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1987: Saving Zelda requires a lot of Memory
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on December 20, 2002   |   Episode 25 (Show Archive)  

   
The Scoop: It's hard to believe, but there was a time when not even your hi score was saved. If you wanted to beat the game, then it was up to you to go all the way through it in one sitting. And if you wanted to keep that score you worked all night to achieve, then you had to write it down, or you were out of luck.

This may seem like a distant time to some, like the stone age or something, but it wasn't all that long ago. When Nintendo chose to release the popular Legend of Zelda in the U.S., they avoided releasing the disk drive peripheral the Japanese game was released on. This put Nintendo in a precarious position, they had a large game, and no way of saving it.

Using a battery, Nintendo found they were able to enhance their games with the ability to save. They also decided to implement a new feature in the form of a rudimentary password. This feature found its way into
Nintendo's first party games, like Metroid and Kid Icarus, first, but the possibilities of saving your game quickly became a standard practice in the game industry.

The Other Side: I'm not sure anybody out there would argue that saving (or having a password) is a good thing, but initially it did cost a little more to do this. Not so much the password, but the battery back-up, for example, added a few dollars to each cartridge. For a small company, this additional cost just was not worth it.

It's also worth noting that very few people claim to know how long the battery will last. Chances are pretty good that the original batch of Legend of Zelda carts won't still hold your saved game if it's been sitting all this time. This may have not been something companies thought about 15 years ago, but as each year goes on, the chance of that battery working lessens more and more.

The Impact: These early games paved the way to what is the modern day memory card. About the time companies switched to read-only media (CDs, DVDs, etc.) memory cards started to sprout up. Unable to save using a battery, these disc-based systems used memory cards that allowed you to save your games and take them to other peoples houses, or just keep them all together, for maintenance reasons.

Cartridge games, which are primarily portable these days, almost always offer some sort of save function. As does just about every new game released. Even if it's just to save your completion time or stats, there isn't a game today that doesn't in some way use the save function. All this because games like the Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Kid Icarus offered a way of breaking up the action.

Where Are They Now?: At this years E3, both Zelda and Metroid had shiny updates, each of them promising bigger and longer adventures (and plenty of places to save). Kid Icarus, however, is still a no-show. Besides a GameBoy sequel a number of years ago, Kid Icarus
just hasn't been tapped for an update. It seems like there would be a lot of possibilities with a 3D Kid Icarus, what with the mythical creatures and all, but so far Nintendo has opted to not even give him a cameo.

To bring this conversation back to saving for a minute, since we are talking about memory, it should be noted that the ultimate battery back-up, the Hard Drive, is probably only one or two generations away from becoming standard. This will open up the possibilities for not just saving games, but adding to them. If passwords aren't completely obsolete yet, then it's only a matter of time.
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