Things I'm Glad Have Evolved in Gaming, Part 1: Memory and saving

When was the last time you played an older console game? If it's been a while, you may have forgotten about some of the headaches brought on by old game designs or technology. While there's a certain charm to the gameplay and graphics of many older games, there are also definite problems. It's here that we catalog those changes and remind you why progress is often for the best.

Recently, I fired up the good ol' Sega Dreamcast. I wanted to throw down with Nick on some Virtua Tennis, but before we could get our serve and backhand action on, I had to do some searching. Yep — I had to find which memory card my Virtua Tennis save was on.

With the implementation of hard drives first on the original Xbox and now on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the need for memory cards is reduced. And now that Xbox 360 consoles can move files on USB thumb-drives (a capability PS3s already had), there's zero need for proprietary memory cards -- and we are all the better for it.

Having to search through a small stack of memory cards to find the right file is just a pain in the ass. Moreover, in the PlayStation era, memory was an incredibly limited resource; some games would take up entire memory cards with save data. Other games would only allow you to have one save on a memory card, necessitating having multiple cards and swapping them around. Plus, they're a tiny nightmare: easy to lose, never right where you left them, prone to losing saves and (in the case of Dreamcast VMUs) always whining for batteries. Back when I still gamed on my Dreamcast most often, I would have three or four VMUs plugged in at one time; of course all the batteries were dead (because the VMU batteries lasted about five minutes and were expensive) so I'd be greeted to a chorus of beeps whenever I powered the system on.

A chorus of beeps is almost as annoying as trying to find where the save data is, for those wondering.

Having larger-capacity options built in provides greater options. With even as little as 20 gigabytes of storage, there's never a need to worry about making space for game saves or patches; plus, with more space available all the time, there's the possibility of downloading extra content to add on to games or demos to try games. With a hard drive in each PS3 and most Xbox 360s, this means developers have more room to play with — and whether that's more songs for Rock Band, extra levels in games, or saving photos or other user-created in-game content, we benefit. And with USB thumb drive-based storage capability now in 360s along with PS3s, it's a large enough chunk of memory to take those saves portably.

Sure, if your hard drive craps out you're toast. Having more memory means more to lose. But the same has happened with memory cards over the years, and at least hard drives are a damn sight more useful.