This is delightful: Namco’s patent on playable minigames while you wait for the main game to load has expired, meaning we’re almost certainly going to see a whole lot more of that kind of thing in the coming years. Imagine a Fallout 4 in which you could play Missile Command while it booted up, rather than stare at a stationary Deathclaw statue for the four thousandth time. Play Doom 1 while nu-Doom loads. Actual inventory Tetris while the Witcher 3 lumbers into being.
Namco have had the patent on these so-called “auxiliary mini-games” since 1995, and while some have found a way around the issue by making loading screen mini-games in some way affect the main game rather than being their own thing, by and large our loading screens have been static since then. Namco have done stuff like stick a retro space shooter on Tekken 5’s loadscreens in the past, and I don’t doubt that there are tons of publishers with vast archives of old games who’d happily do similar. The concept’s not just good for retro revival though (because God knows there’s enough of that already) – it’s also an opportunity to riff off a game’s central ideas in alternative, more experimental ways.
The good news is that, as of 27th November this year, anyone’s free to stick in a mini-game wherever again. I think we’re going to see some excellent ideas fall out of this, and no shortage of “if only Big Franchise Game X was as good as the minigame on its loading screens” articles.
There’s a game jam to celebrate the patent expiry, because there’s always a game jam. Have a look at the results so far here.
Of course, it’s probably going to become academic before too long as more and more of us get faster and faster SSDs, but OH WELL.