Results of Poll 7: Spring Census
Filibuster's Procrastinator

New Poll: Save Games

Question_mark_1

What do you think about save games? Do you need absolute control over them, or do you prefer when the game deals with all that sort of thing automatically? There's a new poll about save game schema in the sidebar; I think it's about time we re-opened this topic now the term "next generation" is starting to sound anachronistic. How much ratcheted progress do you need to enjoy a game? What save game mechanisms are your favourites from the videogames you've been playing? Let me know in the comments!

Have a fun weekend everyone!

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Depends on the game:

- MMOG: There isn't really much alternative to saving progress as you go, including on quit.

- Strategy/RTS: My choice please, plus a few autosaves (more than one) for when the game / PC / power / PBKAC fails.

- Other games: Whenever I make enough progress that I don't want to lose it. Ideally the game should have a DWIM (Do What I Mean) module that magically saves the game at that point without me having to tell it.

As for game loads:

- At any time please

- If the game (other than a MMOG) destroys a (non-autosave) save game for me, such that I can't return to it, I will not return to the game. Except Steel Battalion, which I return to *despite* it having this otherwise-fatal flaw, simply because I enjoy pissing around on the low levels so much.

... control freak? Me? Shome mishtake shurely...

When I die and load a saved game, and realise "I'm all the way back here! I have to go through all that again!" I sometimes wonder why I'm playing this game if it's such a chore that I'm not elated at the prospect of playing some of it again.
Some games (roguelikes) are designed to be massively replayable. It takes a while to get used to death being final (many players don't get past this hurdle), but once you do, you love it. If the rest of the game design didn't take this into account, it would be horrible, but if it's fun on every level then it's fine.

So that's my preferred save game mechanism - only on exit, not recoverable on death. But only if the game is designed to support it. Otherwise, autosaves in frequent and well-chosen places.

I really can't say I have a preference. It depends on the type of game -- the save system should be matched to the game itself.

It's when they're mismatched that there's a problem.

At a minimum I should be able to turn the game off and restart *exactly* where I was when I turned the game off.

For bonus points, I should be able to quick-save so when I die I can get back to the quick-save.

Ideally, I should be able to creep save through the hard parts so I never have to replay anything and I can "optimize" my state.

I want complete save control - for the main issue of being interrupted at any time, I want to save and restart in the same position.

That, and I don't want to die several times and have to replay that cutscene, that half of the gap between save points, or get past that boss and then die.

Well done in: All my current RTS's, quite a few FPS's (at least on PC, and mainly ones which don't have console equivalents) and RPG's.

Second place goes to very frequent checkpoints, but these can backfire if they save when I've not got enough ammo/spells/whatever. I can do with checkpoints between missions (ala sandbox games like GTA) if it is technically infeasible or silly to let me save in the middle of a huge world. This applies to fighting and tournament/strict level based games too - if a level or mission doesn't last long, I can live with saving between them (such as UT2004/UT3, and many many fighting games).

Most anything else falls a paltry third - roguelikes? Sure, fine, they can do permanent death, but it doesn't make me want to play them more. Permanent death games are problematic, but more so in certain types of games - puzzle ones should be savable for instance, since getting to "level 30" on whatever game, only to have to "lose" since you can't save (especially if the puzzle game has no real time elements) is entirely stupid (but can commonly happen!)

And why did I say mostly? Okay, the final insulting mix of save mechanics:

- You have to pay in some way to save (GTA2, Resident Evil, New Super Mario Bros.)
- You have a limited amount of save points, highly spread out (Residient Evil!)
- You cannot save when you exit the game (mainly, anything with checkpoints notably!).

Absolutely evil. I'm basically for my first choice; save when I want to, not when the designer tells me I can. You don't want to fight the designer - this is very nicely laid out as a trope:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SaveGameLimits

Read it! Anything but allowing the player to save all the time is FAKE DIFFICULTY, and is infuriating, especially when you need to exit. More so infuriating if the progress you have got might be wiped out by saving! (Such as GTA2, which took a chunk of cash to save) or it might make it near impossible to complete the game (if you need to hold onto those "save items" to get to near the boss!).

However, going far the other way - instant respawns (Bioshock) or mini-game fun (Prey) serve to make me lazy - saves and autosaves can, after all, only go so far. When you can actually beat a Big Daddy as a "level 1" with a crowbar, by constantly dying, there simply is no difficulty and fun - although for singleplayer, these mechanics can be optional. The Bioshock respawn system can avoided since you can save (and so reload rather then respawn) and they patched it into the options now anyway. However Prey relies on save points...so you're kinda forced to do the minigame crap.

