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It's Groundhog Day, Again

Sunday, July 17, 2005

A screenshot of Rick Dangerous.

Quite some years ago, somewhere in the 1980s, I used to love a game called Rick Dangerous. It was a platform game where you played an Indiana Jones-style adventurer who had to jump rocks, climb ladders and avoid mummies. By today's standards, it's nothing special, but back then I had a lot of fun with it. It had one serious flaw, though.

The game didn't allow you to save your progress. At all. The game consisted of four rather long levels. Each time you died you had to start the entire game from the start. At some point, I could play the first level literally blind-folded; I knew the timing of all the traps and enemies by heart. As far as I can recall, I did make it to the fourth level, but I never finished the game. Some time later I learned you could enter a certain cheat code in the high scores screen which would allow you to continue from the start of the level you were at. This would've certainly helped me to finish the game, but by then I couldn't bare playing the first three levels again, so I never even tried.

The box cover of Fable.

Two weeks ago, a friend of mine lend me his copy of Fable. Some things have certainly changed since the late 1980s. I don't play computer games daily anymore. In fact, I hardly play them at all nowadays. And when I do play a computer game, it certainly isn't for hours on end. So I need my save games badly. Fable doesn't deliver.

After playing three sessions of Fable, I'm still at the beginning of the tutorial. Not because I'm that bad, mind you, but because the designers at Lionhead apparently think that anyone who can't spare three, four hours of undivided attention on getting into their fabulous adventure, isn't worthy of playing the game beyond its beginnings. I'm the kind of guy who likes to explore his options and take on as many side quests as possible. Fable leaves a lot of room for this kind of behaviour, but then goes off punishing you for it by not allowing you to save your progress.

A bit of research on the internet taught me two things. First, after the tutorial, the save game problem does get slightly less bad. Fable still only allows you to save in between quests, but it seems most quests are far shorter than the tutorial. Nevertheless, I don't know if I want to spend three or four hours of my time just to get past the tutorial (and side quests), most of which I have already played twice.

The second thing I've learned, is that this kind of problem doesn't seem to get mentioned in reviews. I find that very odd. I understand that most reviewers probably play the game in long, multiple hour sessions, but shouldn't they ask themselves what their readers might want to know in addition to what their own opinion of the game is? To me, not being able to save whenever I want, can easily break an otherwise decent computer game. I don't think I'm alone on this; after all, the problem has been aknowledged as a twinkie denial condition a couple of years ago.

By the way, I have an idea for a new game. I don't know exactly what the player has to do yet, but I do know that the game can't be finished in a single session. Apart from that, the game's main feature is a total lack of ability to save your game. I call the game Groundhog Day.

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