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Opinion Too few developers have learned from Demon's Souls' autosave system

smorgasbird

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Demon's Souls is now widely cited as an example of great game design. People always talk about the combat system and level and encounter design, and indeed these things really are excellently designed.

But I would argue that Demon's Souls' biggest innovation is actually the autosave system. The fact that every single action is instantly and automatically persisted informs everything in the game. Every single aspect of the game exists in a soft game loop. There is no hard Game Over state after which you have to reload your save. You never have to save and reload at all. You are always in the game world. The entire game design is downstream from the save system and that's what enables the frequently cited good parts (combat, level design, encounter design, lore) to be so good. You can now have difficult combat without losing all your progress. You can have huge levels, but shortcuts are now persistent so the levels are manageable. The lore is ingeniously smuggled into item descriptions, and you don't lose items when you die.

I've come to view save scumming as a severe game design flaw. I used to blame myself for doing it. But I realize now that it was always the game's responsibility to take care of saving, and most games just didn't have the design chops to do it. Most games advise players to save often (sometimes this is a loading screen tip), but if you save too often, you're save scumming, but the alternative is to lose progress or get an undesired outcome that the game didn't communicate clearly (CRPGs are notorious for this).

I recently played through Divinity: Original Sin 2 and it was a painful experience. You're basically forced to save scum and the load times are atrocious even on an SSD. The game would be so much better if it employed soft game systems. When your party dies, your characters should respawn somewhere and get a temporary penalty. You should be able to retry a failed persuasion check in most cases. You should be able to yield in combat (TES did this) and un-aggro factions (a few games with faction reputation do this). Ideally, you should be able to have a great experience without ever having to save and reload. You should be able to make a faux pas in a conversation but still manage to recover. Too many times you select a vague dialogue option and everything goes to hell and there's nothing you can do or say anymore. The designers are OK with it because they know players can just reload.

Soft systems are the way to go, and I would like to see much heavier use of recoverable, soft failure states in other genres like CRPGs and stealth games.

As an aside, Demon's Souls' has solved so many game design problems, the rest of the gaming industry still hasn't caught up yet. Let's add save scumming and save management to the list. I want the future of gaming to have less of the following:

- Quicksave/Quickload and save scumming
- Loss of progress
- Cutscenes with info dumps
- Audio logs
- Junk inventory
 
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Playing the remake has really brought me around to Matthewmatosis's argument that Demon's Souls is in many respects the best game in the Souls series. The sequels and spinoffs managed to iron out a few of its flaws (inventory management being the big one), but they also chipped away at other elements that should have been preserved.
 

smorgasbird

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Playing the remake has really brought me around to Matthewmatosis's argument that Demon's Souls is in many respects the best game in the Souls series. The sequels and spinoffs managed to iron out a few of its flaws (inventory management being the big one), but they also chipped away at other elements that should have been preserved.
Could you please give me a link? I'm interested in hearing which elements he thinks were eroded in the sequels. DeS has always been my favorite in the series.
 

Tschumi

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Interesting argument, i just don't know how applicable such a system would be in certain games. Some games seem designed to have users saving more than one save of their playthroughs for whatever reason~ not every game is a seamless 3rd person wading-through-monsters simulator~

Edit: on PC one can usually quicksave with F5, which is my usual way of saving.
 
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smorgasbird

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Interesting argument, i just don't know how applicable such a system would be in certain games. Some games seem designed to have users saving more than one save of their playthroughs for whatever reason~ not every game is a seamless 3rd person wading-through-monsters simulator~
Games would need to be adjusted but almost every game I can think of, across several genres, would be greatly improved.
 
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Belmonte

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I've come to view save scumming as a severe game design flaw. I used to blame myself for doing it. But I realize now that it was always the game's responsibility to take care of saving, and most games just didn't have the design chops to do it. Most games advise players to save often (sometimes this is a loading screen tip), but if you save too often, you're save scumming, but the alternative is to lose progress or get an undesired outcome that the game didn't communicate clearly (CRPGs are notorious for this).

I'm not as radical as you but agreed. Save everywhere often destroys the design and always make a huge chunk of the tension disappear. It is not a popular opinion but to me save scumming are at its worse on classic FPSs. Some parts of the levels seems to be made with quicksave in mind, Blood specially.

Some CRPGs can benefit from it if the player have the proper mindset. For example: creating a good for nothing character in Fallout 1 and trying to beat the game just for the laughs.

The oldest game I played which had a save system like Demon Souls is Wizardry 1. When I played Wizardry VI, which you can save anywhere, all the tension disappeared. In the first, exiting the dungeon to go to the city was as refreshing as a bonfire.
 
