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Losing Progress

In our hobby I think there is little that compares to the pain of losing a save game. I’m not talking about a freezing game or a glitch that sends you back to the previous checkpoint – though this is irksome – but of the teeth grinding frustration that comes from a corrupt file or broken hard drive.

In recent years this has thankfully happened to me very infrequently, the last time being when my original Xbox 360’s hard drive felt it had given enough to the cause and shuffled off to silicon heaven. With it went some sterling work in Dead Rising, my Legendary run on Halo 3 and, worst of all, 85-hours’ progress in Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise.

I may have spent five-years of my professional life surrounded by papery critters but I honestly enjoyed it so much that I sank a vast amount of time into it post-launch. Visiting friend’s gardens, achievement whoring, and co-oping with my wife, all of it totted up. And in an instant it was gone; Snowball the wildcard Goobaa would never be seen again.

Except it wasn’t over in any of those games. Dead Rising’s structure, reliving the same three days over and over, meant I had merely lost my wrestling outfit; by that point, Halo 3 was a primarily multiplayer affair; and as for VP:TiP, lots of lovely people sent me crates stocked full of replacement Piñatas.

Where it really hurts is in sandbox games where progress is the equivalent of access. In GTA this comes in the form of new islands, in Fallout 3 it’s questlines, and in Crackdown it’s those lovely toys that your Agent gets a hold of. Losing these can, for me, make or break whether I ever want to pick the game up again.

Of course, losing these involuntarily is one thing, but when purposefully they are taken away I feel I have a right to seethe.

This last week I’ve been away on holiday, taking with me my Vita and its version of Assassin’s Creed III. Showing a different thread from the universe of assassins and Templars it removed the tedious Desmond sections, added some interesting variations, and ultimately puts itself in contention as the finest purchase available on the Vita.

That was until the credits rolled.

At this point there’s no returning to the world to round up the last few collectibles, tie up loose ends, or explore those niches you were saving for later. No, upon the final credits your save game is all but wiped, denying you continuing to creed some more.

From a design point of view I find this action quite bizarre. Here’s an open world game that I invested many hours in and then you feel the right to take that away from me. The time put into New Orleans and its surrounding area, spent building up a knowledge and skill set of the world and my character respectively seem to be wasted as there is not even a mission replay option to fall back on. It’s start from scratch or nothing. I understand that maybe narratively speaking it may seem odd to rewind time to before the final, climactic mission but I’d settle for that incongruity over an arbitrary deletion of my game state.

More than anything, however, as with the loss of any savegame, I feel slightly hollow. Choosing to restart is one thing, but forced into treading those first fledgling steps in any game world where once you soared is painful. In an age where developers strive to make their games more than expensive, interactive, one-shot movies, I am shocked that Ubisoft failed in such basic premises. Bravo to them on creating a unique, flagship Vita title, but sacrebleu… what could have been a game I continually returned to has instantly been relegated to trade-in fodder.