Monday, May 28, 2012

Quicksave, Cheating, and the Sanctity of Singleplayer

The background is that I got ahold of a copy of the game Mirror's Edge, I'm probably going to make an entire post on my experience of playing it, which will be very much related to some of the stuff discussed here, but for now the important information is that my impressions of the game were as follows:

First impression, "Oh my God this is amazing, I have to recommend this to everyone and there should be more games like this."

Second impression: "This game could serve as an object lesson in why there should be quick saving as an option in all games."

Third impression: "I want to inflict physical harm on whoever decided you shouldn't be able to manually save."

I found some third party programs that allowed me to cheat my way around most of the frustration, but having to do that circumventing when all I needed was a bog standard save feature was itself pretty damn frustrating and in the process of all of this happening I again found myself reading about what seems to be a perennial internet debate on gaming.

Should games let you save whenever you want to?  Should games have cheats?

First, it's important to note that this is about single player gaming.  Quicksave and multiplayer would mix like an oceanliner and a desert, and cheating in multiplayer has some serious moral problems because you're breaking the rules to the detriment of someone else.

And second, I suppose, I should say what those two things actually are.  Saving you probably already know, even if you've never so much looked in the general direction of a videogame.  You save your progress so that, should something go wrong, it will not be lost.  Also so that you can get back to it if you have the need or desire.  It's just like saving any other file, and it protects against some of the same things that might go wrong.  (E.g. your computer losing power.)

Quicksaving is saving that you can do without having to open up a menu screen.  You just push a button and it saves the game.  Generally there is one slot for quicksave so quicksaving overwrites the previous quicksave.  Thus it's not for something you might want to go back to later, it's for saving your progress as you move forward.  (Quicksave tends to be accompanied by quickload, which, again at the push of a button and without a menu screen, loads your quicksave.)

Cheats are many and varied.  Probably the quintessential cheat is god mode which prevents you from dying. Infinite health, no risk of being shot to death.  Depending on the game you might also be able to use cheats to fly, or alter the flow or time, or summon a bunch of lizard chickens, make them loyal to you, have them follow you around, and have them defeat your enemies by breathing fire at said enemies.  (Console commands in Deus Ex, I love you so.)

Saving and cheating can both serve multiple functions.  They can eliminate frustration.  For example saving can make it so a single stupid mistake doesn't require to repeat an entire lengthy sequence that, while it might have been fun the first time, is not so fun on the 16th or 64th time.  Cheating can get you passed a trouble spot where you always seem to get shot in the head or fall off a cliff even though it shouldn't be causing you such problems.

They can add to your fun.  As the above example with the fire breathing lizard chicken loyal minions.  Or if you have a part that you really like surrounded by some parts you don't like so much, you can save right before it and be able to go back and replay the part you like without having to suffer through the parts you don't like.

They can make something more accessible.  For example I have the reaction time of a tortoise and the aim of something that doesn't aim very well.  If not for the ability to cheat most games would be beyond my abilities because I am simply too damned slow to play right.  (I'm also a horrible spotter, if you give me the job of calling out where rocks are while we go down rapids, the canoe will end up capsized before the end.)  By the time I've reacted to incoming fire and taken aim, in most games my character will have been nearly killed or killed outright.

Cheating can help with that, so too can saving.  With cheating I can regenerate health, slow the game down to give me more time to react, and if all else fails become invincible.  With saving I can save after every encounter I manage to survive, or even mid encounter should I have gained an advantage I don't want to lose.  (This is, I think, why some people consider quicksave tantamount to cheating, it can get you through spots where your skills alone would fail.)

My general slowness also means that if ever a game requires you to time something just right (not in a "You have 15 seconds to do X" way but in a "When you see Y you have to press button Z right away," way) I will fail pitifully.  This is a wonderful time to pull out the cheats and change the flow of time.  Likewise for needing to hit multiple buttons at nearly the same time in a given sequence.

They can also let you find enjoyment in places you otherwise never would.  For example I was playing Jedi Outcast one time and I reached a point where I had one point of health left.  If I couldn't save then the logical response would be to use force healing and get back to reasonable amount of health before proceeding.  But I could save, so I did save, and then I went on to the next area, filled with enemies with powerful weapons, and saw what fun could be had.  Turned out quite a lot.  It generally ended with me dying, but I had saved so that wasn't a problem.  I found that maximum enjoyment came from bringing cheats into the mix and kicking the flow of time into extreme slow motion.

Anyway, it probably comes as no surprise that when it comes to the question of either saving or cheats I'm on the side of letting the option exist.

Often times, when I talk about this game or that, the person I'm talking to will say that they don't play games because they're not any good at them.  I generally respond by saying that I'm not either but I get around it by cheating.  Part of the reason I say that is because if I don't it feels like I'm claiming that, unlike the speaker, I am good at games.  I'm not.  But I think that part of it is also that I want them to know both that the option exists, and I think it's important to have people admit to cheating in order to show that there's no shame in it.


