I was playing through Aliens vs. Predator the other night when I saw my good friend and gaming insider Matt Sakey (a.k.a. Steerpike) on Steam. Ah, Steam. You allow me to intrude on my friends at my whim. I sent Sakey a one-sentence review of Metro 2033:
“I’m punishing Metro 2033 for being a stupid, stupid game. STOOPID.”
To his credit, Matt did not immediately log off and instead responded: “Is that stoopid as in ‘awesomely cool’ or stoopid as in ‘lame?'”
Me: “Whoever thought of checkpoint save systems should be rounded up, shot, and urinated on.”
Matt: “Will urination occur before or after death?”
Me: “While they are dying, I think. They should bathe in the stink of their ideas as they perish.”
Matt: “You should stop being so grumpy.”
Matt’s advice, while sound, only fueled my expletive-infused rage at both AvP and Metro. These two games wade in the same pile of frothy filth that is…
The Automatic Checkpoint Save System
(or Why I Will Soon Be Serving Multiple Life Sentences)
Checkpoint save systems were once a beautiful thing. Back when we were playing Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario Bros. and the like, there was no saving. If you lost your third life or ninety-ninth life, then you quit and restarted tomorrow. It was fun at the time–could you make it farther on your finite lives? Soon, of course, games evolved.
Evolution: an improvement over the original that enhances survivability. Legs, for example, or lungs. These came to be because they were needed, much as the save-anytime system that should and must be included on all games of all genres in all time zones in all countries, even Canada. And though almost any gamer, if given a choice, would choose this system over the checkpoints, they are made to suffer countless iterations. What if I don’t want to drive all the way back to my apartment, Grand Theft Auto IV? What if my dog chokes on a chicken bone and I need to leave immediately, Alpha Protocol?
But AvP and Metro weren’t content simply to punish me with a manual checkpoint system, oh no–they upped the ante with a purely automatic one. The player has no direct control over when the game saves progress. This crime alone doesn’t earn summary execution, however; their choice to include only one saved game slot does. This might not be an issue if Metro 2033 didn’t use its single slot to save my game as I’m eating hollow point ammunition.
I was enjoying Metro 2033 as an atmospheric survival horror shooter until I needed to sneak through the “Red” (Communist) camp in the subway. Metro suffers from delusions of wanting to be a stealth game. It’s like the toddler who desperately wants to “help” cook dinner. She’ll try so damn hard, looking nice and cute in the process but ultimately spilling the pancake mix all over the floor and burning herself.
Like the toddler, Metro tries earnestly but trainwrecks utterly. NOTE TO DEVELOPERS: If you want to have “stealth mechanics,” one of those mechanics must include a way to reliably hide again once I’ve been spotted by some guy 100 feet away even though I’m hiding in near-complete darkness. Instead, when a villian spots me, he knows where I am until one of us dies. So I spend over an hour sneaking through this doldrum of a stealth sequence without any way to save my game–the kind of trial-and-error repetition that makes games feel more like work than entertainment. Then I finally made some real progress, making it to the end of camp. Of course, because the area’s totally new to me and because the stealth mechanic is busy putting pancake syrup in its hair, I stick to the shadows and am spotted immediately. I am promptly shredded by gunfire, but not before this…this…rotting prostate of a game AUTOSAVES DURING MY DEATH THROES. Worse, it saved over my one and only save slot from earlier in the camp, thus eradicating all of my progression through the level. I clenched my hands white. I wanted to smash the keyboard oh so very, very much. I wanted to punch the computer screen. I wanted to run outside and kill the first living thing I saw.
But I didn’t. Like the geek I am, I vomited expletives at fellow geek Steerpike over the GeekNet otherwise known as Steam. I wasn’t swearing at him, exactly, at least not until he told me I should stop “being so grumpy.”
Let It Flow, Let It Flow, Let It Flow!
As I’ve said many, many times before, horror needs solid writing to succeed. It needs story, atmosphere, and above all, compelling characters. Now pretend you’re Aliens vs. Predator‘s developer. You realize the aliens’ and predators’ potential to terrify has diminished through overexposure in a litany of terrible, terrible movies. Your story is shit and relies on so many cliches that it seems more like a bad parody of those films. Evil corporation trying to develop the aliens as bioweapons, check. Predators hunting aliens in a temple, check. Villian taunting the player from afar, check. The level design isn’t particularly inspired, and the elite voice-acting skills of Lance Henriksen (Playing an android! Neat!) aren’t as awe-inspiring as you’d hoped.
