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No Reload Bonus

How would gameplay be altered if the player received a bonus for not reloading the game?

Although I’ve worked on more than forty published game projects, my career as a game designer has been littered with intriguing ideas that I was never quite able to get into a finished game. Many of those that were geared towards appealing to a wider market have since appeared in Nintendo games – including allowing the player to continue even if they haven’t passed an objective (I actually did manage to include this in Attack on Pearl Harbor, and Nintendo featured it in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which pleased me greatly). One design feature in particular is one I consider to be particularly interesting, but something I don’t believe I’ll ever get into a game now. I want to share the feature here in the hope that it will inspire someone else in their projects.

The feature in question is the “No Claims Bonus” or “No Reload Bonus”, which I originally designed for a game called Seven Shades that began as a fighting game project for Perfect Entertainment, and which I continued to pursue for a while at International Hobo. I met with Eidos about this project, but they weren’t interested, and ultimately it had to be shelved. The feature in question was designed to give players reasons not to reload the game unnecessarily, that is, to make the outcome of the player’s agency more meaningful by discouraging them to reload in the case of failure or loss. Rather than making reloading impossible, the No Reload Bonus incentivised the player to maintain their in-game continuity – something I’ve only ever seen done in the stifling straight-jacket of persistent worlds, where the player has no choice in the matter at all. It was modelled after the ‘no claims bonus’ that insurance companies offer for those that do not claim on their insurance policies.

Here’s the original design documentation text from 2001. For context, the game was to be divided into Episodes, and each play through the game is called a ‘Rendition’ (since the game was supposed to be the retelling of an epic legend), while ‘Karma’ was a score of points used to unlock secrets and bonuses for the player to experiment with.


Rewrite History

This option is displayed between Episodes, and on the Pause menu, along with the description 'Return to Previous Episode, equivalent to reloading'. This takes the place of a reload option, allowing the player to return to any episode they have played in the current Rendition. The current state of game is then reconstructed from the Chronicle data, to allow the game to be played again from this point.

However, using the Rewrite History option affects the No Claims Bonus (described below); either halving it, or reducing it by a multiplier.

The player is warned before using Rewrite History exactly what effect it will have on their No Claims Bonus.


No Claims Bonus

To encourage players not to constantly "reload" (Rewrite History), the game offers a system that rewards players who can resist the urge to reload.

A "no claims bonus" is awarded to the player's Karma score, that adds to what they receive after each Episode.

This starts at 0%, and grows by 5% for each completed Episode. After a complete Rendition, this will have risen to 40-100% or so. At 100%, it changes to display x 2; at 200%, x 3, and so on. It levels out at x 5 Max (500%), and goes no higher.

When a player uses Rewrite History or Begin New Rendition, they lose half of their No Claims Bonus. If the bonus 200% or more, it decreases by 100% instead of halving.

Therefore, if a player "reloads" after 2 Episodes, it just drops from 10% to 5%; if they reload after 10, it drops from 50% to 25%, but if they reload after 46 episodes (about 4 Renditions) it drops from x 3 to x 2.

When a player starts playing a Chronicle, the Chronicle save file is modified to remove the No Claims Bonus, which is then held in memory. It is only saved back to the Chronicle if the player uses the Return Another Day (Save & Quit) option - this means that if the player starts to play and then goes back to reload and try again, they will have lost their No Claims Bonus. This effectively stops cheating.


What interests me most about the No Reload Bonus (as I am now inclined to call it) is the way it changes the player’s relationship with reloading the game, offering a middle-route between the occasionally maddening freedom to reload at will and the frequently irritating restriction of a persistent world. The player is free to change the way events unfolded by reloading (‘rewriting history’, as it was styled in the design documents), but has reasons not to want to do so. As a result, if (say) a beloved character dies the player faces an interesting decision: accept their death and keep their bonus, or repeat the gameplay to save them at the cost of the bonus. It was my hope that this would create an interesting play experience.

I doubt this feature will ever appear in any game, since it involves a substantial rethinking of the player’s relationship with save games in a way that I’m no longer convinced is plausible for the gamer audience, and certainly isn’t suitable for a mass market audience. Nonetheless, I present it here as an intriguing curiosity from my game design past that may be of interest to other game designers, especially those working on indie computer role-playing games and the like where this kind of feature could generate new kinds of play experience.


