Why video game loading screens could soon be fun

Nintendo's shooter was able to circumvent patents controlling
 "auxillary" loading screen minigames by being directly
 related to the main game.

In a fascinating bit of legal minutia, the expiration of a decades-old patent could lead to waiting for video games to load becoming a lot less boring.

In 1995, Namco -- now Bandai Namco -- filed patent on "Recording medium, method of loading games program code means, and games machine". It sounds boring, but had exciting applications: it let Namco run games-within-games while the main title loaded data.

As a result, Namco famously had a fully playable version of arcade shooter Galaxian running inbetween Ridge Racer tracks. While lengthy load times were particularly a problem in the CD-based era of the original PlayStation, more powerful hardware has been matched by increasingly demanding games, meaning players still sometimes face seemingly-interminable waits on some titles.

Because Namco had secured the patent on the idea of interstitial minigames, no one else could do the same. The best you could hope for was a particularly entertaining loading screen, or that a hint may prove relevant. However, patents expire after 20 years, which for this one was on 27 November. That means minigames while-you-wait are now an option for any developer that wants to incorporate them.

Namco Ridge Racer

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