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I Didn't Realize How Much I Love Suspending Games Until The Outer Worlds Took That Away

Illustration for article titled I Didnt Realize How Much I Love Suspending Games Until iThe Outer Worlds/i Took That Away

The Outer Worlds begins with your character coming out of cryo-sleep. They’ve been out of commission for years as their colony ship traveled across the galaxy, but once awakened they’re able to pick up right where they left off. I’ve come to take it for granted this console generation that my games can do this as well.

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It’s become standard for consoles to checkpoint where your game is at before it shuts down. That way, when you start it back up, you can get right back to that boss fight that crushed you the night before or solving a puzzle you’ve just realized the solution to. Ironically, despite the role cryo-sleep plays in The Outer Worlds, the game itself doesn’t support suspend mode, at least on Xbox One where I’m playing it.

It took several days of me holding down the home button on my controller and shutting down the console before I remembered The Outer Worlds needed to be treated differently. It’s not necessarily the game’s fault that modern consoles have taught me bad habits, but it was jarring and frustrating. I’m sure in a few years people will feel the same about coming across the odd load screen here or there, at least if promises about what the PS5 will be able to do are to be believed.

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Illustration for article titled I Didnt Realize How Much I Love Suspending Games Until iThe Outer Worlds/i Took That Away

Once touted as a small quality-of-life improvement to make switching from the PS3 or Xbox 360 to the PS4 or Xbox One more enticing, it’s something that has made fitting games into the little cracks and pauses in the churn of daily life much easier. Nothing hit home for me how much we seem to have been collectively conditioned by this convenience as when, after a late night of Colossus slaying on the PS2, my friend simply turned off the game, only for the consequences of his actions to slowly dawn on him as he watched us stare blankly at him.

But I also didn’t realize just how good it feels to turn on my console and immediately start playing my game exactly where I’d left off the night before when I went from The Outer Worlds to Death Stranding. The latter can feel so sprawling and epic, overwhelming in the distances you need to traverse and the granular management of those treks, that the first time the game came out of suspend mode I was briefly shocked, probably like how I felt the first time I experienced it after buying a PS4. There was Norman Reedus standing exactly where I’d left him, sheepishly shifting his weight under the dozen or so containers and ladders he was carrying on his back.

It reminded me that “next-gen” experiences aren’t always the result of some big, shiny new feature, but sometimes the culmination of a dozen small improvements and amenities that together make the past unrecognizable. I never knew how much I wanted to be able to shut down my console at will until it became second nature to me.

Kotaku staff writer. You can reach him at ethan.gach@kotaku.com

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DISCUSSION

I’m sure in a few years people will feel the same about coming across the odd load screen here or there, at least if promises about what the PS5 will be able to do are to be believed.

At the risk of being an unfun pessimist, I’m kind of skeptical about this aspect of the next consoles (Playstation 5, and whatever Project Scarlett is named). I’m sure we’ll see improvements—at least in some cases, but I doubt we’re going to see loading times “done away” in any more radical a manner than we’ve already seen in this generation and the last.

Why? Because designing a blockbuster game is like designing a main battle tank. Stay with me here: it’s all about compromises. In this case, between performance, storage requirements, and loading times. These are three aspects that don’t necessarily have adversarial relationships, but they do tend to take from one another insomuch as you might get to have two, but never all three. And players, myself included, want improvements in all three.

We have longer load times, in no small part, because developers thought players wanted better performance in-game, and moved as much asset loading onto the front-end as possible.* We have larger installations, in no small part, because developers thought players wanted shorter load times, and avoided compressing game assets as much as possible.

*Or creatively masking load screens behind forced transitions like in 2013 Tomb Raider—which frequently meant even longer load screens on startup. People who understandable lament games are too big (100 GB does seem like a lot) could have smaller games—if they were willing to contend with longer times to decompress, or less vivid graphical assets. People who complain about performance could see improvements if more space was available for storage, and more time was available to load said assets. And so on, and so on...

That’s my general takeaway of the situation. It’s a lot less applicable to much smaller games, whether older or “indie” titles. But I suspect we’ll see some noticeable improvements in load times...which end of offset by even larger games attempting to squeeze just a slightly better framerate or more assets out at a little longer load times.

That being said, I’m one of those people generally okay with current load times, long as they might be.