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December 15, 2006

Bleep. Bloop. Zap.

Hey, I'm being interviewed again, and this time it doesn't involve something relating to science fiction: I'm part of an article on parents who play video games, over at 1up.com, along with Mike Krahulik (Gabe of Penny Arcade, and the totally excellent cover artist for Agent to the Stars) and Andrew Bub, who writes the GamerDad.com site. I have to say we all sound amazingly sensible, in that we recommend paying attention to what your kids play, use the video games as an opportunity to play with your kid, and integrate gaming into one's life, rather than trying to have a life around one's gaming. Crazy!

I'm particularly pleased that the author of the article managed to get a quote in from me about my most fearsome gaming bugaboo, which is games that force me to play up to a particular save point, rather than letting me save when and where I want in a game. If there are any video game designers out there, let me be very specific about this: I do not buy games that don't let me save where I want. And the reason for this is, I am a grown human being and have a life outside of mashing buttons. Sometimes I have only a few minutes to play a game; sometimes I need to stop playing a game to do something else. When you make a game that doesn't let me save when and where I want, you're making the argument that playing the game is more important than anything else I need to do with my life. You're going to lose that argument, friend. Every. Single. Time. At this point in time, there's absolutely no technological reason that games can't be saved at any point, whether they're on the computer or a console. Save points are a design issue, and they are bad design. Really, this is dealbreaker point for me.

Anyway, it's a good article. Check it out.

Posted by john at December 15, 2006 08:56 AM

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Comments

Steve Buchheit | December 15, 2006 09:10 AM

You mean you might be distracted at any point while playing a game. But games are life, man.

I mean, how can you enjoy the total rockitude of the game design if you're going to be distracted by someone saying, "Daddy, my head hurts," or "Daddy, just how should I swing this battle-axe to maximize damage to an opponent wearing armor made of studded leather?"

I hate those save points as well. That, and DVDs that force me to watch the "way kewl graphics we did, for 3 minutes" instead of being able to hit the menu button and start playing the movie. Really damn annoying.

joehill | December 15, 2006 09:17 AM

>>>When you make a game that doesn't let me save when and where I want, you're making the argument that playing the game is more important than anything else I need to do with my life. You're going to lose that argument, friend. Every. Single. Time.

Amen.

JonathanMoeller | December 15, 2006 09:34 AM

Save points (or "waypoints") were the egregious flaw in Diablo II, otherwise an excellent game. It is intensely, immensely frustrating to spend three fricking hours playing through the River of Flame and the Chaos Sanctuary, only to get vaporized by the Grand Vizier of Chaos in the second-to-last-battle of the game because your attention wavered for a freaking half-second.

And guess what! Because of the waypoints, you get to do it all over again! If that's not a reason to spend two minutes screaming profanities at the top of your lungs, then nothing is.

Adam Lipkin | December 15, 2006 09:44 AM

Damned straight. I've occasionally forgiven save points when they were A) nigh-ubiquitous (the first Baldur's Gate for the PS2), or B) in the Marathon series (the only games good enough to justify save points, and which actually worked them into the plot effectively). But in this day and age, when we're well past the hardware and software limitations of previous generations, there's no excuse.

Cassie | December 15, 2006 09:46 AM

Save points are the bane of my existence.

Ok, only one of them, and sorta minor in the whole scheme of things.

How does one find out in advance that a game uses them? We've been burned several times.

Shawn Struck | December 15, 2006 10:04 AM

Amen!

That is one of the reasons I really, REALLY loved both of the Summon Night: Swordcraft Story games for the Game Boy Advance. It's an entertaining RPG series that lets you save anywhere, wherever you want.

I think if there were more games like that that also combined Chrono Cross' "you can run away from any battle you want", there'd be a lot less artificial challenges in games.

Eddie | December 15, 2006 10:22 AM

Once you get hooked on daytrading online, video games just lose their allure.

Pretty soon you start thinking about currency trading(markets open 24/7.)

There are great virtual platforms for those temporarily without money.Learn to play the game and then money won't be a problem.

