The Trials and Tribulations of Saving Games

I recently had a thought. What is the most important part of gaming? Is it the consoles? The games? The graphics? Soundtrack? Story?

Obviously, everyone has a different opinion. Without games, there is no gaming. Without consoles, there are no games. Without the games themselves, there’s no soundtrack or graphics. Without the script, there’s nothing for the game to be based on. However, I think as a gamer, the most important thing to me is the ability to save my game.

Gone are the days of the NES, when you had to leave your console on all night if you wanted a break from a game. Some old games used to allow you to save your game on the cartridge, but that in itself was risky, considering the saved games were stored on battery-backed RAM, so they were often quite temperamental, meaning that it was easy to lose your save. Plus, there was the downside of only being able to save one version of the game. Sometimes, when it wasn’t possible to save your game, computer games had passwords so as you could sort-of get back to where you were, but really, that was just an inconvenience. This was also the case on some console games, but it was a massive pain in the backside. You don’t really ‘save’ your progress, more like you are put in a predetermined place, with a predetermined number of lives – you could have quit the game with twelve lives, but when you use a password, you go to the same place, but with only five lives. It wasn’t all that great a system, looking back.

 

 

All of the Nintendo handhelds are culpable of being infuriating to save on. The early Gameboy and Gameboy Colour games only had one save slot, and the godawful password system. The Gameboy Advance games were slightly better, with a few games having more than one save slot, but generally it suffered from the same problems as all other battery backed RAM cartridges. One game that is a pain in the backside is Pokemon, all iterations-from the very first version on the Gameboy, all the way up to Pokemon Black on the DS-you can only have one save game. So, good luck sharing a game with a sibling. Tough luck! That is, to be fair, the only downside to Pokemon. The DS has advanced slightly further, in that the DS cartridges have more memory, so more saving can be done, which is nice.

 

Things became easier as time progressed. You could save more than one state in Sonic 3 on the Sega MegaDrive, which meant that more than one person could have their own version of the game, which was nice. However, gaming was still quite a frustrating experience. Eventually, memory cards became prevalent as a way of saving your game. The first console able to use a memory card was the Neo Geo AES. Then the Sega Saturn had its own memory card, as did the PlayStation and Dreamcast. The Nintendo 64 continued the trend of saving game states to the cartridge, however it did also have a memory card. The final home consoles which used memory cards was the PlayStation 2 and the GameCube, along with the PlayStation Portable. After that, hard-drives became the habitually used medium for saving games. However, it is the memory card which has prompted this article.

 

 

Without a memory card, it was difficult to play a PlayStation, or later, a PlayStation 2 or GameCube. Games were on disc, and as such didn’t come with any form of internal memory, so you needed to have a memory card if you ever wanted to finish a game. If not, you’d have to keep your console on until you finished, and I’m pretty sure most people’s parents would not have approved of this solution. Luckily for you, the brainiac console developers came up with memory cards-you could spend some money and be able to save your games. Wasn’t that nice of them? Well, yeah, great, if you only needed one memory card for all of your games. However, that wasn’t the case, as the memory cards for each console had a limited space. A PlayStation memory card only had 15 slots, meaning you could save fifteen instances of some games (say: Crash Bandicoot, Final Fantasy 9), or you could save one instance of other games (LMA Manager, for example). So, you either had to ration your space, buy more memory cards, or just deal with it. This problem was exacerbated by the PS2, because as the library of games increased, so did the amount of space they took up. A PlayStation 2 memory card was 8MB big, however some games would take up as much as 2MB of space. So, you would have to keep buying more. Memory cards were quite expensive, particularly if you were a schoolkid relying on handouts off of your parents. Luckily, those brainboxes at Microsoft came up with a solution.

Well, I call it a solution, but really, it was just doing what PC games had been doing for the last few years. That is, using a hard drive to save games. The first console to do it was the original XBOX, and it was a nice change. There was plenty of room to save your games, and you didn’t have to pay any extra for memory cards. It was nice. Obviously, this was something which wasn’t original, but it sure was useful, and paved the way for the current gen of consoles. With the advent of the Wii, XBOX 360 and PlayStation 3, hard-drives became the norm. Now, you never have to worry about how many games you’re saving. It’s very difficult to run out of space now, and for that, I am truly grateful. It’s a weight off of my mind as a gamer, knowing I can save whatever I want, whenever I want. It has also made gaming a lot easier for me, because it allows me to easily correct mistakes.

Hell, there’s still advances being made in the way in which we save our games. A new system which is slowly being implemented is that of “cloud saves.” If you save your game up onto the ‘cloud,’ you can access it from anywhere. Steam is the forerunner in this field, if you save a game to your Steam account, you can access it at any time, anywhere, by logging in to your own Steam account. PlayStation 3 and XBOX 360 have also started to implement this, so it’s something which is going to be good for the future. It’s also one of the main selling points for Sony’s new handheld console, the Vita, as revealed at E3 this year. The ability to access your save games from someone else’s house is going to be a godsend. Alongside this, there was an article on PXOD last month which mentioned the Game Save Manager. This is the ability to upload your games online so as you had backups, since there is always the risk of everything ever dying. Thankfully though, these occurrences are rare.

Something else which has changed in gaming is the way the game itself actually saves. If you cast your mind back to the older Final Fantasy’s, you go into a dungeon, and you’d often have to go for an hour or so between save points, hoping with every fibre of your being that the next enemy doesn’t have a one-hit KO move that could absolutely destroy your party, ruining your hard work, time and effort. It was a horrible feeling, knowing all of your hard work had disappeared by something you can’t even control. Nowadays, however, it’s gone completely the opposite direction, and games tend to save themselves at every given opportunity. It’s good in one way, because it means every time you advance, you won’t lose too much if your power goes out, or your game crashes. However, it can be frustrating if you forget to save a separate slot, mess something up, and the autosave overwrites it, meaning you can’t go back. That’s happened to me before, Fallout 3 being a good example. I had managed to save my game about three hours earlier, and then I went into a dungeon, where I ran out of ammo, but due to the autosave was stuck in the building, unable to advance, or retreat without dying. It was a pain, and losing three hours of work sucks. Majorly.

In the end, however it is done, saving your game is a fundamental part of being a gamer. Now it isn’t something which you have to now consciously think about. Remember though, it wasn’t always that simple.

By Jon Bent

I am a 21 year old History Graduate who is a massive fan of video games. I own a PlayStation 3 and DS, as well as playing a few games on XBOX360 and PC. My favourite games are Persona 3, Red Dead Redemption, Final Fantasy 4, 6 and 9. I'm also training to become a teacher from September.