The only reason a designer might protest this is "It makes it too easy to abuse" - and for poorly designed mechanics (eg; a entirely random "money winning game"), that can be true:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SaveScumming

And there is the problem that poor design can lead to a player saving over their only save slot, making the game unwinnable - but this should never happen with a good save system, especially if the game knows they can't win! (print "Game Over" in front of their face at least, or if that is too complicated, always have autosaves which cannot be overriden)

But who knows, perhaps people will get over the fact it's a "bad thing". Console owners shouldn't stand for it either - there is plenty of space on hard drives, and the save option could be made the first option in the menu, making it a few button presses away (sure, they lack instant quicksave/quickload, but that's hardly much of a inconvenience).

I should write an essay on it, if only I played more console games ;) but I hope I laid out a good case for allowing saves anywhere.

I'd like it to save for me for when I'm stupid but it absolutely must let me save whenever I want/need to. Why?

"It's time to eat!"

"Hang on, Mommy is ALMOST to the save point!"

Sorry, just doesn't fly...

I absolutely want full control - but feel free to add autosaves or checkpoints on top of that. If your checkpoints and balancing are well done, I may even just rely on that most of the time *but* if I need to quit - or even creep-save to get through a difficult bit, that should be my choice.

I have not purchased a few games because of their save scheme. I don't have the time or patience to replay bits and I really don't care if it is difficult for the developer to incorporate or code.

I chose the second option from the poll, but that does not quite describe the way I would like my savegame to work.

Basically, when I fail I want to restart from the last good state. A good state is the last local maxima. It could be safe spot or it could be that last spot where I got extra ammo (I guess I'm thinking a bit FPS-ish here) or when I got automatic health upgrade. Saving upon exit is a must too, but I could live with the last maxima thinking here too.

I'm not sure what kind of personality I'm, but I prefer not to cheat intentionally when I play. That is, I seldom use qs/ql during play, maybe only when I have failed so many times that it gets frustrating. And I really enjoy reaching a hard to beat check point.

I liked the Prince of Persia rewind because the "qs/ql" was not cheating :)

One thing that I constantly miss from the savegames is that I really would like to know my progress when I retry. Almost as if the ratcheted progress bar would be visualized to me. I think I might even like to be able to retry from any location I have beaten so far.

Some games (roguelikes) are designed to be massively replayable. It takes a while to get used to death being final (many players don't get past this hurdle), but once you do, you love it.

This feels akin to the (probable mis-)quote "There are some spry old men who claim their longevity has to do with getting up early and taking a swim in a freezing river each day. It's not true. What's actually happened is that the lifestyle has killed everyone else who's tried it."

If many people "don't get past this hurdle", doesn't this mean in effect that it's a mechanic that's putting many people off playing, and is in fact unpopular? I know I won't play the rogue-like games for this reason (though I'll occasionally play if I can "cheat" and clone a save-file).

Interestingly, my wife has a different view. She will cheerfully play several of the Angbands all day, restarting each time she loses. But then, she'll also cheerfully delete a MMOG character into which she's put hundreds of hours and start another one. I don't understand either!

I have a fondness for games where you can never go backwards. (Animal Crossing, for instance.) The endless loading is a convention which undermines the reality and seriousness of the game. The fear of death is not something to be avoided in dangerous situations, it's something to be actively encouraged. So I might be the only person in the world who thought that Fire Emblem didn't go far enough, that it should not have let you restart chapters at all.

Progress should be saved constantly, but that's not to say that position should be saved precisely (or at all). Most places where you might randomly stop playing at aren't good places to start up again. If you come back a month later, you'll be disoriented and confused. Better to go back to a point from which the player can quickly cover the same ground he already covered, if only to jog his memory.

Yep, I'm with the "depends on the kind of game" crowd. As I play many games that don't have any kind of save whatsoever - beyond saving my button config and highscores etc.

Peter Crowther: When I first discovered roguelikes, I was very discouraged by permadeath. I can understand why someone might stop playing at this point. After playing for some time (and, I confess, sometimes cheating with copied save files) I came to love this game mechanic. This is my personal experience, ymmv.

Angband, however, is horrible.

