Saving In Games: Part 1 - Who Needs Sleep?
The voice of the song declares his love for his special someone, but the comedy (i.e. pain) comes from the fact that, in between his appeals to his loved one to "get ready for lovin' tonight," his goal seems to continually be interrupted by his gaming. The line that drives the dagger home is, "Baby I can't wait 'til we start, it's just that the save points are quite far apart." I do not feel comfortable admitting that I winced upon hearing that lyric.
I've seen it, heard it, and experienced it personally: the act of trying to just get to that damned save point so one can stop playing and get on with everything that qualifies as "life" to non-gamers. It's a sad convention that gamers have to deal with as a part of our hobby. And I don't think you can blame us for the resulting inconveniences that we force upon those around us. We really do need to get to that next save point, you see, lest we end up with hours of valuable gaming time for naught.
But that's when you have to stop and wonder: if you can't blame us, who can you blame? I mean, we can't simplify this issue and say it only inconveniences those around us. Let's face it: it's a huge inconvenience for us gamers as well! So who's to blame? As it turns out, there is a definite target we can properly nuzzle the nose of blame up against: the gaming industry itself. Not only do they continue to utilize this save point methodology, they also do not try to find ways to alleviate the problems associated with it.
And now that we've successfully shifted the blame away from us gamers and onto the industry, two questions must be addressed. What should the industry do to help those affected by the problems of the save point methodology? And more importantly, if we step back and think about it for a second, why are we still using such an archaic gaming convention in the first place? These are two very important questions that I just so happen to plan on answering.
Let's start with the first question. What should the industry do to aid us busy gamers who may need to stop a game at a moment's notice and have not yet reached a save point? Not only do we need to arrive at these sacred hallowed grounds before we can stop playing, a save point's proximity to our current position in the game is more than likely unknown to us. When playing a game for the first time, we don't know where the save points will be (unless we've got one of those fun-killing strategy guides... but that's a topic for another day). Thus, we can't even give proper time estimates to our loved one as to when we can be out the front door to head out to dinner with her friends. We'll just keep shouting out that vague "Five more minutes! Five more minutes!" every five minutes.
So, if save points must exist in games, what can the industry do to make consoles more accommodating to gamers with busy schedules? A machine that solved that problem would be the console of my dreams. And, as it turns out, I've found the console of my dreams.
And it's sleeping.
Or they're sleeping, I should say. It's funny how something intended to be a crutch to makeup for a major shortcoming can turn out to be such a huge asset. Portable systems are the only ones that run on batteries. On top of that, portable systems are... well, portable. Thus, to relieve games from dying batteries and sudden needs to turn off the system, machines like the DS and the PSP were given sleep modes.
So now I ask: why do the portable systems get all the fun?
It's no coincidence that the Nintendo DS and the PSP are the two systems I play the most these days. They are the consoles of my dreams because their level of convenience is staggering. I can play them for short bursts while waiting for my car to be serviced, during halftime of sports games on TV, or in bed before I go to sleep. And whenever it is time to stop playing, whether that stop is planned or not, I simply put the system to sleep regardless if I've saved or not. And when I want to start playing again, I wake the system up and am already gaming before you can even finish saying "Give me ten minutes."
Games these days take longer and longer to play. I hear the next Zelda game is supposed to contain over a hundred hours of gameplay. I cannot properly express in words the combination of anticipatory glee and unadulterated dread I am feeling about this. To get your money's worth out of a game is always pleasing. But to be forced to spend so much time on one game can be daunting. I can already imagine that the dungeons in this game will take over an hour each, with saves being opportune only once during the whole endeavor. So even if I have 40 minutes of free time before I need to run some errand, I would question the wisdom of starting a dungeon because I might not be able to save for another 50 minutes.
So the solution is simple: give consoles a sleep mode. There's no reason to only apply this to a portable system. If the PSP can manage to save its state for a sleep mode, then I'm sure you can muster up enough technology to make the PS3 save its state for a nice sleep as well. That way, at any given time, we can shut down the game and walk away and return once we are freed from normal, everyday "life." No harm, no foul. Everyone is happy. And since the consoles are always plugged in, you can leave your system sleeping for hours, a couple of days, or even a week and come back and pick up right where you left off. Sure, a power outage could rob you of a long marathon gaming session that contained no saving in the midst of it, but it's a risk I'm willing to take for the trade-off of being able to stop a game at any point in time without regret.
The solution has always been there right under our noses. Although I can already guarantee that none of the next-gen consoles will have a sleep mode, it's definitely something to think about for, possibly, the next-next-gen consoles.
Next up: Part 2 - A Gaming Convention Worth Saving?