Just kidding but not really.Play with your kids and watch them get shockingly rich.

andrew | December 15, 2006 11:34 AM

God, you’re so right! I threw a controller across my living room just last night for this very reason. (And I was greatly relived to realize that my son was out of sight of my blind rage.) Continuously replaying the same section of game just to get to the next save point is a ludicrous waste of time.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like some game designers think this is part of the gaming experience. It often seems like a deliberate choice rather than a technological constraint. What kind of pathetic geek thinks that trying to get to a save point is a fun little challenge?

John Scalzi | December 15, 2006 11:38 AM

Andrew:

"What kind of pathetic geek thinks that trying to get to a save point is a fun little challenge?"

One that doesn't have much of a life outside video games, apparently.

Elliot | December 15, 2006 11:55 AM

I agree that badly designed (distributed?) save points are bad, but I don't necessarily agree that if a game doesn't let you save anywhere, anytime that the developers are trying to give you a hernia.

One of my favorite save models is the checkpoint model that 3D shooters sometimes use - Gears of War has a great one in that it's pretty much behind the scenes and saves for you almost every other room. You can simply unplug the power at any point in the game and lose less than 3-4 minutes of playtime.

Big RPGs in particular often have save points distributed far apart; I've left my PS2 on for days at a time because I was paused in the middle of a dungeon and didn't have time to play my way to a save point.

Christian | December 15, 2006 12:30 PM

> Save points (or "waypoints") were the egregious flaw in Diablo II

Hehe, I remember that Jonathan. I used to just leave the game running some weekends, so I could get to the next save spot. If I had to go elsewhere, I'd leave a big piece of paper on the keyboard, with "Do Not Touch" written in magic marker. You can imagine my disappointment, when I discovered that our 2 cats don't know how to read .

If you haven't tried "Titan Quest" yet, it's worth a spin - in fact, a damn fine game IMHO. Much like Diablo II, but the save points (re-birth fountains) are only about 5 minutes apart. A much better system.

Todd Stull | December 15, 2006 01:27 PM

There are many reasons for save points. I think the primary reason is to increase the challenge and length of games by forcing you to play through a section without dying. It would be much nicer if game designers could produce more challenging and stimulating game sections without save points. Half Life 2 is maybe the best example of great design and being able to save at any point. Some of the puzzles might stymie you for a while, but there was always a logical way to overcome.

Chuk | December 15, 2006 01:39 PM

"I think the primary reason is to increase the challenge and length of games by forcing you to play through a section without dying."


Yeah, but that's a crappy way to do it. I mean, it'd be like increasing the challenge by making your movement controls less responsive or by making the screen flicker off for a minute or two here and there. Why not increase the challenge in a less artificial, in-game way, like by making enemies smarter or giving you less resources?

Deanna Hoak | December 15, 2006 01:41 PM

That's a great article. My seven-year-old and I play WoW together and really enjoy it, but I'm pretty careful about what she does without me in the game.

Jeff R | December 15, 2006 02:03 PM

Why not increase the challenge in a less artificial, in-game way, like by making enemies smarter or giving you less resources?

Because to a lot of people, both players and game designers both, saving before every possible test of luck or skill and replaying until you get the best possible out come feels a lot like cheating. So they're engineering around that.

Still, not a great excuse: a desgner can always adopt the model that most handheld-based RPGs and the like use, in which you can save at any time into a volitile save (which deletes itself automatically after you load it back up again.)

Kelsey | December 15, 2006 02:04 PM

Save points. Please, stop all this groaning. Do you remember Metroids? You had to die before you got your password which was about 36 letters (both cases) and numbers long. And let me tell you it took a damn long time to kill yourself when you had scored 4 energy tanks. You could stand in lava or let a Metroid suck on your head and it would still take about 10 minutes to die. When you're 8 and dinner is on the table your mom would scream, "Dinner is on the table." You would scream back, "I have to kill myself first." Trust me, moms don't like any talk about their progeny killing themselves. There's only one thing that could happen after the yelling screaming and your dad's involvement... Out would come the Nintendo lock. Ouch! All I'm asking is that as you complain about SAVE POINTS just remember your password roots.

