[TRG Rant] : Quick Save / Quick Load

I play a lot of video games; not as many as some, and certainly not every genre (typically I exclude sports and MOBA games), but a significant amount. I consider myself well versed and experienced, having backtracked through the arcade stage of the early 90s, and the non-mainstream consoles of the mid-90s. I approach video games in a holistic fashion, looking at all aspects of a game. The real quality of the game is not derived from a single piece, nor is it measured from equally weighted parts. Some things seem to matter more than others. For instance, I would overlook less than AAA textures and sound production in lieu of a really good and intuitive control scheme and camera system. Likewise, a game could eliminate the uncanny valley, and if the controls and camera were crap, then (while certainly ‘pretty’) I would probably consider it a bad game.

Beyond sound, graphics, textures, camera, controls, game engine, and story, therein lies the point of this particular rant, the saving/loading system. Saving is a fantastic luxury that wasn’t always there. History time!

I remember playing MegaMan and Metroid and having to remember a ton of codes. I still remember the final boss code for Mike Tyson’s PunchOut! (007-373-5963) But The Legend of Zelda allowed saving to the cartridge, as did several other games. It obviously wasn’t impossible, but it was fairly expensive… Games had to be programmed to allow saving (as they are today) but since the game systems didn’t have any expansion capabilities for memory cards, or built in storage, the game cartridge had to have non-volatile memory and a battery to allow the gamestate to persist when the cartridge was unpowered. In the early days of gaming, it was common to leave the console on for days at a time because the particular game did not allow saving, and gamers didn’t want to lose their progress. Memory cards became popular and affordable when the cartridge media started being phased out in favor of disc media. Further still, as hard drive production became cheaper and storage capacity increased, most seventh-generation consoles moved to using internal storage. All the while, PC gamers were saving to hard drives.

There are different types of saving and loading: Code-Based (rarely used), Full-State, Partial-State, and Attribute-State.

  1. Code-Based
    • Uses a specific combination of numbers/letters/patterns to allow attribute-state recall
  2. Full-State
    • Triggered automatically or on command, a snapshot of the player’s current attributes and game progress is saved. This may be in the middle of a level, allowing instant loading of a player’s position
  3. Partial-State
    • Similar to Full-State saving, Partial-State is typically referred to as a ‘checkpoint’. In several cases Partial-State saves are non-persistent on exit, but act as a midpoint through a level
  4. Attribute-State
    • Typically referred to as a ‘Character Save’, data regarding the player’s inventory, achievements, and last completed level, is saved. This is very similar to Code-Based but may be automatically triggered

Quick Save/Load is typically hot-keyed to keys that are easily accessible, but non-adjacent to the frequently used keys. I can only imagine the rage of accidentally loading your last save… In my experience, Quick Saves are Full-State saves triggered on command.

Some games work well with QS/L, Kerbal Space Program, for instance. A player could spend hours (days even…) preparing for an interplanetary trip to Elo just to have the entire mission scrubbed because of a tiny mistake. One could argue that NASA doesn’t have the luxury of QS/L so why should you? Hardcore players will not use the feature, but casual players could dedicate a lot of time and lose a lot of progress if the feature wasn’t in there. Since the game doesn’t save automatically, I feel like QS/L works well in it’s place.

The problem I have with the QS/L system is that it can make some games’ experience worth less. There are mechanics revolving around saving that force players to make tactical decisions regarding play styles and game choices. Sometimes a player may need to collect items before they are allowed to save, thus limiting the number of saves and save location (Resident Evil). Other times, players can save as many times as they’d like, but only at designated points in the game (Dead Space, Marathon). Even still, other games limit the number of saves a player can make (Hitman).

I feel that by allowing players to save as often and wherever they want cuts out the danger and loss associated with some games. I recently played through Fallout 3, New Vegas, and Skyrim (conveniently all Bethesda games) and noticed that in addition to the Full-State save every time the player enters or exits an area, the player also had quicksave/load capabilities! Why? Progress is already saved as you play the game! You have the ability to ‘fast travel’ between locations; I would think that having players find new locations close to their quest objectives to ensure the game is saved would be much more beneficial to telling the story and having the player make better decisions. Consider FTL.

For those who haven’t played FTL yet, go buy it on Steam and install it! It is a realtime strategy game in space wherein players manage a ship, the ship’s subsystems, and crew. I’ll write a review on it later, but the important thing is that FTL does not save mid mission progress. You can get to the final boss and die, and you’ll start over from the beginning! It is fantastic and frustrating at the same time. But with every death the player learns and adjusts their play style. It’s an organic process, and it changes when you change ship types; but, when you beat the game (every time) you feel like you’ve done something amazing! It isn’t the story or the music or the graphics alone; it’s the entire experience, and I don’t believe that it would be as good and rewarding as it is if the game allowed frequent (on-command) saving!

It takes effort and skill and dedication! Who is a better artist; one who uses paint and a canvas, or one who uses Photoshop? Perhaps ‘better’ is a subjective term, but I hope you understand what I’m going towards. Photoshop has the almighty Cmd+Z (Mac love!), and mistakes can be removed easier than they were made. An ‘analog’ artist does not have such the exact luxury. Their mistakes are worth more, and can impact their creation greatly; but, they learn, and better their style so fewer mistakes are made. Deep, right?!

The next time you play a game like Fallout 3 or Skyrim, if it offers both automatic area saves and QS/L, try not using the quicksave feature. You may get frustrated, but you might become a better gamer as well. Stick around for more!


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