Ok, so, things defined and described, time to talk about the actual debate.

First off, I should point out that it's more complicated than I'm going to get into in this post.  Like most things there's not a simple binary but a sort of continuous spectrum from one position to the next, and since there are more than two poles it becomes a sort of tetrahedron of positions.  That said, for this post I'm only concerned really with those who say that quicksaving or/and cheats should not exist and how those people relate to everyone else.

I honestly do not understand these people in the least.  If they were saying that work shouldn't be put into including these things because the effort would be better spent elsewhere I'd at least understand where they're coming from.  But that's not where they're coming from.  (Amoung other things, most games have cheats already because they get used in the debugging process.  Making games cheat-free involves more effort than not doing so, only a tiny bit more, but more none the less.)  No, the argument is primarily moral and apocalyptic.

These things cannot be allowed because they're wrong.  (They make the game too easy, you see.)  And if they are allowed they'll ruin everything for everyone.

When people not of this persuasion ask how this will happen answers are not as forthcoming as one might hope.

Other people will ask how what someone else does in the privacy of their own home with their copy of the game could possibly effect these people's experience of the game.  How does person X using cheats in single player harm your relationship with the game?

At this point the conversation always seems to shift sideways in a way that allows the person to not answer.  On the rare occasion that it doesn't I'm left with the impression that they think whatever isn't prohibited is mandatory.  They say that the game will be too easy, never seeming to realize that they don't need to use cheats and if they don't like quicksaving they can just never hit that button.  (They can even unbind the button so, should they ever be tempted, they will be unable to.)

If people point out that, even when there are cheat codes, its entirely possible to not use them this seems to either not register, or do the aforementioned going sideways.  Ditto for saving.

The sideways going tends to go into generalities, for example the idea of overriding right and wrong that means that what they're against is bad and harmful and whatnot just because, or the idea of deservingness.

People who can't win/enjoy the game via traditional means (though at this point I think cheat codes and saving are both pretty damned traditional) don't deserve to partake in the institution of game and letting us in will bring the whole thing down.  Somehow, they never really say how, opening it up to more people will cheapen and defile it for those deserving people who already have it.

Now to some people this might sound vaguely familiar to something from an area completely unrelated to gaming, or it might not in which case never mind, but I'm honestly not trying to take any steps to make the two things seem more like one another than they are.  I'm not trying for any extended metaphor here.  This is really a thing.

I think this area pretty much the only place I've encountered this kind of thinking outside of the intersection of religion and politics.  In the very secular realm of single player video games there's the idea that there's some kind of universal property to the thing so that if anyone does something you don't like, that will defile everything for everyone and somehow harm you.

It's not enough to just follow your morals for yourself, you have to make sure that everyone else does it too because, even if no one else is affected directly, it somehow harms you indirectly to have them doing it.

There's also the same, "If we let people do this then everyone, even people who don't want to right now, will do it," thing we see elsewhere to stop people from having nice things.  (Or, indeed, basic rights.)

Things that people don't want for themselves have to be made impossible.  I remember an occasion where someone found out that the game they were playing had cheats enabled by default. There were not cheats activated.  Which meant that, even with cheats enabled,  the only way actual cheating would take place was if they opened the console, deleted the command "say" (because the console was theoretically there to communicate in the non-existent multiplayer, not cheat in single player), typed in a cheat code that they would have had to look up first, and then hit enter.  Which is to say that cheating wouldn't happen unless they actually actively wanted it to.  That wasn't enough for them, and they were left freaking out over it because the mere possibility of cheating cannot be allowed to exist.

That incident was actually pretty moderate, they just wanted to disable cheats and then alter the game code so that it could never be enabled again on their own copy.  Most of the anti-cheat people want that done for everyone, and want it done that way for all games before they're released to the public.

I don't understand these people.

I don't understand these people because their morality tells them that what is important is not harm or help to actual people, but whether arbitrary rules are broken.  Rules that sometimes exist only in their own minds.  They can't be happy unless the know that everyone has to play by their rules and no one they consider undeserving is enjoying themselves.

None of that makes sense to me.

In the end, so long as we don't cause ourselves discomfort or sabotage our enjoyment, my feeling is that we can't cheat ourselves at solitaire because, being solitaire, it's up to us to determine how the game is played.  If someone wants to play in a way that violates the rules I know, say if they want to have all the cards turned up so that they know exactly where everything is and can try to work out the most efficient solution or whatnot, that's not going to bother me.  If they can enjoy that then good for them.  (Looking at the Wikipedia article linked to above I can see that that means of "cheating" is actually considered a game in its own right.  It is called "Thoughtful Solitaire".)


  1. I'm an MMO gamer, not a console gamer, largely because I'm another person with terrible gaming reflexes. MMOs, being aimed at the unwashed masses, tend to be easier to play. (Before I sold the XBox 360 someone gave me, I tried and abandoned Ghostbusters, The Force Unleashed, and Oblivion because I hit points - very quickly - that I could not get past. Even with the "how to get past this" directions open on my computer in front of me.

