save vs. checkpoint vs. respawn: Load and Death systems.

Anything related to Wolfire Games and/or its products
Post Reply
Posts: 2
Joined: Sat Jun 12, 2010 11:12 am

save vs. checkpoint vs. respawn: Load and Death systems.

Post by palani.aiwaiwa » Sat Jun 12, 2010 12:04 pm

I'm not quite sure whether this post should be in Randomness or in Wolfire. I posted it here because it discusses game design in general, and potentially the development of future Wolfire games (including overgrowth).

I was recently reading over the blog, and came across the article titled "Give the player more time." It included a link to a comic-style baseball game, and a video of a man punching a prankster. The article claimed that the minimum human reaction time was .2 seconds. This peaked my interest.

I followed the link to the baseball game and gave it a try. Sure enough after about 3 attempts I achieved a score of .2 seconds, after several more try's I averaged at 0.21 seconds.

At this point I decided to re-think my strategy I started another game with the intention of completely failing. I counted up to the ball, the comic like ball whizzed past at around 3.5 seconds. I hit with a reaction time of .7 seconds. I then started a new game, and counted one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thou---CLICK! this time I achieved a perfect home run with a reaction time of 0.06 seconds. In the language of warfare strategy, I lost a battle to win a war.

This got me thinking about game design and load/save systems in action games. All to often a player will walk into a battle, die, and remember the placement and timing of enemy appearances. The player will then promptly re-load and using their previous knowledge destroy each enemy in rapid succession completely killing any intended challenge in a game.

This brings us to load/save systems in general. Checkpoints and save-menus both have the problem stated above, but provide good times for the player to quit the game and deal with real-world problems.

The checkpoint system while perhaps a little inconvenient both gameplay wise and in the real world provides a nice break in action, and a good point to stop. I say inconvenient because it can force a player to play through a series of events several times if they die, or it may force the player to get to a checkpoint which can make them late for a real-world appointment.

The save system is a little more convenient. It allows the player to save whenever they want, and wherever they want. This can eliminate repetitiveness, and improve player convenience, but at the cost of breaking game-flow (saving in mid battle) or ruining any challenge in a game (the enemy placement memorization strategy mentioned a few paragraphs up). The checkpoint has the same problem with challenges, but since it s spaced further apart the player may forget some events.

There is of course the combination of the two, or the auto-save system where the player reaches checkpoints, but can also save any time they want. This combines the pros of each system, but unfortunately it combines the cons as well. When the player reaches a difficult battle, they are still forced into re-loading which can be irritating, and frustrating. Game designers occasionally use smart a.i. and random placement in maps to eliminate some repetitive factors, but this serves only to frustrate the player more. Not only do they have to fight the same battle again and again after dying, but they can't even out-smart the system by memorizing enemy placement and timing.

Another system alternate is the respawn system found in games such as Bioshock and PREY. The palyer is given the option to keep playing from the time-frame in which they died. This takes away the need to rewind the game (load) and keeps up the gameplay flow allowing the player to retry without restarting. This can be fun, but still has flaws. The player is often forced into trivial, repetitive, or challenge (and/or plot) ruining actions. For example in bioshock to defeat a big-daddy all you have to do is whack it with your wrench, die, respawn at a vita-chamber, and repeat until the big-daddy dies. In Prey you can respawn where you died with full health which rightly so feels like cheating. In some role-playing games the player is forced to perform a quest, or to find their body which is boring and meaningless.

A combination of all three systems saving, checkpoints, and respawns results in a modular system that the player can use how they want but still has all the flaws of each individual system.

So what is the perfect load system? If you made a game what would be the most efficient convinient and smooth way to load a game. How would you eliminate frustration in gamer over repetitive fights, or easy fights?

Feel free to answer, but please give a well thought out response and you're reasoning behind you're load/death system.

User avatar
Posts: 80
Joined: Sat Oct 31, 2009 7:05 pm

Re: save vs. checkpoint vs. respawn: Load and Death systems.