Jemaleddin | December 15, 2006 02:26 PM

"I think the primary reason is to increase the challenge and length of games by forcing you to play through a section without dying."

"Yeah, but that's a crappy way to do it. I mean, it'd be like increasing the challenge by making your movement controls less responsive or by making the screen flicker off for a minute or two here and there."

You've obviously never played Silent Hill or any of the other Horror genre games - they do exactly that.

"Why not increase the challenge in a less artificial, in-game way, like by making enemies smarter or giving you less resources?"

Artificial? What? As though life allows you to stop any time you want and save your progress? So that on your road trip to California you can just save your progress, go home and start up back in Wyoming next week? I think you've got the artificial-ness of the situation backwards.

The "quick save" feature has ruined more games than it's helped. When players have the ability to save (and heal, and re-equip...) just before boss fights, game designers resort to making the bosses MUCH harder to compensate for healthier, better-equiped players.

I prefer games with limited (but not too infrequent) save points that focus on strategies instead of health points for boss fights.

Stephen G | December 15, 2006 02:50 PM

Thanks for the heads-up. My son's three, and we're slowly working out how to handle video game playing as he gets older and becomes more interested in dad's occasional past time. My favorite point is when, after seeing me play Guitar Hero one day and hearing his mom tell him that I was rocking out, he later got his toy guitar, came to me, and said, "Dad, do you want to rock out with me?"

Tripp | December 15, 2006 02:54 PM

Speaking as the designer of software, although not games, I think I know a little of what is going on.

Eseentially what you are asking for is similar to 'high availability,' that is what will it take to be able to save and restart the game at any point while it is running.

Here are the challanges of that - you better hope your game is designed around a database that contains all the information necessary to describe the game - Character attributes, character position including orientation, and the same for all the NPOs and any other movable items.

Assuming you've done things correctly then you still need to decide what gets 'saved' every time you save. Saving the complete database every time would be the easiest, but it would take the longest. Somebody needs to go through and decide for sure what gets saved. Also, when you save. In the middle of combat? In the middle of, for example, a sword swing or an arrow flight? And heaven help you if your game communicates asynchronously with anything besides the controllers, because you won't be able to control the state of those external servers.

Like anything else, then, you've got a tradeoff between performance and function, the release date versus function, and money versus function.

An 'anytime' save is not a trivial function.

Tripp | December 15, 2006 02:58 PM

OT - since I answered that question, may I ask an OT question of my own?

For the past six years or so I've been involved with a yearly production of "The Nutcracker." For this show my wife writes an original script, although it contains parts of the original 'Nutcracker' that has been in the Public domain for many years.

What protection should she give these scripts? I know they are copyrighted when she writes them, but does she need to do anymore like registering them with the library of Congress or something? Also, so far they have all been performed publicly if that affects anything.

Thank you for your expertise.

Tripp | December 15, 2006 03:36 PM

Stephen,

"Dad, do you want to rock out with me?"

Yeah, that is cool. At one time I played Warcraft (the orginal) over a home LAN with my two sons. That was so great although they both refused to play against me so we played cooperative against the computer.

I'm one of the very first adopters of video games and have played them from the very start. My wife is pretty much against them, so we've had some good discussions, airing our concerns and finding a middle ground. I think we, like the Scalzi's, are part of the boring, reasonable middle.

Jess | December 15, 2006 03:57 PM

Some of my earliest memories in childhood were playing video and computer games with my dad. We played Kings Quest together, and later on Myst and the Jounreymen project: Legacy of Time.

As one of the many fine upstanding people who got sucked into World of Warcraft's gaping maw, I am constantly amazed by the variety of people who play it. In my guild alone we have dozens of people who are parents, even a father and son who play together.

Jon Marcus | December 15, 2006 04:14 PM

As an ex-game programmer, I'd somewhat disagree with Tripp. Or somewhat agree: It's non-trivial to add anytime save to an existing game. But it's fairly trivial to design it in from the beginning.