    MMOs provide the ultimate "cheat" for incompetent gamers, at least up to the very highest of levels* - max leveled friends. I don't see what's so bad about summoning the digital equivalent in a single player game. But then, I really don't care what people do if it isn't hurting other people or other people's fun. (Though if other people's fun is knowing that some people will never get to enjoy something, I say, to hell with their fun.)

    *Or even to max level itself if one's friends enjoy PvP or end game stuff and one does not. Or if you have several friends at max level.

  2. Seems to me that the main problem with cheats - or let's say "excessive" saving, because nobody's going to do a 40-hour game in a single sitting - is bragging rights; everyone who says "I beat this game in 20 hours" should be comparing roughly the same experience.

    Effectively by using such techniques you're dropping the game's difficulty level. Well, so what, if the game has difficulty levels anyway? Roll it in - build godmode and everything else right into the game, and have the player's use of it affect the final score. That way Mister Clumsy can still see all the neat stuff the game has to offer, and Ms Lightning can still back up her assertion that she did a really hard thing.

    (The impression I got of Deus Ex - not having played it - is that the multiple ways of completing missions are effectively a variant of this. If as a player you can do twitchy combat, you may as well take the violent approach; if you're better at sneaking, you can do that. Does that fit reasonably well with your experience?)

    Save points, i.e. specific locations outside which you cannot save your progress, are simply evil. Sometimes you just have to stop playing immediately.

    1. Yeah, the way Deus Ex works with multiple styles means that if you have a strength it's probably going to be possible for you to use that strength in the game. Also, since you're not forced to stick with any one way of doing things, even if you don't really have a strength you at least have options. You can say, "For this situation I think I can make it through doing [whatever]." Maybe you primarily sneak through silently avoiding confrontation altogether but feel like what the situation in front of you really calls for is an anti-tank weapon.

      or let's say "excessive" saving, because nobody's going to do a 40-hour game in a single sitting

      It's controlled saving that people object to, especially the kind of one button saving that quicksave represents. Mirror's edge, for example, has checkpoints. Pass a checkpoint and it saves for you*. So there's still saving, it's just not under your control.

      Checkpoints seemed to be the ideal of those against player controlled saving. Which, I suppose, it would have to be since there's not a lot of other options. A lot of it did seem to be tied up with deservingness. You have to earn the right to save your progress.

      So you can't just save because you know that the thing in front of you is something you tend to screw up and will probably need to attempt multiple times, nor can you save because you finally got passed really-hard-thing and don't want to have to do it again. Instead you have to complete a certain amount of the game, determined by the developers, and then your progress will be automatically saved, and you can't save again until you've earned it by making another predetermined amount of progress.

      The idea that you might have to stop playing in a hurry either doesn't figure in or is dismissed as something you haven't earned. If you have to stop playing and you haven't made it to the next checkpoint, you don't deserve to retain your progress.

      That seems to be the thinking.


      * Though it's apparently a bit more complicated than that, there seem to be sort of subcheckpoints between the checkpoints where if you die you go back to the most recent subcheckpoint, but if you stop playing you lose all progress since the most recent actual checkpoint. It will tell you as you quit that you'll lose any unsaved progress but, given that you generally don't know when the last save was, that's kind of meaningless.

      Sometimes the subcheckpoints seemed like they were pretty damned close together, other times I know they weren't because I'd have this lengthy segment where only one part was a problem for me and every damn time I died at that one part I was forced to redo the entire lengthy segment. Said lengthy segment was fun the first time but not so much when I was forced to redo it over and over and over again.

    2. Yeah, I remember when checkpoints as opposed to save-whenever-you-like came in, and I thought it was a bad idea then. :-)

      I think the best save-restricting mechanic ever was in Infocom's Planetfall: whenever you save, your robot buddy says "Oh, boy! Are we gonna do something dangerous now?"

    3. That has to be the thing that frustrated me the most about Deus Ex: Human Revolution. No matter how much you choose to be stealthy and got upgrades for you ran into the boss battle and were forced to gun it out regardless of your skills at doing so. I nearly quit and deleted the game after smashing my face against that battle 4 or 5 times. A couple minutes looking it up and some cheats got me past the designers failure to do their job and back to the game I was enjoying.

    4. I still haven't played much of Human Revolution. I plan to the whole thing someday, but of the things that I plan to do someday it's got to be one of the least interesting seeming.

      I don't have firsthand experience of the boss fights, but I do know a bit about how they came to be.

      Deus Ex, according to the Human Revolution developers, didn't have any memorable moments. That was something they saw as a problem with the original, and thus something that had to be solved. Boss fights appear to have been part of their solution.

      You would think that introducing something so very unlike Deus Ex* to a Deus Ex game would call for a good deal of care and attention, and would need to be overseen by people who knew Deus Ex in and out. You'd be wrong. They outsourced the boss fights to a company where the staff had never played Deus Ex and knew nothing about Deus Ex.

