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The Designer's Notebook: Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! XI
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The Designer's Notebook: Bad Game Designer, No Twinkie! XI

December 2, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Save Points Before Long Non-Interactive Sections

If you've been reading the Designer's Notebook for a while, you'll know that I'm not a fan of save points; I prefer on-demand saving just in case Dad (or Mom) says "Switch that game off right this minute." But some players really enjoy the tension of not knowing whether they're going to make it to the next save point, so I have to acknowledge that save points are here to stay. However, they do create problems if implemented badly.

I mentioned this Twinkie Denial Condition briefly all the way back in Bad Game Designer V, when I introduced another one, the uninterruptible movie. If you put a save point right before a movie, every time the player dies, he'll have to see the movie again. If you can skip the movie, it's not that big a deal, but some games put their save points right before other kinds of long, non-interactive sections of the game, and the player has to go through it all every time he reloads.

Kaftan Barlast describes one in Mass Effect: "Right before the boss fight on Artemis Tau you have to go through a conversation and an unskippable elevator ride every single time you die. And this is with a game that has an actual save system, but they disable the ability to save the game before and during the fight."

Steven McDonald also mentioned Deadly Creatures on the Wii, in which you have to walk for a minute with nothing to do following a save point. Generally speaking, there shouldn't be any long walks with nothing to do in a game anyway; but walking through the same territory doing nothing fifteen times is particularly dull.

Bottom line: put your save points after any non-interactive content (cut scenes, dialog, long walks), and shortly before any big fights. If the player respawns with very little health, be sure to put some healing potions (or equivalent) around too, because respawning with low health straight into an unavoidable fight is another common complaint.

Movies You Can't Pause or See Again

I've already addressed the question of uninterruptible movies and games that lack a pause button -- both are Twinkie Denial Conditions. The combination is even worse, as Bas Wells wrote to point out. Suppose you've fought your way through hordes of undead kangaroos, haven't reached a save checkpoint, and a critically important cut-scene begins... when your doorbell rings. You can't pause and you can't see the movie again without starting the level over.

Bas wrote, "To add insult to injury, some games will save after the cut-scene, and it will be gone, a slice of the story missed and gone forever unless you restart the entire level. I remember this happening in Grand Theft Auto IV, then dying on purpose, restarting from the safe house and driving all across town a second time just to be able to watch the scene a second time. I think I must have done this a dozen times in total in just GTA4, and many other games similarly."

I don't think cut-scenes need a full set of DVD controls, but I do think they need:

  • a way to interrupt them and skip to the end;
  • a way to pause them;
  • a way to see them again, once you've seen them once.

The Longest Journey and many other games provide a shell screen where you can revisit the movies that you have already seen once, both for enjoyment and in case you missed any vital clues the first time around. This should be a mandatory feature.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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