Save Games in Gaming

One of the features most story-based games have is the ability to save your progress. Although some game companies are more focused on multiplayer games, singleplayer isn’t going anywhere, and multiplayer may include some singleplayer components in the future.

But if you’ve played a handful of games with a save game feature, you probably noticed they all work a little bit differently. And those differences may actually impact your play style.

Up-to-you Save Games

The up-to-you style is where the game simply has a feature and you can save whenever. It doesn’t save for you, and often you can name the save games. This style seems adequate, but in my experience I would only use one or two out of dozens of available save slots.

Usually I would stick to one slot, and then if things got hairy or I thought I might want to keep the other as a known-good save, I would add another. After progressing far enough, I might repeat that process since the known-good slot had aged too much.

Up-to-us Save Games

This is the opposite extreme. The game saves when it wants, and you have no control over it. In this sort of game, I would tend to be increasingly cautious as I moved farther from the last save. I would know that if I failed a mission or died, I would have to go all the way back. That inhibits risk-taking, which is not what games are about.

Games can encourage risks and teach us about when risk is appropriate. But if the game administrivia function itself discourages risk, that limits the game experience.

Hybrids

A number of hybrids exist. You get automatic checkpoints, which protects you from having a lone save game in a situation where you can’t progress, but you can add your own on top of it, giving you some say, too. This model seems the best of those currently available.

The main pain point with hybrids is that you might tend to accumulate save games that aren’t useful in the future, but if the save data is small and disk space is abundant, it shouldn’t really matter.

The Sandbox Model

Some games aren’t normal story-driven games, but sandbox or open-world games. In these what’s generally saved is the state of your playthrough: your inventory and completed missions, plus some sort of general location. This seems to be a pretty strong model for this type of game, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to more linear games.


Early games didn’t have saving available, though some used elaborate codes, as consoles lacked storage. They also had limited lives, which meant you could have to start the whole game over if you died. We’ve come a long way since those days, but I’m hopeful that future games will have save options that are even more powerful and reduce the friction of playing the game.