Playing Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance on the PS2 this weekend (which, incidentally, is rather good) I was thinking about save points. Or rather, the different save game mechanics one finds across the various genres and particular games.

One the one hand you have the free-for-all version: you can save as many times as you like, whenever you like and with no penalties for doing so. The Kings Quest series had this approach, which was often necessary as for tricky bits you needed to save all the time!

Then you have “save whenever you like, but it saves your status not your position”. Devil May Cry takes this approach — during a mission you can save whenever you like, but if you restore to that save, then you start again at the mission outset, but with all the possessions, money, etc you had when you saved. Thus it’s only useful to save once per mission, unless you find something really cool. This also plays off against the fact that you are penalised for saving a lot, in the Devil Ranking.

There is also the rather heinous mechanic of “save on exit”, as Elly has just reminded me. Diablo took this ill-advised approach — all it meant was that one exited and restarted a lot in order to replicate the save anytime functionality one wanted.

Lastly you have the approach that both Final Fantasy X and Baldur’s Gate take: “you save when we tell you you can save”. This usually akes the form of save points of some description — in FFX it is a glowing sphere, in Baldur’s Gate a podium with a book perched on top.

This last used to annoy me a lot — surely I know when I want to save and should be allowed to? Surely making me redo a load of easy gameplay before I get back to that difficult bit I keep screwing up to try again is just going to annoy me? Today, however, my mind has been changed on the subject. Save points are good, but only if they are designed well. In Baldur’s Gate, the frequency of save points increases around difficult tasks — with the bonus that because it’s consistent, you know that you need to save when you are presented with a save point.

Equally, there’s a work around to allow you to save whenever you want (but at a cost) — you can “recall” to get back to the centre of operations and there is a save point there. The cost is a recall potion, so this deters you from doing so too often. The combination of the two means that the save points are a good balance between peace-of-mind and challenge. And far less annoying than in most other games I have encountered them. Kudos to the level designers!