This week’s rant covers design choices in regards to saving your game.

Back in the day, most games utilized a password feature.  Some of them were long, some were short, some were symbols…the point is, they were a bit of a pain in the ass.  They were fun in a nostalgic sort of way (I still have my “password notebook” from my childhood), but could be extremely annoying.  Enter The Legend of Zelda, one of the first games (if not the first) to include an actual save file by way of a battery backup in the cart (there was no “save” command, it all just happened automatically.)  From there, game saves became more and more of a regular thing…and when the mid-90′s hit, memory cards (born out of necessity due to the PS1′s use of optical media) enabled you to transfer your game saves between consoles without needing to bring a stack of games with you.  It was an idea so well received that even the Nintedo 64, a cart-based console, still offered up the use of memory cards.  Fast forward to 2010.  You’d think saving a game would be a simple affair in nearly every title (especially as they have grown in length and complexity).  While it’s true that you can save pretty much any game out there nowadays, sometimes it’s gone about in really weird ways.

Let’s look at the Dawn of the Dead-inspired Dead Rising as an example: you only get one save slot.  From what I understand, this was done to add more weight to the player’s decisions, and to really increase the sense of dread (do-overs were cumbersome and time consuming, which made you tread carefully.)  This was a decent design choice…a bit strange, given the modern gaming environment, however it was a purposeful decision with its supporting reasons firmly anchored in the core intention of the game.  But, annoyingly…you could only save when you entered a bathroom or other specific rooms, which were far from plentiful.  What’s the deal with that?  I know, I know…it’s supposed to “add to the dread”.  But you know what?  Making it so I have to restart a game because I saved in a bathroom too far away from my current objective to get there in time doesn’t “add to the dread”…it’s just annoying.

An even better example of a wacky savegame system: Suikoden Tierkreis on the Nintendo DS.  That’s right, good ol’ Suikoden…you can only save at an inn.  Now, I love me some Suikoden, and I know tradition plays a big role in this series…but come on, it’s a freakin’ portable game!  Not only does it forbid me from saving when I want, but it forces me to save in specific locations that almost exclusively appear in towns.  You can’t even save while in the world map…you can only save when you find an Inn (or right before a boss battle.)  I know they were trying to keep things consistent with other entries in the Suikoden series…but uh…NINTENDO DS GAME.  The whole point is to be able to pick it up for a short time, and be able to drop it at a moment’s notice.  For what it’s worth, Nostalgia nailed this perfectly, allowing you to save anywhere without the use of a savepoint…even in a dungeon.

Of course, nothing is quite as frustrating to me as Resident Evil’s old save system, where you had to use up a fairly limited resource of typewriter ink ribbons (one used per save.)  I know they did this to make you really think long and hard before you saved, since it was a “survival horror” game, but come on…seriously?  Think about that for a second.  There were a limited number of times you could save a game that took hours upon hours to complete. That’s just poor game design; there was no technical requirement for it, it was just done in an attempt to promote a crazy atmosphere…but all it did was cause gamers to go bald early (or maybe that’s just me.)

Limbo, the Modern Warfare series, Half-Life 2, Mirror’s Edge…there are a bunch of modern games that utilize an auto-save system that works great; the checkpoints are fairly close to each other, preventing you from having to replay sections of a level over and over again.  Then you have games like Mario Galaxy 2, which still utilize the classic “hard” checkpoint, an actual object which you have to touch.  These are generally placed well, appearing in the middle of stages and just before boss battles.  See, another example of a decent save system.  If they can do it, why can’t others?