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I recently bought a Sega Mega Drive Classic to relive the glory of the gaming past. The synaptic clustering of so many enduring childhood memories has had my neurons on overdrive as I have made my way through the 80 games. Besides the obvious excitement of old-school challenges, one vintage characteristic became abundantly clear: save points.
Like the acute awareness from an ice bucket challenge, this flashback sprung from my sub-consciousness as I mistakenly attempted to walk away mid-game. Wait, what? No save point! Sitting back down to decide how I was going to safely coordinate my bodily functions with my need to continue the game I realized just how much gaming has changed.
Now that is all safely behind me (no details) I think it’s time we warm up the hot tub time machine to explore how such a simple thing as save points has evolved the way we play.
When The Arcade Was King
Early gaming was based at the arcade. For obvious reasons, these games were designed to make money. Because of this, the concept of an auto or manual save feature did not exist. Instead, games were generally based around a finite number of lives to continue.
Once the game started, the challenge was to endure as far as your skill and coin could take you. This generally required specializing yourself to a particular game and its unique controls to gain the all-important street cred via the high score list.
With arcade games, save points were nothing more than key milestones as the game progressed through the levels. There were variations such as time checkpoints in #Daytona, however regardless of the challenge employed; the game was always in a forward motion. Once an #arcadegame had left the station, there was no getting off.
Early Home Gaming
The Commodore 64 provided many gamers with their first taste of playing at home. By today’s standards, the system had many limitations. For one, imagine loading your game from a tape cassette – a tape what the? This would take a minimum of five minutes to load and more patience than any modern gamer would have time for.
Outside of the system limitations, the concept of saving your game progression was still not quite there. Instead, early couch potatoes gaming was designed to replicate the arcade experience. Whether you were on a Commodore 64, Atari 2600 or #Nintendo Entertainment System each game would have the similar limitations i.e. finish what you started then and there with limited lives.
One of the main differences of playing at home was thankfully no one else was around to steal your machine when nature called (seems to be a theme). At the arcade, your bladder could be on the brink, but you knew that as soon as you walked away it was all over. Goodbye high-score, as the vultures swooped in to claim the machine.
At home, the controlled surroundings allowed greater depth of gameplay exploration away from prying eyes. With the financial restraint of the arcade lifted, players were free to capitalize on save points within a game.
Incremental goal setting from point to point would slowly unlock your pathway one precarious step at a time. As soon as you were out though, it was always relentlessly game over. Overcoming a final boss took hours of practice to skillfully jump, duck, shoot and drive your way from start to finish, every time.
The greatest risk to any venture was always parents. One key element to any attempt was managing your free time to keep them at bay. Finish your homework, mow the lawn, wash up or take out the trash. Any and all of these chores were to be completed first. The threat of your Dad casually unplugging your console was real people.
Saving It For Later
The concept of completing an entire game in a single session is not one that is regularly set upon these days. There are speed runners who love the challenge but they are in the minority.
The reality of modern gaming is that saving games is now a necessity. As systems progressively became more powerful, so too the games we have grown up with have become ever more woven in detail and complexity. The #Fallout series for one has always had layers upon layers of content that could not be played without being able to pull up the handbrake and walk away for the night.
Along the way, developers have worked with us to see what works. For many games, the auto-save option has emerged to be an essential feature. There is now an expectation that no matter what happens, you can simply start again at the same point. The question is though, has our style of play now become lazy with the modern style of save points?
Gone are the days of arcade-style single sessions but too few modern games offer the additional challenge of save points. Because of the auto-save feature, the anxiety of making it through has been removed. It’s now too easy to simply think: if I fail, what’s the risk?
Dark Souls is one of the exceptions that push gamers to strive for more. People either love it or hate it and for good reason. It is brutally harsh and more aligned to the traditional expectation that when you fail, you really, really fail. Try harder, or there will be consequences that will test you. The reward can only be earned.
#DarkSouls is on the extreme end of the spectrum. The right mix of auto-saves, manual saves and checkpoints all have their place and getting it right is the challenge. Unfortunately, too often the easy road is taken leaving passengers with an over congested path of complacency.
Should Traditional Save Points Be Renewed?
The integration of save systems into modern gaming has come a long way. Technology is no longer the catalyst for change. The way a games are saved though has become one part of the essential ingredients that dictates the look and feel of the experience.
What is needed going forward are cause and effect consequences that infringe upon our growing entitlement of casual playing. Sure, if you want to play on easy mode then the option can be there. For gamers wanting more depth, developers should not be afraid to incorporate traditional save points too.