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Mortal VN Engine Annoyances: Part One

I think I’ve whined about this quite a few times: VN engines suck. Hard. In this series, I will be providing some demands. They are NOT optional. If your VN engine does not implement ALL of these, it sucks, and you should be ashamed of yourself if a single VN is made with it. Please apologize to every VN reader in the world, then carefully consider ritual suicide as a way to regain what little honor you have left.

Yes, this means that I wish death upon pretty much every VN engine programmer alive. I make no excuses.

Without further ado, here is my first area of annoyance!

Saving

Main Complaint: Limited save slots

Each and every visual novel on the PC, or on any console younger than the PS2 generation, should have no limit to the amount of saves you can create.
I have seen reviewers say that a VN has “plenty of save slots” and think this is good enough. But really – why the hell do we even need to limit ourselves to an arbitrary amount of save-state pages, holding an equally arbitraty amount of saves? The only reason you should ever limit save slots is if there is a physical limit – and let’s be honest here, most recent visual novels are in the multi-gigabyte range.

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, I was playing Mass Effect 2. As you might know, ME2 was released on the xbox 360 simultaneously as it was released for the PC. PR claims there were separate teams working on both, but frankly, ME2 shows signs of severe consolitis at times. That is probably why it has a hilariously retarded limit on saves. I ran out, and I raged.

There is a mod that can help with this – and I installed it – but why couldn’t developers just have flipped off the variable that limited the number of saves? This should take around three minutes or less for any programmer more proficient than an ape, and most of that time would be used to find the appropriate piece of code to change.

Of course, quite a few of the worst-offender VNs were not console-first or even console-simultaneous releases. And at that point… Well, I may or may not be assembling intel for a kill list right now, and planning a trip to Japan.

Worst offenders:

Tsukihime – Tsukihime has many choices, many bad ends, and 20 save slots that have no memo slot or picture, only a timestamp. I cannot overstate just how hilariously terrible this was. Well, I suppose you can’t expect much more from an NScripter game. Jesus, thank god NScripter seems to be dead by now.

Ever17 – Ever17 is slightly better than Tsukihime at 50-something save slots. Slightly. If you save at every choice… Yeah, you’re going to run out. And lord knows, Ever17 has a few.

999: Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors – 999 has only one save slot.

ONLY ONE SAVE SLOT.

ONLY. ONE.

Alright, there are, technically, some minor metafictional reasons for this. But honestly… at this point, just suspend our goddamn disbelief already.

Analogue: A Hate Story – I swear, Christine Love deliberately set out to piss me off here. Not only are the saves limited (in Ren’py, an engine that can support unlimited saves with tinkering…) but they are limited to like, four pages of four saves! This is insane!  There wasn’t a space problem in the UI or anything, she could easily have added more folders. Analogue has a multitude of choices and paths, and I’d have liked to explore my options better – especially picking if you are male or female and seeing the differences in AI behavior is interesting. But no. Christine Love shat all over me in that regard.

Meh, I pirated it anyway.

Almost there:

Aoishiro – Aoishiro had a pretty good save system, I thought. Those nine different categories let you do plenty of organizing, and the vertical columns in each could potentially scroll downwards infinitely.

A screenshot of Aoishiro's save screen

It looks so promising, doesn’t it?

And then you see that there is a Save Limit of 99.

WHYMVJIFRMWJU09RJYF84UICDKEWPCKDI9C8R9W0JCU8EWJCUIDEMCDIJOENCEDWnchudenhcudonjicdiocnx!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

OH YES:

Katawa Shoujo – Katawa Shoujo is the only VN I’ve read so far that has unlimited saves. There are many more technological things to praise: the movies play smoothly on my faptop, the scrollback is pretty innovative, there’s the unique Scene Select (note: that’s not H-scene select)…

A picture showing Katawa Shoujo's save screen.

Yet another reason Katawa Shoujo rocks!

Unfortunately, even Katawa Shoujo isn’t quite perfect. For one, it doesn’t have a categorizing system like Aoishiro above, or the ability to set memos. Hmm, let’s just formalize the rest of my REQUIREMENTS:

Other things your engine MUST have:

*Each save element should have a picture of the scene it occurs in; a screenshot is probably the best choice.

*Each save element should have a memo field where you can freely enter text.

*Each save element should have a timestamp.

*Each save element should have a small, changeable icon with around 5 pictures to choose from.

*The save screen should have some kind of organizing system; probably a folder-based one would be the best. Look at Aoishiro up there for a decentish implementation, though a scrollable F/SN style multi-column and row one would probably be the best.

Fate/Stay Night does not have unlimited saves, but it does practically everything above perfectly…  So, it’s too bad that F/SN has hilariously many choices and 50 bad ends in total, so you will use up all save slots if you are remotely like me. I was really hoping I could shorten my kill list a bit, but no.

Extra credits:

These are not required to escape my wrath, but I would appreciate them:

*Memo space  autopopulated with relevant info.

*Indicator of whether the save is at a choice point or not.

*Feature to autosave at every choice.

Oh, and while we’re at it, stop saving in goddamn my documents or appdata. Do that shit in the game folder in /SAVES or something. It’s worked for ages, and doesn’t have problems when users play with different privileges and can’t save to the right folders and stuff.

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This isn’t the end of my list of Mortal Annoyances (of course not…) For more advice on not being killed by me, check out next week’s article when it comes out.

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