Save Anywhere vs Checkpoints

I hate games that don’t allow me to save my progress whenever I want. That is pretty much the biggest turnoff for me and usually the #1 reason why I abandon games halfway through. I just don’t have time for this shit! Checkpoints are just a massive time sink. I mentioned this when I reviewed Assassin’s Creed last week, but I must mention it again. Personally, I consider my free time to be a valuable commodity. You see, I waste most of my daytime hours are hopelessly wasted away doing stuff like working, eating, spending time with family and friends and occasionally being social. Most of my nighttime hours are spent in this weird comatose like state. Apparently you are supposed to get 8 hours of that every night, but I’ve been running on 3-4 for years now, making up the difference on the weekends. Still, this leaves precious little of me-time that needs to be divided between this blog, the seventy million other projects I’m currently working on, which I will end up abandoned within days, reading, browsing the web, gaming and watching TV. I’ve sort of gave up on that last one lately since I can get the condensed cliff-notes version delivered to me by the awesome powers of the internet. It’s not that I don’t watch any TV – I just don’t usually sit around and channel surf. When I turn on the tube it’s usually to watch a particular show that I like. If I want background noise, I put History Channel during the day and [adult swim] at night.

The point is that my time is precious, and I do not appreciate when someone wastes it with annoying gameplay mechanics. For example, why can’t I save and quit right now? Why do I have to choose between wasting time today trying to reach a checkpoint, or wasting time tomorrow replaying my lost progress? It is a lose-lose situation, and there is really nothing that kills my enjoyment faster than a game that keeps me captive long after I stopped having fun.

Maybe it’s just me, but I do usually have a limited attention span when it comes to games. After a while, I usually reach a point where I just need a break. It really depends on my mood, how much I actually like the game, how sleep deprived I am at the moment and etc. But there is usually some sort of a limit past which my level of excitement and enjoyment starts falling off. If I can’t find a good stopping point, the game becomes tiresome, then frustrating, then annoying and eventually just rage-quit and decide to spend my time on bigger and better things.

That’s why I just can’t imagine why someone wouldn’t want a save-anywhere system in their game. I mean, don’t you want to have the ability to quit whenever you please? How is that a bad thing?

Usually when I do not understand something I ask the internet about it. And so I did. Apparently, there are quite a few people out there for feel very strongly about this subject. Most of them however agree that the main reason why checkpoints are better than save-anywhere is that it makes the game more challenging.

The most common argument goes like this: if you can save anywhere, what is there to stop you from saving every 5 seconds? For example, let’s say you are doing a major boss fight, and you save right before each hit, and then reload the game until you deal critical damage every single time. Or, let’s say you are playing Oblivion and you save right before you grab the Sigil Stone. You then check what it is, and if you don’t like it you reload the save and try again.

To that, I can only say: fuck off, and let me play my game the way I want to. Seriously, why do people care how I play the game? If I want to reload the game after each hit, then it’s my God given right to do so. It’s a free country.

Too me, this is a null and void argument because of a simple fact: not everyone views video games as series of challenges that need to be mastered and beaten. For example, some people for example play games in order to relax, unwind and escape the daily grind. They seek interactive entertainment, not a murderous test of will and endurance. Having a save-anywhere system helps to accommodate both types of players.

Those who play games to beat and conquer them can self-adjust their save frequency. For example they may only save every 20 minutes, or only save between levels. On the other hand, players who are less challenge driven can save more often. Both groups can mess around and find their own sweet spot which will help them to maximize their enjoyment and minimize annoyance.

When you force checkpoint system upon everyone, you are clearly catering towards the hard-core, challenge craving group, and completely neglecting the more casual players. Yes, believe it or not, there are people out there who don’t think that taking 8-10 hours to master an intricate jumping puzzle followed by twitch based boss fight is fun. Some of us, consider this a deal breaker, and an excuse to uninstall the game and write an angry review on the internet.

