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blog.gkaindl.com » Save-Game Ramblings

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Save-Game Ramblings

When the effects of video games on children are discussed in the media, it’s all about violence, addiction and sexual content. Well, I’ve played a lot of games a kid, and I believe that these kinds of influence were pretty marginal on me. However, there’s one thing about video games that truly inspired me as a kid, so much that I was thinking about it at least once a day: The concept of a save-game.

Whenever I was facing one of these little, but possibly regrettable decisions, I was longing for the ability to take a snapshot in time to come back to it later, being a bit wiser about my actions. Should I really climb up this tree or will I fall down and break my leg? Is it normal that this box of milk smells slightly funny? Should I kick this bully in the butt, or should I go back to knitting my sock (yes, I had knitting classes in elementary school, don’t ask, why)? In this respect, I was a total victim of video games. I was actually feeling sad about not having a save-game ready for real life.

Thinking about it, my juvenile mind was a good example of why save-games can be an inherent design feature of a game rather than just a necessity. The ability to save your progress encourages the exploration of the game world, it encourages trying out things you probably wouldn’t do if there was a risk of losing an hour of game achievements. It’s not just about saving your game because you want to quit playing, it’s all about trying out stuff. Is this gap too far for my puny protagonist to jump over? Should I just rush into this room with my sword drawn, or would sneaking past it be the better option? Hmm, I wonder how it would look when I jump into this lava pit, just for kicks!

Thusly, wether or not a game can be saved at any point should not be a technical decision (i.e. it’s too hard to take a snapshot of the game’s state, so we’ll only save between missions), it’s a game design decision. No save-games (or only poor substitutes such as checkpoints and “between-mission” saves) make the player feel under a lot more pressure. They feel coerced into a certain playing style imposed on them by the game creators. If losing this fight means having to start from where I was an hour ago again, I won’t experiment too much, I’ll just do what I think may be working best. The player tries to anticipate what the game designer had in mind, just to increase their odds of not having to restart. Conversely, if the game can be saved at any time, the player will naturally try different things. They’ll explore the environment freely (not being afraid of running into an avoidable group of monsters), they’ll explore different game controls (maybe I can’t pull this double-handed super-sword-swirl attack off well yet, but I’ll just keep trying, since even if it doesn’t work, and I die, I’ll just reload). The game experience is a playful one, rather than being ridden by frustration and the frustration of trying to avoid the frustration (a similar effect as the “fear of the fear”).

Similarly, if the game should be played in a highly focused, almost strategic manner, then leaving out the ability to save at any point may be a good design decision. After all, consider a stealth game in which a single hit by an enemy kills your player: Wouldn’t you be a lot more careful if you knew that you’d have to restart from the beginning if you get killed? Sure you would. It may be greatly frustrating at first, but then again, the greater the (danger of) frustration, the greater the feeling of achievement once the level as been finished.

The point, however, is that save-games are not a technical issue, but a design issue. Consequently, they should be treated as such.

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    blog.gkaindl.com » Save-Games for Non-Gamers
    wrote on May 28, 2007 at 0:49

    [...] Save-Game Ramblings | May 27 [...]

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Hi, how are you? My name is Georg Kaindl, and I'm a twenty-something from Vienna, Austria. During the day, I'm a CS student at the Vienna University of Technology, but at night, I turn into an independent software developer for the Macintosh platform, social nerd, lazy entrepreneur and intuitive researcher.

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