Thursday, August 31, 2006

Dead Rising Revisited

Looks like Clive Thompson at Wired News agrees with my conclusions about Dead Rising and its save system. Money quote:

    "Save mechanisms are key to the emotional stakes in a game. Personally, I tend to prefer titles like Half-Life, where you can save anywhere you want, instantly -- and save as many different copies of your life as you want. (A sentence of utterly Philip K. Dickian weirdness, if you think about it.)

    For me, constant saving makes me feel more free: I can take more chances, go down risky alleyways, and explore the game more boldly -- because death holds no sting. I get whacked? No problem; I just restore to a moment a few seconds before my death...

    In contrast, a rare-saving game like Dead Rising forces me to be ultra cautious. I don't dillydally, explore needlessly, or take any big chances. When I creep across the mall's open lawn at midnight, when the zombies are more aggressive, my heart is in my throat -- not just because the scenario is inherently scary, but because if I die I'm gonna lose another half hour of the most nonrenewable resource in existence: my time...

    Yet here's the thing: One could just as easily argue that infrequent saving is a much more intense and authentic experience. It forces you to put some skin in the game. That's why people seek out life-threatening sports like sheer-face mountain climbing and skydiving. In situations of genuine danger, your senses snap open and you experience things more fully -- or, as any extreme athlete would boast, you live more fully.

    It's certainly true that in Dead Rising I was focused with cheetah's intensity on my enemies. I pretty quickly learned to give a wide berth to even a seemingly slow-moving, harmless zombie -- because if one grabs you, it'll hold you still long enough for the others to stagger over and pile on. I can't say I ever studied the enemies so closely in an easy-saving game like Doom III."
He articulated that point far better than I did in my short(er) review of the game. In fact, the "no save" system that I grew up with on the NES forced the same kind of emotional response, even on games like The Legend of Zelda, where you could only save when you died. I remember trying to tell my parents why I couldn't come to dinner right now, on the count of three because I had to actually get to a point where my pixelly little in-game avatar met his demise. In retrospect, it seems pretty absurd, but it certainly heightened the overall emotional investment in the game and Zelda still stands as one of my favorite console experiences because of it.

Of course, you could save any time you wanted on (most) PC games - Bard's Tale being a notable exception - and aside from doing dunder-headed things on games where part of the design was a Skinnerbox-like trial-and-error system - Sierra's graphic adventures, for example - it was never an issue. You expected to die, and die a lot. You could always restore to the last screen. But Mario wasn't like that. You had exactly three chances (plus any green mushrooms you might find) to take a lava bath before you started over at the very beginning.

I'm unconvinced it was more satisfying overall in that context, but I will argue that it is in Dead Rising. But it certainly heighened the emotional involvement in the game. It was more of an investment, in emotion and time.

Wired article via Joystiq.

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