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Checkpoint saves suck

From time to time I feel compelled to preface a posting here by a reminder of what sort of person I am.  I’ve been playing computer and console games for over a quarter of a century, heavily biased towards the computer “role playing” game, fantasy, and first person shooter genres.  I’m more prone to like something like Deus Ex or Oblivion than Doom 3, although I enjoy both types of games.  And Mario Kart or Katamari Damacy are right out. 

In a nutshell, I like games with a strong narrative: something that could make a decent fantasy or science fiction book.  Although I enjoy some twitch/combat games, that isn’t my forte.  “Childlike” games with bubblegum graphics and mostly mindless plots do not amuse me very much.

Now I’ve set the stage for my rant, the basic thesis of which is: Checkpoint saves and their cousins, single copy saves, are evil.  They suck.  They drain all of the joy out of otherwise good games.

This requires a bit of explaining if you aren’t a computer gamer…

The Console: home of the Checkpoint save

Being able to save a game wasn’t very necessary on early console games.  The entire game, beginning to end, was played in matter of minutes.  The play style was an outgrowth from the video arcades, where the objective was to consume your quarters- your quarters where how you extended your play time, and the more you died and had to restart, the more quarters you spent.

Adventure or role playing games never really existed in the video arcade.  They started on computers, and with them came the idea of providing a way to save your current progress.  This was critically necessary: the game might take a dozen hours or more to complete, and having to start all over from the beginning if you made an error and died was unnecessarily punishing.

So far what I’m describing is the state of things in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  As consoles became more and more sophisticated as the 1980’s progressed into the 1990’s, they also developed a need for providing a save game mechanism.  The games being played became more sophisticated, and started to include deeper role-playing or adventure content that demanded some way to store progress.  However, unlike the computer, most consoles had little or no storage for the purpose. 

The ways console game manufacturers worked around this were many and varied.  Extra memory cartridges, small internal flash memory stores, and more recently hard drives of various sizes.  But mostly it came down to limiting the options players had to save their game.  Perhaps you could only save at a certain point in the game: this allowed the developer to remove a huge amount of “state” data that had to be saved.  If you were at a certain point, you had (particularly in very linear games) obviously progressed past previous content.  That meant a save game file didn’t need to save all that previous detail- just a “done to here” flag, and maybe your character’s inventory and stats.  Since you had to get to a particular pre-determined place or marker in the game for this to work, it became known as a “checkpoint save”

A close friend of checkpoint saves is the “limited save slots” approach.  In this approach, you may have more options regarding where you can save.  But you can only have a small number of save games, sometimes only a single save game, stored at a given time.  A number of console games combine these two: you can only save a limited (perhaps just one) save game stored, and that save can only be performed at particular checkpoints.

The Computer: where saving is free and easy

Computer games rarely have limitations on where and how you can save your progress.  Games generally offer unlimited saves at any time.  This promotes a completely different kind of play style.  Let me describe how I might use this. 

As I play my game, I save after each major accomplishment.  I keep all of these saved states so I can go back if I later discover I overlooked something- perhaps killed the wrong guy, picked up the wrong item, or selected the wrong response.  When I come to a new location that screams “boss monster”, I also save the game.  If the fight is particularly tough, I might save after I defeat each sub boss, or after I complete each successful step in what might be a multi-part process to slay a particular enemy.  If I die, which I often do, I fall back only to that very recent step: I don’t develop a hatred for the game, myself, or humanity.

A few other considerations regarding this play style.  Some games tend to make me nauseous if I play them for extended periods.  It is a form of motion sickness: exactly what games will cause it I can’t tell in advance.  Virtually any game will make me feel queasy if I play it long enough, particularly if I have to repeat the same steps over and over and over and over and over and over.  Being able to shut down and take an hour (or day) long break before coming back to the game is crucial in these cases.

I also need to deal with things like my wife asking me questions, a cat needing attention, or the phone ringing.  I really take advantage of the save game process.  I like free and unlimited saves.

The Debate

Console gamers see unlimited saves as a sign of some sort of fundamental weakness.  They sneer at PC gamers who demand such things.  They yell and rant in forums about how their games should be made so you have to replay from the very beginning if you fail: that’s how real men play their games.  They claim this adds real-life difficulty and a sense of pressure to the game.