But not everyone thinks this way. Apparently there are people on the internet who have different opinions on things than I do (I know, I was shocked too!). The counter argument to my very well reasoned “self-moderation” case usually goes like this:

If I know that I can save at any time, it takes away from the excitement. For example, survival horror games are more intense when I know that making a mistake will cause me to lose progress. When you know that something substantial (like 2 hours of game play) is on the line, your adrenaline is pumping, your heard is pounding and etc. But if I’m given the option to save anywhere, I will probably save often – because, let’s face it – I don’t want to lose 2 hours of progress either. It’s not like I’m enjoying replaying the same content over and over again – I don’t. But the thrill of actually fighting through that last stretch, and the triumphant feeling you get when you finally beat the difficult area and get to the checkpoint is something that you only get in games that don’t have save-anywhere system.

This makes some sense to me. Still, I don’t know why we can’t have both. I mean, can’t we just ask the player which type of save system he prefers when the game starts? This way, our hardcore thrill seekers can commit to the checkpoint mode once, and then stick with it, while we wimpy casuals can play in save-anywhere mode and be less awesome. That would totally work for me. How about you, gamer pros? Would that solution be agreeable?

I mean, if given a choice between the two systems you pick save-anywhere and then complain that you don’t get the same thrill as with checkpoint-only then you only have yourself to blame. Am I wrong here?

Or how about we compromise and say that you can only save N times per level where N is a function of game difficulty setting. The Hitman games did this, and I did not mind it. I mean, yes I always wished for more saves, but it worked well. The saves a scarce resource that needed to be carefully managed, but I was able to use them the way I wanted to.

Or if that’s too much, how about you save the game automatically when I quit to desktop? That’s really all I ask for. Just let me quit the damn game when I want to. Is it really that much to ask?

Then of course there is the bottomless pit argument. What if you accidentally save your game a split second before an enemy you didn’t see knocks you into a bottomless pit. You reload the game, and you fall into the pit again. Essentially it is a closed loop, and no way to get out. What do you do then?

Yes, I actually saw someone use this line of reasoning in a forum discussion and no – it didn’t convince me at that time either. It is a classic straw man, because most save-anywhere systems allow you to have multiple save files. In fact, most create new file each time you save by default, and warn you whenever you try to overwrite a previous save. Some games don’t do this but they are quite rare.

Here is the thing – I now made an effort to understand the other side of the argument. I do get the fact that different people look for different things in video games. I am aware that some people prefer checkpoints and that’s fine. All I’m asking is that game developers do the same thing. Just throw us a bone every now and then. Not everyone who plays video games has perfect hand-eye coordination and are gluttons for punishment. Some of us play the games for atmosphere, characters, and the story that somehow accidentally coalesced in between the murderous arcade challenges you cooked up for us.

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8 Responses to Save Anywhere vs Checkpoints

  1. Zadok001 UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    While I agree with your argument in general, I think you’ve skipped right over a critical point in favor of checkpoints. Specifically, most of us are ready to *murder* people who design games without them. “Forgot to save” syndrome is an absolute *bitch*.

    My opinion? The order of preference is something like this:

    1. Good checkpoints.
    2. Save anywhere w/ checkpoints.
    3. Save anywhere w/o checkpoints.
    4. Bad checkpoints.

    Everyone knows how that last one works. It’s the Resident Evil approach, and it drives everyone bat-shit insane, even though it’s contextually acceptable within the concept of survival horror. It’s still annoying as hell.

    Save anywhere is obviously best when there’s some kind of checkpoint/autosave system already in place. Ideally that system should be configurable (an on/off toggle at a minimum), but it’s pretty much just straight better than the save anywhere system on its own.

    Then there’s the truly ideal system, in my mind, which is “Good checkpoints.” Good checkpoints can only really be done in certain types of games, but where it’s possible, it’s perfect. It lets you put the whole “Save game” concept completely out of your head, and immerse yourself in the game completely. If you haven’t yet, take a look at Batman: Arkham Asylum. Observe the “save” system. It saves with incredible frequency (about every 2-4 minutes), invisibly. It never puts you in a gamestate where you can’t win. And you never have to think about it, it just happens.

