Monday, August 19, 2013

The Four Ways of Saving Your Game

After finishing the zombie platformer Deadlight recently, I decided to have a bit of a rant about how games implement their save game systems. I've found that from the games I've played there are generally four kinds of ways that games are saved:

1. Invisible auto-save points only


With this approach the player isn't given any indication of where game’s save points are and they have no means of manually saving a game at any point in time. The game auto-saves at pre-determined points in the game that are invisible to the player. Usually many arcade games, platformers and console games employ this mechanic. Deadlight sits in this category.

Just realised that the current generation probably doesn't know what a floppy disk looks like

2. Visible auto-save points only


This is one step up from type 1 in that you’re still stuck with one auto-save file that’s overwritten however the player is aware with a visual cue where the save point actually is. This is also often found in arcade games and platformers.


3. Manual saving of game


This gives the player the freedom to save whenever they want. It doesn't have an autosave feature though which is bad if you happened to forget to save at a certain point but that’s why you learn to save early and save often. Often found in older adventure games, RPGs and strategy games.



4. Manual saving of game with autosaves


This is intended to give the best of both worlds in that the game autosaves your progress at particular points but the player has the option to also save the game whenever they want. Common in the RPGs and strategy games of the past decade.



Okay there's probably more than the four I've listed but they’re either uncommon or don’t exist as a modern save game mechanic (remember remembering lines of code in order to save your progress?).

You could also argue that by giving the user choice on when to save the game you’re also making the game much easier to beat. This is true which is why I believe there has to be some kind of compromise dependent on the game’s genre and difficulty.

Basically I believe that all options here are valid and bearable except for Type 1. Type 1 should not exist at all nowadays yet while playing Deadlight this is exactly what happened. At one point in the game, it took me maybe 50 times to get past a puzzle (thanks to dodgy keyboard controls) but shortly after that I had to go out. I was hoping that straight after the puzzle the game would automatically save itself however this wasn't the case when I returned which infuriated me to no end.

Type 1 could still exist if the auto-saves occurred so frequently that you wouldn't lose much progress if you had to restart (e.g. The Cave), however this was not the case in Deadlight. Ideally game developers will realise that Type 1 is not the way to go anymore and it’s quite simple to adopt less annoying save game mechanisms with minimal effort. Having the player punished by replaying several minutes (or even hours) of gameplay only to get to the same point they were in the first place isn't acceptable nowadays – maybe 20 years ago, but times have changed.

So what do you think? Has there ever been a time where you've been infuriated by the way save games work in a game? Or do you think they should make games more difficult i.e. all of them employing "ironman" mode as the only way to play?

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