Post by DJisbored » Sat Jun 12, 2010 12:51 pm

I don't have much to say as to the three systems, because I like most of them (although specific savepoints, not necessarily checkpoints, are frustrating). I do have to add, however, that if the user is given the responsibility to save at their own will, this also opens the possibility that they'll forget to save before shutting off the computer in a rage after being blown up for the seventy-something-th time. Also, I think that a respawn feature might actually make sense in overgrowth; it would make a clear distinction between being killed or being knocked out. In lugaru the only real difference between the two is the brightness of the screen, unless you're in debug. Being able to wake up from your coma, after an enemy calms down and walks away, could be useful. Of course in this situation, the main character would not be at full health; he or she would need to regain health (I would assume that system would be the same if not similar to lugaru). This would make for some fun stealth play, so you could rest, without having your brains knocked out for a second time. :wink:

Posts: 2
Joined: Sat Jun 12, 2010 11:12 am

Re: save vs. checkpoint vs. respawn: Load and Death systems.

Post by palani.aiwaiwa » Sat Jun 12, 2010 1:22 pm

The idea of a coma is a good one, and I understand the frustration with self-saving, which is another flaw. The whole thing with a game is about how much freedom to give the player.

The save thing is a trick question anyways. The funnest games are usually those where you never die, but are challenged the whole way through. However a good save-system is nice when you have to return to real world responsibilities. But gameplay wise it's best if the player doesn't day. Splinter Cell Conviction is kind-of built around this philosophy you can play the entire game seamlessly, no loads, and no menus, that is of course assuming you have 10+ hours of free time, and that you don't die. Unfortunately Conviction has no fall back, if you die you return to one of the extremely distant checkpoints and have to replay a large chunk of the level.

What I think would be ideal for a game is what I have dubbed (pardon my nerdiness) a mobius fall-back. Meaning a safety net that returns someone to their original position. A game needs to be the perfect difficulty for a continuous challenge without failure, but in the event that the player mess's up it (the game) should have a smooth, reliable load save system. Perhaps a combination of player-saving and comas.

User avatar
Posts: 5668
Joined: Sun Jan 11, 2009 7:41 am
Location: cold and dark and lovely Finland

Re: save vs. checkpoint vs. respawn: Load and Death systems.

Post by Endoperez » Sun Jun 13, 2010 5:15 am

Game design affects the perceived quality of a save system more than the save system itself.

Psychonauts had a decent save system that even auto-saves at a "point-of-no-return" and tells you you crossed it, so that you can decide if you want to go on to complete the game or if you want to stay and collect all the bonuses - or complete the game first, and THEN load the point-of-no-return-autosave to look for the extras.

However, what the people who play the game tend to remember it for is the boss fight sequences. Whole levels where the difficulty ramps up into something hideous. You have to jump three ropes up, rope-walk towards a fireball-throwing enemy, jump into a flaming netting and climb it to jump into the next flaming netting (repeated three or four times), with the nettings forming a cylinder around the fireball-throwing enemy. The water level in the level is raising and you die if you touch the water, so there's a time limit too. The netting is easy to move on, but jumping to the NEXT netting can be difficult, and if you fail, you drop into the water.

And if you die, you start at the bottom, having to jump three ropes up, rope-wal... etc.

This section took me more time than most actual boss FIGHTS, and unlike the boss fights, I lost quickly. I lost VERY quickly, and had to go through it again. Again and again and again! And because that part was too difficult, some people didn't finish the game, and remember being frustrated at a single point and not being able to continue from the part where they had trouble.