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Chris, something similar was already done in MMOs. Obviously, they do not have a reload system, but character death can be seen as a similar functionality. I can not recall in which MMO, but I have seen a "no death" bonus, which was basically a buff that just got stronger and stronger as long as the character didn't die.
Now, this is a very good system, and I believe that yours would be similarly enjoyable - positive motivation.

Chris, check out "Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon" (here )

It uses a system called 'drama stars', which you accumulate over time, and can use for all sorts of bonuses. BUT, if you reload a saved game, they are reduced back to 0, and you start collecting them again. This encourages you to keep going instead of reloading, but at the same time it also encourages you to use them, rather than hoarding them, as they are purely a temporary resource.

This was actually used in its own way by Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. You could use permanent save points--but your ending progress through the game was penalized for every save you made. In order to get the best progress, you had to only use temporary saves that were deleted once you loaded from them.

Whether I'd like this or not would depend entirely on the type of challenges and skill-tests presented by the game and the kind of checkpoint system used around it.

Where I think this would be an amazing solution would be in games like Deus Ex (original) or even the Half Life series, where the instant save/reload game mechanic absolutely kills most of my interest in them, since the 'best' or smartest way to play also becomes the least challenging & the most unsatisfying.

eg: in Deus Ex I'm often presented by a door I could use some of finite resources (like lockpicks) which are of unknown value and amount to me (on a 1st playthrough) to open. The obviously solution is to save, check what's behind the door, then evaluate whether it was worth using the lockpick or not, then reload.

What would be critical though would be, whenever there are some actual 'skill test' parts to a game like this ie: anywhere you could die - to have good natural checkpoints to break up the challenge into whatever is deemed a sensible chunk. So if you can "kill 10 enemies" without recourse to a quicksave & reload then you get something out of it, rather than someone who uses the "kill 1 enemy - save" "kill next enemy, save" method that again, is the best way to play these types of games usually.

Even the addition of an Achievement for not using Quicksaves (or not using too many of them) would be enough incentive to make these types of challenge titles a LOT more fun to me!

A lot more about why I dislike the current save mechanic so much, and why yours would be a VAST improvement is here:

I even made a comment "At the very least score a player on the least use of save states or something of that ilk" which is essentially exactly your proposal in many ways.

Thanks for the comments everyone!

VagabondX: Yes, MMOs are already in this space - but in an MMO you *never* have the choice to reload. This mechanic is designed to make the choice of whether to reload more interesting. The mechanic you flag is intriguing, though.

Rodeoclown: Thanks for this! This is exceptionally close to what I was proposing, and I'm thrilled to know there's a game out there which does it!

Darrel: This sounds very similar, but it's negative reinforcement (penalty) rather than positive reinforcement (bonus), and I do think there's an important distinction between the two. Thanks for flagging the game, though!

Rik: The issue of creep saving is a huge one, because a significant number of gamers (but not mass market players) feel obligated to creep save once they know it's the dominant strategy, even if doing so reduces their enjoyment of the game. It's this kind of bind that this mechanic was intended to counter.

The mechanic above was for a game which had short episodic chunks of melee play (5 minutes each), so I think it would have been acceptable to you.

All the best everyone!

Chris - that sounds perfect then. I really hope this mechanic makes it into a videogame one day. I think the fact it's not for mass market players makes it a hopeless case. Things like achievements for completing games on increased difficulty settings don't really appeal to mass players either, nor even to what most consider 'hardcore gamers' (I prefer your term 'gamer hobbyists' for what most consider 'hardcore'), yet they are used a great deal to appeal to the competitive & challenge-interested gamers (agoners, hah ^_^). At least until more companies catch on to the fact that easy achievements = greater sales... :-(

I also love the term "creep save". I'm going to have to use that as much as possible from now on!

Rik: The Achievement issue is starting to become quite significant - the players who have most to gain from setting carefully considered Achievements are gamer hobbyists who, as you have made reference to, can enjoy additional challenges through this system. But as you also mention, games with easy "g" sell extra copies because "g" is a rather pernicious reward structure geared at the platform level. (One of several things to put me off the 360). The PS3, thankfully, did it's Trophies differently in a less effective form.

And I'm surprised you haven't heard the term "creep save" before - I thought this was standard terminology. :)

All the best!

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