I remember first noticing the absence of loading screens in games back in 2001 with the release of the first Jak and Daxter. It promised a completely open, uninterrupted free roaming platformer and that's what it delivered. There were obvious hidden loading screens, obscured by long walks through repetitive hallways, usually filled with nothing more than a jump or two to keep you entertained. It was one of the first of its kind to deliver on this loading technique and was impressive for the time. A feat seemingly only then just possible during the 6th generation of consoles, now that the hardware had become competent enough to continue the game as it loaded.
Jak and Daxter however at least managed to load its levels fast and although the load times were obvious, they weren't tedious to the point of frustration. This was mainly due to the lack of revisiting the same few levels and so every time you were forced to walk down a boring hallway, at least it was a new boring hallway with different textures on the walls to keep you entertained. But a lot of games continued on in this vain and a lot of them have not accomplished it so gracefully.
Starfox Adventures springs to mind; a game which I only played recently but drove me nuts at the long and drawn out hikes that had to be tolerated in order to get back to the next area. There was obvious filler to hide the slow load times ranging all the way from having to repeat the same simple maze puzzle, to a head bangingly repetitive ladder climbing sequence which I timed at taking at least 90 seconds to complete just to get into the next area. And you don't just do this once. You have to repeat this at least 10 times, not including the few times where you have no idea where to go and simply wander into the area by mistake. That's time wasted going in, and then time wasted leaving. Now 90 seconds doesn't seem a lot, but when you want to get on to the next area because you're excited to see the next part of the game and there's a massive expanse of meaningless gameplay comprising of nothing more than simply pushing your finger forward on the joystick in the same manner that you would break a baby bird's neck, then it really breaks the pacing.
This forest will forever haunt my dreams and boil my blood
It's during tedious sequences like this that I like to remind myself that the game is also loading slowly because it's also having to render the area I'm in. So this irritating waste of my time is also contributing to a slower loading time and so increasing my time wasted pushing my finger forward and not being distracted by the game long enough to not have to think about my life. Life decisions rushed manically through my head as I stared at Fox McCloud falling down a ladder and breaking his legs on the floor because I was so bored with this journey that I couldn't even be bothered to spare Fox the discomfort of not jumping down sixty feet, just so I wouldn't have to play the game longer. I started to question whether I was wasting my life as I fought the same stock enemies that had been dumped in my path to slow me down further, in fear that I might jump down too many ladders too fast and beat the game rendering, leaving Fox lost in some kind of video game limbo where the world is nothing more and we are both lost in a prison of code and contemplations of turning off this piece of shit. Just the type of place where Fox would deserve to be imprisoned. A imprisonment which I tried very hard to give him, but could never quite outwit the carefully placed tedious obstacles of the game.
I've played a few games which have this same problem and I can never work out why they just didn't put in a loading screen instead. Loading screens must be so much easier to program and design. It would cut man hours considerably if they didn't put the kind of filler in. But I understand the motive behind it. In theory it's to give us a world which never stops, so we can become as immersed in it as if its our own reality; a reality that loading screens break. But reality is boring and repetitive. I have to make the same boring walk to Tescos every other day for bread and don't want to feel as if I'm reliving that life when I'm gaming. It makes it a lot harder to be immersed if I'm staring furiously at the screen, screaming “What the fuck is this bullshit?! Come on and hurry the fuck up McCloud you piece of shit. Who the fuck made this? A fucking asshole that's who. I hope they die. Fuck them.” I think I'd rather just look at a nice loading bar sweeping softly across the screen with a picture in the background of the characters enjoying their adventure. Even better if the picture varies from time to time.
I don't mind loading screens. As long as they're not ridiculous, I'm perfectly happy to sit and watch a little bar fill up. It makes me feel complete in a way, whilst whenever I'm walking through the same boring tunnel, a part of me dies on every return trip. Tony Hawk's American Wasteland did it too. Long tunnels between areas and a suspiciously impromptu bout of manual practise every now and again whenever a decision had to be worked out.
Most of the games I've ever played had loading screens. Even GTA: Vice City, my favourite game of all time, was the last GTA game to have loading screens and I don't ever remember feeling as if they were spoiling my game in anyway. Although, I must compliment Rockstar on their handling of no loading screens. They must use magic or something because I just don't know how they do it so fluidly.
It's still around in a noticeable form in a lot of modern games. In Tomb Raider it's the long gondola rides and slow walks through a darkened tomb; Lara being strangely cautious when coordinating her way through the dark, even though for the rest of her adventure she jumped at vertical cliffs and psychotic men's faces armed only with a small ice pick and my lack of giving a shit. I just can't work out why she's being so slow, is she afraid of tripping or something?
Pictured above: Careful
Pictured below: Carefree
Even Darksiders, a game that I've only just started playing and am finding almost flawless on every other level, has me strolling through the spirit world to get where I'm going. If they have portal technology, why am I going through a portal to get to another portal. Isn't there a direct line through the spirit ether somewhere. A spirit ether which shows me strange visions of concept art and a bar filling up. Trippy.
I just can't really work out why developers force them into games when they're just simply not competent even to pull it off. It's fine for developers to do fully open worlds if they're good enough to do it. But there must be a point in development where someone realises that there's too much filler between areas and that they should just have a loading screen, because keeping in that kind of filler doesn't create immersion. It just leaves me with a sense of boredom and annoyance that the game is going out of its way to irritate me.
If you have any similar experiences of this, good or bad, then feel free to comment. I always enjoy the frustration games can cause with so little effort.