Game Saves

Even the Druids knew the importance of the Jaffa Cake.

Imagine if Real Life™ had a ‘Save’ button; that would be brilliant. You could hit ‘Save’, punch your boss in the jaw and reload. All the satisfaction, none of the gross misconduct hearings. Or you could load the save from just before you had your first ever Jaffa Cake and relive that wonderful experience. Or go back to 11pm last Friday and see how not drinking all that Sambuca would affect the following Saturday morning.

But, just as with games, you’d run the risk of losing a save file and, let’s face it, much of life is a slog that you wouldn’t want to repeat. Imagine setting out on a car journey knowing you’re about to be stuck in traffic for two hours before being asked your opinion on eighty-six seemingly-identical cushions in IKEA, or having to once again unlock the ability to play the violin to grade six. Or having to endure Twilight for the second time.

Ever since computer games began to include complex storylines or enough depth that starting from scratch each time was not an option, there have been mechanisms in place for resuming from where you left off, and each of these mechanisms has been subject to failure. Nothing can quite prepare you for the despair this will cause.

Dizzy. Smug, because he knew what you'd go through.

Back in The Olden Days™, games were a read-only affair, so at the end of a level it was common to be presented with a code which would allow you to bypass those levels already completed. If you were lucky, it would be a word that you could easily remember, but if there was a requirement for the game to be aware of more dynamic data – such as lives lost or items acquired – it would often be a string of seemingly random letters and numbers which you’d scribble on a scrap of paper.

As with most systems, however, the weak link in this process was the organic matter between the screen and keyboard. Scraps of paper are easily lost. You might have been on an adrenaline high when you wrote the code, resulting in little more than hastily-scrawled hieroglyphics staring back at you the following day. Regardless, if you can’t enter the correct code then back to the start you go.

One does not simply commit a complicated level 29 save code to memory

At this point it would be common to experience denial (“No, it can’t be wrong. Try again. Maybe that’s an F”) or perhaps anger, with all its colourful language and keyboard abuse. And at the core of that, the uneasy knowledge that it was your own, stupid fault.

Pretty soon you’d accept your loss. Games were still fairly primitive and, at worst, you might have to spend a couple of hours repeating gameplay you’d already finished before you could carry on. There was always a silver lining though; you now knew the levels and could breeze through, often in a better position than you had been previously. And you’d learn from your mistake – next time you’d write the code down more carefully, perhaps in two different places. You wouldn’t get caught out again.

As technology progressed, the passcode systems were abandoned in favour of save files. Our computers did love us after all! They knew we couldn’t be trusted to write things down correctly! “You let me worry about that, my human master. Your game is safe and sound on this floppy disk.”

But it wasn’t, was it? I’m not familiar with the exact technology behind data being stored on a floppy disk, but I believe it primarily relied upon hopes and dreams. It was our fault really; we were expecting a lot from these pieces of plastic. We were so naïve, expecting something we’d written to the disk to still be present and few days later. So, once again we’d try to resume our progress through a game, only to be thwarted. “File not found.” “Save cannot be loaded.”

And all the while, the games evolved. Save files became bigger and floppy disks became hard drives. No longer were we simply trying to carry on from level eight; we were trying to recall sprawling cities we’d built on a wasteland of reticulated splines. We’d grown a thriving Mongol empire and crushed our Greek and Roman enemies over the course of hundreds of game years. We’d taken Woking to the Premiership, trained up our 17 year old wunderkind and were in contention for a Champions League spot. And because of one bad sector, it was all gone.

We've all been there, right?

This time we wouldn’t recover so easily, however. You had to play the first few levels of Lemmings again? Boo-flippin-hoo. I’d created something, and my creations were now no more than memories. This time the sense of loss would be far more profound. Yeah, you could start again. But it would never be the same. When you build a theme park you do so organically; all your experiments and mistakes will never be repeated. Even if you could place every ride in the exact same spot it would only ever feel like a poor facsimile of what you’d lost.

It’s something that has followed me throughout my gaming life. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stared blankly at a screen telling me that my save cannot be loaded, demanding that the computer try again. The most recent loss was down to my own careless mistake, but that didn’t make it hurt any less.

I was halfway through my second season in F1 2011. I’d finished fifth in the championship for Team Lotus in year one and was dragging my trusty Sauber kicking and screaming to the front of the grid for most races in year two. I’d initially saved my career on a USB stick so I could play at home or work, but at some point had changed to use my Xbox’s hard drive at home. After Cloud storage was enabled I decided to retire my USB stick and was transferring its contents to my HDD. When I pressed the button to confirm the overwrite, I instantly knew I’d made a mistake.

I could only sit and watch as my 30+ hour F1 career was consigned to history and replaced with my early save which had me starting 16th in year one, race three. All that time spent finding the perfect car setup. The heroic effort to somehow keep it out of the walls to win at a rainy Monaco. The satisfaction of telling Ferrari to shove their contract offer up their Maranello. Gone.

