A Question for the Readers #16: Save Early, Save Often!

When you consider what an incredibly basic feature it is, it’s difficult to believe there was once an era in gaming in which the ability to save was a novelty. Because of the technical limitations at the time, developers sought to make simple experiences that weren’t really meant to be completed in the traditional sense, but rather played like a game of pinball wherein you kept going until you expended all of your lives. When console gaming truly took off, however, the idea of playing a game in multiple sessions became mainstream after being pioneered in the PC gaming scene for a number of years.

Considering how long the ability to save has been around, one might think there’s nothing to the process anymore, but you would be surprised how easy it is to mess up.

One of the games that brought my attention to the strategy RPG genre was Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. I picked it up around the same time I discovered Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade. Although I enjoyed both games back in the mid-2000s, I ultimately feel The Blazing Blade has held up better by virtue of having a story that doesn’t crumble when you the minute you consider its implications.

One year after I got the game, I wanted to do a second playthrough of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. This proved a little problematic because the game only features two save slots. I wanted to keep my original playthrough while experiencing the game from the beginning in a different way. Unfortunately, the fact that I saved in the second slot ended up being my undoing. Eventually, out of force of habit, I eventually ended up overwriting the data in the first save slot, erasing all of the hard work I put into that file.

One of my childhood favorites was a game by the name of NHL ’94. I ended up learning a lot about hockey through playing that game, and it is still a game I like to revisit every now and again. Those familiar with the game may be wondering why I’m bothering mentioning it in an article about saving. After all, NHL ’94 features passwords, not save slots. Even so, I assure you there is painful, saving-related memory to be had with this game. You see, rather than saving your progress via an internal battery, this game makes you write down decidedly lengthy passwords. I remember making it fairly far into the playoffs only to realize – to my horror – that I had recorded the password incorrectly. This was long before smart phones or capture cards were around, meaning that I had no way of taking a snapshot of the screen itself to ensure I recorded it properly. If I didn’t, that was the end of it.

Although not quite an example of inopportune saving, I do have one weird story regarding Super Mario 64. I remember one time in which all of my save files were inexplicably missing. I was annoyed, but I decided to start the game over from the beginning. However, before I obtained a single Power Star, the game froze. Upon resetting, all my previous saves were restored. As odd as it may sound, the exact same thing occurred a number of years later with my Goldeneye cartridge.

This last story is technically a near-miss rather than an actual saving failure, but it’s too strange not to include. It tangentially involves BioShock 2. However, this has nothing to do with my playthrough of said game, but rather what happened as I was writing up my review of it. You see, sometime last year, I decided that my review of BioShock Infinite wasn’t that good. I ended up making a very amateurish mistake when reviewing it because my argument as for why it was good boiled down to “because I said so”. It was a common approach many prominent gaming critics such as Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw and Bob Chipman adopted, and when I gained more experience writing, I realized what a debilitating flaw that is.

Anyway, after making the decision to rereview it, I took down the original review and started over from the beginning of the series. After discussing BioShock, I set my sights on BioShock 2, which I had recently completed. I find it difficult to concentrate on writing reviews at home, so I took my laptop with me to work on it outside of the house. That morning, I made the active decision not to back up my work, reasoning that I was running short on time when I finally remembered. “What could possibly go wrong?” I thought.

I ended up getting my answer after putting the finishing touches on my review when the building I was in caught fire and I had to evacuate immediately. Naturally, I had to leave my laptop behind. Fun fact: this marked the very first time I ever called 911. Once the fire was put out, I asked one of the firefighters if they could bring back my backpack, and they did after deeming it unimportant to the investigation. Thankfully, nobody was killed and those who were injured are expected to make a full recovery.


So now it’s your turn.

Have you ever made a gigantic mistake through the simple act of saving? Or actively choosing not to save as the case may be?

32 thoughts on “A Question for the Readers #16: Save Early, Save Often!

  1. Great topic! And it varies game by game. I’m on my first ever run through Skyrim on the Switch right now and saving regular is highly important. But if you time it badly it can really screw you over.

    Ori and the Blind Forest has a similar issue, due to its difficulty. My advice with that one is just to save as often as possible to avoid frustrations.

    Was it you who set fire to your building, by the way? I had a housemate once who went to bed drunk and left noodles blasting away in the kitchen over a pan and flame. Almost did us all in.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, considering how many important decisions are in that game (and the Elder Scrolls series in general), I myself ended up making several saves just in case I made a bad decision. As tough as it makes things, that’s the think I like about Dark Souls; you really have to make decisions carefully because of how frequently it autosaves.

      It’s interesting how Ori lets you create save points. I can imagine a lot of strategy goes into that.