PC gamers automatically sense the stench of a console port as soon as they see a game that limits saves.  These kinds of “cross platform” games are more and more common these days, so the stench is growing.  The PC gamers pound their chests and wave their fists at the hyper-caffinated twitch game console players.  They laugh at the claims of console gamers that PC gamers need for unlimited saves demonstrates that they lack m4d ski77z.  They demonstrate their abilities anywhere, any time, by handing a console gamer a controller and grabbing their faithful keyboard and mouse and filling the whiny punk with lead in any first person shooter on the block.

My Position

I like my XBox 360.  The games are fantastic, the XBox Live features like achievements are fun, and the hard drive makes storing save games and downloadable content easy.  But I really, truly, fundamentally despise limited/checkpoint saves, and XBox games all seem to have this cancer, some moreso than others.

I like to experience my game, enjoy the narrative, and ultimately succeed.  I get no thrill out of dying and seeing the same scene over and over and over and over and over and over again.   I am happy for the twitchy little gamers who enjoy that kind of game play- more power to them.  But it offers no appeal to me whatsoever.

What I really don’t get is this: a game with unlimited saves does not in any way demand that you *use* those saves.  So if a console bigot wants to play “the hard way”, they can just pretend save games don’t exist.  Why must they insist on removing this fundamental feature for everyone who *doesn’t* like this style of play?

And I have absolutely no comprehension of the developers who build checkpoint/limited saves into their games.  The days when consoles didn’t have adequate storage for save games are long gone.  And if they want to provide a “challenge” mode, have a “hardcore” setting in the game that disables game saves.  Add an XBox Live achievement for playing the game on hardcore or otherwise with no or limited saves.  Let the people who see completing a game without saving as a badge of honour have their way: give them a badge of honour (an achievement) if they do so.  But permit those of us who don’t enjoy this play style to enjoy the game as well.

I would like to draw particular attention to the egregious example of these faults found in one game for the XBox 360 that I bought recently: Dead Rising.  Dead Rising implements both checkpoint saves and a single save slot.  The game developer had this to say:

Many have also mentioned that if they had multiple game slots it would make certain tasks/achievements easier to achieve. Though the unusual saves are largely unpopular with gamers and likely caused Dead Rising to be scored lower on game ratings, Keiji Inafune said, in an interview with Electronic Gaming Monthly, that the saves were intentionally designed so that players would feel that there were some consequences for their actions and would be forced to make quick, tactical decisions.

Well, Keiji…I’m sorry to say that your decision ruined the game for me.   It looks fun, although its one of those that tends to make me nauseous after a few minutes of play due to some sort of motion sickness.  I enjoyed slaughtering the undead- the lawnmower and chainsaws were great.  But the lack of freedom to save when and how I wanted has made the game utterly unplayable for me.  I got about two hours of fun out of it, and got incredibly frustrated.  All of your thousands of hours of effort are sitting on a a shelf, untapped and unenjoyed.  I’d call your save game restrictions to be a poor decision on your part.

The Conclusion

Can’t we just all get along?  Build all future console games for today’s storage-equipped consoles so that they incorporate unlimited saves.  Add “achievements” and game modes to give badges of honour to gamers who use few or no save games.  Avoid the “console port stench” that arises whenever limited saves show up in a migrated game on the PC. 

Why is this so hard?  Why do some people insist that their particular perspective or preference is the only right choice?  What is it that makes accommodating other preferences so abhorrent to some people?

Are we really that childish?

[tags]checkpoint saves suck, consolitis, consoles, dead rising, save game[/tags]

7 comments to Checkpoint saves suck

  • … They claim this adds real-life difficulty and a sense of pressure to the game.

    If you want real life difficulty and pressure go out and engage in real life. Games are not real life … that is why we call them “games.” Sure, they can offer learning opportunities that may help one later in real life … but only if you actually play the game. And for that the game has to be fun, engrossing and inviting. Not an endurance test.

    The people that like single point saves aren’t interested in the game … they are interested in real world competition and bragging rights. But having reached and past the middle point of my life in the real world I have to tell them: absolutely no one that matters in the real world is impressed by how well someone does in a game. “Mastering” a particular game carries about as much weight as having gone through a fraternity initiation … that is none. Like a fraternity initiation it serves only to set up arbitrary distinctions so some frat boys can feel superior to others.

    And that’s why accommodation is so abhorrent; they would be unable to feel superior to others and instead have to rely on their own confidence and self worth. And some find nothing but a deep emptiness when they look for that.