The opposite is also true. Good game design can make a game with a hideous save system playable. "Hardcore" Diablo or Torchlight or other graphical dungeon delver games can be frustrating, because once you die you lose everything you collected up to that point. Rogulikes like Nethack and Adom and DoomRL and Desktop Dungeons and my current favourite, Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, by default have ONLY the hardcore option. If you die, you character's progress is lost forever. What makes these games interesting is learning to play the game, learning to survive with the tools you get or despite the tools you lack.
Nethack and Adom are nifty, but you NEED spoilers. What's a cockatrice? Oh, it's a monster that petrified me. The next time you see a cockatrice, you kill it from afar, and then touch its corpse and are petrified. Or in ADOM, when you find a level filled with corpses you know something's up... but you don't know that the monster in the middle is called a Banshee until you see it, at which point it screams, at which point the scream kills you - and the game doesn't tell you that you can use wax to plug your ears, or how to take the wax AWAY if you've already plugged your ears. You have scrolls of identify and healing potions, and you can bless them to be more effective. Because they're very useful and not common enough, you should try to bless them before you use them, which can result in you not using the ones you have because you can't bless them yet. They're nifty, but frustrating.
But Desktop Dungeons and Dungeon Crawl are designed to be FAIR. The monsters that kill you don't kill you because you don't know what they do. Ogres kill you because they're tough and hit VERY hard, but they're slow and you can kill them with missiles and/or poison. Centaurs kill you because they're fast and tough and have bows, but even if you have no way of killing them you can ESCAPE and evade them until you can. Invisible enemies can harass you, but as they're rare you'll only meet one at a time, and if you retreat into a tunnel and it hits you you know which tile it has to be in.
Crawl is game about resources - your XP goes up by fighting but you lose HP and MP; HP and MP go up with time so you can rest in any safe location, but that makes you hungry; you don't find many food rations in the dungeons so you have to try to save them, but corpses of most enemies are edible, but they rot away with time, forcing you to go forth and fight more enemies; once you've cleared a dungeon level out of enemies very few if any will respawn there, forcing you to move into a new and more dangerous level.
If you go down a stairway and find yourself sandwiched between a troll and a centaur and a pack of orcs wizards, you're most probably dead - unless you can go invisible and/or teleport away and/or confuse a bunch of enemies and/or go into a different level and/or can summon or charm or dominate monsters into your side to even the odds. And when you do die, you'll usually learn something about it, even if it's just "I should have run away", or "I should have used that potion/wand/scroll".

Posts: 24
Joined: Tue May 11, 2010 9:45 pm

Re: save vs. checkpoint vs. respawn: Load and Death systems.

Post by iLag » Sun Jun 13, 2010 7:41 pm

A checkpoint system is probably the best, if it can be implemented perfectly. By perfectly, I mean have on just before and just after every tough section. But that's a lot of checkpoints! That's a ton of work, and if the checkpoints don't override each other, there could be problems.
Generally, games with checkpoints have too few, or worst of all, checkpoints are before long unskippable cutscenes, or even skippable cutscenes. Just having to press the button to skip the cutscene is annoying enough.
So, if this is to be done, there should be two types of checkpoints: a permanent save point and a temporary "quick" checkpoint. Save points should be at places of rest or just before a tough section, such as a strong boss. Temporary checkpoints should be after cutscenes and tough sections.
In case of emergency, the player may have to leave. Allow the player to save whenever, but have the save start him off at the nearest permanent savepoint discovered with all of the changes from when the player saved.
So, if the player dies, no problem. The player can load the last checkpoint. Need to leave? Save and then you start over at the last save point.
As long as the save points are sensibly placed, and the checkpoints are numerous, this system will work.
To make things even better, randomize the enemies in the area after a checkpoint. That way, players won't be able to predict where everybody will be in the next room where they died.

Because of all the work that has to go into this, the most practical system is saving wherever. While this can be abused by players, it's easy to implement. There should only be one limitation to this system: You cannot save during combat, or when enemies are nearby. If you do the latter, then make sure that there are "safe areas" during long areas, especially stealth sequences.
If possible, try to implement the enemy placement randomization I mentioned earlier. Make sure that the script runs every time the game loads, and does it only for the rooms not reached yet.

Respawn is probably the least fun method. I did exactly what the OP said when I played bioshock: whack the Big Daddy, die, respawn, and repeat. That kind of killed the game for me, and convinced me not to buy the sequel.

Even with a perfect save system, a game can still be terrible. One way is if the developers don't follow this one important rule: Never, under any circumstance, make the player feel completely screwed over. This means no sudden, unpredictable deaths, no unavoidable or hard to avoid 1-hit-kill moves against the player, no unpredictable quick-time-events, no crippled controls, no horribly imbalanced enemies, no other form of fake difficulty, and do not design or allow a game to become unwinnable due to player actions. There are plenty of other things to avoid, but you should understand the gist of it.
Now, if you want to make a bonus or optional section with these things, that's fine. The main game itself should be free of any thing designed to piss players off.

Posts: 1
Joined: Mon Aug 11, 2014 11:51 am

Re: save vs. checkpoint vs. respawn: Load and Death systems.

Post by momostein10 » Sun Sep 07, 2014 1:57 pm

I think that a checkpoint hotspot would be great. :)

Post Reply