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Your Turn: Fight the (save) system

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As most of us get older and can no longer enjoy the marathon gaming sessions of our ill-spent youth, we often find ourselves having to increase the number of times we do something so integral to gaming: saving. These days I save games more often than I ever have. Sometimes I can only spare half an hour here and there for my neglected consoles. This recent reliance on convenient save systems reminded me of an incident I had a few years ago with a save system, which I'm sure many other gamers could relate to.

In the dark days before Mass Effect 2's release would immediately make its predecessor quite dated, I spent a good number of hours playing the original Mass Effect. At the time I was enjoying a second play-through to gain more achievement points and, much more importantly, make my Shephard into what can only be described as a total jerk. During this tedious process of red option selecting and lengthy elevator rides, I ended up being wiped out by an end planet boss one morning. Being a competent player, this was not due to any real difficulty level during the fight but rather my lack of attention on the game, being one of the many times I have attempted to eat a meal with one hand while using an Xbox controller with the other. "That's cool", I thought to myself. "I'll just load the autosave from before the battle."

Only, there wasn't one. I'd forgotten that Mass Effect did not autosave very frequently, leaving manual save as the only option the majority of the time. By this point, numerous games had trained me not to worry about saving. I was so used to the "safety net" of autosave functions that the split-second interruption of menu saving before a battle seemed like the highest of inconveniences. This was a far cry from my earliest days as a PC gamer, furiously saving before and after every action playing Sierra's Space Quest and King's Quest series, where the smallest mistake meant a restart. Upon discovering that I would have to redo the last three hours I'd spent on Mass Effect, I promptly removed the disc from my Xbox 360 and sold it that day. In retrospect, having to drive the Mako for a large portion of the section I was expected to replay might have added to my frustration levels.

Save systems are a strange lot. Sometimes they can be very limited, like most Japanese role playing games which often only allow you to save in specific areas. I have to admit, these were always great for fooling unwary parents or partners into letting you play just a little bit longer. I can't count the amount of times I've uttered the phrase "I can't stop now, I need to get to a save point!". Unfortunately, my mother eventually caught on to what the shining blue question marks were in Final Fantasy VII and the jig was up.

Other save systems seem to save almost too frequently. For example, Skyrim's autosave function can sometimes feel like it's working every time you turn your character around, although this can be a blessing given the numerous bugs it shipped with. I feel like it is the strange hybrid model adopted by BioShock 1 and 2, Mass Effect and many other games which fails to work for me. Often I won't bother to make a manual save, instead relying on the present autosave function to do the job for me. The problem arises when an autosave function only kicks in after 2-4 hour sections of the game are completed.

As with Mass Effect, during a secondary play-through of BioShock 2 I lost a rare five-hour gaming session due to a manual save attempt freezing my console, corrupting the save in the process. To top this off, BioShock 2 is again a title which autosaves only at the start of each game area. You can imagine the terror this inspired in me when not only was there an uncontrollable autosave feature, but a deranged manual save system to boot. Every time I saved the game thereafter it always seemed to take a fraction too long, inspiring that 'frozen console' panic we've all been through when a stubborn loading bar doesn't want to move.

I think the bottom line for save systems in modern games is flexibility: If there's an autosave feature, let the player select when it comes into effect. Despite its frequent saving on the default settings, at least Skyrim lets the player customise it's autosave function to a degree. Most players would agree that the old Dragon Quest/Final Fantasy style save points are a complete inconvenience to modern gamers and need to be abolished in favour of a more flexible system as well. I can understand the inability to save during combat situations in a game given the corner you can back yourself into, but not for any other point during play.

To any developers out there listening, on behalf of myself and my fellow gamers, I only ask that you let us save when we wish. And please throw in a customisable autosave feature to back us up. Also, if you want to be extra awesome, implement one of those nice one-button quick save features that PC players have been exploiting, I mean enjoying, for years.

- Stephen Foote

 

Screen Play readers can submit articles or ideas for consideration in Your Turn and Your Review using the email address screenplayblog@gmail.com. The best blog post published on Screen Play between April 1, 2012 and April 30, 2012, as judged by Jason Hill, will win a PlayStation 3 console from Sony Computer Entertainment. The PS3 has a 160GB hard drive and is worth $349. The next prize winner will be announced on April 30. Only Australian residents are eligible and the judge's decision is final.

 

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13 comments so far

  • Good subject! If the people reviewing games could only play the games during short and time limited sessions, you'd probably find that a good autosave function would weigh pretty heavily of the final score. I gave up on Dead Rising 2 as the distance betwwn save points, toilets from memory, were too far apart and required too much back tracking if things went wrong. RDR, Skyrim, KoA:R amd ME2 are all great in terms of allowing you to save whenever you want and triggering the autosave where you want it most.

