the scene as miserabilist and classist, and before this metafictional harangue dissolves both scene and critique into a new direction, Montague launches a critique against this very metafictional direction, spinning everything into allencompassing rage: “Many objects in the trailer can be invested with the SEETHING ORDER, and each case leads to a different, fatal outcome. The narrator, who seems to be the “body” of the protagonist, blames his thinking, agentic counterpart for his suffering. This second half of an agonistic dyad is more than likely meant to represent the player. It is reasonable to interpret Cook’s narrative structure as an accusation directed at audiences, who are not merely passive observers but partners in accountability. Naturally, this tactic conveniently shifts blame away from Cook’s own self-loathing ableism.” No reprieve obtains, negativity reenforces the collapse, everything back into chaos, psychic bleed of the game’s own selfawareness. This cocooning negation oozes numerous paratextual layers, becoming rather baroque in its intricate selfdisstory, including even a surprise passage featuring Mike Russo as antagonist reviewer.

While these inflows of selfloathing form a core emotive thread in the work which helps establish the breathlessness of the struggle, the recurring impulse in the work to bury itself results in you always being held at arms’ length from any genuine textual engagement. Whenever you encounter an idea, the metafiction jumps two steps ahead of you to desecrate each step before you get there. For instance, the opening scene has us play as the demoness, and we siphon a psychic bleed from the mother, which leads into the core gameplay conceit that you can invest people and objects with intangible energies. Readers will encounter this idea, and go, okay, the game is saying something about how trauma effects trauma, and maybe that plays into whatever is going on with the endings and progress, except then a footnote immediately slaps it out of your hand and goes yeah obviously, what a level one insight, don’t you realize how much more is going on? “Given Cook’s interest in themes pertaining to mental illness, it is tempting to see the cycle of loss and inheritance dramatized here as metaphoric, but his own comments have been characteristically cagey.” In your traversal of the dense layers of metafictional reference, you are constantly playing catchup, which prevents you from bathing in any of the streams you cross. To untie the knots into narrative, you start mining your way down through the metafictional chronology, which keeps talking about instead of you inhabiting, but then by the time you get to the bottom and start working your way up through the metafictional narrative, you’re climbing back up all that talking about instead of you inhabiting. This happens with the point system, the hint system, the magic system, any moment which on its own could be an interesting artistic turn in itself is immediately turned on itself through layers of ironic distance and precipitative dismissal, a haughty cleverness that harangues the reader with how it has already read itself reading itself and so you reading it has nothing to offer. Combined with the relentless layers of selfloathing, it can often feel like you’re being mocked for trying to work your way through the complexities: “Though your decision was foolish, I cannot fault you for pressing against the edges of this oppressive narrative. / This outcome has earned a rating of Rage Against the Machine/10.” Okay, but it has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime, so what better place than here, what better time than now?

Which of course is the point, right, this is a game that hates its own construction, which consistently assumes the position of the other to harangue its features, so insofar as we are located within the text, we’re grappling with all the doubt and dismay pouring in from everywhere, sure; metafictional inclusion, where every experience of the experience is incorporated into it as intent; but that comes with a cost, which is that the hyperpermeability of the plasmatic layer loosens its richness into the voids above and below, freezing over. Given how much is going on at any given textual layer, sometimes I think the full extent of its genuine originality can be blunted. For instance, the concept of manipulating entropy to navigate an introspective journey against recursive tendencies to decay is particularly poignant and is rendered deeply engaging through high concept nodes like the demoness and the psychic wounds. I want to dive into these, explore their emotive and intellectual depths! Features compelling in themselves without the layers and layers of also and/or despite. I even enjoyed its simple pleasures like “an adolescent primeoid gazes into a brightly glowing scrybox” translating a child at a computer. Even at the metafictional layer, the parallel of Drew Cook the narrator and Drew Cook the ingame author with Drew Cook the metafictional author of the 1996 game and Drew Cook the metafictional author of the 2019 revision is redolent with echoes and could have been the propulsion of an entirely new approach to the paratextual whole. So many of the ideas here don’t require repeated selfreferential undermining in order to spark into meaning.

So I’m going to rebel against the tyranny of the author and talk about something once said by Drew Cook, whose work we have not yet mentioned: “it seems clear that the defining, necessary trait of interactive fiction is its capacity for simulating subjectivity and the experiences of the Other.” The player, entangled into the triangle of self, narrator, and agent, accepts the trajectory of the Other as experiential unfolding, subjected into their worldline, but what happens when the subjectivity includes itself as rupture? In the Nelsonian nineties, reveling in the undead possibilities of Infocom’s reanimated Z Machine, how can our experience of agency effect our expectations of forward, accumulative motion? “Zork has countless choices, but only two endings: death and victory (the many deaths are treated the same way). What is the relationship between agency and empathy in interactive fiction?” Zork allows us forward only as we assume the characteristics of its adventurer persona, until the dungeon yields itself to us as master, treasures accumulating your points to your ended according to its rule. The alternation of death and continued subjection, in either endings accepted into simulational oblivion or recursion into victoriously wrought into recursion, a brittle point tapering experience to which we return and return, unable to break through, what if this isn’t triumph, what if we regret the path, what if we want to go backwards? What if our forward motion is bleeding us into acceptance of an other we increasingly (do (not)) recognize? What if the cascading negative is not the destruction of something, but compulsion towards what elsewise we would write? What if our stories unfold even past the point where the intensifying pressure folds the narrative in on itself? What if there is a tomorrow not reached from all these yesterdays? “It is easy for a game to have an incomplete story if the player considers a fail state the ending.” Is there a game whose completeness elevates beyond the dimness at which it is finished? Amidst this phantom gallery, where do the colors bleed when they fall from the frame? “If meaning-making is a shared effort between artist and audience, then influence is not a family tree. Instead, it is something web-like or even, less determinately, something in the air: an ambiance or a far-away sound.” Desire to reach out, to hear, to finally be here with everyone around you; the agency, the paraempathy, to get there.

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The following polls include votes for Repeat the Ending:

Games w/ cool mechanics by Cygnus
Lookin' for stuff like Colortura, What Heart Heard of Ghost Guessed, Delightful Wallpaper, etc. Just... anything that has a very unconventional and scrumptious mechanic system. Thanky!

PC's personality integrated with the story by JasonMel
I would like to be able to recommend to someone many examples of interactive fiction in which the player character is far from a cipher or an everyman or everywoman, but is instead a character with a definite personality within a game...

Emotional IF by Sorrel
I'm looking for IF that inspires one or more strong emotions in the player – an IF that pulls on your heartstrings a little.

See all polls with votes for this game

This is version 34 of this page, edited by Drew Cook on 24 November 2023 at 8:20pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item - Delete This Page