The idea of having a mini-game to play with while you're waiting for the game you actually want to play to finish loading is a pretty good one. So why isn't it something you see more often—which is to say, ever? As Gamespot explains in this handy video, Namco managed to get a patent for the idea in 1995, so nobody else could incorporate it, and so gamers got stuck with 20 years of progress bars and incessantly repeating "hints." But 1995 was 20 years ago, and that patent expired yesterday.
To celebrate the expiration of a patent that, on principle at least, probably shouldn't have been granted in the first place, a Loading Screen Jam is being held with the goal of "defiling the patent that held back game design for so many years." It's underway now and runs for another three days and change, and the criteria is simple: Make a game based on infringing the patent.
"The games/loading screens made can either be games based around interactive loading, or a game that happens to have an interactive loading screen," the overview page explains. "The judging will be based on the loading screens themselves (and/or how they tie into your game), subtext/commentary on patents/trademarks that hold back design, and sheer disrespect to the original patent."
As happy as I am to see a ridiculous patent die, I can't say I'm convinced that it really held back game design all that much. Nor am I overly anxious to see developers pick it up and run with it; to borrow Gamespot's example, I want to play Ridge Racer, not Galaxian, and if I start playing Galaxian, I'm not going to want to quit for Ridge Racer just when I've found my groove. And on top of all that, there's going to be a voice in my head the whole time—every time—demanding to know why precious resources are being wasted on this silly loading screen game, instead of making my real game load faster. I have nothing against the idea, to be clear, I just don't think it will be as big a game-changer as, say, the Claw.
None of the roughly half-dozen entries on the game jam site scream "instant winner" to me, although Block Loader is kind of clever. The Loading Screen Jam runs until 12 am on December 4.