Gaming Lows #4: NO SAVE GAME SYSTEM!!!

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

PSOne Memory Card

“Almost at the end of the level, one more hit on this boss and he is toast and….ARGH!!!! I’m hit! Now I have to start the level all-over-again. Why must you smite me oh lords of the interweb?"

If you are a gamer you will have experienced this. If you are the parents / siblings / long-suffering-other-half of a gamer, you will have heard this shouted out at an unreasonably loud volume. Possibly several times a day.

Sorry Mrs NOMAD.

Back when games were confined to video arcades, save games didn’t exist. The whole business model of coin-op arcades was simple – if you die, you shovel in more coins to keep playing. Arcade games were also relatively short, so that you could – theoretically – finish the game in one sitting.

Assuming you didn’t run out of coins first of course.

Powered by pocket money

When home computers and consoles first appeared, most games were based on

arcade games, and so they too were quite short. You could finish these in one sitting as well, so there was not too much of a problem.

Unless you died too many times and ran out of continues of course.

But as games became more advanced, they also became longer. This was especially true for games developed specifically for the home market.

Now that games had grown in scale, finishing a game in one sitting may take several hours of continuous play. It took NOMAD about four-and-a-half-hours to play through First Samurai and achieve the '$$$$$$' high score. This meant monopolising the living room TV for most of the evening.

NOMAD’s mum was not impressed.

First Samurai Amiga

08:23 Hallelujah indeed, that's pretty much NOMAD's reaction to free food!

Video by Al82: Retrogaming Longplays & Reviews

Incidentally NOMAD was impressed with himself for 'breaking' the high score counter, since it didn't have enough digits to display anything above 999,999. I was a points millionaire! If only there was a way to turn those digital $s into real world £s...

Sorry, I got off track there. Where was I?

Achieving this had to be done in one sitting, as the game didn’t have any way to save your progress. And this was not a one-off either. Most games back then did not feature a save game facility. It was infuriating!

Some games got around this by utilising a code system. Your progress would be translated into a huge string of letters and numbers. For example: 

'gnc1yebwe3ncn745y362x656mcnsywe.' NB - this is an example I just made up. You could try entering it somewhere, but results may vary.

You were expected to grab a pen and paper to write this all down of course. To pick up from where you left off, you would have to enter this code into the game's start menu. And if it was a console game, that meant using one of those terrible on-screen keyboards you have probably seen on Smart TVs. A far from satisfying experience.

There were a few games back then which enabled you to save your progress, Elite and its sequel Frontier being excellent examples. For these titles being able to save one's progress was not only handy, it was essential, since these titles do not have an end as such. Theoretically, you could play them forever.

Frontier PC

Lucky for us this is not a longplay video, otherwise we would be here all day...

Video by Thriftweeds

Some games employed a checkpoint system, whereby if you died, you would restart part way through the level. This was much better than having no save system at all.

In theory.

In practice this was often rendered useless, since you typically lost all of your power-ups in the process. This in-of-itself would not be a huge problem, if it were not often combined with poor level design.

By 'poor level design' I am referring to levels designed in such a way as to be impossible to complete without being at full power. And I do mean impossible. Not merely difficult without full power ups, but actually impossible.

Project-X, I’m looking at you.

This created the phenomenon / trope I call Die once, you may as well quit.” This will be the subject of a future article.

Modern day emulators solve all these problems by using their own built-in save systems, independent of the game they are emulating.

Thankfully nowadays these problems are almost unheard of, and lack of in-level checkpoints are rare. Since the days of the PSOne, save data could be saved to memory cards, such as the one shown at the start of this post.

That said, even modern check points have their flaws. If they are put in the wrong place, you could easily wind up getting killed the second you respawn.


This guy gets it, in both senses of the word. Repeatedly.

Video by Laugh Over Life

PC games often allow you to save at any point, which is a very welcome feature. However this can lead to ‘save spamming’, or 'save scumming', which is the practice of saving every few seconds. If you die, simply go back to the last save and try again.

'Quick save, quick load, rinse and repeat.'

If you have seen the film 'Live. Die. Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow', you will know what I mean.

Very recently a new save system has been invented to get around this: Iron Man Mode. Iron Man mode allows you to save as often as you want, anywhere, anytime, allowing for playthroughs that may take 20 hours or more. However, if you die, all save files linked to your profile will be erased, AKA – ‘permadeath.’

IRON MAN MODE - Dan Bull - Hardcore Game Rap

"For the players. Who like a challenge..."

Video by Dan Bull

This can make games that use it extremely challenging, especially ones aimed at realism. The S.T.A.L.K.E.R mod Call of Chernobyl uses this to great effect. It's aptly titled mod Call of MISERY, takes this to the extreme. If you can survive Call Of Misery, the real world apocalypse will feel like a relaxing holiday in comparison.

Thankfully, like so much in PC gaming, Iron Man Mode is optional.

That's it for this article, see you all again in the next.


Picture Credits:

Video Arcade by Sam Howzit

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