A real game console is a complex piece of hardware, with electricity flowing through it in complex patterns that can’t easily be paused or recorded. However, an emulated console is pure software: it only changes when the emulation software deliberately updates it, so the emulator software can save the entire state of the emulated console to disk, and weeks or months later bring it back to life as though nothing had ever happened.

Save states versus in-game saves

Some games include their own systems for saving and restoring the player’s progress. Here are some of the differences between save states and in-game saves:

Save states In-game saves
Work exactly the same way in every game Works differently in different games, some games don't support it at all
Save at any time, anywhere in the game Save only at special save-points
Loading a save puts the game back exactly how it was when you pressed save Loading a save restores some things (like the player's inventory or remaining lives), but may forget others (like taking you back to the beginning of the level)
You can have dozens of save states Most games limit you to about 3 saves
Can only be loaded by the same version of the same emulator that created it Works with any version of any emulator, can sometimes even be copied to or from physical cartridges

Note: Loading a save state will reset the entire emulated console to the way it was when the save state was created, including in-game saves. If you create a save state, then make an in-game save, then load the save state, your in-game save will be lost. Don’t do that.

Quick states

higan has five Quick State slots, which can be used from the Tools menu, or with the appropriate hotkeys.

Quick states are useful as extra checkpoints in games that don’t have them, or where they aren’t close enough together. Map the “Save Quick State” and “Load Quick State” hotkeys to your controller, and you can cheese your way through just about anything.

Manager states

higan’s State Manager allows you to create over a hundred save states, and add a helpful description to each one.

Manager States are more cumbersome to use than Quick States, since they cannot be accessed with hotkeys, but are useful when you want quick access to many different parts of a game.