In a well coded game, it's a design issue. And the "But otherwise players will cheat" argument is one of my pet peeves from way back. The player's paid for the damn game. If they want to "cheat" that's their business. Make a game that will be fun and challenging if played "legally" and let players do what they want! (You would not believe the flack I caught for putting "cheat codes" into the game I was working on. Hi Scott!)

Tripp | December 15, 2006 04:19 PM

Jon,

I bow to your expertise. Actually, a fair amount of my high availability work has come 'after the fact' which as you note can be very bad.

I second on the cheat code stuff. I absolutely ruined one of the Diablo sequels for myself by using a 'trainer,' an editor for the player stats. It was a good lesson to learn. Why spend $50 on a game that lasts, say, 60 minutes because of cheats. Sheesh. it is the journey, not the destination that you pay for.

Deanna Hoak | December 15, 2006 04:33 PM

Jemaleddin, re: "Artificial? What? As though life allows you to stop any time you want and save your progress? So that on your road trip to California you can just save your progress, go home and start up back in Wyoming next week?"

That cracked me up, because I remember so vividly a time when I was playing way too much of a particular video game, and my addiction didn't hit me until I was driving my car one day, was considering making a sharp turn in front of oncoming traffic, and actually had the thought, "Eh. I can always restore if it doesn't work." :-D

I cut back.

And Tripp: My husband's not so big on the games, either. My daughter and I yell across the room to each other while we're playing, and we engage in conversation such as, "Whack him! Loot the corpse!" My husband bemoans the fact and says, "What are you teaching our daughter?!"

A gamer friend of mine responded, "All the important things in life." ;-)

And John: I couldn't agree more on the save points. When I can't save where I want, the game becomes incredibly boring. I do not have the slightest desire to run the same level thirty times to perfect my technique; I have other stuff to do.

MWT | December 15, 2006 04:42 PM

Regarding Diablo II - it's much less of a problem if you play on Battlenet. When you die there, the game doesn't disappear. Everything that you killed in the game stays dead, the map stays the same, and (if you didn't remember to make a town portal before you started, or if you've taken the easy way out by leaving and rejoining the game) it's just a matter of running back up from the River of Flame waypoint.

For this and many other reasons, I do all my Diablo II playing on Battlenet, even when I'm just playing by myself.

Tripp | December 15, 2006 04:49 PM

Deanna:

I knew I was playing Socom II too much when, as I was driving, I was mentally picking out things I could hid behind and what I could shoot from there.

Stephen G | December 15, 2006 05:02 PM

Tripp,

I expect we'll end up in a middle ground. I played video games with my dad, though mostly adventure games and the like, and I expect I'll do the same with my kid.

Since some of you may be bored on Friday, I present my son rocking out: http://granades.com/2006/11/30/eli-truly-is-a-guitar-hero/

Fuzzy | December 15, 2006 06:13 PM

You can always do what we had to do with Super Mario way back in the day -- just pause the game, leave the console on, and then go to school.

John Scalzi | December 15, 2006 06:33 PM

Well, I could do that. Or I could just not buy any game that won't let me save where I want and then turn off my damn game console at my discretion.

Sara | December 15, 2006 06:54 PM

I don't mind save locations that you have to get to, in rpgs where you can turn around and go back to the last one whenever you want. It's the ones where you have to complete a certain task before you can get to a save point that drive me nuts. I stopped playing my last game because I kept failing one task in the very last room, and I had to keep going back and talking to the old woman and traveling to the cave and fighting my way in and then back out...and then doing it all again. I don't see why I can't just save before I go into that last room and play it over and over until I get out. At the very least if they're going to do that sort of thing they should restart you AFTER all the darn cut scenes.

Jeff Porten | December 15, 2006 10:00 PM

Depending on what hardware you're using, there's sometimes an option to freeze the entire game -- on Mac/Unix, the system will just starve it of CPU cycles and it'll go into deep sleep. I presume there's something similar on Windows (or, of course, you can use the Mac trick on emulated Windows...).

