One of my pet hates in video games is Save Points. It doesn’t matter if I’m playing a shooter, a platformer or an RPG I want to be save pretty much anywhere anywhere. But despite a few honourable exceptions save points are still found across all game genres. Why is this?
To understand the save point culture we need to look back at the history of video game making.
The Origin of Save Points
How did save points begin? Well it definitely wasn’t because they made for a better player experience.
Early consoles and PCs had very limited memory and even more storage space. Saving a complex game state simply wasn’t possible – it was too much information. Savepoints were an effective solution to this; by saving at a known place in the game, much of the data could be inferred from the save point location and didn’t need to be stored in the save file. Instead of containing a world snapshot the save file simply contained the save point ID and some basic data such as player score, ammo, etc.
So the save point mechanism began as an answer to a hardware limitation. It was an elegant solution to the problem. But that problem no longer exists.
Save Points Today
So if save points were a solution to yesterday’s problem, why do we still have to put up with them today?
Part of the reason is that people have become used to them. Some ‘hardcore’ gamers would consider ‘save anywhere’ games too easy; frustration has become the norm. But if save points didn’t exist, would anyone seriously consider introducing them today? Maybe as a special mega-tough mode, but only as an option, not as part of the base user experience.
There’s another reason that save points still exist, and it has nothing to do with players. Save points make life a lot easier for developers. They don’t have to worry about saving and restoring a whole game state – and the bugs that go with that. Since players have learned to put up with the mechanism, why change it and make life more difficult for themselves?
Of course I’m not saying all game designers using save points are lazy. I’m sure some have perfectly valid reasons for this as a design choice. Some, but not all.
The save point mechanism is well past its sell by date. As players we shouldn’t put up with it and as game designers we should be able to do better.