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Saving Mechanic in RPGs

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Recently, I have been thinking about how to implement saving into my game. My game is a top-down, action RPG similar to Zelda but with elements such as character building and questing. At first I thought I could just throw in a pause menu with a save button which could be accessed at anytime similar to Skyrim. After I added that feature into the game I found myself not liking it very much. The feature feels abusive since you can save constantly making some of the game design feel weak. I want the game to be challenging but not impossible. I came up with a few ideas of what I could do.

 

My first idea was to do the most cliche thing ever and have an inn saving system. The player would spend gold, rest up, and save his/her progress. This would also give purpose to inns instead of a place for rumors. However this would require the player to return to a town or major city every time they want to save. So I came up with a second idea.

 

My second idea was to have "save alters" which would be these runic looking places that are located at important locations in the game. I liked this idea because it would limit how much the player can save. With the feature I have now, I feel like the player can abuse it and make the game less of a challenge. With this I can put a save alter halfway into a dungeon or outside of a cave or wherever it seems necessary. Also I could put these alters at locations that the player can fast travel to when they are out in the over-world. However, I have this feeling that this is not the best way to implement saving.

 

So before I settle on what to do, I wanted to see what others have to say about the subject. Maybe I can come up with something better with a little feedback.

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Keep in mind that some players actually like to exploit a game with Quick Save/Quick Load (which is something the designers of XCOM: Enemy Unknown needed to address) and that's just a kind of game play that some like.

 

"Auto-save Only" presents two problems which I want to chat about: how to implement it and how it serves in implicitly punishing the player.

 

Implementation ideas. Disk access is very costly, and that cost increases as the size of the save-state info does, as well as how frequently you auto-save. You can ease this strain a bit by only writing out things that change (instead of the entire save state, i.e. maybe the character's Strength score isn't changing between every save) and even committing a thread to the task of saving (but concurrency is its own can of worms). If you really want to get crazy, you could run a database as a separate process and store the save-state info in there; DBs are built for frequent writes and handle these issues I highlight here by design. It's a few steps up on complexity though, to say the least. smile.png But, it would mean you could aggressively auto-save each time something relevant to save-state changed, just doing a DB write and letting it worry about things. (This is probably where I would spend my time studying if I really really wanted strict auto-saving for a complex RPG.)

 

ADDENDUM: On the other side here, if saving slows down game responsiveness or is so intensive that game play must be halted, auto-saves will become frustrating for the player.

 

Implicit punishment. The question of when or where to save is a pickle too; tech-wise, every few minutes (or less) is tempting, but very very costly (if it's not a DB). And, gameplay wise, the less frequent the saves, the more content the player is forced to revisit when they fail.

 

You could auto-save on milestones, like "upon entering or exiting an area" or "upon getting a thing" or "killing a thing"...but that does mean on a crash, death, or a desire to retry, they're redoing everything since the most recent milestone, and players don't really enjoy re-doing content after they die. That is effectively a punishment mechanism. "You died, and the penalty is re-doing all of this...from your last save, which maybe you don't have control over." Save points (as you mention) are like "Player-controlled milestones" since they're manual saves that only work in a specific place (the save point) or, put another way, they only work when you reach a certain milestone area. When you do this, you're giving the player the ability to make multiple saves so they can have back-ups at previous milestones, but still restricting their ability to save-scum.

 

You could allow them to save whenever they want to, unless they're in a certain kind of area. Have you ever seen the message: "Saving is not allowed in this location"? For instance, when traveling around the Overworld, the player can save whenever they want to (i.e. little punishment for dying) but they can't save in Dungeons at all (they die, they start the entire dungeon over).

 

Honestly, given the complexity of the problem (i.e. the problems I see here) and the implicit punishment mechanism for not controlling one's own saves, you might consider just letting them save. smile.png But, if not, there are my thoughts on the matter. I hope some of it is helpful!

Edited by thade

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Keep in mind that some players actually like to exploit a game with Quick Save/Quick Load (which is something the designers of XCOM: Enemy Unknown needed to address) and that's just a kind of game play that some like.

Do they though?  What is the danger?  That someone might 'cheat' in a singleplayer game?  The only thing you have to be careful about with save anywhere is people who only use one save slot, and manage to save themselves in a state that they can't get out of.  For example, in the bottom of a dungeon with only 1 hit point or some such.

 

I could see it argued that if you allow save anywhere there is the danger that someone will 'give in' to the temptation of saving every few steps -- but that's how my Dad likes to play games, and he enjoys playing them that way, I don't see any point in forbidding him from enjoying your game.  

