This blog post was originally published on my Medium.
Loading screens are terrible. Nobody likes them, but they’re necessary. Memory has limitations, and assets have only gotten bigger. Asset streaming introduces its own host of problems. Players have come to understand that to get to the next piece of juicy content, they just got to wait a little bit. So, let’s just load for a second. 10 seconds.
While we’re waiting, a lot of games make use of the loading screen to display additional information as text. Usually, they’re tips. If your loading screen is because of a death, maybe they’ll tell you what went wrong. Other times, if they’re feeling spicy, maybe it’s a piece of lore. Or, if they want to be frisky, it’s some quote like: “War never ends *frowny face*.” There are plenty more ways that games have been utilizing the loading screen, such as letting you wander around a small environment like in Assassin’s Creed and The Evil Within, but all these ideas’ core intent is to keep the player engaged during the downtime. 20 seconds.
The loading screens in Resident Evil, the older ones with the fixed camera, don’t display any text; in fact, they’re usually just doors opening. Every time you enter a new room, you’d be sure to see it. And they’re always whatever door you’re actually interacting with. No, seriously, there’s apparently 267 of them in Resident Evil HD REMASTER. Please enjoy. 30 seconds.
The slow camera zoom, the creaking of the door, and then the camera passing through. It’s iconic. It sells the atmosphere by keeping the player in suspense. Is it another pack of zombies? Is it the sweet save music? You’re never sure what’s going to be on the other side. What’s more, it sells the idea that you’re passing between rooms. All these doors are not actually opening in gameplay; they’re happening in these cutscenes. So when you end up on the other side and you hear the door shutting, you feel like you’ve passed through that door even though it hasn’t actually moved at all. What very likely may have been a restriction on the PlayStation 1 became a narrative moment to remember. Load complete!
Every part of the game is part of the game.
We (rightly) focus our efforts on developing great gameplay and story, and can sometimes forget about the other details. What should be on the options menu? How should the player be tutorialized? What are they doing during loading screens? Your entire game is an experience from the start menu to the credits to the loading screen between. It doesn’t need to be innovative. But everything presents the chance to deepen—or at least not break—the player’s immersion.