      And that is how what you see in the game came to be.


      * In Deus Ex the only person you have to fight is the not-at-all boss character trying to detonate the missile. And some of the time he kills himself via unwise use of grenades.

      Ana and Gunther can be defeated with words, Gunther can also simply be run away from, Simons can be avoided entirely, and everyone can be dealt with via a single shot from a high powered weapon. (Say, for example, a rocket launcher.)

  3. Hmm. A few arguments I've heard

    1. In many games, quicksaves can completely ruin your game, especially if they're your only save. The archtypical example is adventure games, especially the old, Sierra ones. Fail to pick up the stick in level 4? In level 5, you can't progress. If your only save is a quicksave, which you activated and overwrote after completing the Quicktime events in the first part of level 5, you have to start the game over. Whereas, if you used regular saves, you're more likely to have a backup and not need to play the whole game over again. This also happens in combat games where some attacks take a while to land. If the enemy casts the Kill Everyone spell, and then you quicksave, and then the spell lands, you're dead, and reloading just means you get to die again. Preventing quick saves, or going further and preventing saves in combat at all, can reduce this risk. Games with timers have this problem too; if you save with five minutes left and you can't win in that time, the save is basically useless and you have to start over unless you have another.

    2. Quicksaves can change how the designers think about difficulty of the game. There's the risk that some developers will set their difficulty curves based on the assumption that people will use them, which will make the game too hard for anyone else, or at least just different and into something other people don't want to play as much.
    For instance, suppose there's a dungeoncrawler game with a particular dungeon with a sequence of several battles. The original intent was that each individual battle isn't too bad, but their cumulative effect results in the party being largely depleted by the end of the dungeon, so the final boss fight is really hard. But the designer considers that some people might use saves such that, after each fight, the person will reload unless they got awesome rolls, didn't use much that can be depleted (such as healing potions), and weren't hurt too badly. That sequence won't be nearly as hard for them. So the developers amp up the difficulty of each fight so that the quicksavers also have a challenge, with the result being that pretty much everyone is forced to quicksave, or find the sequence impossible. Even if it's still technically possible, some people like resource games, where the fun part is managing your party's resources through a series of encounters. Quicksaves make that not really necessary, so not as many games using it are designed, which can frustrate those players.

    (Continued for length limit)

    1. I'm not sure if I'll have more to say later, but at the moment I have to go to sleep so I'm intentionally keeping this response very narrow.

      In response to one, first off, I would never recommend having a single save slot only. But second the solution that I've seen implemented to that is to not let you save after you've lost, even if you don't necessarily know you lost yet. Sure, it would in theory allow someone to realize they've lost before they were intended to if they tried to save and found they couldn't, but that's much better than having them screwed over by post loss saving. Also, I'm not in favor of leaving people to play for hours after they've lost the game. Strikes me as pointless and jerkish, but that's definitely just my opinion.

      The thing I've seen recommended is having multiple quicksave spots. Instead of having the slot be overwritten it, for example, kicks primary quicksave to secondary, secondary to tertiary, and deletes tertiary. Thus you've always got your most recent three and you're less likely to accidentally mess that up. (Three might not be the best number.)

      But in either case I definitely wouldn't recommend having quicksave be they only save slot(s) available.

      I was just going to be addressing 1, but very quickly with 2. If someone is going to be making excessive use of saving and loading to make the game easier for them than it would be playing in a more standard way, my response if I were a developer would be to let them have the game be easier.

      If someone wants to run through fight one a hundred times so that fight two will be easier for them because they're less damaged, my feeling is that they've earned themselves an easier fight two. (I'm not going to grind like that, but if they want to I don't see why they shouldn't benefit.) If they don't want an easier fight two and they're putting in the effort to get it anyway, then they're sabotaging their own enjoyment and I'm not sure it's a developer's job to save them from themselves.

      If I, as a hypothetical developer, did think it was my job to save them from their own efforts to make the game to easy for themselves, I think my response would be to scale the difficulty of each fight on the state of the players going into it. If fight one barely damaged them, fight two gets harder, if fight one left them almost lifeless, fight two gets easier. That way I can control the difficulty without having to guess how people will act.

    2. 1. If your only save is a quicksave, which you activated and overwrote after completing the Quicktime events in the first part of level 5, you have to start the game over. Whereas, if you used regular saves, you're more likely to have a backup and not need to play the whole game over again.

      Bad game design compounded by more bad game design != good game design. The issue here is to fix the game so that people do not get permanently, unknowingly stuck because of decisions they couldn't have foreseen (or outright bugs.)

      2. But the designer considers that some people might use saves such that, after each fight, the person will reload unless they got awesome rolls, didn't use much that can be depleted (such as healing potions), and weren't hurt too badly.

