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So I've been playing Mass Effect 2 (PC) and one of the things I've noticed is that you can only save your game when you're not engaged in combat. As soon as the first enemy shows up on your radar, the save button is disabled. Once combat is over, save functionality reappears.

It seems reasonable to assume that Mass Effect 2 is a state machine, and therefore, the internal state of the program at any moment can be captured and reloaded later. This is basically a solved problem - games have been designed this way since the Half-Life era. It also seems reasonable to assume that BioWare knew what they were doing when they made the decision not to follow this model - it's a tried and true system; BioWare wouldn't have done it the way they did without some good reason.

What reasons are there to disable game save functionality during combat?

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More adrenaline? In games like Operation Flashpoint you can save game only when you finish mission. I was so scared at the end of the 30-45 minute mission like no game before and after did with me :) – Notabene Jan 23 '11 at 23:24
@notabene good point, it makes games more fun(I'm paranoic and I save the game all the time(just in case) and Its more enjoyable in games that I can't do that). – 0101 Feb 3 '11 at 9:30
up vote 21 down vote accepted

There are a number of reasons that I can think of why designers would do it this way.

The first and probably the most important reason is to prevent really, really annoying the player. E.g. You're in a middle of a tense firefight, you save the game, leave it for a few weeks, load it back up and you're under fire from all angles without any room to breathe.

Another reason is that saving the states of the enemies at that particular time could potentially be problematic. Saving the game state is fairly simple since everything is fairly static (objects in the game world, position of the player, etc). You could save the enemies, but depending on how their AI was implemented it could cause some serialization issues.

Finally saving in other times apart from combat is by design. Again, if the fight you're in is a particularly tense firefight, the developers would want you to experience that tension every time (or something to that effect).

Personally, I believe it's the first and second reason more than anything.


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I think @Tim Holt 's answer is more correct. Developers do not want the player to save moments before death. In a HL1 mod a while ago I was going through it with quicksave. I fell off a cliff and in mid-air I tried to quick-reload, instead I hit quick save. So my only working save file was me midair heading towards the ground at terminal velocity. Not allowing to save in a firefight prevents broken save files. – AttackingHobo Jan 24 '11 at 3:12
@AttackingHobo I did say that was the main reason in the first paragraph. Although I'm not certain if it was very clear. – Ray Dey Jan 24 '11 at 3:22
Being in a firefight is a bit different from an entirely un-winable game state. – AttackingHobo Jan 24 '11 at 5:28
The firefight was an example not the reason (note that it says "eg. a firefight"). The reason was to prevent saving in a spot that would suck. – jhocking Nov 25 '14 at 18:09

If you save in combat, you run the risk of saving just before something is going to kill you. Reloading that saved game just puts you right back into the game moments before that event, and it can sometimes be impossible to recover.

As an example, I have a saved game right now in Dead Space where my health is incredibly low, and not 1 second after the save, a big boss monster attacks. I've tried loading and fighting it numerous times, and basically have given up on ever doing so. My only solution is to go back to a VERY old save, and frankly I'm not sure if I want to do that.

So basically, you never want to have the player save the game just before something is going to give them a serious setback. And being in combat greatly increases the odds of this.

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@Konerak: You're neglecting the possibility he had saved very soon before the boss fight, then overwrote that save during the fight. Otherwise I agree, autosaving before a spot like that is a very nice idea. – doppelgreener Jan 24 '11 at 7:43
An auto save when approaching the area where combat begins is much better than not being able to save in combat at all. It's very frustrating when you can't save in a long combat sequence, which Mass Effect has plenty of. – signine Jan 24 '11 at 8:27
@Jonathan: you're right - maybe I overlooked it because imho no serious gamer should ever overwrite a savegame - why, you don't want to spend the 20Mb diskspace? The savegame-list loads slower? The advantages don't outweigh the possible disadvantage: you're stuck... or just the fun of having an area ready to replay! – Konerak Jan 24 '11 at 8:33
@Konerak: I have no idea about Dead Space but some games don't lend themselves to a large save list. In Fallout 3 all you have to distinguish save games is a date and a pretty picture - managing multiple characters becomes a nightmare, and finding other characters in a long list of save files becomes a game of hide-and-seek. When two characters are wearing similar armour around the same date, it becomes marco polo for the deaf. Keeping a short save list with a limited number of saves per character is the only good way to manage this. – doppelgreener Jan 24 '11 at 8:48
Important developer savegame lessons: 1/ Autosave regularly, and why not multiple non-overwriting autosaves? 2/ Allow gamer to "name" a savegame, so he can organize. 3/ Remind the gamer to save often! (I did like that about Oblivion: "Planes of Oblivion are a dangerous place, remember to save often" - a bit Out Of Character, but excellent advice) – Konerak Jan 24 '11 at 9:48

I think the existing answers are very good but I want to posit another possible reason. Disabling save prevents the user from using as a cheap crutch, saving right before taking a serious risk and then reloading their save if they fail. I used to do that all the time in RTS games and it eventually sucked all the challenge out of it. Similarly in console emulators with "save state" functions, you can practically tune your game to be perfect. By disabling save, you preserve the sense of risk vs reward, and make the player think rationally before trying something stupid.

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"in console emulators with "save state" functions, you can practically tune your game to be perfect" <-- welcome to Tool Assisted Speedruns – o0'. Jan 24 '11 at 13:03
@Lo'oris Yep I've seen those. I love them. Especially the quadruple Mega Man. – Tesserex Jan 24 '11 at 13:07
+1 - It's like saving Football Manager before playing the cup final. – Ste May 30 '12 at 12:47

The only reasons I can think of are that:

  1. It's difficult to save the state of the AI for the enemies and such.
  2. You wish to force a certain method of playing upon the players.

I don't think you should use arguments about being able to save right before you die as a reason why you shouldn't be able to save anywhere or in-combat. As the developer, you can implement auto-saves that kick in around areas where combat is about to break out. That way the player can always go back to before the combat started. You can also let the player have multiple saves, then they can go back to any point that they want if they're using that feature.

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-1 answer very redundant with the already posted ones – o0'. Jan 24 '11 at 13:04

It gives the players a reason to really think about their tactics. With quick save you could just try it the same way over and over (slowly progressing forward) until you have "beaten" it. Without they have to rethink on how to approach the problem. (be it to be less aggressive, to make better use of the abilities or whatever)

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