Sorry about the late post, I had a really busy week, and its still busy, so today is going to be a shorter topic than what I had planned. Next time I'll be back to discussing cameras, but to be in with my late post, I'll be discussing load times today.
Load times really begin to arrive with the advent of the CD player, and since that time, not much has changed. Earlier games were A) Small enough to load quickly and B) were usually on a hard state device (cartridge or hard drive) that allowed immediate access to the little bits and pieces of the game. However, as games grew more advanced, graphics got better, and levels grew larger, the system got more complex. Then CD's entered the picture, and the loading screen became a common feature of video games. Although CD's were easier to produce and had more space, data had to be read off of them by the CD player. Imagine the old days (or today if you still own an older CD player) when you would skip to track ten on your CD player, only to listen to silence for the next 20-25 seconds as the CD players laser made its way there. Companies have reacted to this loading time over the years in a variety of ways.
Some games display images or even screen saver like displays during load time. Other games simply sit you in front of a black screen. The load time leaves developers in a crunch, as too much data in a level or cut scene can result in long or frequent load times (yet again, something Sonic the Hedgehog for 360 fails in on BOTH accounts). Some games jump start the moment the framework is laid and fill in the details later, a' lah Halo 2. Unfortunately, this can backfire, leading to stutter or missing textures at a vital moment.
Personally, I have nothing against a load time or loading screen if my game is going to be that much better for it. The problem is when the game isn't that much better for it. Some modern games, in fact, still have load times out of the 90's. This isn't a case of actual requirements, but often developer negligence. Take the Dance Dance Revolution series for example.
Dance Dance Revolution (or DDR) has been around for years, releasing in arcades and then on home systems for years. Even now there are three different versions available for the X-box 360 alone. We'll get more into detail about DDR when I discuss the "cash cow milking" in a later post, but for now, I'll just mention a small facet of it.
DDR is not a complex game. You choose a song, and the game loads a dancing character, a flashy background and of course, the song and dance steps. The problem is that sometimes this can take upwards of 15 seconds. By the way, the song is only a minute long. On the old X-box original this was acceptable, seeing as it was an older system. Problem is, if you buy the newer versions for X-box 360, you will still expect the same load time, even though the system is VASTLY more powerful. The game itself hasn't changed, it still loads the same amount. So why the same load time. Other games involving far better graphics, more complex levels and visuals, will load on the X-box 360 in less then 3 seconds. Even Halo 3's juggernaut levels can sometimes load quicker then a single minute and a half long clip of "Musika Atomika".
My point is, when its a system that's three times more powerful and you for all intents and purposes publish the exact same thing, those load times SHOULD be three times quicker. Similar or longer load times with no improvement to the game is just plain laziness. I have no problem with a loading screen.
Unless it isn't really needed, and in this, some games are guilty.
Games I'm currently playing: Crysis (PC), Sonic Rush Adventure (DS), Megaman 9 (Wii), DDR Universe 2 (360), Assassins Creed (PC)