The Art of Saving

People kept telling me to play Dragon Age: Inquisition so I did the obvious thing and got the first game in the series, Dragon Age: Origins. It came out in 2009 so it wasn't too hard to get a handle on the interface.  But with the last two games I've played through being Deus Ex: Revolution and Hitman: Absolution (wait a second, what's with every single game title being 'SERIES': ... -ion !? Many sequels trying desperately to bring back fans while standing apart from the series... OLD GAME: NEW GAME. Good games though.), I was lulled into mental dependence on the modern luxury of the autosave.

Nowadays it seems like every 10-15 minutes of play in most games is broken up by checkpoints to fall back on when you screw up and your throat gets shredded by a rusty chainsaw, or when you fail to intimidate some highwaymen and they rob you, or when your cat jumps on the keyboard and your newly erected civic monument is permanently demolished.

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In the recent revival of indie roguelike games, the absence of checkpoint fail safes is a reaction against their ubiquity in mainstream game design. They reject the convention of a linear, piecemeal experience in order to give you a die hard, unique, unrepeatable experience each time you play. The idea of saving at all, is abhorred - there is never anything to come back to. Yet when playing Dragon Age I found myself in an awkward place between the two - the autosave and the antisave. Dragon Age seems to save at certain checkpoints, like entering a completely new region for the first time, but nowhere in between. Sometimes I'd spend forty minutes combing every square inch of a dungeon level, only to blunder a little too deep into the aggro radius of a camp around the corner and get TPK'd (if there's a way to retreat from fights I ain't found it yet) -- only to realize none of my giving wine to Alistair and rearranging my dog named Kyle's decorative furpaint and chest-looting was remembered by the game. There's something miserable about retracing your steps in an RPG, it becomes a ghost of your previous play. Anyway I kept "ghosting" dungeons and struggling -- so I had to develop the habit of intentionally saving again.

 

 The little lamp goalies are a nice touch. I did not forsee myself being completely absorbed by Bloodborne. The most pleasent suprise of the year.  

The little lamp goalies are a nice touch. I did not forsee myself being completely absorbed by Bloodborne. The most pleasent suprise of the year.  

Unless the mechanic of the gameplay itself involves save points. Any 'From Software' game utilizes a similar save mechanic. Get to the lamp or fire without dying and as a reward you will be afforded the privilege of saving your progress and celebrating your tenacity (for like 5 seconds anyway.) 

Bloodborne disguises its save points as lanterns littered throughout the sprawling  multi-level nightmare labyrinths. Nixing any pausing or save menus. Which, psychologically, seems to alleviate any anxiety a player might have about how and where to save. Disguised as an effigy or a shrine, the cold blue glow of the lanterns never felt so warm or inviting. Auto saving in this game would totally ruin the experience, the game itself hinders on the sheer will of the player to complete the area and light the lantern - where your allowed, finally, to travel back to the hunters dream and level up your character, buy items and take some deep breaths. Bloodborne is the antithesis of autosaving. In a strange way this anti save type scenario works out very well for all those forgetful stoned gamers that wiff on saving their progress and direct frustrated heads up towards the spackled ceiling asking 'Why?'.  

 'Would you like to save your progress?'  

'Would you like to save your progress?'  

The modern day AAA titles have totally scrapped the idea of 'lives' for their characters. Replaced with one perma-life if you will. You play, you get shot, stabbed, eviscerated then you get another chance. This can be in the form of a recharging health bar or hiding behind something until you somehow recover from the 18 bullets you've just taken. Yeah its just a game, but those lives use to mean something. An ominous but unsaid contract between the game and the player. If you use up all the lives your dead and you had your chance. GAME OVER BRO. I love the idea of that. Nintendo understands this as well. They could simply replace the lives system with a perma-life system for their platformers but there is no cost to the player. They are left to simply continue playing until they succeed. With no consequence at all.

The genius of the itemized save system is that your constantly searching for the 'ink ribbon,' or 'tent.' In Resident Evil finding a type writer save point is just part of the act of saving. You also need an ink ribbon to use the typewriter which is brilliant. So, instinctively, the player learns to not rely on any kind of computerized auto-save but rely solely on the items in there inventory and there own good sense. Few games have utilized this method of discovering a save point and requiring a specific item to activate it. It creates a deeper immersion for the player during gameplay. Problem is every game is different so we have developed specific habits for specific games and it fucks us up big time. 

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What really needs to happen here is some kind of disclaimer before each game clearly stating how and when the game saves by itself or that the player is responsible for said saving points. Nobody wants to redo the same area 30 times over. Old habits don't die as easily as our digital heroes do. Fallout 4 has caused me many hours of pain so far.  Amazingly I have not learned my lesson to 'quick save' fucking everywhere, all the God damn time. Turning any old corner in the wasteland can be extremely punishing. So you die. Then re-spawn a la Dragon Age. Waaaay the hell back where you really didn't want to be. 'Are you fucking serious,' or 'godamnsonofabitch' have been heard to be remarked. Finally, after many hours I've re learned the art of saving all over again. It tends to take me out of the moment and causes mild anxiety. Maybe that's a new kind of game mechanic done on purpose?

The take away here kids is to what?.....save as often as humanly possible, unless the game does not allow it or your in the very middle of a melee battle with a mutated bear. I feel with every game  i'm attempting the classic 'trust test.' I'm standing on a chair with my arms crossed over my chest and my eyes closed, ready to fall back into the open arms of whatever copy of game i happened to be struggling with. Usually i imagine the literal game packaging with gangly arms and legs attached to it ready to catch my sorry ass. I fall, hoping for the best.