Bad-with-naming-them-but-still-undeniably-legendary-videogame-designer Shigeru Miyamoto has confirmed to USA Today that the forthcoming New Super Mario Bros. Wii will be first to incorporate a special "help" feature, otherwise known as "demo play". What this comes down to is whenever a player so chooses, they can pause the game and let it essentially play itself, then resume control whenever he or she chooses. While superficially this sounds like it's turning interactive videogames into passive entertainment no better than television, as someone who sometimes gets impossibly stuck in games and doesn't like to use cheat codes, I can see this being a useful feature. This is also one of those "so obvious, why hasn't someone done this before" type of deals.
While I support the concept, I can't help but feel a bit "icky" about the whole thing, just like I do with cheat codes. Certainly the whole idea of this is to continue to make videogames accessible to everyone, from the very, very young to the extraordinarily uncoordinated, but wouldn't dynamic difficulty adjustments or even - at its simplest implementation - having more selectable difficulty levels at the beginning address this issue just as well, particularly for what is ostensibly an action game (i.e., no difficult puzzles to figure out, just hard jumps to make)? What do you think of this new design wrinkle that will surely make its way into lots of other games?
I think in context of a 4 player platform game that an auto-mode makes sense - it means someone can drop out for a few minutes and then join in later when it suits without spoiling it for everyone else who would normally have to pause the game and wait.
You shouldn't get credit for anything done while in auto-mode though (e.g. coins or power-ups gathered etc.) and if the AI isn't prefect (or scripted) then it all adds to the fun that an absentee player is taking on a certain amount of risk by opting out for a while.
I really don't see the point of having it in single player mode.
The concept isn't new - it is in the Lego Star Wars games.
I have that Star Wars game. I thought that only applied to the multiplayer, where another player could jump in and out, not the single player component? Several games have had that as you say. I don't recall any single player games doing it, though, for obvious reasons.
Based on the language used, it seems that Miyamoto's auto mode is the computer playing at a highly skilled - perhaps even perfect - level. I like your idea that points/etc. shouldn't count while in auto mode, though that would need to be qualified to a degree, as if you were to defeat a boss enemy to get a certain item or points or whatever to progress, then you'd need a certain something to count. Probably the only way around that is to have a marker next to your score to indicate the number of times, if any, auto mode was engaged, sort of like when Atari put a teddy bear head to indicate "child mode" in some of their 2600 games. Of course, it would be nice if games with an auto mode also tracked rich stats that indicated time played, time played in auto mode, points scored, points scored in auto mode, etc. Hopefully we'll have a robust implementation and a clear indication of when it has and hasn't been used. Certainly it will make video capture easier, though if we can have the game auto play to the "good part". ;-) It may even spur on play-by-play commentary videos. Hmm...
Re Star Wars Lego - Yeah - I meant in multi-player mode. I really don't see the point of it in 1 player mode.
Replay videos are OK - for example there are unlockables in some 2D shmups that show how to achieve big bonuses etc.
Having auto mode as a powerup that can be used a limited number of times would be good to get you over any rogue blip on a game's difficulty curve.
Some of the Mario Party games let you switch between human and CPU control mid game too (you can even select the AI level). There's lots of examples of this in multi-player - Chaos Engine was another good example of it.