Game Save Incorporation in Game Design, ch. 1-3

1 Introduction

Ernest W. Adams writes in Fundamentals of Game Design, Second Edition (2009) that “The act of saving a game takes place outside the game world and, as a consequence, saving harms the player’s immersion” (Adams, 2009:280). Immersion in this context can be defined in several ways. Gordon Calleja summarizes immersion in In-Game: From Immersion to Incorporation (2011).

…Immersion finds its most frequent use in the context of digital games. The application of the term, however, varies considerably: it is used to refer to experimental states as diverse as general engagement, perception of realism, addiction, suspension of disbelief, identification with game characters, and more (Calleja, 2011:25).

Today, many games have save features that attempt to encourage suspension of disbelief by using an auto save, or quick save function (see section 4.2.3 and 4.2.7) as it is said to offer the most immersion (Novak, 2011:272). However , according to Kevin Oxland, who writes in Gameplay and Design, the saving mechanism is a game design element that is often left out until the last minute (2004:139). This causes problems regarding the overall consistency of the game.

Joshua Mosqueria writes in Game Design Perspective (2004) that “Consistency is at the root of immersion” (Laramée, 2004:70). If a game allows a player to perform an action, the player expects to be able to perform that action across the whole game. Mosqueria uses the example of breaking a window. If players are allowed to break a / ana certain window[/annotax] , they should be able to break all the windows across the game. Consistency in a game’s design is necessary to create a cohesive experience. “In the end, consistency creates an illusion of a real world for the player” (Laramée, 2004:70).

Being consistent with all the game design components, such as a game’s save feature, can lead to enhancing player experience, and immersion, during play, rather than destroying suspension of disbelief. This paper will use the MDA Framework to examine the saving systems of games, by looking at aesthetics, dynamics and mechanics of the game save features in various ways. Immersion within game save is created when it fulfills the aesthetics and dynamics that are based upon the mechanics of the save systems. A description of the MDA Framework can be found in section 3.1.

2 Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to provide knowledge about the process of saving a game state and the use of various save systems in game design. This knowledge is generated through an MDA analysis. The analysis examines some of the ways the save functions work to be consistent with the game world and what the player perceives, the aesthetics of saving their progress. This is communicated through the dynamics, which are the player’s input in the game and the mechanics, which are the save system of a game. This paper will emphasize designing the game save system as a part of the game world, achieving an internal consistency to keep the player immersed.

3 Methodology

The intention of this paper is to analyze the save game function of a number of games using the MDA Framework. This paper will emphasize the importance of making the game save function an essential part of the game’s design, by analyzing the game save feature of games with the MDA framework (see section 3.1). Descriptions of various save systems are provided, as well as a historical view of the game save function to give an insight of the origin of saving. The analysis focuses on games that have made an attempt to incorporate the game save function into the game world rather than games that keep it separated. Games that are subjects for the analysis are:

Last Express (Brøderbund, Interplay Smoking Car Production 1997)

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Nintendo 2000)

Last Window: The Secret of Cape West (Nintendo, Cing 2010)

Resident Evil (Capcom 1996–2011 )

Outcast (Infogrames, Appeal 1999)

Grand Theft Auto (BMG Interactive 1997, Rockstar Games 1999–2013 )

3.1 MDA Framework

The MDA Framework is an approach for understanding game design and its technical aspects of development. It was introduced during the Game Design and Tuning Workshop at the Game Developers Conference, 2001–2004 . MDA can be used as a tool to analyze game design, which may be used from a designer’s perspective or a player’s perspective. The designer creates mechanics that generate dynamics which, in turn, generate aesthetics. The player’s perspective is the opposite. Reversing the MDA, one can look at a player’s experience. They experience the game’s aesthetics through an interactive dynamic, which emerges from the game’s mechanics.

MDA stands for Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics. Mechanics refer to the rules that constrain and guide players, which specify the game as a system. Mechanics are the base components that define the player’s action.

Dynamics are based on the relationships among the mechanics in the game and the player’s action in the game world. Dynamics evoke the player’s response and are created by the player’s interaction.

Aesthetics describe the emotional responses that are evoked within the player.


Fig. A. From Robin Hunicke, Marc Leblanc and Robert Zubeck’s paper “MDA: A formal approach to Game Design and Game Research” paper, displaying Aesthetics, Dynamics and Mechanics from the perspectives of a designer and a player.

This paper will be using MDA from a player’s perspective, ADM, to analyze game save design. Aesthetics will be determined by how players perceive game save features in relation to the game world that is communicated by dynamics , which is the player’s input. Mechanics is the system of game save that the aesthetics and dynamics are emerged from.