I’m a Save Scummer and Proud!

Updated: Feb 15

For about ten years now, I have been a Save-Scum user. There have been times where it has been less than a minute between saves. The lettering on my PC’s F5 and F9 keys have become so worn as to be illegible - you can only tell what keys they are by looking at the keys around them. In S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Lost Alpha I am up to save 1,705.

Some people would say I have a ‘problem’ with Save-Scumming. I would disagree. I could stop at any time. I just don’t want to…

Ok, all jokes aside, I will be making the argument that all single-player games should allow players to save at any point, any number of times. I will also be making the arguments that alternative systems, such as checkpoints, are a sub-par and only partial solution. But first thing first - what is ‘Save Scumming’? TV Tropes describes it as thus;

Old, old method of playing games. Basically, you save the game whenever you get a result you like (or before you face a risk), and restore the saved game whenever you get a result you don't like.”

That about sums it up. The fact it is called ‘Scumming’ is reflective of the disdain some gamers place upon the practice and the people (like me) who employ it. For Save-Scumming to work, the game needs to allow players total freedom as to when and where they save their games. But before that, we should perhaps look at the ‘lesser’ save systems that came before.

#1 No Save System at All

Turrican 2
Turrican 2 - featuring one of the most OP protagonists in gaming

Some games, especially in the not-so-good-olden-days lacked any form of save feature. This forced players to either finish the game in one sitting or not at all. Some of these games were quite long by 90’s standards. Some, such as First Samurai and Turrican 2: The Final Fight would take upwards of two hours to complete if you explored the levels fully. This could be a problem if you could not find two uninterrupted hours to play the game, or if you were being nagged to stop hogging the living room TV. Thankfully, most emulators solve this problem by enabling Free-Saving on demand.

#2 Continues

Continues could be thought of as the most primitive form of saving a game. A continue will allow the player to ‘continue’ their progress in a game after they have lost all their lives. These were first utilized by the coin-op arcade machines to separate children from their pocket money. (I once sank £15 into Mortal Kombat without realizing – oops!)

Ports of arcade games to consoles and home computers usually included continues as well. Thankfully, players did not have to spend any additional funds to use them, however, they were often limited - say five continues per playthrough. Extra continues could be earned in-game, whilst unlimited continues could be unlocked by completing certain in-game tasks or by entering a cheat code. Unfortunately, a far less ethical version of paid continues has appeared in the freemium gaming market.

#3 Password Systems

Gods Amiga
Gods Amiga - Password saves were not ('Into the) Wonderful'

Password systems were arguably the first true save system. These were popular with some of the 8-bit devices of the 1980s. These devices lacked internal memory to save games, nor did they feature removable memory cards. Upon saving - which was usually restricted to saving your progress between levels – you would be presented with a long list of letters and numbers, such as 5ABT6L237SR0C2S7*. This you would need to write down somewhere - usually in the game’s instruction booklet.

When it came to playing the game again a player would have the joyous experience of having to type this in. This was worse on consoles of course due to their lack of keyboard, forcing gamers to use those terrible on-screen keyboards we all know and hate.

*NB - this isn’t a real code - I just hit random keys. You could try entering it into a game that uses password saves but results may vary 😉

#4 Saving Between Levels to a Memory Card or Internal HDD/SSD

SONY PS2 8MB Memory Card
An 8MB Life Saver

A big improvement since it is far more convenient. No need to write anything down, no physical scraps of paper to lose, no laborious entering of text.

Some games with very distinct missions, for example, Wing Commander and FreeSpace 2 utilized this system. The problem with these is that if you die or otherwise must abandon the game near the end of a mission you will have to complete it all over again. This can be very frustrating on lengthier missions, so it is not an ideal solution. There is also the issue of damage and loss. Since the memory cards are removable, and in most cases protrude from the console's unit, they are more prone to becoming damaged or lost than internal storage solutions.

#5 Checkpoints

Now we are into the modern-day. For those who are unfamiliar with checkpoints, a checkpoint is a ‘point’ in a level where progress can be saved. This is usually done automatically, accompanied by a ‘Checkpoint Reached’ pop up notifying you of this.

This is a definite step up from saving between levels, and it is the most common save game system on consoles. Checkpoints work reasonably well if the developers have placed the checkpoints in the right places and at the right time. If the devs have placed the checkpoints at the wrong time and place it can lead to an extremely frustrating experience - see video 😉

Another problem with many checkpoint systems is that the game will only permit you to return to the most recent checkpoint. This can be a problem if you want to go back further, and an even bigger problem if you need to go back further - for example to before a game-breaking bug or glitch.

Bad Video Game Checkpoint

You laugh because it's funny, you laugh because it's true

Video by Laugh Over Life

#6: Checkpoints with Roll-Back

A step up from standard checkpoints in that subsequent checkpoints do not overwrite the previous ones. This allows the player to go back to an earlier checkpoint and start over from there. This avoids the problems stated above. The original Far-Cry on PC utilized this system which I found came in very handy on several occasions.

Another advantage of this save system is that it encourages experimentation. This is particularly true for games which feature multiple ways of completing an objective, and multiple routes the player can take to reach it.

For example, imagine a game has a fork in the road, which offers two directions of travel and two methods of completing an objective - in this case rescuing someone from a military base. Reaching this fork in the road creates a checkpoint, and it is time to choose. Going left encourages stealth, whilst going right encourages going in all guns blazing. You would like to experience both. This save system allows for that.

To do so, simply play the mission one way by choosing one direction, then load up the checkpoint again and play it the opposite way by choosing the other direction. In my opinion, this should be common practice for all games which use checkpoint systems.

Far Cry PC

06:55 - Taking the left beach path past the large fuel tank would be the all guns blazing 'Rambo' route. The player here wisely uses the right hand route which provides better cover, concealment and a height advantage.

Video by GamingReviews

#7 The Ability to Save at Any Point – AKA Free-Saving