The game just doesn’t seem tense enough. But you have one last weapon in your arsenal: the automatic checkpoint save system! Be stingy with the saves, and when the players are so worried about dying and having to replay portions of your shitty game over and over, they might confuse that tension with horror! And, just like that, you’ve churned out your sweaty turd of a game and can go back to sticking forks in electrical sockets.
Never mind that AvP‘s developer, Rebellion Developments, botched their save system in 1999’s AvP and was subsequently berated into patching one in. History is dumb.
If any good is to come from this rant, it will infect others with its hatred for archaic and arbitrary save systems. We have the technology. Let me save mid-period in NHL ’11 or mid-course in Gran Turismo 5. Don’t make me ride my horse to some hovel to save my game in Red Dead Redemption. Let me save mid-battle in Dragon Age. Allow me to decide if, when, and how to abuse the save system.
And if anyone wants to find and buy that mug for me, it would douse the fires of my hating heart.
Email the author of this post at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll point out that, being an intolerant soul, I still managed to forgive Metro by playing it on an obscene difficulty incredibly carefully and loving its atmosphere.
And I won’t hear a word said against Rebellion because I don’t think they’re on the same playing field (or plane of reality) as mainstream development. More like indie developers incorporated, still making games for the 1990s. In that field, I adore them. I love their books too.
Other than these irrelevant, if not irrational nitpicks, you are, obviously, correct ._.
I’ll take the traditional route and blame the X-Box.
Thanks for your comments. I, too, chose “Ranger Hardcore” mode because it appeared to enhance the “scavenger” element of post-apocalypse survival I find so enticing. I like scrounging for ammunition and making every shot count.
I don’t like sneaking around in a half-ass stealth game and then being forced to replay said half-ass stealth game when the game erroneously wipes out my progress. Hell, I could deal with the silly stealth parts if the autosave feature weren’t so damnably stupid. The rest of the game is worth it, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get up the motivation to plow through it again. Feels too much like work and I just bought Evil Genius for $2.50 on Steam.
I would never sign off immediately on you, Dobry. Besides, I was in the middle of a game of New Vegas. I couldn’t quit. I’m rebuilding my team of alcoholic lesbians and robots.
Actually Evil Genius might be why you wind up serving multiple life sentences. I’ll visit you and smuggle you cigarettes.
The checkpoint save system is a stupid, pointless throwback to an ancient time, and I sympathize with your anger. Games that are generous with checkpoints – really generous – I can live with. But beyond that, the whole checkpoint system was designed for a time when game consoles didn’t have sufficient memory to actually save games whenever the player wanted. And now that this problem has been eliminated, for some reason checkpoints are still among us.
Thus while Jakkar’s general thesis – blame the X-box – is sound (it’s always wise to blame the X-box first), in truth the X-box, as the first console with a hard drive, tried to alleviate this issue. Though it failed, stoopid X-box. Screw that thing.
Be strong, my friend. And know that while I may lack your wit, you have my sympathy.
Not sure but I think the checkpoint save system was kept alive by the CIA when they brought their MK-ULTRA program back from its LSD-splattered crypt post 9/11. They needed to measure how much arbitrary punishment one person will endure before he begins to smash crockery. They discovered that playing ABBA CDs at full volume was more effective in breaking the subject down but checkpoint save rage was just too much fun to give up on completely.
I’m fine with a console game with checkpoints, but what really, really, realllllly pisses me off are those early 2000’s shooters like Soldier of Fortune 2, Delta Force: Black Hawk Down, and Rainbow Six 3. These 3 games were part of the fad where the developers decided they would allot you a number of saves per level.
Dear Developers: You do not get to tell me how often I can save. It might be your baby and you might be super great at it but I come from a long line of PC gamers with their fingers poised over the quicksave button after ever conflict. I save 3 times a minute playing HL1, and you tell me I can only save 3 times per level? F*ck you. If you want to consider that cheating, fine, but don’t tell me I can’t play the game how I want to.
Great post! Laughed many times in sympathy. If a dev’s REALLY into the checkpoint system, let them include it in the options like New Vegas includes Hardcore mode. Then nerds can feel happy about beating a game without grown-up saves.
Speaking of New Vegas, Steerpike’s comment about alcoholic lesbians and robots caused a laugh loud enough to stir the neighbors.
