Here’s the reason you’ve been staring at loading screens for 20 years

Loading screen patent

Loading screens are the scourge of gaming, don’t even pretend they’re not. Developers might try to lessen the agony by including cutesy task names like “greasing palms…” or “reticulating splines” but if anything that only serves to underline the tedium. Still, at least we were all gazing into the abyss none the wiser to the fact that were it not for a patent Namco successfully filed in 1995, we could have all been playing auxilliary games while we waited for the main event. Today we learn the truth, and there is no going back. 

Have you tried all of our best loading screens in PC g… nah, just kidding. Look at these really good RPGs instead.

Back in ’95, Namco stumbled upon an inspired idea: while Ridge Racer was loading all its scintillating polygons from disc to PS1, the player could have a quick game of Space Invaders. The latter auxilliary title took almost no time to load, and gave you something to do while your console made a bunch of worrying grinding noises in preparation for Ridge Racer’s actual racing.

Incredibly, the company managed to secure a 20-year patent on the concept of loading auxilliary games during loading screens. That means until 27th November this very year, no other game developers were allowed to let you play other titles while the base game got itself ready for action.

The patent doesn’t prohibit playable content using the base game’s code, however, which is how FIFA titles for the last few years have managed to sneak in skill-based mini-games and 1-on-1 kickabouts while the stadium fills up in the background. By and large, though, that single patent has made for a barren, featureless wasteland between clicking ‘play’ and getting to actually play.

Try not to think of the hours – days, even – you’ve spent in suspended animation, letting the grains of sand trickle between your fingers just because a company’s legal team managed to file a particularly prohibitive patent. Instead, focus on the good: a Loading Screen Jam has already taken place, with indie devs exploring the possibilties of their newfound powers.

It’s hard not to look back and wonder what might have been though, isn’t it? What I wouldn’t have given for a version of Audiosurf within The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

Thanks, Eurogamer.