Auto Save: Help or Hindrance?

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Recently I found myself playing through the zombie slaughterhouse that is Dead Rising 2 when something happened that I wasn’t expecting. I died, though I should point out that wasn’t the unusual occurrence, the unusual thing was that instead of regenerating and being dropped back into the game a few moments before my untimely demise, or even a couple of minutes ago, I was forced to reboot a save file from nearly 30 minutes ago.

This was a bit of a shock to say the least. I’d just started playing Dead Rising 2 off the back of another run through of Batman: Arkham City, which uses the ‘auto save’ function to the point that every time the Dark Knight opens a door the game saves, so to suddenly be confronted by the prospect of having my hard work mean nothing as well as having to start my zombie killing scores all over again, well, I can’t repeat what I said, but I’m off to confession after I’ve finished writing this to repent!

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But all of this got me thinking about Save Games and if the invention of Auto Save has made games easier.

Firstly though let’s have a bit of a history lesson because there may be some of you reading this who won’t remember a time when you couldn’t save a game.

Let me take you back, way back to the 1980’s. It’s the middle of 1985, video games are slowly gaining prominence again after the 1983 video game crash, but these are games of a simpler time. There is no real plot to speak of; game play usually involves a lot of jumping and side scrolling. There isn’t a need for a Save feature plus due to the technology of the time, it would have been an expensive practice making ‘Save’ technology common. Games of this era required one thing – Commitment. Even the most famous of games, Super Mario Bros., had no save feature and required you to sit down and play through from start to finish in order to rescue your princess from another castle.

It wasn’t until 1986 when a company released a game that, although it had a pretty standard storyline, it also had a wide open world to explore and would keep you busy for more hours than existed in a weekend. The game was so expansive that they had to release it with the first ever built-in save feature. That company was Nintendo, and that game was The Legend of Zelda.

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The Legend of Zelda was influential in many ways, but people seem to forget that the hardware was just as groundbreaking as the game itself. Hidden away in each block of gold plastic was a battery-operated piece of RAM, which allowed the user to save up to three games and delete and save again and again and again and again.

The original Zelda game went on to sell over 6.5 million copies for Nintendo, and was the first NES game to sell over 1 million which showed game companies that people wanted in-depth games, they wanted to be challenged, most of all, they wanted to save their games!

Over the years the save has become a stalwart in modern gaming as games have become more intricate and detailed. Can anyone even consider what it would be like attempting one of Rockstars’ games without being able to save?  They all still mainly retain the Three Slot Save that Zelda first gave to the world. Yet following the move from built in RAM, to memory cards, and now to HDD’s, the way in which we save has changed. The modern era of gaming has given rise to a new save type – the Auto Save.

As games have gotten longer, so have the load times. Auto Save was invented as a way of saving a game after a load time in order to allow the player to restart after the load rather than before and in case your game decided to crash without warning. Nowadays it is pretty common practice in most games, with a few notable exceptions, such as the Pokemon series.

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Auto saves can be a help to us allowing us to quickly drop the controller and return to reality without having to spend 15 minutes running around trying to find a save point – much to the annoyance of friends/family/partners who are waiting for us to finish, but they also have a dark side. If you are unfortunate enough to Auto Save at a time when you have low health and you die shortly after, you can end up in a never-ending cycle of death, rebirth and death until you take the plunge and reload from an actual save.

Yet this is the other curious thing about Auto Save: sometimes it’s not even a real save – you can spend an entire game auto saving, re-spawning, even switching off and on and resuming yet some games won’t register it as a proper save to be loaded up from until you make a point of pausing the game and saving from the in-game menu.

In my own opinion, I do think Auto Save has made games easier, I think it has made gamers lazy and we’ve lost perspective on the importance of saving because we assume that after that door, or that fight, that the game will lovingly save for us leaving us to feel more immersed in the game.

There is, as always, one exception to the rule, a game that is practically in a constant state of Auto Save, where every move and decision is tracked and remembered so that when you die there is no reloading and trying again. 2009’s Demon’s Souls and its spiritual successor 2011’s Dark Souls is a game that probably wouldn’t have been possible without Auto Save. A game so challenging and difficult that if you can manage playing it for 10 minutes without cursing then you are a Saint! However, the irony is not lost on me that a game that uses Auto Save so much to make things harder actually harkens back to the games before Auto Saved was invented, where dying midway through a level meant going straight back to the start and losing everything.

Whatever your views on Auto Save, I think we can all agree now that it’s here, it will probably be around for good.

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About Tim Bowers
Tim Bowers is the ex-Editor of Zero1Gaming, he also occasionally writes when he's able to string sentences together. He can usually be found waiting for Nintendo to remember about Samus Aran.