Q: Why load screens?

Load screens are one of the most important changes which have occurred in the gaming industry during the past twenty years.  In such a short space of time, loading screens have gone from virtually unknown to a staple in every game released, and no other element of modern games is growing as quickly as load screens.  The real question is: why isn’t everyone else reviewing them?

Q: Sure, reviewing load screens makes total sense, but what is this five point scale that you keep referring to?

Simple!  Based upon the general design of its load screen, each game is awarded a “base score”, which is further modified by bonus points and penalty points.  The “base score” categories are:

  • 1pt : Static single-color (or otherwise non-representational) screen.
  • 2pt : Static image.
  • 3pt : Jerky animation (either stop-start, or not maintaining frame rate).
  • 4pt : Smooth animation.
  • 5pt : Smooth animation which seamlessly transitions in and out of gameplay (no fading to black or other solid colour).

Q:  What about bonus points?  What can games do to increase their review score?

There are any number of bonus points available!  One of the simplest ones which many games use is to provide textual information, either “hints” or “quotes”, or statistics about the game.

As long as the text data doesn’t repeat too often and bore the viewer, that’s worth a bonus point.

Another bonus point which is occasionally earned is loading screens which contain some interactive element, so the player can have fun, even while the load is in progress!

Q:  And penalty points?

The number one most common mistake made on loading screens is the dreaded “loading spinner”, which is generally a circular icon that spins throughout the loading process.  These spinners are a “least effort possible” solution used by developers to reassure the player that their computer hasn’t locked up.  Developers use these because they’re much easier to implement than progress bars (which require knowing in advance how much data needs to be loaded), but we dislike them because they’re ugly and they don’t give the user any useful information.  Such as whether he has time to go and make a sandwich before the level finishes loading, as a progress bar would.  Using a loading spinner is an immediate one-point penalty for any load screen.

Another common mistake seen in many load screens is to the presence of the word “Loading” on the load screen.  We feel that this breaks the mood and cheapens the user’s experience of the load screen.  It’s as though the developers had pasted the word “Game” in the middle of the screen all through the interactive portions of their game, in case the user somehow hadn’t noticed what was going on.  As a result, the usage of the word “Loading” anywhere on a load screen results in a half-point penalty.

There are many other potential penalties as well, but we feel that they’re mostly intuitive.  And the above are the ones which you’re most likely to encounter on a day-to-day basis.  More infrequent penalties include “Activity Lights” (an even more offensive variant of the loading spinner which involves a number of lights which illuminate in sequence, again to reassure the player that the game hasn’t locked up), and “Frozen Load Screen”, where the load screen appears to have stopped responding entirely until the conclusion of the load.  Each of these incurs even more penalty points;  we feel that any reputable game would entirely steer clear of these techniques.

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