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smorgasbird

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You think that until you hit a NPC by accident and there is nothing you can do to undo that mistake, except move to the next ng.
This system was softened in the sequels with the addition of a forgiveness/indulgence NPC (a very thematically appropriate one at that), but it was already a soft system to begin with because a single hit usually isn't enough to aggro anyone and iirc they could still calm down after a while.
 
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Tranquil

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Would rather have a quick save and no auto save.

Makes games more fun for me.
 

Inno

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Absolutely agree with how smooth the save system in DS and the SoulsBorne games is. You never really have to think about saving at all which is one of the things that constantly takes me out of the experience of other games.

I'm actually playing Divinity Original Sin 2 now as well and have been annoyed by the quick save/quick load design. There's just so many failed states in that game that you can't foresee before it happens. Like when I'm conversing with a NPC and I suddenly need a persuasion to happen but the character that I'm currently using for dialogue lacks that skill. Load and use a different character. Or an interaction that unexpectedly leads to an encounter and all my characters are bunched up and take all AOE spells at the beginning of combat. Load and setup the encounter differently. It's really archaic design and is taking the fun out of the game for me..
 

rofif

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Souls games are just the best games. In many ways too. After 2011 and dark souls, it spoiled me and I play much less other games. The bar was set so high many other games seem like crap.
As for des I've not played it yet. Probably will this month
 

Physiocrat

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I've never played Demon Souls but the save system sounds interesting however I don't fully understand how it works from the OP. Can someone fill me in?
 

smorgasbird

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I've never played Demon Souls but the save system sounds interesting however I don't fully understand how it works from the OP. Can someone fill me in?
Every action you take instantly gets saved, and when you lose, instead of having to reload a save, you just respawn at a checkpoint (which is just a position, not a past game state) and you lose any souls you were carrying (which serve as exp and currency), but you can go back to where you died and pick them up like in the Diablo games, although if you die again before picking them up you lose them forever. You keep any items you picked up before you died.

You might say "this is exactly like an MMORPG character system mixed with Diablo's recovery system" but there's more to it. Any shortcuts and bonfires (checkpoints) you unlock remain after you respawn. Often you can find shortcuts by getting far enough in a level and/or exploring, e.g. a gate you can open, which let you skip entire sections of a map rather than having to traverse the whole thing each time you die and respawn.

Basically everything you do is permanent. The game is designed with that in mind so you can't really ruin your playthrough irreparably although actions do have consequences. There is no save/load menu option at all except when launching the game you have to choose a profile/"save file," which is similar to choosing a character in an MMORPG.

Because things are permanent, some decisions become very impactful, such as whether to kill or aggro an NPC.
 
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Physiocrat

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Every action you take instantly gets saved, and when you lose, instead of having to reload a save, you just respawn at a checkpoint (which is just a position, not a past game state) and you lose any souls you were carrying (which serve as exp and currency), but you can go back to where you died and pick them up like in the Diablo games, although if you die again before picking them up you lose them forever. You keep any items you picked up before you died.

You might say "this is exactly like an MMORPG character system mixed with Diablo's recovery system" but there's more to it. Any shortcuts and bonfires (checkpoints) you unlock remain after you respawn. Often you can find shortcuts by getting far enough in a level and/or exploring, e.g. a gate you can open, which let you skip entire sections of a map rather than having to traverse the whole thing each time you die and respawn.

Basically everything you do is permanent. The game is designed with that in mind so you can't really ruin your playthrough irreparably although actions do have consequences. There is no save/load menu option at all except when launching the game you have to choose a profile/"save file," which is similar to choosing a character in an MMORPG.

Because things are permanent, some decisions become very impactful, such as whether to kill or aggro an NPC.

Cool. Thanks for that. Sounds an interesting system. I would have think how it could be applied in other forms of game
 

Captain Toad

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You think that until you hit a NPC by accident and there is nothing you can do to undo that mistake, except move to the next ng.

You have to hit them several times. While it's funny when you accidentally step on Freke's toe and he yells, "What do you have to gain by killing me!?" is funny, it takes a more deliberate effort to forever piss him off.
 
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Ar¢tos

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You have to hit them several times. While it's funny when you accidentally step on Freke's toe and he yells, "What do you have to gain by killing me!?" is funny, it takes a more deliberate effort to forever piss him off.
I was thinking more of a situation like pressing r1 by accident and hitting an NPC with a spell like it happened to me, hitting Saint urbain with a soul Ray while fighting the black phantom.