A fascinating set of comments! Too much detail for me to reply to everyone individually, alas, so I'll just pick up on a few points...

"Depends on the game"

I think this can be taken as a given to some extent - for instance, creep saving may make sense in an FPS, but it doesn't make much sense in a puzzle game - but of course the limitations of the poll format require this sort of detail to be bleached out.

"Ideally, I should be able to creep save through the hard parts so I never have to replay anything and I can "optimize" my state."

My problem with offering quick saves that allow you to creep save is that this can result in the player feeling obligated to do so. I personally dislike being forced to manage my save games, and especially to have to manage them so closely that I can creep save through an area, and avoid playing games that present this focus.

This, I think, is the hidden story of save game mechanisms: among the gamer literate, the decision on how to implement the save mechanism can radically affect the player's relationship with the game. Among the mass market, any player-moderated save system might risk alienating players.

This makes the decision of how to implement save games fiendishly difficult in games that straddle the two markets.

"You have a limited amount of save points, highly spread out (Residient Evil!)"

I'm going to defend this mechanic: Resident Evil is about creating a tense, fearful play environment. Being able to save freely at any time would seriously undermine this aspect of play; the limited saves create tension, and do not (among the majority of players of such games) create problems, because the number of typewriter ribbons in the games are sufficiently generous that it is usually quite difficult to get into a state of shortage.

Of course, this can happen with new players, without prior experience of the survival horror vibe, but such players run into a bigger problem in that they exhaust their supplies of ammunition - a far more serious problem than the limited saves in this case. (This indeed happened to my wife and I when we first played a Resident Evil game).

Players who cannot deal with restricted save games (those who demand a high degree of control in all instances) should obviously not play Resident Evil games, but this is not a reason for these games to offer save mechanics in this style.

I think it's also worth noting, however, that the lion's share of the tension-relief mechanic in Resident Evil games results from the use of special rooms to conduct the saves - the restriction of number of saves is secondary.

To remove this element of the play would be to destroy part of the most essential identity of the Resident Evil games in order to appeal to what I suspect is a minority of players in its audience.

However, the limited saves in the recent DS version of New Super Mario Bros. left me scratching my head in confusion as to why they felt necessary to limit in this way. (I presume they were trying to increase the sense of struggle and achievement by forcing the player to attain a certain amount of progress before it would allow a save). It certainly stopped both myself and my wife from playing the game, and I suspect we were not alone - it didn't, however, impact negatively on the sales of the game for whatever reason (probably just the strength of the brand).

"...it absolutely must let me save whenever I want/need to."

With the hard-drives on most consoles now, a bookmark save (that destroys itself on access) should not present a problem. But, alas, some game literate players object to the bookmark save being deleted on access because they want total save game control - they want to creep save. *Someone* isn't going to get what they want! :)

I'm of the opinion that the game designer does not have an obligation to provide quick saves to their audience: they *do* have an obligation to assess the audience for their game and establish a best-case save mechanism, but this need not be free and total access saving (although of course, in some instances it might be).

I made the example in the case of Resident Evil, which I feel does stand as a clear counter example, and there are others besides (such as the roguelike games, Uplink, Steel Battalions etc - which are serving a niche audience, but have every right to do so!)

"I have not purchased a few games because of their save scheme. I don't have the time or patience to replay bits and I really don't care if it is difficult for the developer to incorporate or code."

That's fair: that, after all, is the relationship between consumer and product: you buy what meets your needs. But of course, that some games don't meet your needs isn't necessarily a universal criticism of the game... players with specific needs from their save game mechanisms can choose to play the games that meet those needs, but to expect all games to support all save game needs is unreasonable - in particular, because there are wildly conflicting save game needs, in some cases in ways that cannot be reconciled.

"I prefer not to cheat intentionally when I play. That is, I seldom use qs/ql during play, maybe only when I have failed so many times that it gets frustrating. And I really enjoy reaching a hard to beat check point."

This is an interesting and I suspect not uncommon position - there is more fiero (triumph over adversity) to be experienced if you play in this way, and challenge-oriented players may well prefer this kind of play. Creep saving rescues players from frustration, but in doing so it also removes opportunities for fiero - a double edged sword.

"If many people "don't get past this hurdle" [i.e. permadeath], doesn't this mean in effect that it's a mechanic that's putting many people off playing, and is in fact unpopular?"

