June 18, 2008

Writing Shotgun

Sometimes I think the old school PC gaming traditionalists are like less-influential religious right septuagenarians, in that a younger generation is waiting impatiently for them to die off so that the rest of the world can fully embrace evolution.

Not that I advocate such a genocide. I'm sort of an old school PC gamer myself. And while I love new games and I find all those stubborn posts about Fallout 3 or Oblivion-being-console-trash massively stupid, there are some relics from the nineties that I wish were never buried. This one might seem impossibly trivial, but I've thought my position through and you'll find it's plausibly trivial.

I miss not being able to name savegames.

It's such a simple thing, and it's not like I'm Deputy Alarmist in the Gaming Liberties Watchdog Group crying at the developers taking away our freedoms. I do miss it though. I miss hitting save for the first time and the game prompting me for a title, and wanting to come up with something clever. I wanted something befitting of the story, because "cant get out of mortuary" seemed so inappropriate. That's how it starts. Then I'll care about what my save game history looks like, and then it occurs to me that certain lines of dialogue would make great titles, and then critical game moments will be deserving of a epigrammed save.

Soon it snaps into focus. I haven't been selecting saves based on difficult or otherwise arbitrary moments, I've been breaking this story into chapters and composing the table of contents. I'm not a player, I'm a co-writer. The game and I, we're now writing this story in tandem, and I love it. The player's role as "author" of the game is always so nebulous to define, and certainly it varies from game to game, but this one small thing is so tangible and so clearly mine.

One extra little layer of personalisation. If I'm into the game, I'm really into that part. I want to do well by the game and chronicle it with chapter headings that are suitably poetic and powerful. When I was heavily into Deus Ex, I kept a running tally in the in-game journal of which characters I could and could not trust. Same thing: I was perfectly happy to make the extra effort for a game I loved, and felt that much more involved as a result.

It becomes a creative exercise, a game in itself. Make these titles funnier or develop patterns. Somewhere in Baldur's Gate II, for no reason, I decided that every save game had to be a phrase beginning with the word "The". Seinfeld, pretty much. The chapters of Fallout Tactics (a game that was 25% of the way towards being fantastic) had to be named after song lyrics that accurately summarised the action on screen. That particular save game model obviously developed because I was listening to music to take my mind off the boring game.

That can be fun too. Sometimes it'll be the only thing that keeps me going; that my save game titles are consistently better than my game experience, and in this fight between the two writers, I want to win. My 225 Morrowind saves record better than anything my ups and downs with that game. Frustrating gameplay affects my general mood which controls the volume of profanity appearing in the save titles. "Never Say Nerevarine Again" (#204) effectively eulogised Morrowind for me.

Without titles none of this happens. The save game screen is just a dump where you put files. It doesn't matter how many you have because it's just a menu option; a fourth-wall-breaking morass of numbers. I can't buy into that fantasy anymore. Because controllers don't have keyboards and these days, for all intents and purposes, that usually means PCs don't either.

But I'm over it.


Steve gaynor said...

I was never a big savegame namer, but I'd love to see some screenshots of your savegame lists.

Duncan said...

I don't have any of those games installed anymore unfortunately. I think though if you look at the list of Hit Self-Destruct post titles, that's pretty much the same thing. Now that I'm looking at them, it's very weird how much they've changed (I can't believe you were able to adhere to a naming convention): they used to be very prosaic and now they're getting so esoteric. Pretty soon my post titles will have absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter.

M. Sáflo said...

This is fantastic. I love the idea that we co-author a game through save titles.

I recently installed Fallout for the first time, and I'd been naming my saves after Half-Life's justifiably famous chapter titles: "Apprehension" - I'm apprehensive about going through this spooky cave; "Questionable Ethics" - I decided to violate my 'no murder' code to free a couple of slaves. Anyway, I've since moved into creating my own names, and I guess in that way it's...hey, wake up.