Creating multiple saves
Posted November 29th 2007, updated later
If you're anything like me, you'll be interested in having multiple Halo 3 saves available for long-term play, some perhaps being favourite bits of standard campaign play, others being situations that took special engineering to set up, such as described in the Halo 3 fun section here at Bad Cyborg. Annoyingly however, Halo 3 seems to be designed so that you can only have one save per gamer profile, as if Bungie have no idea that lots of us would like to have multiple saves.
With that design, it seems like the only way to have multiple saves would be to create a separate profile for each one. But the 360 doesn't let you copy saves from one profile to another - an aggravating restriction probably intended to force players to unlock stuff for themselves. That means you wouldn't be able to use an existing save as a time-saving starting point for creating a new one under another profile. Each time you want a new save, you'd have to not only create a new profile for it, but also laboriously play the campaign through to the level you want, before doing your final engineering. If you're going to want any skulls turned on for your eventual save, you'd also have to go to the trouble of unlocking them again - potentially requiring you to play through further levels that you're not even interested in. Because of all this, creating a new save would usually be a major pain, probably enough to discourage most folk from even bothering.
However, I've found a workaround which I call the profile renaming trick. It can't be used with a profile you've registered with Xbox Live - and if you're not already on Live you might be in the future - so the first thing you should do is create a separate 'save-creation profile' that will remain unregistered. Let's suppose you name it P2. Play through the campaign with it, unlocking all the skulls you expect to want in future. That's a one-off investment of time that gives you a save named P2, as Halo 3 seems to name saves after the profile name. You're now ready to start creating multiple saves that will all be owned by your save-creation profile.
Creating from the P2 save
Here's how to create a new save using the P2 save. Signed in as P2, start the level you're interested in with the desired campaign options, and play until you get to the checkpoint you want to save. Or if you just want to create a copy of the P2 save, don't do any playing at all. Hit the logo button to bring up the guide, then navigate to where you can rename your profile. On the current version of the dashboard I have (the one that introduced those hateful avatar monstrosities), that means selecting Settings then Profile then Edit Profile then Profile Name. Rename the profile to the desired save name, say S1. Dismiss the guide to get back to Halo 3, then save. This creates a new save named S1, owned by your save-creation profile - which is currently named S1 but which can be adjusted back later when you want. Your original P2 save will still exist. You can check if you like: go to the dashboard then navigate to Memory to see what Halo 3 saves you've got.
Whenever you're using your save-creation profile in future, you'll have access to save S1 as follows. When at the main Halo 3 menu screen or the dashboard, bring up the guide and temporarily rename your save-creation profile to S1. Quit the guide, load the game if you were in the dashboard, and select RESUME SOLO GAME to resume play from the checkpoint you saved. Halo 3 will look for a save whose name is the same as the profile name; that's how this is working I assume. When you've played the save enough, you can quit without saving by exiting to the dashboard (use the logo button).
Creating from another save
That new save used your P2 save as a starting point, but you can equally start from the save checkpoint of any of the saves you create with the trick. As such, you'll be able to create multiple saves (perhaps battle variations) from a 'base save' you created, something crucial for being able to develop new situations efficiently.
For example, if you load up and resume the save S1 and play to a later checkpoint within the same level, you can create a new save called S2 by bringing up the guide, renaming the profile to S2, dismissing the guide, and saving. Crucially, the S1 save will not have been overwritten. In future you'll have access to S2 just like you have access to S1. To play any of these saves you create, just temporarily rename your save-creation profile to the name of the save you want to play, and you'll then be able to resume from the saved checkpoint.
How many saves can you have?
If you keep on creating saves, at some point a creation may fail. I got to a point where I had 153 saves, and when I did the usual routine for creating a new one, it failed, and I saw the option "START SOLO GAME" rather than the expected "RESUME SOLO GAME". If you get that option, you've probably hit this problem and the creation failed - something you can check by exiting to the dashboard and navigating to Memory. Later I deleted some saves then added some new ones, and again things failed after I got up to 153. So it looks like 153 is my limit. Or at least, it was at the time. For all I know, things could be dependent on what other junk is cluttering up the hard drive. If I'd deleted some saved films, perhaps I could've added a few more saves, I don't know.
