Ad Hoc

I have another regularly scheduled blog for tomorrow, but in light of some work I’ve been doing today related to saved games, I wanted to bring up an issue that’s been at the back of my mind for the last couple of months.

I’ve enabled comments for this post, and anyone is welcome to contribute thoughts, but I’m especially interested to hear from those who have played the vertical slice build. (And if you haven’t played the vertical slice build yet, you can find that here.)

To establish some context, here’s a series of tweets I made earlier today:

The issue is this: when you die and continue from the last checkpoint, what state should your character be in? I’ll explain first how this works in the current build and why it works that way, then I’ll present a few alternatives I’ve considered along with pros and cons for each. None of these is objectively the correct decision, but I’m curious to hear opinions on these or any other options.

The way things work today is, when you first enter a level, a checkpoint is activated, and a snapshot is made of the current game state. If you die, you return to this exact state minus one life. If you run out of lives, you return to this same state with the default number of lives.

After killing a boss or a miniboss, a midlevel checkpoint is activated. Another snapshot of the game is recorded separate from the one at the start of the level. If you die after hitting this checkpoint, you return to that state, but when your lives are depleted, you go back to the start of the level.

The pros of this approach are:

  • This is how things already work. This implementation is believed to be stable and bug-free. (And yes, with only a few weeks of development left, every alternative will necessarily have the inverse as a con.)
  • This is roughly analogous to the way many classic games have worked, including Castlevania and Mega Man.
  • There’s less risk of winding up in a state in which the game is saved in a very difficult scenario with little or no resources.

And here are the cons:

  • Actions taken during the course of the previous life are lost when starting the next life.
  • Checkpoints are infrequent, possibly requiring playing through the same segments repeatedly.

That first one is the big problem here. It’s really the only reason I’m considering making any changes to this system so late in development. It’s frustrating to play through a leg of the game, maybe buy some upgrades and find a subweapon you really like, only to die and have to do it all over again. It’s doubly frustrating when this happens in the first level and you have to replay introductory narrative/tutorial stuff, even as minimal as those elements are.

There are two options I’m considering to improve this experience. They are not mutually exclusive; I could do both, or either, or neither.

The first option is to increase the frequency of checkpoints. Rather than checkpointing only at the start of a level and after any boss fight, I could also checkpoint before boss fights, or on any room transition, or any time equipment is changed, or any number of other criteria.

The second option is to carry over changes to the player character’s equipment on death (and possibly on game over, although I haven’t yet thought through the ramifications of that one). In this way, any new gear you’ve found, any money you’ve collected or spent, any upgrades you’ve equipped would carry over to the next life. You’d still start from an earlier location, but you could forgo the frustration of having to retread all the same ground in pursuit of the same gear you had found previously.

In combination, these options provide us with four scenarios:

  • Infrequent checkpoints, no carry-over. (This is how things currently work.)
  • Frequent checkpoints, no carry-over.
  • Infrequent checkpoints, carry-over.
  • Frequent checkpoints, carry-over.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of each of these.

Frequent checkpoints, pros:

  • Less potentially frustrating retreading of the same ground.

Frequent checkpoints, cons:

  • Risks making the game too easy by virtue of being able to exploit checkpoints by ignoring damage from enemies and getting a cheap health refill by dying immediately after reaching the next checkpoint.

Carry-over, pros:

  • Less frustrating loss of previous acquisitions.
  • Feels more congruous with what other games do.

Carry-over, cons:

  • Risks making the game too hard by virtue of saving in a state with no resources (e.g., after expending all ammo and bombs fighting a boss and then dying to it).

So, that’s what I’ve been thinking about. My default behavior is to be super resistant to any change that could destabilize the build this late in development, so left to my own devices, I’m most likely to leave things the way they are. But this also feels like it has the potential to be a big source of frustration and shelf moments in this game, which is why I’m opening it up to discussion.

Comments are now closed, but you can send me feedback on Twitter (@PirateHearts) or by email (jpittman at gmail dot com).

3 thoughts on “Ad Hoc”

  1. At the very least I would implement generous checkpoints, even if they can be disabled somehow in the options. It’d be nice if something carries over after losing all lives, though.

    As I’ve gotten older I find less free time to spend on playing games, so it’s getting harder to justify playing a game where I can lose a great deal of progress by slipping up and dying.

  2. Another vote for frequent checkpoints here, especially right before and after boss fights. It is absolutely infuriating to die fighting a boss and then discover you have to hike halfway across the level to try again; that’s pretty much the point at which I drop any game like a hot potato, no matter how much I was enjoying it up to that point.

  3. I certainly don’t want a game to end up too easy, yet I must equally admit that endlessly trudging back to a boss can be rather frustrating. Yet – on the other hand – I’ll also admit that frequent checkpoints just begin to encourage a bad form of laziness, since you often learn to rely on them (I loved “Super Win the Game”, but that game was based around one-hit fails). I certainly would not – however – want the game constantly saving your gear either, as I loathe games that force you to perform tactical-suicides to get to the “Game Over” screen as fast as possible after your current attempt becomes pointless.

    While not ideal, perhaps you should just stick with things as you currently have them. The alternatives seem poised to introduce even less desirable situations – either through introducing a trivialization of the challenge, or by saving yourself in an awkward state – and thus only further complicate things.

Comments are closed.