Checkpoints, bookmarks and folded corners.

moogle = save game guy

I’m working on a post about Cavia‘s intriguing game Nier, an rpg which I have been thoroughly enjoying. What I’d like to discuss most is the game’s main story line and how it is thematically mirrored by so many of the side-quests.

There have been several moments in the game I would love to revisit before writing such a post, but I cannot. I am up against a 30 hour game with hundreds of moments worth examining again, and only three save slots.

Part of this is due to the limitations of console gaming. One need only to compare the thousand or so save games in my Elder Scrolls: Oblivion folder on the ol’ PC. A limitation on save slots prevents what I call folded corner syndrome. This is a throwback to the old choose your own adventure books where one might fold the corner of a page where an important decision was made in order to return there quickly if you ended up falling off a cliff or being squashed by a beast. We should not encourage players to proceed so guardedly. We shouldn’t want them second guessing their decisions unless that too is part of the narrative, and a limited amount of saves help prevent this.

The hip new save-game is the checkpoint, a (usually) automatic process whereby your state is saved without disturbing your gameplay, eliminating the need for the user having to go through a menu or talk to a Moogle. Pc user’s are familiar with another new folded corner, the quick-save, where one save slot is dedicated to this kind of state save but at almost whichever point the user wishes to save. They are useful but they can also tend to break the flow of gameplay, tempting one to quick save after any moderately meaningful moment. They also only exist as long as you don’t trigger a new one. Once you perform an act that progresses the game along a new checkpoint is activated and that old save disappears. All these.. moments will be lost…

Games sometimes will present themselves in parts, chapters or modules. And sometimes you access previously played sections from the front end directly from a list. But think if you had to start at the beginning of each letter when looking up words in a dictionary, not the most efficient way to get your way to the definition of, say ‘axe’.

Even if there was a PC version, my 1000s of saves would be more confusing than anything, and revisiting content would become a game of guess which save was from when. It would be on me to keep track of what moment occurred after which save. Currently this is the best we can do. Of course this also means we have to save whenever possible since story moments often pop-up unpredictably in the input/system soup of game storytelling.

So the question I ask is why is a story based game not letting me go back and “re-read” some of my favorite passages? If as you played through a game you unlocked a series of bookmarks (decided upon by the designers/writers) allowing you to revisit important sections of the game at any time, we might better able to understand what makes some stories work so well while others fall flat. We certainly would have the tools to take a closer look.

Edit: Sure, you might say, the narrative is just part of the story, along with the play and the music and the control scheme and the interface. Nier is indeed the sum of it’s parts. But look at it’s music. Games frequently release their soundtracks as pieces of stand-alone content. Bring on the interactive coles notes / bookmarks / let’s play videos of story review!

Edit: I’m a jerk for not mentioning Valve and their ‘designer’s commentary’ nodes that they place in their games. These are exactly the sorts of things that more games should provide to their user’s. People seemingly never get tired of seeing under the hood, even just a little bit. And Valve should be commended for giving their fans such a view.

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