      Huh, I thought I was the only one around here who went through something like that. Sounds like you came much closer to biting it, though; I was thankfully close to the door when I had to escape the burning building. Fortunately, it turned out well for the both of us, huh? Mine was caused by a propane explosion. I’m not sure exactly what happened, having not witnessed what caused it myself, but I think an errant spark caused the explosion as a mechanic was working on a vehicle. Did you have to use a flame-resistant towel when you escaped?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dark Souls I’ve yet to play. It’s on the Switch so I may well give it a whirl post-Skyrim.

        There was a lot of smoke and a pan into the sink type deal, plus a raging fire alarm. Way back in 2006 when I were a whippersnapper, but still saving lives evenn then.

        Liked by 1 person

      • In all honesty, I prefer manual saving over autosaving because the latter has the potential to leave you up the creek if it saves in an inopportune moment. Manual saving involves an extra step, but at least then, you get to contemplate whether or not it’s a good idea at a given time (and if the answer is no, you have no one to blame but yourself assuming the game is designed well).

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  2. In today’s era, I am always immensely annoyed, if there is no option to save freely (except maybe horror titles).
    Even with free saving, I have adopted the habit of keeping at least three different save files, in case one of them got corrupted or deleted. Very often, I just make a new savegame every time I save.
    There was one time, however, where that habit backfired, namely while playing “The Witcher” (the first game). I have a pretty beefy PC, so performance is not really an issue, but gradually the game slowed down. At first, everything went super smoothly, but loading times kept getting longer, framerates would drop, I’d get issues with screen tearing and so on. After doing a lot of searching online, which didn’t help me at all, I noticed that my hard drive was full. It turned out, the hundreds of savestates had amassed to a gigantic data pool and used up more than three-quarters of my disk space!
    So I deleted all but the most recent few files, and after 15 minutes of horrible framerates and loading times, it suddenly worked. I have no idea of how the programming of saving works, but to me, it seemed as if the game had to load up the whole world as I played, and once it was finished, from one second to the other, it worked smoothly again.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t mind that so much as long as there’s a way to suspend the game. This is because I feel autosaving causes developers to get lazy. By placing save points, they have to consider if the stretches between them can be completed in a single sitting. If there are frequent checkpoints, the game has a larger potential to become a trial-and-error affair.

      Save files for RPGs tend to be large, so I can see why that would clog up your hard drive quickly. That’s definitely one way to make the computer run faster – free up space so it doesn’t have as much to load, though your case sounds like a bit of bad programming may have been involved.

      Liked by 2 people

      • You almost said it yourself: “they have to consider the stretches”. If they would, then I’d have no problem with it. Sadly, many games without manual saving have badly designed checkpoints/save spots.

        Although I do admit that when they are implemented well, then it can be a very effective tool to set the pacing, make you feel tension and relieve (i.e. Dark Souls’ bonfires), or simply provide you with cool in-game extras (Prince of Persia’s sandstorm-thingies)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I think it should be mandatory that every game have an automatic save feature that happens whenever necessary. I love Stardew Valley but my only gripe with the game is that it only saves once you go to bed for the night, so if you had to stop midday, you’d lose all the progress you made. Same goes for Animal Crossing, I felt like it only saved when I was done playing for the day or for a short session and I would be “punished” by Resetti (spelling?) if I chose to reset the game without saving cause I did something I didn’t want to save. In earlier games he would make me type a dialogue back to him and wouldn’t let me go on until I got it right and then in later games his aggressive nature was toned down.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would say that if the game limits your ability to save, there should be a “suspend” option to compensate. Having to complete an hour or so of gameplay in a single sitting is a bit much. I think the inability to reload saves worked well enough in Dark Souls, but I can see why you’d find it frustrating in Animal Crossing – especially when you realized you made the wrong decision.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I had to learn the “save early, save often” approach the hard way when I was playing through Dragon Age, or pretty much any earlier BioWare game. I would play for about 45 minutes, get game over and panic when I’d realize I forgot to manually save the game. And that was AFTER the prehistoric age of passwords and memory cards 🤓

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t played much of BioWare’s output, but that is a mantra I had to adopt when playing Baldur’s Gate (though “save early, save often” was originally coined by Sierra). If you don’t save every five minutes in that game, you’re going to get wasted every time.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I made the mistake of restarting Breath of the Wild to try and get that “new game” feeling again. It didn’t work as well as I’d liked, and now I have to eventually redo all the DLC, shrines, Korok expansions, etc. So I might just not every play again 😛 Although I do love the game!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ouch. At least it’s a great game you’re replaying, but I can imagine it was at least a little annoying. That’s the great thing about it though; it’s just like the original in how you can have subtly different experiences every time you play it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s very true. My second go round was much more successful as far as not dying and being familiar with the tricks of the trade. The biggest obstacle is needing to complete the Master Trials again…that last one in particular was very tough lol

