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January 16, 2005



I remember when I was playing Prince of Persia: Sands of time on my younger brother's Playstation 2 on thanksgiving, and I was explaining to him how games aren't as challenging as the used to be, and his generation is going to be completely spoiled from only losing a tiny amount of progress when they die.

Then I decided I'd play the original prince of persia (it's an unlockable on the PS2 version). I quit after 5 minutes because I was frustrated by having to replay everything each time I died.

I guess being put way back each time you die wasn't as great as I remembered it.


I just ordered that book, and it sounds like it was a good idea! I've noticed that bottom-feeding issue myself, and it's the reason I'd never put in a save-anywhere (well, there's one as a secret bonus in one of my games, but not as normal play - there's also a 'die once and your game's over' secret mode! And there are lots of 'game-ruining' things as secret bonuses, I like that... once you EARN them). It's not just that SOME people will ruin their fun, it's that MOST people will. It fundamentally kills the game and then people whine about it being too easy, or too hard (Doom II was super hard because, I believe, it was actually tuned to people playing with saving every nanosecond - in essence making that the required mode of play, which in fact is a very tedious way to play!). I prefer very numerous save points - I don't like repeating stuff, but I also don't like having an infinitely thick safety net. It's a line a designer has to draw somewhere, and like everything else in the game it IS a part of the game design. People who just throw in Save Anywhere as "the player's prerogative" might as well also throw in "hold down G to be invincible anytime you want" because after all, who are they to decide how they player wants to play? The designer, that's who. You're designing a specific challenge to entertain people, and how and when they can resurrect themselves is a major part of the challenge.

The need to save in order to go do other things is important, and that's where Roguelike saving comes in - let them save anywhere/anytime, but only reload it once, and back to the last legit save point if they die. Of course, like in Rogue, hacker types will still cheat around it (backing up the save), but if you're putting that much effort in to cheat, at least you feel guilty about it and know you're cheating. Maybe.

Anyway, it's always a fun topic and I look forward to reading the religious war ensue.

Adam Vandenberg

GTA: Vice City deserves some special punishment for mucking up one of their save points: If you save your game at the ice cream place there's a good chance it will corrupt your game and fail to load!

Brett Douville

I have to say, I was totally for save anywhere -- I thought it was one of Hal's reasonable 400 rules. Then I played Resident Evil (the GC remake).

Granted, I played the first bit a few times before I finally figured out the typewriter ribbons and stuff like that, and I gave the friend who recommended it a hard time about that. But once I had been playing for a while, I felt like it was the only system that made any kind of sense for a survival horror game -- a limited (i.e. available number of saves) checkpoint save system.

In this case, it was another resource I needed to manage as a player. It heightened my fear; it helped the survival mechanic of the game reach out and be a bit of a metagame. Well worth it.


Robert 'Groby' Blum

Since we obviously had mostly designer speak up on saving, let me add the users perspective:

Checkpoints and limited saves are ONE OF THE WORST IDEAS EVER!

It's cute that you think save-anywhere is "bottom-feeding", checkpoints encourage resource-managing, and all those wonderful arguments, but here's the rub: I am not willing to structure my life around your game. If I want to leave the game because my wife just came home, I'd better be able to do that. If I have exactly an hour to play, I don't want to waste the last 10 minutes on things I have to repeat next time I play just because there's no save point around. And if you didn't manage to get the difficulty right for my taste, I want to adopt to it through frequent saves.

Maybe the patronizing attitude that you know better than the player works for adolescents - but if you seriously want to break into the adult market, it's time to realize that for most adults time is the most valuable commodity they have. *Anything* that needlessly cuts into that resource is rather bad.

I understand that some games have checkpoints for technical reasons (doesn't reduce my loathing for the mechanism, though:), and some even get it semi-right. (Halo is at least tolerable in that regard). But if you can implement save-anywhere and don't do it, it's a large minus on the "should I buy this" equation.

As Jamie said, there are people on each side of the fence. The difference is: If I dislike frequent saves, and I have a game that has 'em, I don't have to do it and get an experience similar to checkpoints. If I, however, dislike checkpoints, there's nothing I can do about it if the game has them.

Robert 'Groby' Blum

As an added thought - I do believe that the way MMORPGs handle this issue is something that might be worth looking into. You get save-anywhere, and making bad decisions only leads to a penalty, not to death.

