Games

“Remember to Save Often”: The Meta-Game Tactics of 'Dishonored'

Saving in order to knowingly reload isn't so much prescient as it is a tactic that takes advantage of the memory of prior failures. Exploiting the elements that exist outside of the game proper is done out of a desire to play well and to execute even better.

A few years ago, the Moving Pixels podcast decided to go back and playthrough Max Payne and Max Payne 2, two well regarded shooters from the early 2000s (”Moving Pixels Podcast: The World of Max Payne, PopMatters, 12 July 2010 and (”Moving Pixels Podcast: Max Payne in Love”, PopMatters, 2 August 2010). One topic that came up while discussing both games was how the use of save games and especially the quick save feature becomes a kind of meta-game tactic in shooters of that era and the previous decade.

Playing both titles on PC, it becomes a force of habit to "Remember to Save Often” because the game is fast-paced and can be brutally unforgiving to a player who makes a bad split second decision. Max is, indeed, a one man army, who with the advantage of the possibility of popping a time slowing, bullet-time mode can generate an incredible amount of havoc when played effectively. However, as Max enters room upon room of antagonists that far outnumber him, understanding the layout and general movements of his opponents "ahead of time” is what leads to the most spectacularly efficient gun battles.

As a result, quick save is the player's best friend because Max's and the player's knowledge is not so much prescient as it is based on the memory of prior failures. One always pops a quick save before entering a new environment, just in case a bad initial move leads to a quick and less than spectacular death. Indeed, even just taking heavy damage might cause a player to instinctively want to reload to make sure to do it right the next time, rather than to suffer a grave health penalty as things get even more complicated. One might even run around a room while heavily damaged just to “scout it out” before dying, giving a better tactical sense of how to play it better the next time. One might even also quick save before entering a room, enter, pop off one guy, find cover, and quick save again, leaving options open to restart the fight from its start or to instead simply take advantage of incremental successes like this to assure that at least one foe is down if Max hasn't yet been wounded.

Essentially, Max Payne and its predecessors (games like Doom, Dark Forces, and the like) are played on PCs at least on two tactical levels -- mastering tactical play through the normal mechanics of controlling an avatar caught up in a gun fight and the meta-game tactics of using saves as a means of better controlling short term outcomes, especially via quick saves.

In some sense, Jordan Mechner seemed to have recognized the interest in this meta-game built on the faster reload speed of PCs and had already considered ways of integrating this playstyle into his own games, but without taking the player out of the game to do it. Instead, he managed to move the meta-qualities of this tactical play back into the game itself. The ability to rewind time in both The Last Express and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time as an actual part of the game encouraged the kind of stupid risk taking of remembering to save often without actually having to fritter away ones time in load screens and save screens. Players of Sands of Time, for instance, can charge into rooms, throw themselves over the sides of cliffs with the hope of making a jump, or attempt a mad dash between a score of whirling blade traps because the ability to rewind essentially gives the player the same chance to get a sense of the environment, where obstacles and enemies might exist in it, and then to capitalize on that information “the next time” rather than count on executing everything perfectly the first time.

So, in some sense, my experience of playing Dishonored has created in me a sense of the very, very retrograde.

Because Dishonored is a first person stealth game, not a shooter, it requires the kind of “no mistakes” efficiency of older titles, but even more so. Getting spotted by a guard usually results in a larger group of guards descending en masse on your position. While certainly Dishonored allows for the option of fighting them all, the spirit of the game seems to encourage a more efficient assassin than that, one that can prowl rooms and pick off the opposition one by one. To really “get it right,” I have found myself following the advice found on one of the load screens in the game, “Remember to Save Often” (and this message makes me further think that “getting it right” incrementally by using saves to my advantage really is in the spirit of the game's designers' intent).

However, often enough, I find myself spending more time in some instances saving and reloading, saving and reloading, than in playing the game proper. I may have turned a 15-hour game into a 20-hour game or even a 25-hour game just by sheer insistence on using saves to my best advantage.

It is a testament to how well the game plays in general that I am willing to continue doing so, though it also may be related to a sense of nostalgia for games that hinge on meta-game tactics that also keep me invested in the game. I don't mind entirely replaying a room a dozen times for the sake of the sense that I finally “figured out” the very best route to eliminating all three of the guards that regularly patrol that room without raising any sort of alarm at all. Despite being action-oriented games, these kind of retrograde titles because of the use of saves almost become something more like a puzzle game.

Indeed, though, really the biggest problem that I am possibly having is that I am playing dishonored on a console. The problem may not be the inclusion of the meta-game tactics at all. Admittedly, this is a game that plays perfectly well on a console, but what I really should be playing it on is a PC. The meta-game becomes so much more bearable if load times are short, rather than desperately long as they are on my Xbox.

In that sense, Dishonored evokes a sense of gaming of a bygone era that certainly still has its appeal despite its tendency to pull me out of its immersive world quite regularly. I really wouldn't mind if even more games (and certainly Dishonored isn't the only contemporary title to return to this older formula of play) returned to this concept of “remembering” how to play through error. That being said, there really does need to be a more efficacious way of doing so for the console gamer, and that is where, in my mind, some options like Mechner's more ingenuous thinking about dissolving the meta-game into the game itself may need to be followed up on by more designers.

Remembering to start again can be just as enjoyable as progressing if done right.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image