Ideally, we’d never have to look at a loading screen at all. They’re pretty boring. Especially on consoles, though, they’re sometimes necessary. It would be nice if we had something to do during these moments of downtime, right?
Now, if a developer wants to add a mini-game into its loading screens, it can!
For the past 20 years, though, that’s been impossible. Back in 1995, Namco filed a patent on the use of “auxillary mini-games” in loading screens to protect its use of Galaxian in Ridge Racer‘s loading screens on the original PlayStation.
As PC Gamer points out, though, this patent had a lifetime of 20 years and expired on November 27, meaning that developers can start making use of this once forbidden feature. Some games have gotten around this by implementing things that didn’t quite fit the definition of “auxillary mini-game,” such as Assassin’s Creed letting you walk around an empty loading space, but very few games have skirted it because so many options would have fallen under the patent.
Fallout could use the Pip-Boy mini-games during these sequences, for example. Assassin’s Creed is ripe for something like this thanks to the story conceit of everything taking place in a simulator. Long-running franchises could load up emulated versions of their predecessors. These screens could even affect the main game.
To celebrate this, a Loading Screen Game Jam has been organized to come up with ways to make use of this new opportunity.
Again, it’d be better if loading screens went away entirely. I’d rather just play the game I paid for. But if they have to happen, it’d be nice to have something to tinker with while I wait.