Jay Barnson

I'm an adult gamer. For console games in particular, my window of activity is usually about 30-45 minutes. If I'm 20 minutes into a level and my window closes, I need to be DONE. I don't want to leave my Playstation on overnight so I can pick up the game the next morning. I don't want to lose TWENTY MINUTES of progress, either. I want to make progress, not re-play the same bits over and over again.

If it's a rental game and I find myself this frustrated, it's a game that is unlikely to find itself purchased by me in the future. Or ever rented again.

Maybe I'm not as important as the hardcore players with nothing but time on their hands who could potentially play through the entire game to the finish during a rental period if they weren't otherwise impeded. But if that's the case, the industry is going to lose their aging player-base and limit themselves to guys who aren't yet out of college.


A subtle problem of saving anywhere is that it breaks immersion. You're in this dark corridor and you hear the noises of a zombie horde juste around the corner -- "I better save, it looks dangerous". You're sucked right out of the game and realize that it's all only a game, especially if there's no quick save key and you have to open a menu.

On the other hand, limited saves can be a royal pain because of real world issues and because of the frustration of playing parts again and again. If you have to leave for that really important job interview, you don't want to keep your console open and you don't want to lose your last 20 minutes of progress since the previous checkpoint. Similarly, if you die 20 minutes after a checkpoint, it's really frustrating to play again the 19 minutes of the game that you already completed successfully.

I think the best compromise between these two issues is the Halo system. You get very regular checkpoints -- every 5 minutes of gameplay or so -- that are automatic and seemless. That way, whenever you die or want to leave you never have more than 5 minutes of gameplay to replay which isn't too bad. The only thing I'd add to this is an option to save the game but return to the main menu simultaneously. So basically you can save anywhere when you quit the game -- combined with checkpoints everywhere I believe people would only use this when they have to stop the game at a moment's notice because it would be a pain in the ass to use constantly. I think that would be the best of both world: save anywhere without breaking immersion.

Brett Douville

I don't think checkpoints encourage resource managing -- I think that in Resident Evil, the resource management of typewriter ribbons and checkpoint saves were entirely appropriate to the game, and may be overall fairly appropriate to the genre. The management of limited resources was very important in the game -- deciding when and where to use your ammunition was one of the interesting choices that the game provided you with -- and extending that resource management to the save system improved the game, in my opinion.

I admit, I had my doubts. If I hadn't had a friend arguing that the game was worth looking at, I probably would have hit a shelf-level event pretty damn fast. I think I even remarked to Jamie the first night that I played it that the only thing I had so far found all that terrifying was the save system. But over time, I began to see how well it tied into the entire game, and how it heightened the emotions the game was trying to provoke (fear, apprehension).

I'm very sympathetic to concerns about an aging player-base. I'm over thirty, I have a couple of kids, and I have a lot of demands on my time. I'm similar in that I don't typically have loads of time for playing games; my window is a little longer than Jay's. In this case, I had to specifically set aside time due to the demands of the game -- I could never have done it during crunch, for example. I think in most cases a save-anywhere system is appropriate, and desirable, and frequent, unnoticed checkpoints are the next best thing -- I played Half-Life 2 without ever explicitly saving my game, just relying on the designers' senses of where auto-saves would be appropriate.

Based on the things that Jay and Robert have to say about them, I'd say they should avoid a game like Resident Evil. Or Ico for that matter. I think that you'd miss out on some good games -- but there are plenty of good games out there, and people who have limited time to play them should absolutely choose those games which are the best fits for their time and priority.

Robert 'Groby' Blum

Ah, I wish I could avoid them - but how to break the addiction? ;)

I absolutely do see the fact that saving can ruin immersion. Then again, redoing a chunk of a level because I just died isn't that immersive either. I'm still thinking that there's a way to keep players immersed while getting rid of save points. It's just that that requires a game design that doesn't carry penalties that undo large chunks of your progress. (Frequent save points do get close to that - it'll still make it immediately obvious to you that it's just a game, whenever the reload happens)

Combine that with auto-save on exit, and you're almost there. You can't use save to roll back in time, yet you can leave any time.

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Jamie's Bragging Rights

  • Spider-Man 2
    The best superhero games of all time Game Informer
    Top five games of all time Yahtzee Croshaw
    Top five superhero games of all time MSNBC
    Top 100 PS2 games of all time Official Playstation 2 Magazine
    1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die Nomination for Excellence in Gameplay Engineering Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences
  • Schizoid
    Penny Arcade PAX 10 Award
    Nominated for XBLA Best Original Game
    Nominated for XBLA Best Co-Op Game