Tuesday, December 9, 2008

we had just left the house when we heard a sound that resembled a bird chirping excitedly.
i thought a bird was chirping but it was a rabbit screaming

"oh, jesus"
somewhere between annoyance and fear

the abacus accountant

meticulously clean tea shop in chinatown w/ stainless steel containers lining the walls labeled individually "iron goddess"

gives advice, old man in the back using an abacus without looking at superspeed

For the past decade, game developers have assumed that video gamers are less involved in the game-playing process than gamers who use their personal computers to play games. According to accepted thought of the Eighties and Nineties, computer gamers do not need to be reminded to save their data at certain intervals because they keep tabs on their position in the game and the well-being of their character, in contrast to the more casual gamer. These assumptions are changing; the hardware specifications for video game and personal computer systems are converging and the perceived personality of the 'average' video gamer is significantly more involved than in the early days of gaming.

The save point is a phenomenon found in video games as they become long and more complex. In the vast worlds new video game machines can simulate, the player needs a sense of continuity in order to find find their way through these landscapes and make sense of the story. Saving was first introduced when game manufacturers started putting save batteries inside the cartridge. Nowadays, portable chips, separate from the game media or small hard drives integrated into the gaming system are used to save the player's data.

When the game developer wants to provide the option to save, they may ask the player directly in a dialogue box whether they would like to save their data or place a visual landmark in the game world that can be activated. When the player touches the save icon or somehow otherwise activates it, the save point asks the player if e would like to save eir game. As the game data (location of player, player's stats, percentage of game completed) is written to the save file, a progress bar or some other indicator is displayed.

Game developers have experimented with the nature of the save point over the years. Save points are no longer simply a place to save the player's progress; they serve as a break or breathing point point for the player as well. Often, the player will run into a save point just after an important event or just before a challenge. Their health is refilled and they are given a chance to regroup before facing further adversity.

In addition to serving as a pause in the story line, developers use save points as emotional landmarks. Telling a story in a free-flowing medium with non-linear elements requires the developer to create a balance between player-freedom and linear storytelling. In order to maintain this balance, the developers have to take into consideration the player's desire for freedom of exploration in addition to the inherent need for structure and predictability. The save point ties the game together into a playable whole. It is an icon for a safe harbor of familiarity, a resting place and a possible ending point for a playing session.

An example of intuitive save point design is present in the game Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for Playstation. The game is set inside a vast castle that reveals its complexity as the player makes eir way through its halls of the undead. In this game, save points are represented by a room that the player enters. It is immediately evident that certain rooms are save points; the recognizeable design and a distinct lack of musical accompaniment sets it off from the rest of the castle. The only sound or movement is a heart beating in the center of the room.

In games like Castlevania, the save point is often the only place where confrontation with the enemy can be avoided. Whether a game is focused on destroying the enemy as in Castlevania or protecting yourself from the enemy, it is important to allow the player to rest and experience tranquility within a bubble of safety, even if that safety is bound to end. The tension between Self and the Other drives people hold interest in games and their heroes and heroines. The peacefulness and freedom from the constant assault of life's adversities that save points allow is an other-worldly gift that does not exist in modern every-day life.

The game Ico for PS2 puts the player into the position of a twelve year-old boy accompanied by a mysterious princess whose powers control aspects of the castle. The two of them are trying to escape a castle filled with shadow-demons intent on stealing your the princess away to the unknown.It's a typical Japanese set-up in which the female heroine is the source of good sense and intelligence and the male is foolish but well-meaning. Despite these traditional and out-dated character types, the game is extremely well designed. In one of the best save point design decisions in history, the save menu is the only area of the game that includes music. This minimalist approach creates strong emotional cues; in order to save, the player must sit down on a 'save couch' and invite the princess to sit with er. Once both of them are sitting, an overlay screen appears, asking the player if eir would like to save. The music contrasts the spacious silence of the castle with its simple melody and tender warmth. When the player next loads eir game, the two characters re-appear where they were left, their heads resting against one-another, asleep.

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