Battery backup

From Sega Retro

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Commercial video games are usually sold on read-only mediums such as ROM cartridges or CD-ROMs, to stop users from inadvertently breaking their game or commit acts of piracy. However, as the 1980s came to a close and games became bigger, being able to save the current status of a game, to be picked up at a later date, became a more desirable feature.

While later consoles would see the concept of dedicated "memory cards" be used to save data, earlier cartridge-based system had to rely on battery backups (or memory backup as it was often known in Japan) - where memory would be held in RAM, and kept alive by a physical battery. Once the battery died (which, given the low power requirements is usually after several years, if not decades), a game would not be able to retain saved data when the console was turned off, however (with home consoles at least) it would not stop the game from running.

These types of system are not uncommon in electronics (most real-time clocks use a similar system), though as the price of flash memory dropped, save games in consoles such as the PlayStation were able to maintain saved states without the need for external power. Battery backup systems were prevalent in the previous generation - the Sega Mega Drive and Super NES.

The added circuitry for battery backup system added to the cost of manufacturing cartridges (which more often than not was then passed to the consumer), meaning generally such systems from this era are only seen in certain genres such as RPGs, with the rest having to make do with password systems (or no form or saving at all). When costs dropped, they were utilised for other features, such as saving high scores.

Whether a game can save is often a clue as to whether the cartridge is official - for the cost reasons described above, bootleg cartridges rarely add the battery.

List of games which use battery backups

Master System

Mega Drive

Game Gear