Yes, there's no doubt that permadeath is an unpopular mechanic. But that doesn't mean you *can't* make games with that mechanic - it just means such games are niche market titles, with probably quite limited commercial potential. (Still, if you make the games cheaply, you can perhaps still make a profit - c.f. Uplink).

"Progress should be saved constantly, but that's not to say that position should be saved precisely (or at all)."

I tend to agree with this sentiment - certainly in the context of my own play. This is the philosophy behind the Zelda save scheme. However, it is of course diametrically opposed to the creep save mentality, which demands a higher degree of control. Nonetheless, I suspect you can reach a wider audience with this sort of save game philosophy than with the more demanding/obsessive-compulsive approaches.

---

Ultimately, there seems to be a tension here between those structure-focused players (those with mild or strong obsessive-compulsive tendencies) who absolutely want (need?) to micro-manage their save games, and a more Laissez-faire audience who have no desire to make saving a part and parcel of the play of their games. The former are quite prevalent in gamer hobbyist circles; the latter seem to dominate in the mass market space.

I don't believe it is possible for any game to be all things to all people, so the decision on save game mechanics must be made in the context of the nature of the game and its intended audience.

However, I don't accept the argument that the player, not the game designer, must in all cases be the absolute master of the save game mechanics - that some players need this micro-management is a fact of the audience, but the game designer only has an obligation to meet this need if (a) this type of player is in the expected audience for the game in question and (b) there is not a wider audience need that must take precedence.

This is not to say the game designer can't make some hideous gaffes, of course (I think New Super Mario Bros. is a minor disaster in respect of its save game mechanics) but players who expect every game project to meet their specific needs aren't allowing for the possibility that what they need in this regard could be anathematic to other players in the audience for a game - and quite possible a greater number of players.

Thanks to everyone for sharing their many and diverse perspectives! Further discussion is welcome, of course.

Best wishes!

I admit I've never played much of any Resident Evil games, but the mechanic of using both a limited amount of saves and limited and spaced out save rooms was torturous - using one or the other would seemingly be more acceptable (and certainly, having a "turn off saves the process" ala Dead Rising etc. would help too). Since it was designed to be completed, the limited save mechanic gets in the way - since it is tedious to look online for "how many and where" the save items are, and plan accordingly. If you want immersion and horror, do not put something so blatantly a game mechanic in there. It breaks you out in a second!

I think perhaps while yeah, it's a horror game of sorts, it can gain the same tenseness without the limited amount of saves, but instead the placement of save areas and having the exit-save mechanic too. That's fine - and is how most recent platformers and many FPS's work, with their checkpoint or "level" systems.

Andrew: I think its inevitable that the RE style of saving will not work for all players, but I can't see it working with just one of the two elements (limited saves/restricted save areas).

With limited saves, but no limits to where you're going to save, you have Tomb Raider 2, and this was a save mechanism that no-one was happy with. Because you can save anywhere, you also want to save often - but you can't, because of the limited saves. Plus, limiting saves but allowing you to save anywhere gives two problems: the player can save in a position that could be permanently fatal, and the dynamics of the relief of finding a safe space is lost.

Conversely, if you keep the safe spaces (which are the important part of the mechanic, as these are games of fear, so finding somewhere safe is both a reward and also the payoff of the inherent tension) but have unlimited saves, then many players are "forced" into logistical exercises - constantly nipping out to collect things, then returning to the save room to bank their progress (over and over again... because with unlimited saves there's no barrier to playing this way).

The game then ceases to have its characteristic element of planning 'runs' across the map, then saving in the safe rooms once these runs are completed. The whole balance between fear and relief becomes just as screwed up as in the case of limited saves but no restriction as to where you can save!

The Resident Evil franchise is the one that has turned me around about save games, and lead me to believe the game designer (if they know what they are doing!) has the duty to determine the best save game for the kind of game they are trying to make. And I believe - almost against my better judgement - that the Resident Evil system is a perfect fit to the game that they made.

But there can be no doubting, even with this, that the addition of a bookmark save allowing players to quit whenever they like would be a welcome addition. :)

I have a feeling there's a better way to work out the problems inherent in implementing save game mechanics in games of fear, but I confess, I'm at a loss to see what it is. The trouble is that these games rely on restricting resources to the player, so you can't automatically bank progress or the player can find themselves entirely screwed. Perhaps, therefore, to get out of this problem would require a whole new paradigm, one that didn't rely on restricting access to resources... but then, we'd have a whole new kind of game! So even if this is the case, I still feel the Resident Evil save mechanics are as good as they're going to be.

