The Fridge (and Inadvertent) Brilliance of Save Points …

So, not long ago, I talked about how a crash when I hadn’t save caused me to stop playing a game. I’ve been thinking about this some more, and I’ve realized that most options for saving work against what a good game should be doing: engaging you in the game. Whether it be the story or the action or whatever, good games — like all forms of entertainment — should immerse you in the game so much that you forget that you’re playing a game. If you are that immersed, it’s unlikely that you’ll be thinking “I wonder how long it’s been since I last saved”. Doing that is usually a sign that you aren’t immersed in the game, or have been reminded that this is a game, often by seeing a long and tough fight coming up. You’re no longer swept along by the action or the story, but are instead thinking in game terms. Auto-saving avoids this, but has the problem that it yanks you out of the game and reminds you that this is just a game. The exceptions are games that did saving during loading screens, which already break immersion.

However, what is different about save points is that they are objects in the game world itself. Manipulating them is, in fact, manipulating an object in the world. Yes, it is an object that exists mainly to do game things, but it is part of the game world itself. Thus, it becomes an object just like any other object that is in the game, and so the impact it has on the game is generally no more than any other artificial game component that has to be there in order to play the game (using items, viewing an inventory, equipping, etc, etc). Because it’s part of the game world you can make saving simply a regular part of the game, something that you do as automatically as quaffing a potion when you’re low on health or reloading. So every time you come across a save point you just automatically save and go on, and it doesn’t take you out of the game at all, because it is an integral and constant part of it from your perspective.

This turns out to be the case for me in most of the console games I love. In “Lord of the Rings: The Third Age”, because save points also healed your HP and MP, I used to hit them every time I found one … and sometimes even backtracked to get the recharge. I was saving not to save, but essentially to rest. In Suikoden III, I so conditioned myself to save every time I came across a save point that when passing through the castle of the Zexen Knights I would save on both sides of the castle, even though all I did was pass through. I had to consciously stop myself from doing this. Because save points were spread out and often indicated that you were going to face something tough, it was generally easy to condition yourself to use them whenever you saw them, and thus make using them part of your regular practice of playing the game.

The problem with save points is, of course, that they aren’t always there when you need them, and so you can be using save points and still have to replay a lot of the game should you die or screw up. But by making saving part of the world and even trying to find in-game reasons for you to be accessing them, they remove the artificial nature of saving and so make the games more immersive. Not bad for something that consoles adopted due to technical considerations.

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