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NikSG avatar 3:49 AM on 07.06.2011  (server time)
Adventures in saving

Hey all, my name's Nik (or, Telephis on dtoid) and this is my first foray into the world of blogging. I know, I am ashamed enough without you berating me. Been a Destructoid reader and...commentor for quite a while now (love it here) but never really fleshed out my profile or explored other things such as the C-Blogs. This is my attempt to start fixing that! Enough of this intro, I now humbly present my first blog post, which is all about Saving and Save Files in games.

Autosaves are not so much a nuisance in PC gaming, where a quick hit of F6 will save when you want, but in consoles and certain restrictive pc games the game usually dictate when and where you do your saving. Sometimes this can be a brutally implemented system, with save points strewn out so thin you could be playing hours over and over again. I'm sure you have all played games where you have made hours of progress only to die from a cheap shot and having to repeat whole sections over. Even if saving is done automatically every 10 seconds, there is almost always the ver real possibility that it will save milliseconds before a death. In the original Red Faction, I remember getting all the way to the final bit of the game and being so excited to finish it, having thoroughly enjoyed it until that point. The point where, in my infinite wisdom, I had only one save file going and saved it at 5hp right before getting mowed down. I couldn't believe the game had actually let me do that to myself.

The trouble is having save points that are not too far apart to be frustrating, but not too close together to make the game super easy. Seeing a grenade being that has hurled at your feet roll menacingly towards you like the time bomb of death that it is supposed to be, does not provide much more of a reaction than "I'll run away! Damn, it got me. Better try again". Halo was the first game I felt was trying to do something different with saves, to fix these problems. It has save points at specific locations, not too far apart but pretty much at every major event or checkpoint. My revelation came about when I died right after a checkpoint. Loading...see enemy...dead. Loading, see enemy, dead. Loading...etc. I watched in horror as thought I would have to do the whole level over, when on the 5th or 6th load, I came back to...the previous checkpoint!

Shouldn't...have just....saved....!

It was outstanding. Even the previous checkpoint wasn't too far away, and this time I was careful to avoid the same grim fate. Before, when I saw a grenade, then 'Game Saved' pop up in the corner of the screen, that situation would be terrifying. Being stuck in an endless loop for hours, trying to find different angles to jump away so you retain a sliver of your health is not fun (for long). My problems were solved, it seemed, for now I could travel through time. I then got to thinking that I could recreate load-deaths on my own, and wondered what that effect would be like if I were the cause of death, instead of an enemy. I pulled out the scientific method and ran for the nearest cliff upon spawn, plummeting to my demise. After doing this several times immediately after rezzing, my hypothesis proved to be true - I time travelled back to the previous save...where I did the same thing. I never tested how far back I could go, but the knowledge came in handy as I played through the rest of the game. At a part where I need some rockets, but ditched the launcher a while back? Time travel. Out of ammo or took the wrong / harder route? Time travel. Bored? Time travel. Backtracking autosaves solve problems and are fun in themselves, if you find things like that fun, which I clearly do because I am weird like that.

Still, choosing your own savepoint on your own terms (and having multiple slots!) is my preference. Valve games come to mind in this respect, having their own invisible autosave checkpoints in case you are afraid of your F keys while retaining the ability to save and load anywhere. However, this approach certainly does have drawbacks. It can make things way too easy, for one. I feel this way whenever I save ROM states - I can just rewind time and try that missed jump until I make it. No real threat or challenge is presented when every mistake can be corrected with no real consequence. Death is the real motivator in most games, not because death is scary, but because it wastes time. Time spent looking at a death screen, loading the gamestate back up, getting to the point of death from a checkpoint a couple of minutes away. Take that time away, the player is no longer afraid to die, and something of value is lost, namely pressure. Braid did something new with this, focusing on time lost instead of death as a punishment, but that is a whole other discussion.

Not enough save slots when you are super paranoid about the consequences of your nested decisions.

Until single player games do something like MMO's, where you really can't go back, a choice is a choice, the current save systems don't led themselves to true panic when there are bullets flying at your face. A lot of interest has been around 'permanent death' runs, which I find most intriguing, where the player is on the honour system and if they die in the game, they have to die in real life. Joshin', they just have to delete all their saves and start from scratch. It is an interesting concept, actually being pretty logical. If it weren't for mario cementing the concept of extra lives into all videogames ever, it might even be the norm. Well, probably not, but maybe included as an official option in some. Having more dire consequences for death other than going back a save is quite literally a game-changer: being more cautious and conservative in situations where you might normally just run in or make decisions without really thinking. This can reach frustrating levels, of course, on par with save points being hours apart, but at least with perma-death runs, it could be a choice rather than poor design. Consequences for death should be factored in when choosing Easy, Medium, Hard from the difficulty menu, which is something I will write about in my next entry.

Thanks for reading!
-telephis (@nik_SG)

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