I second the daytrading comment -- my gaming has gone *way* down since I started playing online poker. It's a game that makes money. Hard for blowing things up to beat that.

Phillip J. Birmingham | December 15, 2006 10:06 PM

I knew I was playing Socom II too much when, as I was driving, I was mentally picking out things I could hid behind and what I could shoot from there.

For me, it was working at a wireless networking company, and seeing the blueprints the site survey team was using, and thinking "okay, Gold sniper goes here and snipes till Alpha, Red team breaches the door and heads west, Green team throws a flashbang into this room and secures the hostages..."

I'm with John on game saves, but the Rainbow 6 series is one exception I am willing to make.

Phillip J. Birmingham | December 15, 2006 10:07 PM

Oh, in case it wasn't clear, I was talking about R6, not SOCOM which I have never played.

Carl V. | December 16, 2006 12:25 AM

"I do not buy games that don't let me save where I want." Just another reason why I end up buying more games for the PC than consoles.

Please forgive the laziness on my part as you may have answered this elsewhere: I have an ultra-cool Harris-art hardback of The Ghost Brigades, will own an ultra-cool Harris-art hardback of The Last Colony in April, and while I love my trade of Old Man's War, is there any chance a hardback will ever be out with Harris' fantastic art on it to complete the set?

Just finished Ghost Brigades and it was fantastic. I'm enjoying the holiday season immensely and still cannot wait for April to read the next.

John Scalzi | December 16, 2006 12:30 AM

Carl V:

"is there any chance a hardback will ever be out with Harris' fantastic art on it to complete the set?"

Well, the hardback was out in January of 2005, and it featured art by Donato Giancola (they made the switch for the trade paperback). I don't think there are any plans for Tor to re-release the hardcover with the Harris art.

Miko | December 16, 2006 06:34 AM

Man, I hate games where you can save anywhere, anytime. I prefer to be have my game-playing prowess challenged, not the speed of my fingers on the Quicksave and Quickload keys.

On the other hand, the ability to suspend the game should be mandatory. Some games do allow you to make a temporary save and immediately quit at any given point in the game, which seems about right to me.

Carl V. | December 16, 2006 09:37 AM

Thanks for the answer. Donato Giancola is a great artist but I have fallen hard for the Harris covers. I understand that there would be no upside for the publisher to release a new hardback...just wishful thinking on my part.

Phillip J. Birmingham | December 16, 2006 10:54 AM

Man, I hate games where you can save anywhere, anytime. I prefer to be have my game-playing prowess challenged, not the speed of my fingers on the Quicksave and Quickload keys.

Bah. All that's being challenged is your patience, as you repeat the game from the last save point. You still face the same challenge -- it's just the repetitive trudge you miss out on.

In any case, it sounds like your quicksave prowess is being challenged less than your willpower.

Matthew X. Economou | December 16, 2006 04:38 PM

Regarding save points: They really suck when you want to put the kids to bed, but they want to keep playing to the end of the level because Star Wars Legos can't save your progress in the middle. That has almost gotten the stupid game banned in this house, and for good reason, too.

Jon Marcus | December 17, 2006 08:54 PM

Miko

I think the first thing is to get rid of the guy with the gun at your head who's forcing you to quicksave when you hate doing so...

Patrick Shepherd | December 18, 2006 04:44 PM

Save points can be an insidious disruptor of all family routines, as whoever is playing insists on continuing to play 'just till I get to the next save point' - which doesn't happen for another thirty minutes, by which point dinner is either burnt or ice-cold. Worse, they encourage a mindset of 'nothing is more important than this game right now'. If that brain is not regularly disabused of the veracity of that statement, you can end up truly addicted to the darn thing, at cost of homework, chores, real physical exercise, social skills, and the ability to talk in coherent sentences about anything other than the game.

If a game must have save points, then for pete's sake, it should take no longer than five minutes to either reach that next point or get beaten and you must return to your prior save point. And the presence of these things should be highlighted in any review of the game.

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