Author: Manny Santiago
Remember playing through a game, spending about let's say 2 hours in a section and you decide it's time to quit. You came back and found yourself in the same section you started, you then realize "Aw Damn I forgot to save". Cue your favorite combination of curse words, possibly rage quit and follow it up with crossed arm pouting. During this you're just blaming yourself for not having saved, how could I forget? This is standard operating procedure for a gamer. Alas, games have evolved and with it it's gamers. I recall one of the first games I remember playing that implemented the auto save feature was Ratchet & Clank for PlayStation 2. I'm not going to lie, it felt weird, I bought into the PS2 late in its cycle which meant I was playing a lot of PS1 games all the way up to 2006… I was a late bloomer. That being said it was interesting to see this feature make its way into console games.
Like everything else, when it works, this feature can be your savior… I can also think of ways it does work that can be your end, Dark Souls anyone. But in all seriousness this feature changes the way a game is played, especially when you have kids. Before, when the world was my oyster and time was not a factor I could play games that could go between 15 minutes to an hour before progress was "saved". I speak of games whose design is to segment sections of the game and each section takes a certain amount of time to get through. A good example of this type of game would be God of War or playing a single player campaign mission in GTA V. Now I find myself avoiding these types of games because the save features don't save the progress you have made, whether it was 5 minutes or even 1 minute. Games I started gravitating to were games that implemented an autosave feature that was accommodating to my current play style. When the feature is implemented correctly, you should feel a sense of reassurance that no matter what I do, the game will be saved and you should be able to continue where you left off.
That being said, that is the last thing I feel with many games that have implemented this feature. Many times games that strictly limit you to its autosave feature or have a save structure that is tied to specific checkpoints only tend to miss the mark or the purpose of the "pick up where you left off" design structure. Granted, this is probably not what they were aiming for, maybe because the designer feels you should enjoy an entire section of a game as a whole and not in segmented pieces. That being said, I don't always have enough time to finish entire sections of a game I'm playing through. Most of the times I find myself avoiding said games just because the time I have to spare is just enough for a quick 15 minute play through. The most frustrating part is when you're playing a game like Bioshock Infinite and you just got through this big shootout, you feel a sense of accomplishment for getting through it and decide to call it a day. You come back a week later and when you boot up the game you see you're in the same shootout again… what happened? You wonder, I swear I finished that section, what the &!#£ happened! I encountered this many times in this game.
Now maybe the title "why I hate smart saving is a little harsh", but it's the feeling I'm overcome with whenever it doesn't work like I feel it should. This feature, when done correctly, saves the user a lot of time and aggravation. The concept of being able to continue where you left off is so alluring that the thought of playing g a game that doesn't incorporate this into its game makes me, the end user, shy away from it. It's nothing against the rest of the game but I can already see what would happen if I were to play a game like this today.
Games that I'm attracted to that incorporate this feature are Child of Light and Dark Souls. When I first played Child of Light I was taken aback by the lack of a save menu, I was so afraid of losing my progress that I didn't turn off the Vita for a whole day… just like the old days with the PSOne when you didn't have a memory card. Then I looked the game up online and saw that the game would save after every notable event or checkpoint. Meaning the exact state wasn't saved but all progress was. If you pick up an item, finish a battle, enter a door or use quick travel the game saves. This was very refreshing to me and suddenly Child of Light was even more appealing to me than it already was. Then there's Dark Souls, any Souls game really. I haven't really heard anybody sound off on Dark Souls smart saving feature, if any game should take a cue on how to implement this feature they need to look at what FromSoftware did for the Souls series. This game does this so well that I have never hesitated in turning off my system. Oh! There's a boss fog gate that I don't want to deal with right now, no problem, I can rest assured that no matter what I do I will continue exactly where I left off the next time I boot the game.
Like all features, they are great when done correctly. As my time becomes more precious I try to focus on games that can fit to my schedule. Playing a game like Fallout or Skyrim, games known to be time sinks, provide the flexibility for me to continue progressing through the game at my pace. It's extremely bothersome when a game implements a smart save feature only and leaves you guessing as to when was the last time it saved. Games like How To Survive provide a mixed save scheme that is not intuitive and lends itself for lost progress because of it. This is unacceptable design and it only drives people away from what otherwise would be considered a good game. If you have to ask yourself the question, "Did the game save?", you have an inadequate design. So I praise those games that implement this feature correctly and hope that games that are being developed with this feature in mind follow this example.