I’m really convinced that these developers are afraid players will quicksave their way through each level, thus diminishing the fear factor. Funny, though–System Shock 2 was terrifying and I could save anytime, anywhere. Was Thief the same way?
But yeah, generous, and I mean GENEROUS checkpoints with MULTIPLE save files are forgivable, but come on already. Unless it’s multiplayer, I save on demand. Otherwise, f*ck off.
Jason is awesome when he’s angry.
Anyway, the way I see it, not a problem the games have automatic checkpointing, as it’s been pointed out, but that it has one slot and, even more importantly, that it saves at an inopportune time. Demon’s Souls is an example of a game that saves automatically every few seconds and yet you NEVER EVER think of cursing the save system, because it was well designed.
But yeah, with the rise of harddrives on consoles I was hoping we’d see proliferation of save anywhere systems in console games. On the contrary though, it’s the PC games that have been saddled with automatic saves in the meantime. Heh, I guess it’s all the idea of making it easier for the player, but of course in cases like those above, it backfires horribly on occassion.
Yes, System Shock and Thief games all had save anywhere. Scary games at that.
But I remember the original Far Cry (not that hard to remember afer all, it’s still installed on my PC and I play it on occassion) – that game was designed to have save anywhere system and then, shortly before the game went gold, Crytek removed it, replacing it with scheckpoints because the game was apparently not challenging enough. Jesus H. Christ!!!! Luckilly, the console commands still allowed you to save anywhere because otherwise I would have NEVER mustered the strength to complete that game…
Concur that checkpoint save systems are terrible. And that Metro 2033’s stealth system was stoopidly nonfunctional. But I still liked the game a lot! Terrific atmosphere! Heck I’m on my 3d playthrough of it. But in a game filled with darkness the stinkin’ devs should’ve made sure that stealth worked.
I really, really liked what I saw of Metro 2033, and Helmut’s review suggested that I’d have continued to like it. Unfortunately I swapped out video cards and the game always crashed on load from then on. I need to get that sorted out.
Like Meho, I can live with a well-implemented save/checkpoint system, but they’re so rarely well done. For crying out loud, the ideal is to automatically maintain, say, five autosave slots that manage themselves, AND allow the player to save whenever. That way even an autosave at the moment of your death isn’t the end of the world. How hard is that to implement?
Another pet peeve of mine is games that don’t allow you to name your own saves. That makes me so angry!
Good stuff, Dobry.
I can’t recall the last game that had a checkpoint save system.
I am a habitual saver. I have never noticed it having anything but a positive effect on my game playing experience. It never takes away from the tension, but simply allows me to avoid having to do annoying things over and over again (I am looking at YOU Demon’s Souls!).
It’s too bad. I bought Metro 2033 on Steam sale the other week. Well, it was super cheap and I still have a ton of games on Steam I’ve never even installed.
Agreed on all counts Dobbers. I’ve managed to avoid most games that force this nonsense on to the player. The worst culprit I can think of is GTA IV (surprise!!). Having to drive all the way back to a mission each time you failed was just absolutely unforgivable. I remember finishing the bulk of one particular mission and accidentally bumping into Little Jacob on some stairs, knocking him down them and killing him. I had to restart the mission. I was a little hot under the collar to say the least.
Keep on hatin’, Dobry. That was good stuff.
While Metro 2033’s system I find annoying I’ll agree with you, Gregg, that GTA IV’s is just atrocious, one of the worst. I’ve made absolutely no progress in that game because every time I start it up I don’t know where I’m at because usually everything I do when I play gets wiped out from there being no save file of it.
And on the rare occasions I actually do feel like playing the damn game I get non-stop phone calls from my whiny cousin and bitch-ass needy friends. These guys are supposed to be tough ass motherfuckin’ gangsters … and they cry like children when I don’t want to play a fucking game of pool with them or go to a strip club.
Luckily for me, most of their whiny phone calls are erased too, because who the hell knows when GTA IV will save your game? Not me!
I just can’t believe that we, as a human race, a mere 30 months ago officially crowned that as the best thing of all time. First of all: it’s not. It’s shit. It’s not the best game of all time, it’s not even the best game in the GTA series; thankfully for IV, 2 exists, so it can’t be the worst. And second, who are we to call things the best of all time? What if the dinosaurs had, like, Grand Theft Pterodactyl, and it was totally radical?