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve also found the opposite would occur as well in that I would forego saving because I felt I was in a dire situation I didn’t save myself into an effectively unwinnable situation. It’s a good thing most games now allow you to choose a slot to save in as opposed to forcing you to use the original one because now if something like that happens, you can restore the older one easily enough.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I definitely have but I can think of a single exact instance. I just know I’m so paranoid about saving that in todays world of multiple save slots I usually have at least 5 different opportunities and overwrite each one as I go. (In case of glitches, I can revert back to a previous save and hope it’s fixed). I think that particular fear has a lot to do with trophies too though, and fearing I’m passing a point of no return.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know what you mean; whenever I’m typing up my reviews, I have a tendency to hit Ctrl and S almost every time I finish a sentence – autosave isn’t something you can take for granted. Glitches aren’t quite as debilitating as they used to be because erasing the game doesn’t erase the save file, but when they do, it’s highly troublesome.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh yeah, I’ve been there many a time with each Final fantasy game. Accidentally overwriting my save files I intended to keep or worse, my memory card got too old and stopped functioning, making hundreds of hours of gameplay (mainly FFT the first one) obsolete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, to be honest, I’ve run into this problem in non-gaming situations as well. Like when I was writing up a review and failed to notice my time on the library computer was about to expire. Thankfully, I only lost a paragraph or so.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank goodness that passwords are no longer a thing. I too have lost progress in the past by writing down a code wrongly. The worst save issue I ever had was with the Danganronpa shooting game. I saved after beating the final boss because I had to go to work. When I returned home and started the game I discovered the file was corrupted. Apparently it was due to a known bug. Sadly I only had one save file so I had to watch the ending on YouTube. These days I make a point of having multiple saves and worry whenever a title doesn’t give you the option to save in different slots.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know, right? It’s downright heartbreaking whenever it happens. I especially disliked it whenever they consisted of zeros and Os along with uppercase Is and lowercase ls. And oof, you lost your progress right at the end of the game? That must have been crushing. It’s bad enough whenever it occurs within the first act. I myself can get a little paranoid and end up making multiple saves if the game allows for it – even if it really isn’t necessary.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Well, I think losing your work to a fire is one of the more dramatic ways I’ve seen it happen.

    I’ve had the problem of accidentally saving over file 1 many a time. The worst has always been Bethesda games. My old girlfriend and I always ended up having parallel runs going through those at the same time, and whichever save were most recent would be the ones on top. Multiple times, I had accidentally saved over hours and hours she had put into her own game. It took a long while for her to learn to use multiple save files, but I would have hoped that she never needed to.

    That’s about the only major one I can remember. But I also remember Tales of the Abyss had the typical “Don’t turn of the power, don’t remove your memory card” while it was saving, but it also included “Don’t remove the controller” in there too. No idea why. A friend of mine and I spent some time unplugging the controller while it was saving, but never saw any effect from it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yup, on that day, my life became a Michael Bay film. You guys had no idea that you almost didn’t get a chance to read my BioShock 2 review in its original form. Amazingly, I’m not the only one around here who had to escape from a burning building (though mine was the result of propane explosion as opposed to a roommate’s stove stupidity).

      Anyway, yeah, speaking from experience, it is very easy to get overzealous with save files when it comes to playing Bethesda games. Saving over one’s own files is bad enough, but I can imagine having someone else using the same console erasing your saves would be annoying. It’s a bit of a shame Bethesda games don’t allow you to name the files.

      I know that the Nintendo 64 often panicked whenever you unplugged the controller (or started the console without plugging one in), but I never heard of such an issue occurring with the PlayStation 2. Indeed, on the PlayStation 3 emulator, you need to press the PS button to activate the controller in the first place. That message is really bizarre.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Yes, and it was so bad I’ve apparently blocked it from my memory. I can’t remember what game it was, but I saved right before a boss, and my previous save was a few hours prior to that, so I either needed to defeat the boss or go back two hours. I eventually gave up and reloaded the previous save and did a few things differently so I was more prepared for the boss when I got to it, and then saved maybe two or three times in between (haha). While that’s not the most dramatic mistake I’ve ever heard of, it was pretty dramatic for me. I wish I could remember what game it was… if I think of it, I’ll come back and comment again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s too bad you don’t remember what game you were playing. Now that I think about it, there was a bug affecting certain Pokémon cartridges wherein one needed to save the game twice in order for it to register. While the game could still be played, the proposition fell apart in the end wherein the game saves automatically once, preventing players from accessing the post-game content.

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