REBUTTAL TO: Would you Like to Continue?
The editorial we saw last week is kind of hard to answer really. It isn't hard because the viewpoint in it is uncontestable. It hardly is. It's difficult because it is both based on facts that aren't really true and speaking against what is largely considered a pretty sane design principle, even if the facts were true. I shall address both fronts, but I have to acknowledge this problem ahead of time, because due to the way the previous editorial was phrased, it's easy to misconstrue attacking it's factual base as a tacit support of its logic when such facts are true, when both are equally flawed.
The first issue is that games that have 'annihilation' in it tend to also be games that are pretty hard to die in. There's few games that mix save points, no continues, and violently hard gameplay. There's good reason for this which I'll get into later. Plenty of games do have this though, you just don't see it. Every Final Fantasy game ever has had it. It's just most people don't die more than once in a run of a Final Fantasy. The Dragon Warrior series has the same as do, in fact, the vast majority of console RPGs. You just don't die often in them. There isn't some huge trend towards having continues show up. There's a handful of small games testing out having continues, particularly of the action RPG variety, which is an unnaturally small hybrid area anyway.
The next is whether the logic is sound anyway. The suggestion was that it links with the dummy mode that Bart was recently speaking of. I don't believe it does. The concept of avoiding dummy mode goes into trusting the player and offering them the decision. Auto-save/continue-after-death features are something implemented to reduce bad frustration. A few choice instances of it are poorly implemented, but by and large they are to maximize the 'good' challenge part of the game and minimize the 'bad' part. Yes, there is good frustration. Having to climb up a level to get an item is usually good frustration, a slight delay in getting the item that is overcome and there is a reward for overcoming it. Punishing a player for forgetting to save by sending them back hours, or what would be in my case days, is bad frustration. Players forced to replay vast portions of a game with nothing changing in it often just put down the controller and stop. Game design fail, right there when it happens. Basically, there's no added fun value by having to repeat vast chunks of level. The fun is in retrying what you lost. Tossing against the good frustration of a challenging boss and being able to freely experiment, knowing that you won't have to walk through an hour of dungeon each time you lose. Designs that move towards augmenting the amount of good challenge while reducing the amount of frustrating repeatism are good designs.
Just a little final aside about how save points are used in console RPGs in specific. Yes, the notion behind them originally was just that, to reduce the frustrating repeatism while allowing the player to experiment with overcoming a given challenge. They are also a lazy designer trick. They usually double as places to use 'inn-items', tents, cabins, and those sorts of things. By doing this, the designer can count on the player being at full strength for the boss and make the boss more vicious and hard hitting. In other words, it separates the balancing of the level from the balancing of the boss. Good stuff there.
Anyhow, in conclusion, I'd just like to reaffirm that it is a good thing when designers take into account player time considerations and avoid mechanisms that force players to repeat hours of work.