Wooooo! The save file worked!

In years gone by I might have started again, but I’m a grown man with responsibilities now. My gaming time is precious and I don’t want to waste it re-treading old ground, so F1 2011’s gone back on the shelf and probably shan’t see the light of day again.

Perhaps the benefits of a Real Life™ ‘Save’ button wouldn’t be able to outweigh the crushing disappointment of a lost or corrupt file. What if you had a catastrophic disk failure? All your life’s progress and achievements gone in the blink of an eye.

Back in the womb with you, my friend; hit ‘New Game’ and start again.

Last five articles by Graham



  1. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    This is something that I consider almost every day, in fact it’s the subject of one of my earliest articles on the site, and most important decisions I ever make are coupled with that thought of “What if I screw this up? If only I could just hit a save button, just in case”.

    The Jaffa Cake thing… you know, if I could use a few save points for trivial things then I’d definitely go back to a time when…

    a) Jaffa Cakes were still awesome
    b) KitKats weren’t as thin as Twiglets and actually HAD thick chocolate
    c) Irn Bru was still made in Scotland, from girders, and had a kick to it
    d) Wagon Wheels weren’t the size of coasters
    e) I wasn’t almost 18st from eating all that crap

    … but to relive shit things like AC/DC live in Glasgow in 1990, getting my hair cut from that guy with the shaky hands that turned my four-foot-long locks into just two layers, or falling into a barrel of bright blue cellulose paint (yeah, Blue Man Group, I did it first!) is something I wouldn’t want to do. Loved this article.

  2. Stu Stu says:

    I know what I’d do. I’d save before selecting the rollover Euromillions numbers and then reload it when I knew the right numbers. Sadly so would everyone else and we’d all end up with a tenner…damn. New strategy needed.

    Whilst an awesome power, not everyone could have it or we’d all be turned into gibbering wrecks wondering if the next person you meet is in one of those ‘fuck it’ moments and suddenly unleashes an uzi in your face, life would turn into a never ending chain of two steps forward then save, two more steps then save again! It’d be like Saint’s Row with everyone acting like the main player and I for one would not relish a nutbuster via a giant purple dildo!

    No, with such power comes great responsiblity, it’d have to be limited to the few…cue Highlander styled battles to be the one! Or maybe a limited amount of saves, say 20 per lifetime…

    Loved the article, I’ll be pondering where I would have saved and reloaded in my life for the rest of the day now! :)

  3. Game Saves says:

    [...] Game Saves by Graham [...]

  4. Edward Edward says:

    Brilliant first article, and one that I have to admit I don’t have as much experience in as you, but I do love the concept of being able to save in real life!
    All that came to mind for some reason was ISS ’98 on my N64 (and some other N64 games, actually) which wouldn’t often save even after I spent hours painstakingly creating an England team full of all my friends to lead us onto glory.
    Still, most recently I had the newest Hot Pursuit erase the save on me, and I haven’t ever gone back. If it deletes my progress, it goes back into the shelf of shame. Though luckily, I’d actually completed it before it made the mistake of dying on me…

  5. Lorna Lorna says:

    Loved this. I remember the days of no saves. Trying to get through a Speccy game without dying or losing your generous supply of three fucking lives was a nightmare that I don’t think I ever managed without cheating. I think that text adventures were some of the first games that you could ever save by loading in a blank cassette – thankfully. Later down the line, console games with saves seemed like pure bliss, as did RPGs on the GameBoy with one or two precious save slots!

    Those game codes you mention… I also remember them. Had them in various Amiga games and console titles, such as Zombies – that was a bastard though, as entering your code may take you to the right level, but it started you from scratch as far as weapons went, which was next to useless in the hard later levels when you needed the good stuff.

    As for real life… there are some moments that I’d love to re-live, ones I’d simply like to watch replays of, ones I’d like to delete and retry, and others that I would happily delete. Interesting point about the horrific likelihood of a save file corruption… I had never thought of that… I can’t imagine having to repeat the tedium of watching Waterworld (or any Kevin Costner films, bar Robin Hood, which was totally Rickman’s film), the grind of secondary school, or the pain of the first breakup of my life.

    I would, however, tell that obnoxious boss to go fuck himself and quit there and then on the spot, I would kick my college self in the arse and tell her to stop being miserable over a wanker individual who wasn’t worth it, and enjoy those precious years as I would always look back on them so fondly and wish I had done more with them and enjoyed every scrap of the time. I would also not have watched any soaps, would have told one of my favourite teachers just how much he had helped me, while I had the chance, and would have lived life so much more. As much as I agree with everything Stu has said, and the comedy potential is incredible (as are the risks, as he rightly states!), real life saves would offer us that much yearned for chance to right those wrongs which, right or wrong, haunt us.

    Great read, Graham.

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