      This is not, I think normal gamer behavior, and hopefully betatesting would reveal that quickly. Again, this is a game design flaw. Patching in quicksave to older game does change the difficulty (which is good for those of us that have difficulty with them). It's true that Mario would not be the same game if you could quicksave after every jump.

      I do think there's an argument that *sometimes* quicksave can foil the sense of forward momentum a game develops. If you've got a text game where you can't lose, but the character choices affect the outcome, I can understand a designer not wanting players to be able to "test" every decision to look at the outcome before deciding. (There are other, better ways around this issue, but I at least understand the impulse.) But for the sorts of games Chris is discussing, that's not the core issue. The core issue is that the lack of quick-save is being used to increase the difficulty cred of the game.

    3. I was going to say this yesterday, but never got around to it because I was, and still am if I'm honest, in the middle of composing a post that has gotten away from me and turned into a wall of text that will likely interest/benefit no one. Expect to see that sometime later today.

      Anyway, Dav has basically beaten me to it at this point, but the core of most of your points, including some presented in the next post, seems to be that bad game design is bad. This is true, but largely beside the point. If the choice is between "good games without quicksave" and "bad games with it", then of course the good games are better games, but in reality that choice is a false dilemma.

      Especially considering that your examples of things that can go wrong largely aren't related to quicksave.

      If the player finds themselves at the end of a game and unable to win, that's not a problem with quicksave, that's a major fuck up on the developers' end that has nothing to do with quicksave. The problem isn't that the developer let the player use quicksave, the problem is that the developer made it so you can be stuck at the end of the game and unable to win. Take away the quicksave and the player would still be stuck there.

      If the developers create the difficulty curve by assuming that all players will exploit something in a way that it clearly wasn't intended to be used which most players would never even consider, then the developers fucked up. Quicksave is, at best, incidental to the fact that they're designing the game badly.

      The overall point of the few arguments you have heard (excepting certain art games) seems to be, "A game that includes this could, potentially, be bad if the developers were very bad at their jobs." That's going to be true of anything that ever appears in games.


      (And I would argue that there is a big difference between 'quick saves exist, but I will use Iron Discipline and not use them', and 'no quicksaves here.' Maybe there shouldn't be, but I myself find that it feels different in the two scenarios).

      The "Iron Discipline" thing throws me somewhat. If you can't stop yourself from hitting the key, disable the key. Then every time you might be tempted you'll be faced with a multistep process that, depending on how you went about disabling the key, might involve shutting down the game and editing game files. How much discipline does it take not to do that every time temptation rears it's head?

      That said, that's still not an argument against quicksave so much as an argument that it could be implemented better.

      You could, for example, have an option to decide at the beginning of a playthrough whether you'll be able to save during said playthrough. Decide not to and your Iron Discipline will need only prevent you from quitting, restarting the game with different initial options, and then playing through again with those options. Which is no different than the Iron Disciple necessary to not give up and start over in easy difficulty when the hard difficulty level proves to be somewhat hard.

      (I am not suggesting, however, that saving ought to only be available on the easy difficulty level. Gameplay difficulty and saving are two very different things, and should be entirely decoupled.)

      That assumes that it's enabled as an option in the first place, as opposed to there for those who would enable it. (Consider the process some games use for enabling cheats where you have to have to edit the shortcut to add an argument, no such argument when the exe is launched, no cheats.)

  4. 2. cont:

    I'm not aware of any titles by name, but I've heard people talk about old dungeoncrawlers in which saving could only be used if you wanted to stop playing and do something else. You could save only when you quit, and when you opened the game again the save was loaded and then destroyed (so you could never go back to it). And, from what I've heard, some people loved these games and found them to be really tense and exciting, because you only had the one life. You couldn't just try random stuff and hope for the best; you had to be really strategic. What's in that next room? Should you buff in case it's a monster, or will that use up your buffs so that you don't have them when you need them? Send in a scout first, or just charge in with your whole party because you know if you'll need that scout later. It also encouraged flexibility -- your mage got killed and the only substitute character available is a bard? Then you need to learn to use the bard effectively, because you can't just reload to get your mage back. Obviously, I'm not saying all games should be like that, but I can sympathize with people who would like for some to be like that, and who feel like the proliferations of quick saves, save states, etc. result in fewer games like that.
    (And I would argue that there is a big difference between 'quick saves exist, but I will use Iron Discipline and not use them', and 'no quicksaves here.' Maybe there shouldn't be, but I myself find that it feels different in the two scenarios).

    3. This might sound pretentious, but sometimes saving goes against the point or mood of the game. I find this mostly in fan-made flash games on the Internet. The most famous example I can think of is one where the game starts by giving you a rifle and having you shoot some guy tied to a post. Once you do, the words 'you lose' come up. You can't save and reload, or even restart or reinstall the game (without messing around with your computer's registry), because the whole point is that, once you kill someone, you don't get to 'reload' and not-kill them. Eversion does this too, because once you get to the Lovecraftian parts of the game, it would ruin the mood to let you reload and play around in the Mario-style parts more, so you can't.