Usage in creating films
Suppose you've got a save and you want to create a film of it being played (to watch later in Theater mode) but without altering the save. Here's how you can do it. Load up the save, rename the profile, play through as far as you want, and save. You won't have overwritten your original save, because you renamed the profile. Instead you created a new save, and also a film. Afterwards you can rename the profile back to what it was, and go to the dashboard to delete the game that got created with the temporary profile name.
Equivalently, you could do things by first creating a copy of your original save (via profile renaming), then playing and saving the copy to create the film.
Actually there's a way you can do things without using the renaming trick, but it's not terribly convenient. It seems that you can usually cancel a checkpoint you'd normally be due, by jumping non-stop five or six times. Basically the jumping causes a delay, and when you keep it up long enough the game gives up on the checkpoint entirely. So here's the plan. Play your save but make sure you do enough jumping to cancel any checkpoints you'd be due as you go along. When you eventually save to create a film, you won't have had a checkpoint since the start, hence your save should be unchanged. Of course, ideally you'd want to have a good knowledge of when you're due checkpoints, so you know when to do some jumping. But if not, you could maybe just jump the whole way though to stay safe. Like I said, not terribly convenient. But it might be quite usable in some cases.
Stop press (September 2010): I've now learnt of another way you can do things without the renaming trick, though I'm not entirely sure it's safe. When you've done all the play you want, bring up the dashboard and sign out, then (importantly!) dismiss the dialog to get back to the main Halo 3 menu. Now sign in again. The film should be there for you, and crucially, your save should be unaltered. The reason I emphasized dismissing the dialog is that if you instead sign back in without doing that, the game may perform an automatic save (it seemed fickle to me), i.e. saving your latest checkpoint, potentially altering your save. I learnt that the hard way. As long as you make sure to dismiss the dialog before signing back in, I think there's no danger of an auto-save occurring, but I can't be sure. All I can say is, I've not experienced that so far.
Use at your own risk
The renaming trick definitely seems to be circumventing the intended 'one save per profile' design of Halo 3, and is perhaps only working because of flaws in the 360 software or Halo 3 or both. Because of that, I feel obliged to emphasize that you use the trick at your own risk. I've had no problems using it and expect that things will be okay, but please get in touch if you encounter any trouble. I can update this page if I hear anything pertinent.
If you're on Xbox Live, one possible concern is that Live might one day download a software update that fixes stuff and ruins the workaround, leaving you unable either to create further saves or play the ones you already invested time in creating. I have no idea whether this will ever happen, but I just thought I'd mention it. I don't think it's worth worrying about though.
The trick works regardless of whether you're playing off a hard drive or memory card. I've only been using a 360 Elite but I expect the trick will work just the same with the other 360s.
I mentioned that the trick isn't usable with a profile registered on Xbox Live. How come? For such a profile, the option to edit your profile name doesn't exist. You can change your Gamertag instead, but that requires going online and paying a fee, and you probably wouldn't want to do that even if you didn't mind paying for it. So obviously that's no good. (Thanks to fellow cyborg One One Seven for giving me the lowdown on Live and providing additional useful discussion.)
The original Halo likewise had a 'one save per profile' design, but in that much simpler case a profile was almost synonymous with a save, and by using a memory card it was possible to duplicate a given save (er, profile), to effectively use it as a starting point for another (see Base saves in my section of engineering tips for Halo). So it didn't feel as limiting as Halo 3; it was merely inconvenient that you needed to use a memory card to perform duplication.
Halo 3 isn't the only 360 game that features only one save per profile. Apparently a lot of games are like that - which I find vexing because the idea of having multiple saves seems so basic to me. It's entirely possible that the profile renaming trick will work just as well with such games but I don't have any information on that.