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What was the first commercial game on general release to include a feature that allowed you to save a game to persistent storage, and come back to it later, which wasn't dependent on any form of battery backup?

For example, saving to magnetic tape or floppy disk.

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    I don’t know the answer to your question, but it seems like you are assuming that battery backed saves came first, but that’s not the case. For example, the first game with battery backed saves was Zelda (from 1986), while Zork had save functionality as it was being written in 1977.
    – Ben Murphy
    Aug 7, 2023 at 6:34
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    @Ben Murphy, I'm sorry but this is not the case, I'm specifically interested in information on saving to non volatile media. Whether one came before the other, or whether one is superior to the other isn't in the scope of this question. Aug 7, 2023 at 20:08
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    If you are aware that battery backed saves didn’t come first then mentioning them in the title and the question is irrelevant if you are looking for the first instance of save functionality.
    – Ben Murphy
    Aug 8, 2023 at 1:17
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    In any case mainframe games like Zork (1977) and pedit5 (1975) had the ability to save using the mainframe’s filesystem. The first game to do this may be unknowable, because the game programmers were writing games without the permission of the system administrators, so they frequently got deleted.
    – Ben Murphy
    Aug 8, 2023 at 1:19
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    Perhaps this is more of a question for retrocomputing.stackexchange.com
    – Philipp
    Aug 8, 2023 at 14:35

2 Answers 2

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Microsoft Adventure (1979)

One possible candidate for the first commercial game to include a save feature that wasn’t dependent on a battery backup is Microsoft Adventure. This game is a port of the classic text adventure game Colossal Cave Adventure to the IBM PC. According to an answer to the Retro Computing SE question, "First commercial DOS game?", it is the first commercial game for the IBM PC. According to its manual, it allows saving to floppy disk (the manual uses the term "diskette"):

To Save Your Microsoft Adventure

A single exploration of Colossal Cave routinely takes several hours, which may be more time than you have at one sitting. For this reason, Microsoft Adventure includes the SAVE command to allow you to spread one game over two or more sessions.

To save your game, perform the following:

  1. Remove the diskette from the diskette drive, and then remove the write protect label (the small silver tab that wraps over the edge of the diskette). Simply lift up one edge and peel off the label.
  2. Reinsert the diskette into the diskette drive.
  3. Type SAVE and press ENTER. The computer will respond with SAVE CAVE IMAGE 1 OR 2.
  4. Type 1 or 2 and press ENTER. It makes no difference which number you pick unless someone else has already stored their partial game on one of the numbers. If you store on top of another game, the previously stored game will be destroyed.
  5. Once you have typed in 1 or 2, the computer will store your session on diskette and respond with Ok . You can now return at any time and resume the game where you left it.
  6. After you have finished saving your Microsoft Adventure game, remove the diskette from the diskette drive and replace the write protect tab over the notched edge of the diskette.

This suggests that Microsoft Adventure was one of the earliest commercial games, if not the first, to implement a save feature that did not rely on battery power.

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  • Note that the 1979 date is for the TRS-80 version, since the IBM PC wouldn’t come out for another 2 years. As far as I can tell the TRS-80 version did have the save function though.
    – Ben Murphy
    Aug 9, 2023 at 8:53
  • I’ve been putting together an answer that the three candidates are either Microsoft Adventure (‘79), Pyramid 2000 (also ‘79 but unclear which was first), or Adventureland (‘78, but I haven’t been able to verify if that original 1978 TRS-80 version had a save function). But I might not now you’ve made this one.
    – Ben Murphy
    Aug 9, 2023 at 8:55
  • @BenMurphy Interesting. It might actually be Adventureland, since it was released a year earlier. Aug 9, 2023 at 9:08
  • Here’s the manual for the 1979 TRS-80 version of Microsoft Adventure. It has the same instructions for saving: archive.org/details/Microsoft_Adventure_1979_Microsoft/page/n3/…
    – Ben Murphy
    Aug 9, 2023 at 10:23
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Adventureland (1978)

It’s likely that the first games that were complicated enough to require saving were text based adventure games. As I mentioned in comments in the question, games on mainframes could save your progress as early as 1975.

A very influential text adventure on mainframes was Colossal Cave Adventure, which spawned a variety of clones and ports on microcomputers that led to the Adventure game genre. The earliest such game that I can find evidence for is Adventureland, which was released for the TRS-80 by Scott Adams(not that one) in 1978, and then he formed a company called “Adventure International “ to sell it and its sequels.

I have found this online copy of a later manual which details the procedure to save and load the game to a cassette tape on the TRS-80.

HOW TO SAVE A GAME IN PROGRESS TO TAPE ON TRS-80

  1. Put Blank Tape Into Tape Player
  2. Rewind Tape. Hit Play/Record until tape is past Leader
  3. TYPE: SAVE GAME
  4. Hit enter
  5. For extra safety repeat steps 3 and 4

TO RESTORE A SAVED GAME ON TRS-80

  1. Start game from Beginning by Typing QUIT
  2. Put previously saved game tape in Player
  3. Answer YES to "Want to restore Saved Game" question
  4. Hit Enter
  5. Hit Play on the Recorder

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