Thursday, January 07, 2010

Archival Saves

I have to confess that I haven't actually beaten Dragon Age yet. I am really close to the ending. However, I made a choice much earlier that will mean I will not get the ending I want. In addition, I have a problem in that I did some quest that required me to turn in 20 health potions, and now I don't have enough potions remaining to beat the fight currently blocking me.

My first thought was to go back to an earlier saved game, but I realized that I hadn't made a backup save in the timeframe I wanted. I'd have to redo a large section of the game.

It occurred to me that Saved Game systems are rather primitive. Most games have a couple of autosaves, a quicksave, and some manual saves. I think saving progress could be done much better.

For example, you could take a cue from various archival schemes. Consider a scheme where you saved the last 5 quicksaves, then retained every fifth quicksave after that. That would give you a solid history of saved games, while not wasting that much space.

Or since the "important events" tend to be known in a game, you could make a save after each section of the game is completed. This would make it much easier to go back to an earlier point and continue on.

I think saving games could be more automated. Relying on the player to keep correct saves is brittle. A game developer should look at saves more like the creation of a history of that playthrough. Of course, the difficulty part would be accounting for forks in that history.

Perhaps representing the saved game timeline as a tree would be interesting. A player could move through the tree to pick the point she wants to start a new branch. Older, or stubby, branches which did not go anywhere could be pruned away to save space.

Or perhaps just use a linear time model, with dense amount of saves closer to the present, and a sparser amount of saves in past. After all, there's only one instance of an individual playthrough running at any one point in time.

Whichever way, I think save game schemes could be better than the current standards.


  1. I like the idea of displaying the timeline with saved games. So you could imagine a timeline with important events marked on it, and you could choose at what point you wanted to resume from your last save.

  2. If the game is designed to have non-revertible changes, isn't it kind of cheating if you return to an old save game to change a non-revertible event?

    Isn't it a failed design if you revert to cheating because the game isn't fun if played in the way it was designed to be played?

    Maybe they should allow you to revisit your decisions, if that is what the player want.

  3. Like Kring, I think this is actually an intentional design in the case of the Bioware games. As I've written this week on my own blog, there's a conflict here between gameplay - not fun to have to replay half the game because of a consequence you could not have forseen when you made the choice - and role playing/story.

    The cynic might agrue that Bioware A) does not want you to know how few changes actually change the course of the game and B) wants you to perceive lots of unused story potential so they can sell you upcoming paid expansions for use on a new character.

  4. I actually like having my own saved games. Maybe I'm an old fart and hate change, but really, while having the game keep a certain amount of autosaves may not take up that much of a systems resource; having me manage my own saved games doesn't take up that much of my own resources. It's really not that taxing.

    Heck, I'm playing Batman: Arkham Asylum right now and sure, it saves at every certain number of checkpoints... but every now and again, I'm like, "Man, I'd just like to save it here so I can go do X instead of having to get myself to the next autosave point."

    @ Kring
    It's not necessarily cheating. It's also not part of the design where if you reach an impass, that the developer says, "You suck, start over." Part of the design is to let you take your "wrong" path and eventually correct it without having to repeat everything. They know that the gamers out there are relatively fickle and impatient and unlikely wanting to repeat EVERYTHING to have to finish the game.

  5. Crazy idea, Just go to the Dailish zone find the merchant, Buy a bucket load of Elfroot and make as many Health pots as you like. Problem solved.