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++ EDIT ++

I misread a post, so my response here was completely bonk and silly. If you still wish to see it, it's in the history. <3 Apologies. Edited by thade

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I tend to prefer the save-alters. Random alters are as good an excuse as any to litter them around important areas were an inn or something would be a little strange. But perhaps have both -- The inn could offer the usual rejuvenation in addition to simply saving progress.

 

Maybe to prevent abuse, you have to make an offering of coin to the alter's deity (or whatever) to save. Not as much as an inn, but enough so that people don't just save at every opportunity, unless the placement of the alters is intended to invite that.

 

Finally, you could have an expendable item to perform saves either stand-alone, or in supplement of the other approaches. A scroll and quill, which could be used to save progress literally anywhere. Which would maybe cost as much or more than an inn, but again without the rejuvenation. They player pays dearly for the convenience, discouraging use, but making it available for the players that might need that little extra help.

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The actual mechanics of doing a save can be made to be a game element, you see that in a lot of games.

 

For me I am firmly in the save almost anywhere camp.

 

I stopped playing a lot of Square Enix games because they used save altars. Towards the end of one game you had to play for 40 minutes to get from one save point to the next. I find that arrogant and stupid.

 

If I can't drop into a game and play for 10-15 minutes, then leave, I won't play it.

 

My life is too complex to be able to say "I'm going to sit down and play this game for a few hours"

 

That is ignoring the frustration caused when you get 20 yards from a save point, make a mistake and die. Thus having to play the last 35 minutes of the game again.

 

I think this supports Thade's position above.

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Keep in mind that some players actually like to exploit a game with Quick Save/Quick Load (which is something the designers of XCOM: Enemy Unknown needed to address) and that's just a kind of game play that some like.

Do they though?

 

Yes, they definitely do. XCOM:EU is one example of a design team denying this than accepting it in their xpac. See:

http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/10/16/xcom-expansion-grudgingly-acknowledges-save-scummers/
 

What is the danger?

There are two, both of which I made points of up there. smile.png

 

First, there's a danger that a segment of your audience will be frustrated and not enjoy your game. :\ I see you built up a number of straw men arguments in order to support your thesis, which isn't really going to help you with your design. If you want to build a game with autosaving only, you certainly can; but keep in mind that it may reduce the population of players interested in your game.

 

Second, there's the challenges inherent in both designing and implementing a compulsory auto-save.

++ EDIT. Typo and clarification. ++

 

 

Straw man?  Not at all.   You just managed to not answer my questions towards the danger of Save Anywhere at all, I think you need to re-read my post before linking to wikipedia and spuriously dismissing my arguments.   Your points only are towards AutoSave ,not Save Anywhere.   In fact your linked RPS article seems to imply that the XCOM makers realized that save scummers are a large enough group of people that they shouldn't be ignored, and it's better to just let them play how they want.  I say if someone wants to 'cheat' with a save anywhere implementation, then go ahead, who are they hurting?  Themselves?  Possibly, but it sounds like XCOM team managed to alienate/hurt more players than they 'saved' from 'cheating'.

 

Also, I think people are referring to altars, not alters, eg dedicated save points.

Edited by ferrous

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I apologize, I completely misread your post. Actually, I'm a bit embarrassed having re-read what you said above; what I thought you wrote (and remember reading) was something to the effect of "Saving Anywhere is something that should be disallowed" which, I think you'll agree, you did not say. Sorry for that.

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Personally, I prefer to have the option to save whenever I want to in a RPG. I understand your concern about players abusing that system, but you have to understand that sometimes it is impossible to prevent everyone from misusing a feature. If you do decide to use save points, or check points, make sure they are frequent enough to prevent players from having to replay huge sections of your game. Good luck!

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I think the save altars are a legitimate way of doing it, as long as they are reasonably common in all areas of the world. Even with the save altars or towns, you can still kind of use a system of save anywhere, just make it so that when you load the file you keep all items and experience you earned up until the time you last saved, but your character would physically respawn at the nearest altar/town (if you can teleport to the altars anyway, this shouldn’t be game changing.) That way the player could still save at any time without really losing character related progress other than maybe the current dungeon being reset, but saving couldn't be used to cheat through multi-stage challenges along the lines of a jumping puzzle, where failing on any one part of the challenge is meant to send the player back to the beginning.

 

Depending on how your game works, it might also be possible that you could solve the save/load abusing problem simply by allowing players to save only when they’ve been out of combat for a short time, or only once they've cleared the current room/dungeon if that's a concept that makes sense in your game.

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