There simply is no time at all anymore.
Only a Game has a post about saving. I agree with many of the sentiments expressed.
So, since I've been far too busy lately to think up my own topics, I'm gonna run with this one.
Chris mentions "bookmark saves." An interesting concept. So far as I understand, you save the game, are allowed to continue from that save and then it deletes itself -- to prevent the player, it seems, from reloading over and over again.
Here's where I see the flaw: The player is going to know that the save will delete itself. So as soon as they load a bookmark save, they move an inch and re-save. Meta-gaming is not thwarted - it is only made even more annoying.
I like saving anywhere because my time grows increasingly limited and I like to jump into a game and jump right out if I want to move onto something else. Or if I have to go to sleep. These are the same reasons that I want games to have skippable cutscenes that can then be accessed from the main menu in case I actually, for some bizarre reason, want to subject myself to a videogame cutscene.
So . . . give the player a limited number of bookmarks . . . and you may as well just have a checkpoint system. Because I really don't want to play the "decide whether it's worth it to waste a save" game.
As for checkpoint systems, I've seen them done right. And very, very wrong.
Metroid Prime. I got to the first boss. It killed me. The game did not pick up again right at the boss fight, no. I had 10-15 minutes of re-playing a whole section just to get back to the boss -- and got killed again. Fucking bullshit.
I suppose the saving issue comes down to that old cop-out: What type of system best fits the game? Banal, I know.
I'm not sure that only agon (competition) benefits from being able to save and load anywhere -- though I'm only basing my counterargument on one example.
Far Cry was a game in which I quicksaved and reloaded constantly, not merely to progress (i.e., win), but also to play out scenarios in different ways. I would launch an assault from one side and then, regardless of the outcome, reload and attack from a different angle. Or skip the battle entirely. Or start a fight and run away, struggling to evade.
Later levels became so linear that my "what if?"-style fun went away. And the game became so incredibly difficult that my save-load habit became a Sisyphean task.
But those early levels were wonderful in fostering a play-and-play-again approach.
Autosaving isn't a bad idea. Most platformers save after you've collected a grommet or nutsack or whatever.
And this works for many platformers, so long as they stick to discrete, branching levels. In that case, little progress is lost.
There is a danger to autosaving, however. You could end up sticking a player with what they view as a "botched save." Then you're giving them the option of continuing with a sub-optimal game state (which could result in them not continuing at all) or going back to an earlier save (assuming you've provided them that option) and re-doing everything in a "better" way (which could, again, lead to them dropping your game like it's a basket of snakes). Of course, they might re-load anyway, depending on how significant the changes are they wish to make.
Depending on the game, a solely autosave element can be a detriment for certain types of players. Consider an FPS (typically save anywhere games, but just for the sake of argument). You enter a room, fight a bunch of creatures with your OPW (Obscenely Phallic Weapon) and move to the next room. You're killed. The autosave takes you back before the first room. Enter room, kill creatures with OPW, move on, die. Again. And again.
So, in the interest of "preserving your narrative", you've actually interrupted the durn thing, over and over.
It has been suggested by certain developers that allowing the player to save anywhere destroys the finely-crafted narrative flow. They're kind of right. And kind of stupid.
But I also feel the impact is negligible. If a person has been "abusing" a save/load-anywhere feature to beat your game, then at least they've played your game.
If you've made, say, a checkpoint system in order to preserve 'tension' in your levels and then you've made those levels annoyingly frustrating to get through (say, a sneak level, with "being seen" a failure condition), then you have to ask: By not allowing the narrative of the level to be broken, are you creating enough extra tension to justify losing all those players (like myself) that will try the level twice, get pissed at having to start over constantly and ditch your game like a tornado's on the way?
Now, having said that, if then that player were to complain about the game being far too easy and not fun because of the save/load system, then that player should shut the fuck up. I'll deal with that in an upcoming rant concerning exploits.
Why is this issue important at all?
Chris's post refers to casual games. But what of casual players? I consider myself a hardcore gamer, but not player. That is, I don't stick to any specific type of game. But I do know I'd prefer that a game be too easy rather than present insane challenge, especially if the cost of failure is re-trying without being able to actually change any of the conditions under which I previously failed.
I speculate that the save systems that become adopted for casual games will filter into other games. Not necessarily by designer choice. Once a standard gets set, it can often override what the game wants.
That is, it may develop into a situation where there becomes a set way of treating a save system, whether a game warrants it or not. The people with the purse strings could see that the casual market doesn't want to concern themselves with saving, so they demand it be automatic. Marketing, you see. Companies like Microsoft already have hefty certification guidelines, and the Live functionality for the 360 is going to dictate even more necessary functionality (note: this is not a gripe).
My final analysis:
Save systems should be as intrusive as necessary, but no more.