Other art forms have it so easy.
If you’re watching a movie and you have to stop at any time you can very easily come back later and start from whatever point you like. Reading a book? Need to take a break? Oh, here’s a bookmark for you. Listening to some music? Pausing it and coming back later to exactly the same point is pretty cool, isn’t it? But hold on. You’re playing a video game and you suddenly need to leave. You’ve been so hooked on the game you’re playing that you’ve lost all sense of time, and now you have a total of five minutes before your shift at work starts. Distracted and flustered, you turn off the console and run out of the house without saving your game. In all fairness, it’s 2017, autosaves are so efficient nowadays that you shouldn’t ever have to worry about things like saving manually, right? Wrong. Congratulations on losing two hours of your life because you haven’t saved your game.
Back in the olden days, when Gaston was still only eating four dozen eggs every morning, having no choice but to save your game was a pretty standard thing. Console power and the way games were built meant that autosaves weren’t as commonplace. If a game did have an autosave feature, it would be fairly basic. If you were lucky, dying just took you back to the start of the level you were on. Depending on the game of course, saving manually in some way or another was pretty much the norm. As time progressed, autosaving became more and more advanced and efficient, allowing a lot of games to not even have a manual save feature. Whilst some franchises like Uncharted and publishers like Bethesda held onto manual saving, most of the time you could play a whole game and not have to worry about saving a thing. In my opinion, that’s the way it should be. You can enjoy your experience without worrying every 5 minutes about having to save in case you die. Of course, I don’t think a lot of games would have been the same without a manual saving feature. Being able to pick and choose an exact place to restart if things go south is a brilliant thing. However only relying on this can leave a player worrying about that so much that they miss out on things in the game.
Arguably, it can be equally as stressful the other way. I can’t remember the amount of times I was playing a game like Assassin’s Creed and before I quit out I stressed about not having a manual save to rely on before I stopped. After all, an autosave feature can’t always be controlled, so can you always trust it? It’s for this reason I think that games should always have autosave features, but with a manual save option to supplement it. In the case of Dishonored and Dishonored 2, I think this works so well. In fact, Dishonored 2 also has a quick save feature as well, which allows you to complete a manual save without taking you out of the experience. The Dishonored games will save when you get to certain points in their sandbox levels, and these are usually clear checkpoints peppered around the map. However you also can take on the responsibility to save your game wherever you like by using the manual save. Depending on how comfortable and skilled you are in the game, you might save once a level, or 20 in one area.
On the whole, however, I believe not having an autosave feature at all is dangerous. I’ve had a few games completely ruined for me because they solely rely on manual save functions. It can be great that saving can become part of the experience, and saving at the right time can also be a measure of skill and smarts. However, an example of a game that was ruined for me as a result of bad saving was Skyrim. I was never an Oblivion or Fallout fan because the games took so long to open up and made me feel like my hours of play were for nothing. In short; I didn’t have the patience for them. But in forcing myself to try Skyrim I played for so long in an attempt to become hooked. When I finally reached a town, I accidentally stole something and didn’t realise the consequences that would bring me. A whole town turned on me and I died. I figured when I arrived at the town the game would have saved my progress, but when I respawned an hour and a half previous, I simply turned off the game and never came back. Sometimes I wonder what a great experience I might have had if that game had any form of autosave feature. What if it hooked me? What if I spent closer to a hundred hours in Skyrim and it changed the way I felt about video games? But sadly, that wasn’t the case. You could argue that it was my fault for being incompetent to how the game’s systems worked, but if I’m reading a book, the book itself doesn’t only open itself at a page I last left a bookmark in. The book can open on any page, allowing me to be back at any point I want.
My one exception to the rule has to be Alien Isolation. For those who haven’t played it, the game has one of the most organic and brilliantly designed save mechanics I’ve ever come across. In most cases, you have to enter a pause menu to carry out a manual save. In Alien Isolation, developer Creative Assembly managed to make the manual save a huge part of the way you play the game. I would argue that having to pause the game to save means that saving isn’t then a mechanic of the game but a feature of it. Whereas saving at emergency points in the game’s areas itself is definitely a mechanic of the game, and is therefore more reliant on skill. It can be absolutely brutal at times, don’t get me wrong. Being one step away from a save point before the Xenomorph suddenly springs out and kills you is awful, and in most cases would be unacceptable. But something about the way the saving is implemented into the core of the game in Alien Isolation means that Ripley is the one trying to reach some security in her story as well as you, the player. On top of this brilliantly designed save feature, however, is an autosave, giving some security to you in the game’s more serious moments. Horizon Zero Dawn actually surprised me with its save system. Similarly to Alien Isolation, save points are points you reach on your journey. But these don’t make as much sense to me as an integrated part of the in-game world and not being able to save at any time in that case makes me feel cheated out of my time. The design for things like that has to be pretty solid if it’s going to be successful, in my opinion.
There are definitely contradictions, and some systems in some games work, but others definitely don’t. Its a confusing and strange problem that other forms of entertainment don’t face. I simply believe that in 2017, we shouldn’t have to rely on manual saves alone to get us through a game anymore. The days of having to rely on manual saving because a game is meant for “hardcore gamers” should be over. If developers view saving as part of the game’s difficulty level then they’re being lazy. Difficulty should be in the game itself, not in the pause menu. At a certain point it becomes about accessibility. There are truths on both sides of the argument, but personally, I don’t see why games can’t both have an autosave feature and the ability to save your progress at any time.