    In short, I don't think there's anything wrong with using quicksaves like you're doing; certainly I don't feel that other people are somehow hurting me by playing games in a different way than I am, and certainly there are some games where I use quicksaves frequently. But I can see why including quicksaves can cause problems from the design end of things, whether it's messing up the difficulty curves or just adding a risk that a player will find themselves at the end of the game, make it unwinnable, and then be frustrated at having to do it over. And I can see why other gamers then get upset at the idea of quicksaves and complain about people using them, even if I think they're wrong.

    1. 2, cont. Roguelikes often function like this (Nethack, ADOM). And that works because the theoretical goal is "winning", but most people will never win. The gameplay itself is the reward - there's not much of a storyline, the mechanics are basically static. Learning the game world inside and out, from the perspective of hundreds of different characters, is necessary to "win". It's notable, however, that these tend not to be twitchy games - they're usually turn-based - and that people still "save-scum". And there are god modes in most of them. (Anyone else turn into a female dragon in Nethack and then lay eggs and hatch the eggs, trailing around a brood of protective dragon hatchlings? Anyone?) So there's still demand to play in ways that the designers don't intend. And while god-mode makes it a different kind of game, both the normal and god-mode are fun, and save-scumming can be great.

      Art games aside, I generally fall into the hard-core game design philosophy that games ought to be fun and accessible. Nor do I think players are obligated to have the experience that the game developers intend for them to. (Because they're not anyway.) If you don't intend for it to be part of the mainstream experience, fine. Make it a console code. But things like quicksave are *built in* to most game engines these days. The developers of Mirror's Edge almost certainly had to *disable* the feature deliberately, and I think that requires some explanation. (Did the testers/programmers have access to some of those cheats? Almost certainly.)

      *And* as a gamer, I want to be able to stop my gameplay at any moment. If my (imaginary) child wakes up and starts screaming, I need to be able to stop gaming and pay attention to real life. It's pretty standard, and I think there should be quite a bit of justification if the devs decide to disallow it.

    2. Roguelikes are exactly what came to mind for me, too - I feel *very* strongly that savescumming one's way to a win in NetHack "doesn't count", but part of that's because NetHack has explore mode (and debug mode - why, yes, I *would* like to #selfpoly into a titan, thank you); I can't think of a modern game where you could choose between the chance of getting a high score and never having to actually die if you don't want.

  5. I have an emotionally disturbed fourteen-year-old child.

    I've observed the following with him: If the game is very hard and doesn't have cheats, he quite reasonably gives up. If the game is of an appropriate difficulty and doesn't have cheats, he may like it and play it for a long time. If the game has cheats, he is very quick to go to the cheats, and then loses interest. There's no challenge--once he starts to use cheats he uses them constantly--and the "cute" cheat stuff like the chickens tends to interfere with caring about the plot, so why should he keep playing?

    I can't police how another person chooses to interact with games, but I do have a live example of a case where the way he prefers to interact is not the way that leads to any kind of long-term enjoyment of the game. Because giving up immediately and going to the cheats is so easy, he doesn't get through difficult parts and therefore doesn't get the satisfaction of success. I cringe when I hear him looking up cheats because I know he will be wanting a new game, usually within a day.

    1. I wish I had a solution in cases like that, but I don't.

      When it comes to someone who doesn't want to cheat/quicksave/whatever but is worried about the temptation there are potentially ways around. All that one has to do is make it so it's too much work for those who don't really want to do it but still possible for those who do.*

      When it comes to someone who does actually want to cheat, and is definitely willing to put in the work that that requires (however much it may be), there's no way to keep them from cheating while letting others be able to.

      In fact, there's not always a way to prevent them from cheating at all.

      It is impossible to use the cheats in Mirror's Edge. There are cheats, both ones that came with the engine and ones that were made for Mirror's Edge, but they've been disabled so effectively that in the years since it came out no one has discovered how to turn them back on. (That I know of.)

      And yet, I was still able to cheat while playing it (without which I would not have gotten through it.) I downloaded a program to run alongside the game and implement its own cheats. Anyone who wanted to cheat, whether it would be to their benefit or detriment, would be able to do the same.


      I know it's not ideal, but when there are situations where not having a choice will disadvantage some people but having a choice will cause others to choose to their disadvantage, I tend to be on the side of having the choice.


      * If one makes it so that one can only manually save if they've chosen to enable that as an option at the beginning of their playthrough then when those who don't actually want manual saving get to a tough spot they're not faced with "quicksave" or "don't quicksave" but instead, "start over and play the entire game up to this point then quicksave" or "don't quicksave", which might make using the quicksave feature less of a temptation for them.

    2. I believe it was Tribes 2, an essentially multi-player game, for which an auto-aim cheat was developed... that was implemented as a custom mouse driver.

