From 'Hints' to 'Walkthroughs' to 'SAVE-GAMES'

By Len Green (June, 2005)
Reminiscences ... could it be just nostalgia or perhaps merely the relentless rapid advance of technology?

I started playing graphical computer games about 20 years ago (I actually programmed a couple of VERY primitive 'games' in Machine-Code & Assembler, a quarter of a century ago).

During the whole of this period whilst playing very many adventure games, I've been helped by a large number of hints and walkthroughs, but less than a dozen save-games!

I well remember the fascination of playing Alice in Wonderland by "Broderbund" in 1986 on my Apple-II and marvelling at that 'full length' graphic black & white (actually white on green) game, complete with interface, inventory, save & load game facilities, etc.

In 1991 I was in California and a relative asked me to purchase a Sierra Hint-Book for King's Quest-3. After a lot of running around I bought one. I have it in front of me now. It is quite a small booklet (approximately 11 cms x 15 cms) containing 46 pages including an introduction by Roberta Williams herself. The questions are printed ordinarily, but to read the answers you have to use the red cellophane 'window' supplied. It cost then US$10.00, maybe about a third of the cost of the full game itself ... it's probably 'worth' much more now as a collector's item!

There was a long period, mainly in the late '80s & early '90s, where the player just HAD to rely upon him(or her)self, or possibly on a circle of acquaintances within telephone range. The only other main source of assistance was by phoning the Developers or Publishers, and paying exorbitantly per minute for whatever help available.

Then with the advent of the Internet in its infancy, hints could be exchanged by email, and the hint-sheets and files, and walkthroughs started to appear ... online! At first these hint files and walkthroughs were almost exclusively textual, but as computer power increased and the WWW became more sophisticated, the introduction of graphics and screen-shots became more common ... originally to help describe tricky puzzles, and afterwards also simply as decoration.

And now, as technology has progressed even further, it is fairly customary for many players to request and receive SAVE-GAMES when they are stuck ... sometimes, as soon as they are stuck!

A VERY great deal has been written about the use (or misuse) of walkthroughs. I do not intend to touch upon that subject here. It's purely a matter of personal preference and choice. A game is for enjoyment (not penance, self-flagellation or competition), and whatever suits the individual is perfectly OK for him or her. At one extreme there are folk who say they NEVER touch a hint or walkthrough, and are prepared to spend days or even weeks until they can overcome any puzzle or stuckness by themselves. Conversely, others reach for a walkthrough almost the very first instant that they're stuck (and many will not acquire any game which doesn't have a walkthrough readily available, often printing it out before start of play!)

I'm personally about midway. I get a LOT of satisfaction when I manage to solve a puzzle or problem completely by myself. But I'm not prepared to spend too long (generally about a couple of hours or so!) when I'm totally stuck. The same applies when I not infrequently come across a puzzle where I can't even figure out WHAT I'm actually supposed to DO! Still as in so many human activities, I do not expect others to emulate me, nor do I criticize anybody who doesn't! The same applies to those who seek and use save-games. But IMO, here there are some differences which are not merely quantitative but also qualitative!

If/When you use a hint or a walkthrough, you in no way alter whatever portion of the game you have completed prior to that point. The only thing affected is, maybe, your private ego! This is not so when you insert a save-game. You are in effect no longer playing your own game but continuing some other person's game. You acquire somebody else's inventory, and also dialogs, game-notes and graphics etc, in those games which 'store' such things ... not uncommon recently! This however is only one of the drawbacks ...

Unless the game is 100% linear, you will almost certainly find that sections of the game which you haven't yet dealt with, have been done and finished in the save-game, and there is absolutely no way you can redo or even SEE them ... you have also irreversibly 'inherited' the resultant inventory items, etc. This can sometimes seriously injure the narrative of the game, or remove logical hints or matters which make the story comprehensible and feasible.

Conversely (albeit less 'damaging') there will probably be episodes, maybe even whole chapters, which you have completed successfully, but the save-game has not yet arrived at. If so, you will be forced to replay ALL of these ... which may be a considerable pleasure, or a great hassle!

The less linear the game and the more 'choice' given to the player, the more pronounced are the abovementioned drawbacks. There are also other technical reasons why save-games are sometimes ineffective. Occasionally the recipient of the save-game cannot successfully insert it for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the donor's save-game has been made on a different operating system or at a different resolution or whatever, and hence misbehaves when played on your different set-up.

There ARE most definitely occasions where a save-game is ESSENTIAL and where no hints or walkthroughs are of any help whatsoever. One case is where there is a definite game-stopping bug in a bona-fide game (not one of the many corrupted pirated ones around) for which there is absolutely no patch or workaround, and the vendors refuse to repair or replace. Another is a timed-manipulative-action puzzle which some (and often many) players can never overcome due to inability to cope ... for whatever reasons! There are occasionally other instances which various groups of people just cannot deal with. The most intractable being those very difficult puzzles which reset randomly and hence cannot be dealt with in any walkthrough or hint, e.g. difficult randomly-resetting slider puzzles and audio puzzles (for those who are hard of hearing or tone deaf), colour puzzles (for colour blind people), etc.

The bottom line of all of this, which may be considered a rant ... Ask for a save-game if you absolutely must ... but try everything else first!

Copyright © Len Green 2005. All rights reserved.