This week On additional punctuation, Yahtzee explains why loading screens are missing in video games. It’s a somewhat coincidental moment, as Marty just talked about how he’s missing the switch disks.
It’s important to me when reviewing new games to be aware of when my personal opinions are tainted by nostalgia. Notice I said be aware of this, no try to prevent this from happening, I mean I did a remake of Resident Evil 4 and the nostalgia was ball licking, honestly. And I understand that what I have to say will be the climax of the useless old man of today’s youth complaining about an aspect of modern life that isn’t even worth complaining about, or even , by most measures, a bad thing at all. ALL RIGHT? Here it is. I kinda miss the long loading times. Yes, I warned you.
It probably sounds like old people talking about their preference for listening to vinyl even though the sound quality is objectively inferior as the hissing and scratching gives them a nostalgic cozy feeling. And it’s all up to them, they associate that shoddy sound with the happy times of their youth. And I guess that’s where I’m coming from with the load times because as a child I played a lot of games on a Commodore 64 tape recorder. The feel of pressing play and the beep and computer hum when the data loads, the festive colored lines wiggling across the screen while you sit for twenty minutes reading a book, it’s all etched permanently into my memory. I remember looking at the colored lines waiting for the green-brown line, which I named Mint Chocolate, to appear.
These days, I mostly play on high-end gaming PCs. I somehow convinced the company to pay for it. I occasionally upgrade to the PS5 for the inevitable stubborn exclusivity, so I’m in hard drive country for now and load times are becoming less of a staple of my life. There is no celebration of the game that can immerse you directly in the gameplay. You don’t appreciate that much. It’s like going to the movies, they don’t start flashing opening titles while you’re still looking for your seat, they give you time to settle in and build anticipation before slowly dimming the lights. I guess there are still install times, but those don’t count. You can do other things while you wait for things to settle down. That’s like saying driving to the movies is part of the boost.
Ah, you see what’s going on, don’t you? I’ve already fallen into the trap of the nostalgic old bastard of trying to find reasons why the old way is objectively better than all those new tangled toys the kids love, and so all progress has to be stopped, taxes have to be minims and universal health care is communism. Obviously, having no load time is objectively better, as it means you can have more time to play before it’s needed in the operating room for a life-saving heart transplant.
And downloading isn’t something old in exchange for something new. Historically, it has gone up and down depending on the hardware. If you had a cartridge console as a kid, you’re probably most nostalgic for the complete lack of load times. Now we’re fine with our solid-state hard drives, but all it takes is one more technological advancement that software developers can’t quite catch up with, and it’s up to you to keep a book next to your gaming couch. Come to think of it, which keeps us waiting as the game progresses, it seems like shaders are something the latest games have been doing a lot of lately.
But whatever. The reason I was thinking about load times is that, not for the first time, I was thinking about loading small games onto the screen. As in, a system where during a loading screen the game places a small challenge or fidget spinner for the player to engage in while they wait. And it’s such an obvious and brilliant idea, that one feels sorry for every other idea in the world to have to share space with its radiance. And it’s not my idea. There were games I played on my old C64 tape recorder that had something called “Invade-a-load”. Halfway through the loading sequence, the Space Invaders clone begins with very distinct chiptune music until it abruptly stops and kicks you out when the rest of the game is ready for you. I also remember clearly that the PC version of Broken Sword lets you run the Breakout clone while you wait for it to install from the CD.
And that was about the classic examples I’ve come across, and it struck me as odd for such an obvious winning idea. I mean, having the player sitting there watching a ticker fill up for ten seconds is likely to kill the beat every time, and literally giving us anything to do with our hands in that moment will keep us somewhat alert mentally and will not daydream about pancakes.
The situation was exemplified several years ago when I lamented this in a mixed company and was told there was actually a simple explanation for minigames loading onto the screen that didn’t wasn’t the real thing: Namco had a patent on it to prevent anyone else from using the idea. Which explains why Namco released all those great games in the early 2000s that extensively explored the concept of loading mini-games onto the screen to the max. No, I don’t remember any of them either. Namco felt like it was an unnecessary patent on the idea due to a combination of forgetfulness and shamelessness.
But that’s old news, because I still lamented this on stream fairly recently and someone in my quick chat told me that Namco’s patent actually expired in 2015. However, I remembered that Splatoon 1 on the Wii U had struggled a bit. A little Doodle Jump-esque game you’re prompted to play while the game searches for a free server, one of the few good uses of the Wii U’s bloody screen controller, and I don’t recall Namco suing Nintendo.
So, hooray. Loading screen minigames are back on the table, just in time that loading isn’t really a thing anymore now that disc-based media has essentially ceased to be a thing. But like I said, technology could bring it back. Indeed, one could argue that the painful practice common in modern video games of silencing loading times by weaving through narrow passages or opening doors too slowly are modern examples of minigame loading on the computer. screen, not pushing forward on the all-important analog stick. as a game mechanism.
The problem with these, besides the fact that I’d get a 12 gauge in my head if I were to play that many games with that damn thing, is that it handles the loading screen, which can appear during variable durations depending on how much we have to load and what level of hardware we use, in order Incredibly boring transition with a fixed length. So if in the future it was run on a more advanced machine and required much less loading time, it would still be full of those boring cave exploration exercises, except now for no graphical reason.
Let me know in the comments if you know of any other examples of playing screensavers other than the one mentioned, as this is a small part of our beloved medium that I find oddly interesting. I think Okami on PS2 had some sort of easter egg where you can press buttons in time with the loading screen animation, and that was during the Namco patent, so Clover Studios was risking that.
It wasn’t a very small game, but you don’t need to worry about such a short period of time. Even something as simple as an on-screen counter showing how many buttons you’ve pressed during a loading sequence, with your best move displayed next to it, will be something. It’s still better than nothing. And you just know that some people on the internet are going to keep ranking.