  6. Some of what you are talking about hits 2 different sides of game design; sorry if this wanders off point.

    First, the question is how they implement a game save system- quite often developers take the easy route of writing off the entire game state to disk; reloading the game restores every single variable and position. This can become a huge amount of data in a large 3D game, and can grow the longer you play. One of the advantages, beyond straightforwardness, is that the game remembers every single change you have made to the local environment- you can stockpile weapons/items/trophies in a random house that you liked the look of. This can require reading/writing large amounts of data- the common cause of loading screens.

    An alternate way is to setup a save file format, where the game state gets converted into a series of parameters(did they pick up the flag/shiny/floozle; which quests are marked as completed?). The file can be dramatically smaller, but lots of small details can be lost(history of conversations, items dropped by enemies not picked up). Only creatures/items in the immediate area need to have their state preserved.

    A step past the file format is a checkpoint system, where saves only happen on transitioning zones. Especially if back-tracking is not allowed, all that is necessary is to store the starting state/locations of everything up ahead.

    In terms of game-play though, there are side effects. When saves are restricted to checkpoints, the difficulty is much easier to predict; the player will only have a limited amount of resources available(health, ammo, etc). When quick-saves are possible, then the player is much more likely to be in a best-case scenario(near max health, plenty of ammunition). If the gameplay relies on resource management and slow attrition(lots of weak enemies), or on highly randomized elements(like random loot in a chest), then quick saves can end up destroying the difficulty.
    Getting back to game play design, a lack of a real difficulty selector is getting to a "Twinkie Denial Condition" (a nice list of similar design flaws from a game developer's perspective). Using cheat codes to get through difficult areas is a sledgehammer vs. nail approach, most of the time you want just a little help or things to be a little easier not invincibility. An older DOS game, Centurion, had separate difficulty sliders for each of the different types of combat/mini-game, which let a player adjust to their strengths a reasonable challenge. And it lets you adjust it in game, without having to start over.

    Another concept I remember(I think from Shamus Young's blog Twenty Sided Tales) was that dying breaks the game immersion- going through a death followed by a loading screen breaks the flow of gameplay. This is more an argument for better difficulty(dynamic even) than restricting saves. If you are trying to tell a story or build a narrative, then every time the player goes back to reload grinds things to a halt(especially when they mix in unskippable cut-scenes).

    Better difficulty settings help mitigate this, assuming they are well calibrated. Most of the people making games should be highly experienced in how existing games are played, and most of the early testers of a game will either be developers or professional testers. There is a learning curve, and it gets steeper over time; part of the success of the Wii in bringing in new gamers was the change in interface forcibly reset everyone to learning the interface from square one.
    Oh, and a step further on the 'no-cheat' crowd is the self-imposed challenge groups- Single Character Challenges for party based RPGs(instead of a full team of 4 or so characters, only use a single one), limited weapon usage in shooters(like only using the melee weapon in a gun based game). But they don't care about how others go through the game.

    The speed runners are another example, but they do heavy classification on the limitations/tools used to categorize and compare their achievements.

    1. If the gameplay relies on resource management and slow attrition(lots of weak enemies), or on highly randomized elements(like random loot in a chest),

      So the thing about Mirror's Edge is that none of that holds true, at all. It takes a matter of seconds to completely heal, nothing is randomized, resources don't exist. (The most you can carry is a gun, that will limit your mobility so you'll have to drop it before long, and as you lack additional ammunition you'll soon run out of ammo and have to discard it.)

      I'm not sure exactly how the checkpoints are implemented, but it seems like they respawn you within the same map with a loading screen to hide the transition. This can actually mess up the game because while it resets the enemies, it doesn't always reset the glass. So breaking the glass and then dying puts you at an advantage, because you'll be able to move through the level faster and thus put a greater distance between you and those who chase you.


      I am aware of the size savegames can reach. Deus Ex save folders were of epic size (they saved everything), and TNM, being significantly less linear and thus needing to save many more levels at a time to avoid losing important information, have even larger savegames, thus the save folders grew in size even more quickly.

    2. Oh I agree with you, one of the most frustrating things is 'fake difficulty', and check points have a history of leading to that. The oldest version is the "die until you succeed" method of learning, which is far far worse with limited lives (or the stupid cut scenes), or any other time that forces you to redo the same series of actions or fights over and over until you get to the very last one.

      The only time I can see that style of checkpoint and failure based learning would be a puzzle game, which seems a bit of stretch for Mirror's Edge. Compare to Portal, where they explicitly looked at the levels as teaching the player the rules they were running under(and associating symbols with certain actions to be done). They look at the majority of the first Portal game as just training the player on how to play the game, with each puzzle building upon the previously taught things.

      I believe Mirror's Edge tries to do similar with its HUD, but haven't played that myself.

    3. Oh, and a step further on the 'no-cheat' crowd is the self-imposed challenge groups [...] limited weapon usage in shooters(like only using the melee weapon in a gun based game). But they don't care about how others go through the game.

