The next gen consoles are just around the corner, which means winter is coming for load screens. Despite the horrifying fact that we may no longer have the holy tradition of running off for snacks before the game loads, there may be a silver lining here.
Winter is coming
Load screens have been the sacred pitstop for decades. They've selflessly served as that short gap between pressing ‘new game’ and gameplay, or the tiny window from cutscene to action, granting us the opportunity to grab the all important box of barbecue shapes (it’s always been barbecue so don’t @ me) before diving into our favourite game, but soon this invaluable treasure could be lost forever.
In an interview with Wired, PS4’s Lead System Architect Mark Cerny laid out Sony’s plan to cut load time dramatically. Without getting too tech heavy, what they intend to do is add an SSD (Solid State Drive) which allows the computer within the console to work faster and more efficiently by having more memory space allocated elsewhere, reducing loading time down from 15 seconds to 0.8 seconds - an upgrade which some fans are eagerly awaiting.
Considering Cerny demonstrated this through an in-game fast travel, it’s safe to assume that the initial boot-up load screen, as well as the time in-between cutscenes and gameplay, will be all but sacrificed to the insatiable god of instant gratification and our time of quickly ducking to the cupboard is at an end.
There was no greater satisfaction than running away from your game, grabbing something, and coming back to find that you have not missed a single moment; or the rush of excitement when playing Goldeneye and hearing your friends scream at you to hurry up because the loading was almost done. Unless you’re Usain Bolt, you can pretty much kiss these nostalgic dreams goodbye.
A not-so-new hope
Not all hope is lost however, as the progression of technology will allow for another time honoured tradition to be vastly improved upon. I speak of course of being helplessly sidetracked by the load screen mini-games.
The better games become, the more space they take up on our consoles. The more space they take, the more time they need to load the world. This time (especially in the early days of gaming) was a hazard for game companies, as it opened the door for player disinterest and disengagement to creep in.
To counteract this, game developers came up with a very simple, very effective way of keeping the player locked in to the game. What they did was build a way for the gamer to interact with the game while it loaded itself. Pure genius.
Almost every gamer alive can recount a tale of getting lost within a mini-game load screen while they waited for their ACTUAL game to begin. This creative tool of engagement grew into one of the greatest forms of procrastination; parents would often (and for some, might still) scold gaming as a lower form of procrastination, so to have procrastination within procrastination is some diabolically clever Christopher Nolan shit.
The wool was being pulled over eyes in the greatest possible way, we forgot we were playing a game because we were playing a game. If next gen consoles are reducing load time, then this is our silver lining because mini-game loads are simply way to popular to cast aside. They're a part of our culture and should be expanded on when the new tech hits our TVs.
So before we part ways with one tradition (I bid you adieu quick run to the cupboard), we should appropriately look back upon some of the most iconic forms of inception-like procrastination ever to grace our screens.
Simply the best
Super Mario 64 gave us one of the weirdest and most wonderful load screens ever thought of, allowing the player to warp Mario's head into some truly insane designs. One can only hope that something this zany will be carried over into new iterations.
I don't think anyone who payed Assassin's Creed can say that they didn't just run into nothing for a good minute and a half, stop and then run themselves to the fridge for a beverage. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying or has never experienced the joy of the empty Animus.
Probably the most famous sporting mini-game load screen of all time. What started out as a simple 1v1 with the keeper has evolved into proper training drills, skill tests and genuine ways to improve you as a player. You get swept up in chipping the ball into the buckets that a minute or two may go by before you notice "press options to start" blinking at you on the bottom of your screen.