Tech + Lifestyle

games, gear, and googleplexes (joke)

Quicksave is Killing Me

After weeks of procrastination, here it is: the much-promised guest post from Matt Madeiro. If you don’t know who the guy is, he’s previously been profiled here. The dude’s got some serious talent, so I like to con him into writing stuff for me and giving input on projects. That being said, I won’t be trying to squeeze any more content out of Matt until Robot Bomb goes live, so until then get your fix by heading over to Single Spaced, his blog. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Matt Madeiro.

F5: Bane of suspenseful gaming everywhere.

F5: Bane of suspenseful gaming everywhere.

Don’t look at me like that. You do it too.

Quicksaving, that is — hammering F5 and F9 every time things go horribly wrong. Those two magical keys are a godsend in modern times, letting us frolick for hours in our virtual candylands with nary a care in the world. What’s there to worry about? Epic battles are hardly a threat when Quickload comes to your rescue. And so we rely on this “Get Out of Jail Free” key combo,  buying into the  incredible allure of getting to do things over — to step back, reevaluate your strategies, and charge head-first into battle with a better idea of how things will go down. That grenade toss not set off the chain reaction you were giggling about a few saves back? Reload. Try it again!

It’s become a habit of mine over the last few years. And where it started with Half-Life and all bang bang shootery sorts of games, it’s extended now to everything — RPG, RTS, and a whole slew of increasingly obscure acronyms. I can’t help myself, man. It has to be perfect.

Don't Be Like Him.
Don’t Be Like Him.

I figured I had a problem during my brief time with F.E.A.R. Slowing time is cool beans, and frankly the only thing that kept me playing, eager to explore all the clever ways I could bicycle kick the next grunt into oblivion. And when I realized I could shoot grenades in mid-air? Awesome. I grew a little obsessed with chunking a grenade into a busy room and watching it soar gracefully towards the opposition in slow motion before I shotgunned it down. Boom.

Except it didn’t always pan out that way. I missed, sometimes, which is just as embarrassing as it sounds. But no worries, right? F9, deep breath, and try again. It had to be perfect. I’d spend a good fifteen minutes wracking my brain for delightful ways to implement this strategy in situations which didn’t even demand it. Instead of blazing through the industrial jungle at a more even pace, I’d slow every confrontation to a crawl, trying to kill as many goons as I could in the sweetest way imaginable.

That’s probably why I never made it past the half-way point of the game. But it highlighted a bigger problem: the need for perfection, the knowledge of being able to redo every battle and NPC interaction until the dominoes crash down in the exact way I want them to. But — and here’s the kicker you’ve been patiently expecting — it sucks. I don’t enjoy playing like this, wasting so much time shooting for the best possible outcome.

The issue extends beyond my own obsessive-compulsiveness, mind. My unfailing dedication to F5 and F9 invited another realization, one that I feel extends to every gamer who buys into the almighty power of the Quicksave — it murders tension. Think about it for a moment. My fondest memories of the modern FPS come from every taste of pure adrenaline, every suicidal skirmish that I pulled through by the skin of my teeth. A well-designed shooter constantly puts you up against impossible odds and pushes you on until your ammo is exhausted and the threat of death lurks around every corner.

The Consumer of Faces
The Fabled Consumer of Faces

I love that feeling. The hitch in my breathing, the slow drum of my heartbeat in my ears as I sneak around every corner. The realization that my keys are slippery and slick and christ almighty is that a headcrab and sweet jesus get it off! You know what I’m talking about. Now take a moment to think — did you Quicksave when you heard the headcrab’s almighty shriek and Quickload a second later when it came tearing into your face?

Imagine if you hadn’t. You’d take a lot more damage, sure. But that valiant struggle with the consumer of faces would have been all the more remarkable for it, a testament to the strength of modern games in drawing us fully into their worlds. The power to Quicksave and Quickload through any chaotic situation is a godsend, sure, when social obligations (like nature!) come calling. But for normal gameplay, the many hours you spend wrapped up in your preferred virtual world, why would you want to skip out on all the fun? There’s a whole lot of entertainment to be had in scrambling for the exit with the bullets raining down behind your back and your health meter perilously low. Why would you ever want to cheat just to get through the encounter unscathed?

And that’s what quicksave is, essentially. It’s god mode without the stigma of cheating, the chance to play the game entirely by your rules with little regard to immersion and tension and all other fragile concepts game developers struggle to cultivate. Give the game a chance to draw you in. Let it kick the crap out of you, let it fill you full of lead, and — what the hell — let it throw so many baddies at you that all you can think about for a week is how freaking awesome it was that you came out alive.

That’s all we can take from this. More so than anything else, the greatest games leave us with memories, a pleasant nostalgia that outlasts all else. I won’t say Quicksave fully denies us that, but it’s hard to imagine coming away from a game completely satisfied if you play it like I do, saving before every gunfight and reloading whenever it goes completely awry. My one-man army fares a hell of a lot better for it, sure, but that’s the sole advantage when it comes at the cost of enjoying the game as it was intended.

So why don’t you join me? I’m banning F5. I’ve stripped Quicksave from my key bindings entirely, banishing it to some dark corner of my hard drive, and gaming has improved considerably ever since.

Fun? Fun.
Fun? Fun.

Far Cry 2? There’s a visceral thrill in plowing into an enemy camp and setting everything ablaze. It’s a completely reckless way to play, and thus a whole hell of a lot of fun, ratcheting the tension up a notch every time my health bar plummets and I have to hide inside some smoldering shack to heal.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl? Infinitely creepier whenever I sneak down into the underground laboratories. They were spectacularly freaky to begin with, but knowing that every guttural groan out in the darkness could actually kill me has deepened my love for the game significantly.

F.E.A.R.? Haven’t played it. Still seems kinda boring. Concrete jungle, y’know?

But why not give it a shot? Next time you fire up your favorite acronym, keep that roaming finger away from the F series of keys. You might be surprised to realize you’ve come to rely on them as much as I do. The security blanket of an instant save anywhere in the game is one that’s hard to put down, especially when we live in these days of endless distractions, but why not make a change? Play the game. Buy into the world, into every thrill ride and emotional encounter it can offer, and — here’s the other kicker you’ve been waiting for — don’t let Quicksave help you breeze through the game unchallenged.

I think you’ll like the change.


June 13, 2009 - Posted by | Gaming, Humor, PC gaming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Kinda makes me glad that I game so much on consoles… I forgot there was even a series of F keys (except for the fact that my laptop makes use of them for OS X functions).

    Comment by Zach | June 14, 2009 | Reply

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