Auto save points are usually praised, especially by us players when we die or lose in a game. There are of course the down side that too many save points (or constant saving) can make the game too easy, but that is another discussion. In this post I want to take up another issue: Auto save points reveals “pressure points” in the game.
“Pressure points” can be points where the pressure or challenge increases on the player. By revealing these “points” or “places” a little earlier than they actually happen, the player knows something special will happen soon, thus spoiling the moment of surprise or climax, depending on stage in the game. Imagine this: you are walking around in the abandoned hospital, looking for the abominable monster you have been chasing all through the game. You go through ward after ward, but you don’t find anything until suddenly when you step into one of the last ones. When you cross the threshold the game auto saves and you suddenly draw the conclusion that you have reached a new section in the game, most likely the part where you will face the monster. This conclusion is solely based on the fact that the game auto saved. Is this a good way of a game to say “now you will face something new and challenging (that can possibly kill you)”? I don’t think so.
I am currently re-playing Alan Wake, to get in the mood for the semi-sequel just released (Alan Wake’s American Nightmare) and one of this game’s few flaws is the checkpoints (i.e. auto save points). When you jump down from a ledge and see the “Checkpoint reached” icon appear, you know that soon some bad guys will appear. Since this game is quite slow from time to time (slow in a good way, making the player reflect and breath the atmosphere), when you suddenly see this icon appear, you lose a little bit of the immersion and subconsciously get ready for a fight. Of course if the game just auto saves without you knowing it is a checkpoint, then the pressure points are not revealed so easily, so this changes from game to game. For games that almost exclusively save at check points, this is a fair point to make.
How can these moments of spoilers be avoided? One way of improving this is not to reveal that a check point has been reached, but this is a quite hard thing to achieve by itself. Games could also reintroduce “active saves”, i.e. the player has to decide when and where he/she saves, but that solution feels like a step back to more level-divided games. Another way were used in Dark Souls, where the game auto saved a LOT, which made me as a player stop noticing the auto save icon, since it appeared so frequently. No matter which solution developers choose I hope not being robbed of a surprise in future games just because I happened to see the save icon!