Introduction: what are savestates?
Like most emulators, PCSX2 supports the use of savestates. Somewhat akin to saved games on a memory card, savestates allow players to save their progress in the games they are playing.
Unlike memcard saves however, savestates are more like "snapshots" of the condition of the emulator at the exact moment in time which they were taken. You do not need to setup or format a memory card in order to use savestates; they are automatically available whenever you play a game using the PCSX2 emulator. They are a native PCSX2 function, not an emulated PS2 function.
Savestates can be made at nearly any point in a game even where saving is traditionally unavailable, like during cutscenes, in the middle of a battle in progress, etc. The player does not need to find a game save point or wait for a lull in the action - a single hotkey press is all it takes to trigger the creation of a savestate. This convenience is the biggest and most popular reason for using savestates.
- Going for a perfect win record? Make a savestate after each round and reload whenever you lose.
- Need to leave the house on an urgent errand in the middle of a desperate firefight? Make a savestate.
- In the middle of a long dialog sequence and need to stop playing for whatever reason? Make a savestate.
- Drunk housemate in the kitchen set your cat on fire? Make a savestate while you go deal with the miscreant.
In all cases you can continue exactly where you left off by simply reloading that particular savestate.
However, unlike game saves, savestates are extremely exact: if you create a savestate for game X, you can only load that savestate for that exact game X:
- Savestates made for the PAL release of game X will not work for the NTSC release.
- Savestates made with emulator version 123 will not load on emulator version 456.
- Similarly, savestates made with plugins versions 1, 3, and 5 will only load with those exact version plugins.
- With this point and the previous one in mind, make sure to have up-to-date actual memcard saves of your games before updating your emulator and plugins.
- Savestates are bound to the emulator all the way down to the very disc currently loaded: if you're playing a multidisc game, savestates made in disc 1 are distinct from savestates made in disc 2.
- For games having sequels which are able to load saves from previous games, you can not use savestates for transferring saves in this way. Savestates are entirely different from memcard saves.
- This is also why, for example, sites like GameFAQs only carry memcard saves. Memcard saves are typically region-specific but they don't care about everything else: the exact state of your game disc, emulator version, plugins, etc. Memcard saves made using a hypothetical Mac-only PS2 emulator should load even if you use a hypothetical Linux-only emulator.
- The point here is memcard saves only save game information. However, savestates include the state of the entire emulator (hence the "state" part of the name). To load a savestate, therefore, the configuration of the emulator has to match that of what was saved in the savestate.
Savestates are memory dumps of the emulator - they are not like simple memcard saves. If you create a savestate for a racing game while your car is airborne in the middle of a spectacular crash, when you reload it your car will be in exactly the same position - airborne in the middle of a spectacular crash. Everything at the split second moment during savestate creation is saved. On the other hand, memcard saves only record what information the game is programmed to save when the player uses a save point.
- F1 - creates a savestate in the current slot. Default is slot 0.
- F2 - points to the next savestate slot. If max 9 is reached, it will loop back to point at slot 0.
- shift + F2 - points to the previous savestate slot. If min 0 is reached, it will loop around to point at slot 9.
- F3 - loads the savestate from the current slot. Default is slot 0.
- Savestates can range anywhere from 10 MB to upwards of 25 MB in size - it can take a few seconds to finish creating the savestates, they are not created instantly. Therefore don't expect the emulator to be able to make quick successive saves - like taking screenshots - by jamming the F1 (save state) and F2 (change to next slot) keys repeatedly. Make allowances to save during a pause in the action, for example by opening a menu in the game (because most games pause the action when you open menus).
- Doing this allows the emulator to create a more stable savestate because things are not moving all over the place. It is comparable to taking a picture of a group of Olympic runners standing together posing for a team pic, instead of trying to take a picture of the same team while they are in the middle of running a race. You get a clear picture (i.e. a stable savestate) of the team pose picture because everyone is standing still, compared to the blurry picture you get when the team is running. The savestate will still be created (you can still take a blurry picture), but you may not be able to load it.
- Create savestates intelligently: don't make one when you are already desperate to avoid a split-second game over - because savestates are not created instantaneously, you might end up saving the moment of your death. Needless to say that savestate isn't going to be useful to you.
- Savestates are not 100% reliable. While they function exactly as advertised 95% of the time, it's that 5% when they don't which you need to look out for. There are 10 savestate slots for a reason, don't be afraid of using all 10 of them.
- Each game has it's own 10 unique savesate slots, depending on the game's CRC number. The savestate slots are game-dependent. And when you run out of slots but still want to keep the existing 10 savestates, you can simply cut-paste the savestate folder somewhere safe, leaving you 10 free slots again.
- Regarding the savestate folder, the savestates are named using the game's code, e.g. 23A97857, 3A446111, CEC42835, with the savestate slot tacked behind it. So in the third example CEC42835 (which happens to be the code for the game Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2), the filename of savestate in slot 0 will be "CEC42835.000.p2s", for slot 1 it will be "CEC42835.001.p2s", and so on.
- By default the PCSX2 savestates for all games are lumped inside one folder. People who like to be organized can use the naming information mentioned in the previous point to segregate their savestates into different folders, e.g. by moving savestates into different folders by game name when they aren't playing that game anymore so that their savestate folder only contains the savestates for the game currently being played.
- Finally, it is strongly recommended that you not neglect to keep an updated memcard save as well. Savestates are all well and good but the only way to transfer your progress when you update the emulator or any of the plugins to a newer version is to use memcard saves. Remember, savestates care about every single detail, game saves only care about the game.