We all know the feeling. You've been playing an intense game of [insert game here] and you're enjoying yourself as the developer intended. You have been so drawn in to the game's world that you forget your own. An immeasurable amount of time passes.
Then you die.
You note the time of your last save on the TV screen. You check your watch or your cell phone.
"Was I really playing that long?"
"When was the last time I saved?"
Your stomach drops and you can feel your skin start to form the beginnings of a light sweat.
"Did I really just waste all of that time?"
Hideo Kojima may be a master at breaking the fourth wall, but some games have crossed this barrier with real world frustration. Two games in particular come to mind. These are Mass Effect and Dead Rising.
Mass Effect saves after important plot points and battles. Unfortunately, those are the only times that the game autosaves. If you have played Mass Effect, consider the number of times that you were crusading in the Mako on some barren planet, completing side-quests for valuable experience, and a thresher maw decides to spring up under your vehicle.
Instant game over. Reload your last save.
Sucks to be you; you just lost all progress since your last manual save or the last major plot point, whichever occurred later. In other words, an unexpected and sudden event destroyed your progress and wasted many hours of your time in one fell swoop. Buck up and play those hours again.
In many ways, Dead Rising's save system shares many characteristics with Mass Effect's system. Namely, both games require the player to risk any and all character progress in addition to story progress if the player doesn't save early and often.
In my mind, though, the saving faults in Dead Rising are more egregious due to the fact that the player needs to go out of his way to save. Mass Effect only requires the player to pause the game, enter a menu, and select a save slot. In Dead Rising, the player needs to fight his way through hordes of zombies for the mere possibility of making it to a save point. If you're in the tunnels and something interrupts your gaming, good luck saving your game within a reasonable amount of time.
Several games, however, have taken steps to remedy this saving issue. Games like Halo, Guitar Hero (which saves after every song), Gears of War, and the Half-Life series have made fantastic use of liberal checkpoints, which greatly reduces player frustration.
These games consider the (in some cases, remote) possibility that gamers have lives outside of their hobby. With the gaming community broadening to a wider audience, I am happy to say that these games are the rule rather than the exception. Even Team Ninja seems to be learning this trend with the Ninja Gaiden series. Compare the save systems between Ninja Gaiden Black and Ninja Gaiden II. The save points in Ninja Gaiden II are far more frequent and conveniently placed than those in its predecessor. Healing save points before bosses certainly help. Thanks, Team Ninja, for making your games more life-friendly.
Now, if only every game could be as inventive as Dead Rising...