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What Are Save States?

Save states in emulators refer to the ability to save the precise state of a game at any given moment. This feature is particularly useful because it goes beyond the in-game saving mechanics that were originally available in many classic games.

When a player uses a save state, the emulator records the exact data of the game’s current state, which includes not only the player’s progress but also other elements such as character health, items collected, and settings.

When a player later loads this save state, the emulator restores the game to that exact point, allowing the player to continue playing from where they left off, even if it’s in the middle of a level or a battle. This is especially beneficial in classic games which often had limited or cumbersome save features.

RetroArch Save State
RetroArch Offers Save State Functionality

Save states enable players to easily manage their game progress and also try different strategies by loading from a save state if something doesn’t work out as planned.

Another way to understand how save states work is to image the emulator as constantly scanning your game cartridge or ROM. When you make a save state, you’re essentially capturing its memory, including graphics, sound, and other nuances. Using a save state means the game resumes exactly where you paused, as if no break occurred.

The benefits of save states include:

  1. They’re a godsend when you’re stuck in a game. Instead of replaying from the start, just reload.
  2. They allow you to experiment with settings without jeopardizing the original game.
  3. While they can be used for cheating, many in the emulator community frown upon it.

However, there are drawbacks:

  1. Cheating can ruin the experience for others.
  2. If there’s an error with the emulator while using a save state, your saved game might get corrupted.
  3. Some might misuse save states for dubious reasons, like introducing cheat codes or malware.

It is important to distinguish between save states and traditional in-game saves. While save states are facilitated by the emulator software and can capture the state of the game at any point, in-game saves are built into the game itself and usually have specific points or conditions under which the game can be saved.

Save states are now pretty much standard in most emulators and are probably one of the most useful quality-of-life features that can be utilised when gaming with emulators. They are also a point of contention when it comes to competitive retro gaming and are routinely banned when it comes to any kind of competition.