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I'm making a top-down action / horror game, and I'm in the process of adding a "save game" feature. However, I'm torn between having automatic checkpoints throughout the level and letting the user save the game whenever they please.

What are the pros / cons of each approach?

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-1 Discussion-based questions aren't a good fit for Q&A. I'm sure people in chat will have some opinions on the matter though. –  John McDonald Mar 13 '12 at 18:50
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I suggest rewording you question so that its asking what are the pros and cons or something less subjective than, "which type of save system do you prefer and why?". Otherwise your question, which I believe is a good one, might get flagged or down voted. –  ClassicThunder Mar 13 '12 at 18:51
    
Thanks, I'll ask in chat and reword the question –  BerickCook Mar 13 '12 at 18:51
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I'm concerned about cheapening the effect of death though. Which is critical in a horror style game –  BerickCook Mar 13 '12 at 19:51
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If you have checkpoints please, please, please place them after cut-scenes / large dialogues / other things that will frustrate the player. –  salmonmoose Mar 13 '12 at 23:04
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4 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

If you're looking at this for the benefit of the player, allow the player to decide, indirectly, via the difficulty setting.

Checkpoints Pros/Cons:

  • Increases death penalty, Pro for more hardcore gamers, Con for casual players
  • Allows player to become more immersed in the game
  • Lets the developer choose the save location, so the player is less likely to have a bad save (i.e. a save game that loads into an impossible to survive situation, possibly ruining the entire progress of the game)

Save Game Option Pros/Cons:

  • Easier for the casual player
  • Cheapens the effect of death
  • Could lead to bad saves, as mentioned above

So with that information, it seems to me, that allowing both but they change based on difficulty level.

  • Casual: Checkpoint frequently, allow player to "quick save" and "quick load"
  • Normal: Checkpoint semi-frequently
  • Hard: Checkpoint rarely
  • Insane: Only checkpoint at start of level/map/whatever

Other options:

  • Choose Wisely: Allow player 3 player chosen saves, no auto saves

You'd likely offset the choices above with other benefits like only allowing certain weapons to unlock in the harder difficulties or higher level caps.

Additionally, to help mitigate the risk of having a bad save, checkpoint or otherwise, have the save system use a rolling save system with 3 or 4 save slots where the oldest gets overwritten.

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+1 for letting the player decide. I personally can't stand games with checkpoints (and frequently stop playing them, depending on other factors) - let me decide when I want to save things. –  Cyclops Mar 14 '12 at 15:32
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Queston's fine. If you're making a horror game, i'd advise against letting the player save. This is simply due to the fact that in a horror game, if you give player tools to defend himself, that may be a gun or a re-load option, you're taking away most of the tension. You can put together the scariest monster anybody could ever imagine, but if it dies to bullets or if you can just reload whenever you want, then all the tension is gone. Just implement checkpoints if you need to save the game periodically, that way the player's atleast fighting to find the next checkpoint (don't make it obvious though, the player will know you're saving his progress anyway, but he doesn't have to know when you're doing it, untill he dies).

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That got me thinking about the Metroid / Resident Evil series, where there are specific "Save Rooms". It seems like that is a good combination of checkpoints and player saving without the gameplay risks that you describe. –  BerickCook Mar 13 '12 at 19:56
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I'm not an expert, but personally, I hate checkpoint systems. Especially in horror games, or any other games that try to impart a specific experience on the player.

A horror game should bring fear and suspense. However, when you are replaying a section of a game because you screwed up, it stops being frightening or suspenseful - after all, you've already seen it! You can replay once, twice, but if for some reason you have to replay the same section many times, the horror experience would be utterly shattered. And with a checkpoint system, the player can do nothing but replay the same section over and over, until she finally succeeds or quits in frustration.

Of course, on the other hand, having a quick save option decreases fear and suspense because the player has "nothing to fear". For me personally, forced replays are far worse, but maybe your intended audience is different.

Anyway, I believe it pays to think about some ways to reduce/eliminate this "forced replay" effect. Instead of, or in addition to, quick saves, you can have some kind of "skip difficult section" mechanic, or dynamically reduce difficulty on replays. Perhaps you can change the game dynamically after load (especially if you're using procedural generation), so that each subsequent replay is different.

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One way to possibly reduce the tedium of replays (and keep the player on their toes) is to introduce some randomness to some game events, like, say, the movement of enemies and the location of hidden objects or traps. So you may know that there's an axe-crazy maniac waiting for you behind a corner, but you don't know which corner — and it probably won't be the same corner as the last time you replayed that section. –  Ilmari Karonen Mar 14 '12 at 11:22
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Checkpoints? No! If you love your clients and players of game you developed, DON'T use checkpoints. Ever.

Result of checkpoint saves in your game type is obvious: Gamers will get frustrated very fast and will abandon game and then they will tell to others not buy this game because of checkpoints.

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The result of inadequately used player saves is equally obvious. They'll make the game worse, frustrating players into abandoning the game and convincing others not to buy it because it's bad. Lacking further explanation, this answer is unhelpful at best. –  Marcks Thomas Nov 28 '12 at 16:45
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