    Developers need to understand that we don't all have plenty of time on our hands to back track. There's too many quality games out there and we don't necessairly want to be stuck on their game.

    Commenter
    N
    Date and time
    April 23, 2012, 7:40AM
    • I never finished the original Bioshock because of a corrupt save. Since then I have become a compulsive saver, making a new one each time. I kind of freaked out a little in Deus Ex: HR when you could only have 20 saves, the 21st save would overwrite the first one.

      Commenter
      Sam
      Date and time
      April 23, 2012, 8:09AM
      • I think the reluctance to save regularly is an artefact of the bad old days when console storage was severely limited. When all you have to work with is 8MB of storage, the developers have reason to limit the circumstances under which you can save (to reduce save size) and the number of times that the game saves automatically.

        When you have 100GB+ a few extra megabytes for save games becomes a lot less important (although cleaning them up afterwards can be a chore.)

        What I always wonder is how save files manage to bloat the way they do. A typically JRPG save file might be over a megabyte, but all it has to store is an ID for the save point, a bunch of stats for each character in your party (a few hundred bytes), inventory (a dozen bytes per item, times a few hundred) plus a bunch of progress flags.

        I can understand a game like Skyrim having a huge save file (since the number of items being tracked is ridiculous) but most games just don't have that need.

        I suspect many programmers just take the lazy way out and do a straight dump of the internal data structures.

        Commenter
        Ronny
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        April 23, 2012, 8:42AM
        • Great topic!

          I have recently been playing Dark Souls and the topic of saving your game wherever and whenever you like is one I have been contemplating lately.

          If you haven't played Dark Souls you can only save your game at bonfires that are scattered throughout the world and when you do make it to a bonfire, every enemy (with the exception of bosses) will re-spawn. At first it made the game feel grindy but I soon realised that this type of save systems actually heightens the sense of dread and anticipation. You don't rush into anything in Dark Souls, you bide your time and plan your attacks. If you could save at any point it would have made this game just another hack and slash RPG.

          Commenter
          Dr Charlesworth
          Date and time
          April 23, 2012, 8:48AM
          • Bit of a thought-provoking gaming topic for Monday morning!

            I don't understand why developers can spend so much time on every other game mechanic, but then can ruin the entire experience with a poorly managed save game system. Thus, here are some of my random save game thoughts for the morning (note, this is from the perspective of a console gamer):

            - At a minimum, autosaving at area transitions is a good idea (even if it might slow down things a bit)
            - I don't mind no-save options during combat or specific sections of combat/boss battles... but then don't make me have to watch cut scenes again every time!
            - Don't bury the save option deep into menus, let me open the menu structure, select the save option at level "one" of the menu, and then I'm done
            - Why not create an adjustable save game structure i.e. user defined save options like time between auto-saves, auto-save on area transitions etc.?
            - If you want to get "creative" with save games and when you can save, why not add that to hardcore/insane mode, rather than normal mode?
            - I don't care how big a game is, taking 30 seconds or a minute to save your game is just poor coding. Fix it, or "finish" the save while I'm allowed to continue playing

            Commenter
            Swordfactor
            Date and time
            April 23, 2012, 9:23AM
            • A slightly different issue that you didn't touch on - but one that any PC gamer would recognise who is moving from one system to another. Developers - can we all agree to just put the save games in the one place as standard? Every game hides them in a different spot!

              Commenter
              azzski
              Location
              The Cow Level
              Date and time
              April 23, 2012, 10:22AM
              • "PC players have been exploiting, I mean enjoying, for years"

                U jelly?

                Commenter
                BlindSquirrel
                Location
                Perff
                Date and time
                April 23, 2012, 10:43AM
                • I actually play through Skyrim with autosave turned off - Probably because I read somewhere that it's the acuse of some freezes and bugs in the game. I've only died about twice where I've lost a good chunk of gameplay, and I accept that because I'm aware I've turned off the autosave and must manually save regularly.

                  And I do manually save regularly, regardless of autosave features, so long as there is an easily accessible save option. I long for the quicksave feature, though. I'd love it if console games started having a save feature that only required about 2-3 button pushes, not this start, select save, confirm, select new save or existing, confirm, confirm if overwriting, wait, confirm, aaand back.
                  But at least having a manual save is key. games that have half hours between checkpoints don't get played unless I have a long session ahead of me.

                  Commenter
                  Lucid Fugue
                  Location
                  Melbourne
                  Date and time
                  April 23, 2012, 10:50AM
                  • The F5 key is my friend.

                    Commenter
                    DexX
                    Location
                    MCDexX on XBL, PSN, Steam, and iOS GameCentre
                    Date and time
                    April 23, 2012, 10:53AM
                    • Some JRPGs have "save anywhere" function outside of boss battles, like Ys 7.

                      Commenter
                      Oric
                      Location
                      Sinicuitt
                      Date and time
                      April 23, 2012, 1:04PM

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