The number one most used resource when it comes to video games might not be what you think. It’s not health, it’s not ammunition and no it’s not your experience points. It’s actually time. The player’s time. Your time. People spend roughly three billion hours a week playing video games. Of those three billion hours a fair amount is spent on the loading screen. This crux of video games is one of the most underused, underappreciated opportunities to engage the player.
What started as a black screen with no indication that any processing was occurring has evolved into a time for games to provide backstory, exposition, tips, hints and even practice. With players time being the most valuable resource in games the loading screen should be taken as an equally valuable opportunity to keep the player engaged and interested. The loading time is often the time were players can get most frustrated and stop playing. By engaging players in the loading screen they are more likely to stick with the game.
Don’t Starve (Klei Entertainment)
In Don’t Starve there is a rather long loading screen as the world is generated each time a new game is started. The spinning globe that represents your world being generated provides some insight into what you’re about to play. The top of the world is daytime and you see bunnies and plants and it’s all warm and cozy. But then the world flips and there’s darkness and spiders and unpleasantness. It lets the player know that they need to be ready by night time. And the long, dark hands holding the world make the player wonder whether there is something else afoot in the world…
Assassin’s Creed IV (Ubisoft Montreal)
While not giving the player any exposition or back story Assassin’s Creed IV does let the player run around which is more than most games do. This mindless running is much better than not being able to do anything and has become a defining part of the Assassin’s Creed experience for me. So much so that I noticed its absence in Assassin’s Creed Unity and even missed it.
Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U (Bandai Namco Entertainment)
Smash lets you practice against a computer controlled version of your character while waiting to get into an online match. The warm up is very nice and beats the tediousness of waiting for other players to connect and select a character. Giving the player an opportunity to practice makes jumping into the first match of the day less cumbersome. It also lets players quickly refresh on how to play a different character. Kudos, Nintendo.
Fallout and Elder Scrolls always have neat loading screens. A slowly spinning 3D model you can move slightly with the thumb stick, a short piece of flavour text and a reminder of your level progress. It’s simple and it’s interesting and it works.
The Last of Us (Naughty Dog)
With a game as emotional and purposeful as The Last of Us you know the loading screen was thought of as a part of the world building. When it launched on the PlayStation 3 there was a significant loading time when starting into the game. This loading screen was simply spores spreading across the screen from left to right, slowly drifting in the breeze. It’s very basic but very meaningful and also very pretty to watch.
Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt (CD Projekt Red)
The immense amount of story and background information the player needs to know to have any idea what’s going on in Witcher 3 is daunting. The developers accommodate that by making the loading screen a brief summary of the plot up to the current point in the form of a comic book cut scene. This is very interesting and very useful in staying engaged or coming back to the game after no playing for a while.
Bayonetta 2 (Platinum Games)
Bayonetta may be an awful, objectified character who is twisted and contorted into every sexual, provocative position possible for but the loading screen from her game is really great. Players have the loading time to practice their combos and try out new moves. Giving players the ability to play, even if it’s just practice, is leaps and bounds better than what most games do. This is especially helpful when trying to master the combo you were trying to use when you died. The opportunity for immediate action counteracts the frustration of dying so close to beating an enemy and having to sit and stare at a spinning logo in the corner while the game loads.
Splatoon (Nintendo E.A.D.)
Utilizing a the game pad Splatoon gives you fun little mini games to play while waiting to connect to a match. The mini games are themed like old NES games with a retro box art, start screen and everything. There’s a cute little Doodle Jump clone with the squid truing to bounce up away from the lava and a jukebox players can use on the gamepad to play any song from the game while they wait. Giving the player the ability to explore content in the game they may otherwise not notice, like the soundtrack, is an excellent use of what could otherwise be lost time in a game. These mini games are pretty great and something more games should incorporate into their loading times.
So what’re your favourite loading screens? Or maybe your least favourite? Let me know in the comments! And for more awesome content check out the rest of my blog!