      Meant to mention this last night, but I kept on forgetting.* Deus Ex, which as noted somewhere or other I tend to see all gaming through the lens of, was a very resource management heavy game.

      You had a limited inventory which almost everything had to share. The exceptions were keys and ammunition. In early versions of the game ammunition took up inventory space too, but they nixed that before release.

      Competing for that space were more weapons than you could ever carry at one time, and various useful items including but not limited to, ones that could heal you**, ones that could help you sneak, ones that could improve your abilities, ones that could get you through locked doors, ones that could be used to bribe people, ones that could keep you safe, and so on. (Yeah, I know that the "but not limited to" makes the "and so on" redundant, but this is a point worth hitting twice.)

      So a rocket launcher was a powerful thing, but it took up eight slots. For comparison, one slot could hold multiple medkits.

      That was just the inventory, the skills system also forced you to choose how to manage a limited resource because you were never going to have enough skill points for everything, By the end you could be somewhat proficient at everything, or highly proficient at a handful of things.

      Then there was the augmentation system where installing an augmentation was making a choice that would stick with you through the rest of the game*** and, as I recall, it was impossible to get every augmentation fully upgraded.

      And then there was the fact that all of these things interacted with each other.

      And so on.

      Resource management was at the heart of a lot of Deus Ex's gameplay.

      I bring this up because at one point someone, a classicist from New Zealand named Alginon, decided to play through the game using none of that. He didn't use a single item in inventory (which meant no weapons, lockpicks, or things like that) he didn't use a single augmentation or skill. As I recall he didn't use money except for one time it was automatically deducted, but I'd have to double check on that one. He also didn't use prior knowledge (ie, if he used a password he had to actually find it in that playthrough.)

      It was quite impressive.


      * As in, I'd come to the page, look around, and be unable to remember why I came. When I do that with a room it tends to be the kitchen and my solution is generally to look in the refrigerator in hopes that will jog my memory. That works surprisingly well considering that usually what I came into the kitchen for is not refrigerator related.

      ** One of the reasons that Deus Ex players ended up pissed off when they heard about the autoheal of Human Revolution was that managing your health as a resource was a big part of Deus Ex. This pissed offness transcended national lines, but when someone asked how realistic it was to treat health as a resource it really hit me how different the perspective is on this in the US vs more or less anywhere else.

      I had known he was an Australian for quite some time, he'd talked about things specifically related to being an Australian, and yet nothing he had ever said before that point so viscerally drove home the point that he wasn't from the US as his belief that in real life people wouldn't treat health as a resource whose importance had to be weighed against other resources.

      *** They came in pairs, you'd have to choose which one to install, install one half of the pair and you can't install the other. Slightly more complicated than that, but in the end you could install at most half of all augmentations. And, as I said, I'm pretty sure you couldn't get them all fully upgraded.

    4. Automatic healing/regenerating shields is another one of those troublesome advances- first it removes the element of resource management of health, and one of the drives for exploring for secret areas. You also lose the sense of urgency when you are low on health and trying to find a way to sneak past a combat you don't think you can win. And then the 'hero' has to find a isolated corner to hide in between fights.

      On the other hand, it makes sure you don't get stuck in an unplayable position- a less skilled or experienced player would take more damage than an expert player, and burn through health packs faster. By the end of a level/area, you could end up low on health having to face a boss without the resources to survive. And removing the dependence on health items in the game gives more predictability on player health going into each new encounter.

      btw- here is the link to the "Bad Developer no Twinkie" list:

    5. I think that, like most things, autoheal is something that depends on the game. In Mirror's Edge, a game that has nothing to do with resource management, I think it fits just fine. In something like Deus Ex it would be an abomination.

      I say that as one of the people who autoheal seems designed to benefit. (I'm the crap player who gets more damaged than one would reasonably expect, after all.)

      And then the 'hero' has to find a isolated corner to hide in between fights.

      One of the driving principles of the original Deus Ex's design was avoiding "sandwich gameplay". It looks like the term is no longer in use, but the idea was you should never have a time in the game which will leave the player tempted to leave the room and make a sandwich.

      I've had instances with regenerating resources where I've done just that. It wasn't health, it was energy which I could then use to regenerate health. I told it to heal, walked out of the room and got the things necessary to make a sandwich while energy regenerated. Came back in, told it to heal again, put together the sandwich, came back in to a healed character, sandwich in hand.

      Another thing that tends to create the urge to get a sandwich are unskippable cutscenes you've already seen, which I see are on the list you link to.

      By the end of a level/area, you could end up low on health having to face a boss without the resources to survive.

      I'm disconnected enough from the goings on of the gamer mainstream that I don't know where this sits on the scale from, "Everyone already thinks that," to, "You must be banished to the furthest reaches of the world never to interact with games again," but I could honestly do without boss fights most of the time anyway.

      Mind you, most of the other ways to have an epic ending would also be bad to walk into low on health. I just sort of felt like pointing out my feelings about boss fights, given that the topic has come up a few times now.