  • You make a good point, Chris. But I would argue about the values that games bring to real life: I think there are things one can learn, and learn about oneself, while playing a game. And I would also argue that a lot of real life is pretty pointless and irrelevant as well. How much of what you or I do in our job each day is something anyone outside of that immediate job situation would consider relevant or worthwhile? And if they *do* consider it relevant, most likely it’s because it relates to earning money, and that isn’t a particularly good measure of relevance. Besides, some gamers make money in competitions as well 🙂

    If playing a game is *all* you do, however, the way you are measured by that game becomes extremely important. So much so that you might want to be guaranteed a level playing field so that your supposed skills can be compared to others in no uncertain terms, even to those who are somewhat “outside” the game. Having differing (arguably easier) game play modes might disrupt that comfort zone.

    Interestingly, in so-called “real life”, the same can also be said. If all you do is work, the way you are measured also becomes overwhelmingly important. Since, as I point out above, *what* a person does for their work is generally of no relevance or interest outside of the work environment, for such a person it becomes critically necessary to have clear measures of their success. Fortunately, in “real life”, there are some fairly clear cut measures of job success: job title, perhaps, but more important- money. People who make their job the primary objective of their life can become equally childish when others get the same titles or salary as they do without having “paid the price”.

    My response doesn’t diminish the relevance of what you say: I just don’t think it uniquely applies to gamers. And I also am probably somewhat biased against “real life”: don’t get me started about the total lack of save games, terrible pacing, lack of cool technologies or magic, non-existent victory conditions, and near total lack of plot in the “life” game! 🙂

  • Actually, what you say is pretty much in what I said … I just didn’t bother with all the obvious qualifications because I don’t type as fast or as well as you do 😉

    I also tried to quote a passage that didn’t work… but I was referencing those that talk about the difficulty and pressure of real life. By saying that they are drawing a distinction between games and “everything else” which is what we’ve been calling real life.

    Obviously, if you are a professional gamer, just like a professional hockey player, or professional footballer you will have a much different view of “game” and it will have a much different role in your life. But pro sports play in leagues… I have never purchased a baseball bat or a soccer ball or a deck of cards that demanded I play by league rules. I have never found a baseball glove that would only work on a regulation baseball diamond. Even golf, which has the biggest overlap between pro and amateur doesn’t demand that casual weekend golfers use competition regulation courses, equipment and styles of play.

    The games we are talking about are *recreation*. They are not part of a professional gaming league, they are not dedicated training simulations. As I said, you can learn a lot of useful things in games, that is after all one of the main components of Play. But the other component of Play is fun. We play not because we want to learn something, bet because we enjoy it. Making the experience un-enjoyable makes the game useless as a form of play.

    And if it isn’t play, but work or education then it should not be sold as recreation, and people should not be making distinctions between “real life” and “game” when it comes to pressure and difficulty.

    And so you are left with what we had before … people who need to use some artificial and limited representation of life to feel superior to others, because they lack confidence in who and what they are other wise. You are quite right in that it is not a game phenomenon, but one that extends to work, hobbies, social clubs, art, what have you. There is a segment of the human population that must use arbitrary criteria in an attempt to feel superior and assert dominance. You are just dealing eith the gamer variety of that human at the moment.

    And that is the answer to your question of why we can’t all just get along.

    ( See, those that are naturally superior like myself have no need for such shenanigans and are incredibly easy to get along with! 😉 *lol* )

  • ( See, those that are naturally superior like myself have no need for such shenanigans and are incredibly easy to get along with! *lol* )

    Er…yeah, of course! 🙂

    P.S.: I used my l337 editor powers to fix your comment and make the quote visible

  • […] Kelly Adams (September 1, 2007 4:00 pm): ( See, those that are naturally superior like myself have no need for such… […]

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  • Krotow

    Checkpoint saves is required only in platform or puzzle games, where each scene should be done at once. In FPS, RTS and adventure games instant save system is must have. Special locations should be saved as autosaves, NOT checkpoints. Checkpoints only in this type of games is evil. Period. We have a plenty of storage space today, not only in desktop computers, but in consoles too. Why not use it? Why we are forced to replay huge chunks of game because some coding moron was so lazy to add option to save game state. Because there is so many cases when we need to pay atention to real life events and must switch of computer/console to some time in middle of some FPS level, at example.

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