    Save anywhere is a great idea, but really, I think it is neither necessary nor ideal. It is, instead, a stop gap on the way to games that simply take care of that for us. Right now, bad checkpoint systems have left us sour on the whole idea, but good checkpoints are actually better than save anywhere, simply because they do *exactly* the same thing (save right when you want to/should), but don’t require the mind space.

    Look at Batman. Look at Braid. Save anywhere is not necessary all the time.

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  2. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Zadok001 wrote:

    The order of preference is something like this:
    1. Good checkpoints.
    2. Save anywhere w/ checkpoints.
    3. Save anywhere w/o checkpoints.
    4. Bad checkpoints.

    I would insert 0. Save anywhere w/ good checkpoints.

    I’m thinking of the Half-Life way of doing things – checkpoints are numerous and well placed, so you don’t need to think about saving when you’re just going along normally (a few exceptions to that, but generally speaking dying won’t toss you back any further than the beginning of the challenge at hand) but there’s also save-anywhere for when you need to stop playing.

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  3. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Most DS games have a function called “Save & Quit” which is basically save anywhere with only one reload allowed (the save is deleted once the game is loaded). I think it would be a great compromise between having the checkpoint based challenge/thrills and being able to stop playing anytime they want.

    If I had to choose, I would go with save anywhere, but I tend to abuse it : I’ll hit the quicksave key every 10 seconds or so if things are not 100% safe. Checkpoints based games are okay as long as checkpoints are numerous enough (once every 5 minutes or so) and they actually deliver some scary situations. Being able to save only when safe is another one I’ve seen (in Mass Effect) that could lead to good results.

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  4. Mike UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Save-anywhere doesn’t work for strategy-RPGs – typically the random number generator plays a big part in how it unfolds, so save-anywhere leads to randomizer abuse.

    But you’re basically right, for 90% of games save-anywhere works.

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Matt`:

    Yep, save anywhere with good checkpoints is probably the best solution available.

    Though if you save in an unwindable place then it’s your own damn fault. Also, if you are overwriting your old saves with the new ones you are just asking for trouble. :P

    @ Zel:

    Save & Quit would be a great compromise for games that absolutely refuse to do Save Anywhere. I’d love that feature to be in Assassin’s Creed for example.

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  6. Ryan UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Luke, this more than the other flaws in Far Cry 2 is what ruined it for me.
    I am still playing the game despite it’s flaws but I would totally love a save anywhere feature. This is one of those things that Fallout 3 did really well.

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  7. Michael Shaw UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    I’ve been playing PC games for over 15 years and I’ve got to say…there’s just no reason to not save whenever you want. The insane DRM schemes that have cropped up lately have taken away enough of our freedoms from hassles with games. After 15 years and fighting everything fromDOS to game killing bugs amd never pirating a game I can tell you I like the ability to at least save anywhere I want. Checkpoint only gives you only the one option, save anywhere gives you choice(save or not) and when is more choice ever a bad thing? I finish almost all the games I play and I must say the few I didn’t were almost all because of bad saves. I know I walk away happier finishing a game then leaving a game undone because I couldn’t finish it. In today’s times not being able to finish most games is like getting to the last chapter of a good book and finding the last page missing. Besides if I don’t care if you don’t save , why should you care if I do?

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  8. Mike UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Ive noticed a few games recently that do not have instant save, but also dont have difficulty levels. this is ridiculous imo. if you have a checkpoint system that forces you to kill the same 19 guys over and over again because the 20th guy kills you…arghh!!…sucks all the fun out. at least with a difficulty level people who are having trouble can lower, AND, heres the thing, people who find the game to easy can RAISE it. surely everyone is happy then?.
    Sleeping dogs for eg. a great game, but the fun is sucked out by the ridiculous checkpoints and no difficulty level. The police missions were so easy I would have liked to raise the difficulty, but I found the melee combat frustrating and I died a lot, so Id like to lower it.
    I prefer instant save, its voluntary, you dont HAVE to use it, I can put up with lack of instant save if there are difficulty levels, but I would like to save in the middle of missions if I have to turn my console off….again, this doesnt happen in some games, quit out and youve got to start it again.

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