Game blog: Saving private progress

Save points are moments to compose ourselves, to take a break, to exit the virtual world. An essential part of modern day gaming, the function has evolved over the years thanks to creative developers not content with a simple ‘click save’ option, but to decorate the event with flourishes.

ICO has your character slumping on a bench with his female companion. Final Fantasy IX has a pixie Mog open up a massive book, slamming it on the ground and scribbling your request furiously into its pages.

Modern day games are largely about checkpoints and autosaves however, and as convenient as they are, I still find myself more attracted to a manual saving process. It gives me a semblance of control over my character’s fate, rather than at the whims of the developer.

There are a variety of different styles of save points in games, but for the sake of brevity, I will mention two random, yet modern, favourites:

Dead Space

You’re covered in the blood of necromorphs, crawling to the end of a dark corridor and into a large clearing. Finally, light! It comes from a nearby device embedded into the wall. Your character walks up to it and activates what appears to be a visual recording device, to log down his experiences so far for posterity and evidence.

"Hey, if you like this photo of me decapitating my colleague, please retweet it, thanks!"

“Hey, if you like this photo of me decapitating my colleague, please retweet it, thanks!”

Dead Space’s save points are not just embedded into walls, but the story itself. They give a justification for your action, which is what I love most about them. They follow the aesthetic philosophy behind the game’s HUD, which is to say there is no HUD, it’s embedded into the character.

Isaac’s health is displayed via bars on his suit, his ammo count visible on his weapon, stasis power on his suit also. What I admire about modern day games is their effort to immerse you in the experience; the narrative. Dead Space’s save points are adequately spaced out, not far enough to be called challenging, but once you reach one you can pretend Isaac is venting to a recording device the hell he had to endure between the last save point.

Dark Souls

What I like about the bonfires that your character camps at to save your progress and simultaneously reset the world’s enemies into their spawn positions, is that they’re spaced very far apart and that the game does not pause when you use it.

"In hindsight, sticking my sword in the fire was a bad idea."

“In hindsight, sticking my sword in the fire was a bad idea.”

Demons Souls and Dark Souls have the special ability to make you feel like you’ve overcome something challenging and have accomplished something worthwhile (note to gamers: you haven’t, it’s just a game). The bonfires’ distance has a hand in this. You have to play strategically, planning how far you’re willing to travel to find the next bonfire. Do you have enough health to withstand another strong attack from enemies? Are you willing to sacrifice your current soul level, in case you die? The feeling of relief upon finding a bonfire is quite potent. You suddenly slump in your seat and sigh heavily.

Or maybe not, considering the game has no pause option. You might be wondering if any monsters are lurking nearby even as you approach the bonfire and click ‘rest’. While there is no manual ‘save’ button, the game autosaves and provides you with a list of crafting options. Even as I’m scrolling through them, I can see my character sat beside the bonfire, fire crackling away, and I’m wondering, is a monster gonna eat me?

I wonder if the next generation of consoles will offer up more ways to save progress in games? I can imagine more scenarios that insert the process into the narrative, but will some games go the extra mile and make them more convoluted or challenging? Only allowing you the luxury if you hold a certain item or have filled a certain requirement? Maybe a limit to how many saves you’re allowed in one game?

Games like Dark Souls are a rarity however, I can’t imagine save points will be more challenging, but as long as they’re creative I’ll be content.

The header image accompanying this post is of Ico and Yorda, drawn by an amazing artist going by the name: *cellar-fcp

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