Thursday, May 31, 2012

Saves Part 2

 The next save method I would like to discuss is the use of checkpoints. I like to break checkpoints into two categories, the strict checkpoints and random checkpoints. A strict checkpoint is a checkpoint that is triggered whenever the player meets a certain criteria such as completing an objective or clearing a room full of enemies. These checkpoints will always occur in every game as long as the criteria are met. Random checkpoints are not set in stone and every user will have different checkpoints. I’m not really sure what the criteria behind random checkpoints are but it seems to do with staying out of combat or letting enough time pass. The final save system that I will describe is the ability to save anywhere at anytime.
Checkpoints are controlled by the game and require no assistance from the player. Thus the player never has to worry about remembering to save when they are fully immersed in the game’s atmosphere. Checkpoints also save the player some time if dying is a natural part of game progression such as Limbo where death lingers in every shadow. However my experience with strict checkpoints has been awful. Strict checkpoints suffer from the same problem that plagues manual save points. The designer has to place the checkpoints where he or she believes the player will need them the most. However since most players generally have different levels of skills when playing a game, they will essentially get stuck at different parts of a level. Again you can propose the idea to add in more checkpoints throughout the level but then the player is rushing to the next checkpoint and not really learning why they are failing.
Gears of War utilizes this strict checkpoint system but fails at utilizing the system to its fullest. Gears of War on the hardest difficulty forces the player to play defensively and rarely allows for mistakes. I believe the player can only take a few hits before the crimson omen splashes on their screen. I’m generally not a fan of harder difficulties that only change how much damage the player can take and deal but I still managed to play through all the Gears of War games on insane. The problem I had throughout the series was the terribly placed checkpoints. I would usually do fine through an entire segment of a fight but then at last wave of enemies I would get obliterated. It is understandable that I didn’t account for the new type of enemy or maybe I became too aggressive towards the end which leads to my downfall. The last checkpoint is at the beginning of the fight which means I have to sit through an entire fight that I already am capable of defeating. Since I barely had time the first time to see what killed me due to the harsh nature of getting two shotted in the game I try to prepare my self. However I end up dying again trying to learn where the new enemy formation is attacking from. I am again forced to repeat the same battle but this time a bit more weary of doing the same area over and over again which means I’m bound to make a mistake. This cycle repeats it self and leaves a bad taste in my mouth for the series since it has occurred throughout the entire series.
Limbo on the other hand has a wonderful strict checkpoint system. Limbo is a platformer with puzzle based elements. While the game is short, the checkpoints are placed strategically at the beginning of every puzzle so that player rarely has to redo an entire puzzle. Strict checkpoints work remarkably because the game’s atmosphere was exceptional. With a simple artistic design and the use of ambient sounds, the automated saving from checkpoints allows the user to play continuously without worrying about pausing the game to save and losing that strong sense of immersion.
While I do not know of many games that use a mix of random checkpoints and strict checkpoints, it seems to be a much better system than the strict checkpoint. Randomness is usually looked down upon by players because there is nothing that skill can do about randomness but I believe adding in random checkpoints can help alleviate the frustration of repeating segments. The Halo series seems to use this mix of random and strict checkpoints. After playing through the entire series on Legendary, I found that the check point system is definitely more complex then just stationary checkpoints. I remember quite a few times that after failing about three to five times in a single area that the game would remarkably give me another checkpoint right before the part that I was having trouble in. This has happened many times in all five games which makes me think that Bungie has really worked on making checkpoints work with the user. It seems like the game might run some sort of mini program that checks to see how many times a user attempts a battle and the increases the probability of a checkpoint if the player is slowly progressing. But then again this could all just be in my head and I got really lucky when those checkpoints appeared.
The last saving method I can think of is the ability to save anywhere at anytime. This save relies heavily on the user remembering to save or all progress will be lost. This method allows for the most flexibility that can cater to the needs of more players. However remembering to save can be a difficult task especially in games like the Elder Scrolls Series where you become fully immersed in the lands of Vvardenfell, Cyrodiil and Skyrim. I have many accounts of forgetting to save for a few hours and then having an untimely death that forces me to repeat the last few hours of exploration. Fortunately Bethesda has thought of this and added in ways to counter the forgetful player’s dilemma with an autosave feature. They have even improved upon it with their latest installment Skyrim. Autosave would only save when you would rest, wait or entered a building. There was only one auto save file in the earlier games which meant if you rested at the wrong spot and did not have a save for a few hours you were stuck. Skyrim tackles this by allowing up to three autosave files that rotate every time the game autosaves which means there is a higher chance that you won’t lose all your progress. Another game series that uses this save anywhere system is the Pokemon series. This is probably by design of how the games are meant to be played. All the traditional Pokemon games have been on handhelds which meant the player was usually on the go and had play time experiences between a five minute train ride to maybe an hour long bus ride. Thus designers allowed the flexibility to save anywhere so players could pick up right where they left off and play for either a short amount of time to battle a few trainers or for a longer amount of time to actually progress through the story. While the save system did not allow for saving in mid battle, most battles only took maybe a minute to two minutes depending on the difficulty of the trainer which meant that the player could save shortly after.
 I believe that should cover most of the save methods used throughout various game genres. I’m sure I have left out a couple that if I ever remember will try to address in a future post but I believe this should be enough on just describing the save mechanics.