You have two more interesting points:

"Since it was designed to be completed, the limited save mechanic gets in the way - since it is tedious to look online for "how many and where" the save items are, and plan accordingly."

Now this speaks highly of how you play videogames! You want to be able to plan ahead - and the Resident Evil mechanic is a barrier to that. I totally sympathise - but of course, to enjoy Resident Evil you have to let you and enjoy feeling *afraid* since this is what the game is trying to evoke. Your desire for control over the situation is understandable (and not uncommon) but it runs contrary to the emotional space the game is trying to create - you are, in a sense, incompatible with the game's goals. :)

"If you want immersion and horror, do not put something so blatantly a game mechanic in there. It breaks you out in a second!"

And here you have a really solid point! But for me, this point runs much deeper than Resident Evil, because self-managed saves in any game run this risk - how can I enjoy being in the world if I am working out when to save, which file to use and so forth? For me, a system in which the player is in sole control of saving is as anti-immersive as anything, and I suspect this is also the case for much of the mass market.

For me, a system like the one in Zelda which banks progress for me is an aid to immersion - it removes the saving mechanics from being right in the player's face. And few things could be as disruptive of the sense of world-immersion than such a blatant artefact of the game's essential game-ness.

But isn't there a flipside to this, in that one can pass in and out of the "magic circle" essentially at will? So if the immersive experience of the game is kept separate from the saving (which does happen in RE, after all - you only think about saving when you reach a safe room) it can be less of a barrier.

There's a parallel, perhaps, with adverts in a film on TV - you maintain the immersion in the film, you just block out the ads in your mind. But of course, this underlines your point, because obviously the film would be more immersive if you didn't have to break out of the movie reality for the commercials! :)

Thanks for coming back to expand upon your earlier thoughts!

Good counterpoints, I'm defeated!

But one thing; if the game has items, then any player worth their salt will need to plan appropriately. RTS, FPS, RPG, Horror, Platformer, anything with an element of items requires some planning ;)

Basically; there is a fallacy here, of sorts (is it fallacy? or just a contradiction? meh):

1. If the game is designed perfectly, there will be adequate items to save at all points you wish to. No need for guides to find things just to save the game. This, however, defeats the point of having the items in the first place, since they are not a barrier of any kind to saving progress.

2. The game is designed imperfectly (or this way intentionally), and puts a limited amount of save items around, and average players will run out... It heightens fear, but if the player dies, it frustrates them - turning them to guides just to finish the game in some cases.

So, there we go, two points that don't firmly jive. :) which is it? Basically; the former would mean no one needs the guide, the latter mean some would just to finish it. I'd be likely a former one - I've played enough games to deal with it if I have to (stupid Mario...still haven't finished that though).

Basically; while I am terrible at horror games (I could barely get into level 2 of FEAR, despite knowing it's repetitive), I think a good designer would work from other angles. Resident Evil isn't the only horror game, although it fills the "Rogue" niche of save items I guess, as you've stated time and time again :)

I just don't agree it's necessarily a good thing, or even required, if the gameplay was up to scratch. Resident Evil seems to have better fear in the fact you might run out of ammo or equipment like healing then save points, which I applaud it for. The typwriter thing seems silly in comparison, and utterly out of character (like I said). You've pretty much defeated my points so far, but I'm afraid I'll have to agree to disagree - and I won't be playing Resident Evil nevermind how corny the dialogue and story is ;)

I always felt that saving in Resident Evil made the game feel weaker, but for a different reason.

Upon dying, then going forward to encounter the exact same monsters and 'surprises' as last time, the fear and shock is eliminated. Dying becomes less of an issue and we are less afraid of its consequences. The world seems more artificial and consequently less able to frighten. Why should we be afraid when we know the future with 100% certainty?

I'd be a strong advocate of a survival-horror game made with somewhat randomly-generated (or procedurally-generated) encounters with only a single bookmark save allowed (deleted upon loading of course). No second chances - with a new game feeling like a parallel universe. No elimination of surprises.

Bezman: I can see cause for complaint in what you're saying here, but I'm not sure that a "no second chances" game could achieve commercial success - this is an extreme mechanic, which always courts a smaller audience.

Of course, the issue of repetition in videogames is a huge topic in itself!

Best wishes!

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