Wednesday, 30 November 2011

"Grahf Dissects X" Entry Three - Save Systems Part One: A History

Would you like to save your game? Seven simple words that a lot of us take for granted. But without save systems I believe the video game world would be quite a different place. That's why it's worth taking a look at both the history of saves, and how they can be used today.

(A note before we start, you might be confused since there's no entry two for this series to be found here. That's because it's a Top Tier Tactics exclusive article. Sorry for any undue confusion, or due confusion for that matter)

Been a while since I've done one of these, but this particular topic has been rolling around in my head for quite some time. Game save systems just in general are something that has shown a remarkable evolution alongside the games they appear in, and at current there are certainly a number of options available for those that wish to employ one. So, in this article I'll look at some of the different types of save systems that have been around throughout gaming history, and then in tomorrow's I'll also take a measure of how a contemporary game should go about employing a save system: some do's and don't's as it were.

In the beginning (sorry, couldn't help it) there were no save systems. Arguably the first games were not really complex enough to need them. Why would one bother to save a game of Pong? Even as games progressed the lack of a way to save your progress was just seen as a natural part of the gaming experience; after all if a person could keep trying again and again to beat certain levels of say Pac-Man without having to spend a mountain of quarters, then the game's challenge and longevity go right out the window. The lack of saves made that leader-board and your place on it something special.

The first games for the NES were much the same way. Super Mario Brothers was meant to be beaten in one sitting. It wasn't meant to be an easy feat of course, and you could expect quite a grind if you actually went through all eight worlds without using the warp pipes, but it could be done and that's the way the game was arguably meant to be played. Soon though, there would be inklings of change. Some games for example used a password system where you were given codes in between levels that you could input at a later time to pick up roughly where you left off: the early Mega Man series is famous for this. The system wasn't without issue, as if you lost the password then you'd have to start all over again, and of course the same passwords worked for every game so a player could just get a password from a friend to skip most of the content if he or she so desired.

It wouldn't be long though, before the first console game with a save system appeared on the scene. Certainly a game famous in many ways, not just for being the first one to include such a feature, a little title that goes by the name of The Legend of Zelda. The save system featured in the original Legend of Zelda allowed you to save your progress (although if I remember correctly starting from a saved game put you in the starting location, just with your items and weapons intact) and considering the large scope of the game it certainly needed such a system. A save system allowed for longer, more complex titles to begin to emerge. No longer was it necessary to have to beat a game in one sitting, or to memorize dozens of passwords, now you could access your progress and be at least roughly at the point you were at when you left.

Since then save systems have evolved, gaining things like multiple save slots to allow more than one person to have a game on the system, auto-saving after every level, occasionally saving in the background in order to make sure a player doesn't lose progress, and so on. We're not quite at the level where you can literally save a game and then return to the exact point with every detail intact -- the exception to this being save states for ROM versions of classic games -- but we're also probably not far off from that either.

Although it might be a rather large claim to make, I'd say that save systems also allowed games to become more complex than they could have been without them. Could we really have had a game like Zelda, or Final Fantasy, or the latter editions of the Super Mario series without save games? Perhaps, but they wouldn't have looked anything like they do now, that's pretty much a given.

That being said, with so many options to currently choose from, are there cases where a save system can be a good or bad choice? Absolutely. For that though, you'll have to read tomorrow's article.

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