Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why "saving the game" is a problem?

There is one thing in computer games that puzzles me a lot - both as a player and as a game designer/developer. I am talking about "saving the progress". For some reason in many games this supposedly straightforward operation is not straightforward at all. Especially prone to this are console games. No, seriously, I really don't understand why the game designers cannot give the player a possibility to save his progress whenever he wants it? Why do the console games use complex systems of "saving locations", checkpoints, savepoints and who know what else instead of simple "save" command in a menu?

I grew up on PC games - and when I started playing console games this peculiarity was a complete surprise for me - and an unpleasant one. Alas, being an adult I cannot play for as long as I want. I have to stop sometimes - and what a disappointment it is when I have to forfeit all the achievements I've made in the last hour just because I cannot save game in the middle of a level.

I tried to come up with any plausible explanation of this phenomenon:

  • Technical difficulties. Well, I don't buy it. I can't imagine what kind of technical difficulty can prevent a game on a modern console (like PS2 - or PSP, for example) from saving data at any given moment. There is plenty of horsepower to do this, and storage shouldn't be a problem either. Of course, maybe I don't know something...

  • Game design decision. I know that some game designers tend to think that giving the player opportunity to cheat (save - try to hit monster - miss it - load - repeat) might break level design. This could be true - but, for some reason, similar games on PC allow players to do it, and are still fun. For example, look at "Half Life 2" or "F.E.A.R". And, at the same time, "Call of duty" on PS2, being also a First Person Shooter, doesn't allow saves in the middle of a level.

    And, even if there is a problem with level design being broken in such a way, there is a brilliant solution to this problem - separate "temporary save", which ends the game, and which is destroyed after restoring. I've seen this design in "Wario Land 4" on Game Boy Advance - it works like a charm, and I really enjoyed the possibility to suspend the game at any time.

  • Legacy of arcade games. Yes, in a video arcade players cannot save their progress - that's the whole idea! That's what makes them play - and pay - more and more. And yes, old consoles didn't have the capability to save game at all - hence the "level passwords" and other solutions of the same kind. But this was a long time ago - the mode of playing had changes since then. Portable gaming devices are used in many circumstances, and people often simply must stop playing at certain time. The preservation of arcade spirit shouldn't compromise the usability of the game.

So, I can find no decent answer. But, while thinking about this problem, I've suddenly understood that "Save" operation might have different meaning in different applications. The semantic difference is subtle, but important for a good design of application UI - and application in general. But that's a topic for another post...

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David said...

Interesting. Please make more posts like this. Good topic of interest!

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