Friday, December 12, 2014

Saving Hellenica

Saving games is one of the many aspects of game development that seems like it should be much easier than it is. For most games we've worked on, even though the mechanics of storing data are usually simple, the evolving state of the game means you're chasing a shifting goal and constantly at risk of breaking things. We've certainly had this experience with Hellenica as we progressed from just a linear prototype to a multifaceted narrative web. But Hellenica's unique story structure also presents a whole new set of challenges.

To start off, we're not locking the player in a single path. If after exploring the consequences of one choice for leaving a social hub she decides she's more interested in what would have happened on another path, she is free to rewind the game (via the narrative map) to the previous hub and make the other choice. However, a player's story doesn't depend just on the social hub she's in. There's a plethora of choices, both overt and subtle, which will influence the way the story is unfolding. For example, instead of just loading the player into sh4_athens, we also need to remember she came from Sparta and has talked to Alcibiades but not Xenophon and has eavesdropped on a mysterious pirate delivery. To keep track of all this, we create a mini save game for every hub the player visits. So instead of one save game, we have like 30.

A separate save game challenge came from aiming to release Hellenica on tablet platforms, where it's expected that the player can be a jerk and quit your game at ANY TIME without losing her progress. So we need to maintain a sort of perpetual saving process that keeps track of the player's progress throughout a level. And because loading it takes the player halfway through a level (sometimes even halfway through a conversation), this running save file needed to have its own share of custom data beyond the mini-save games that are tied to social hubs.

Going one step further, this is all built on a foundation of profiles, allowing the user to share Hellenica with a friend and not have her progress mucking up your own save map.

So at present a "savegame" in Hellenica consists of.
A profile, containing....
Up to 40 social-hub-specific saves, each containing a story path taken to get there and a plethora of other story variables.
Separate save data related to which combat paths are unlocked.
A running save file, which contains all the minutia of the player's progress through the current level (+extra details if it’s a combat level).
Achievements accrued and various playthrough statistics.
Party customization details concerning which abilities they player's unlocked and which abilities you’re actively using.

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