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Uncharted 2: Loading Times and the Gaming Experience

It’s amazing how distracting a simple loading screen can be. It’s a little thing, but that seemingly unimportant static screen can rip your immersed brain right out of an amazing experience and back into the real world. It may only be for a brief moment, but it can be more than enough to break the flow of the story, to pull you out of the game, or to stifle your sense of immersion.

I’ve always found it amazing that more developers don’t try to get rid of the annoying little things. I remember back to the days when I first played games on the original PlayStation. I was so amazed by the technology of the whole “games coming off of CDs” thing that I thought loading screens were cool. They were a sign of advanced technology. No more outdated cartridges for me!

Well, those days are long gone. Times have changed, and fast. Loading screens are no longer interesting artifacts of technological progress. They are now signs that a developer couldn’t find a way to overcome the technological challenge of getting rid of them.

I don’t pretend to know how difficult removing them actually is, though the dearth of successful examples suggests it must be quite hard. But, to me, it’s a challenge worth taking on. The seamless flow between gameplay and cutscene, between one scene and the next that games that do manage to eliminate loading screens are able to achieve is something sorely missed in the majority of titles. The game’s world seems more real without having to stop to load. It allows the story to more easily draw you in. It gets rid of one major barrier between you and the nirvana of total immersion.


How Uncharted managed it when few other games can I don’t know. But it deserves high praise for accomplishing the task. There’s a very short list of games of this type that have done it. 

Plenty of terrific games have gone the traditional route of breaking up sections with clunky stops to load. Every time I see this happen, however, I can’t help but wonder if the experience wouldn’t have been just that much better without those interrupting screens.

The loading screens in Mass Effect 2 were mighty pretty. I might go so far as to say they’re the prettiest loading screens I’ve ever encountered, for whatever that’s worth. But in a game as cinematic and captivating as Mass Effect 2, wouldn’t it have been amazing if Bioware had pulled the same coup as Naughty Dog and thrust you right from one scene and into the next? 

Some people say good riddance to the elevators of the original Mass Effect, and I certainly see where they’re coming from, but quite frankly I preferred them. They may have been aggravatingly long, but they’re better than the alternative, which is load screens that are just as long and not immersive in the least. Plus they provided a nice excuse for short bouts of party banter, which is always appreciated. 

Admittedly, the pacing of a game like Mass Effect 2 is pretty far removed from that of a game like Uncharted 2, at least for the most part. In a game that has you zipping all over the galaxy, spanning distances the human mind can barely comprehend, perhaps a little waiting here and there is a little easier to accept than in Uncharted’s action-packed escapades. Well, as long as you overlook the fact that Mass Effect has loading inside of its action-heavy sequences as well.

It may be a small detail in the grand scheme of things, but what separates the good from the great is the attention to these little things. In this light it’s easy to see why Uncharted 2 is so fantastic. The development team clearly put a lot of effort into these small bits, from game mechanics to technical matters like loading times to characterization.

From the standpoint of a player, I’m glad they went through all the trouble. Many games lust after the label of “cinematic” these days, and there are as many approaches to that as there are games that try. But of all of them I’ve experienced, Uncharted 2 nails that feeling of seamless scene to scene flow and thrilling presentation that movies do so well better than any of its peers, and all without sacrificing the interactivity that makes gaming so interesting in the first place. 

Just because most games use loading times doesn’t mean they should be mindlessly accepted. It’s time to face the challenge of our technological limitations and find ways to overcome them. As games strive to be more immersive experiences with better storytelling, it’s time to put a stop to a status quo that’s the interactive equivalent of pausing a movie every 15 minutes to load the next scene. 

Silly as it may at first seem, load times are a notable burden on the enjoyment of modern interactive entertainment. I hope other developers will take the hint and give them the axe ASAP.

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    Zestful Contemplation - Blog - Uncharted 2: Loading Times and the Gaming Experience
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    Zestful Contemplation - Blog - Uncharted 2: Loading Times and the Gaming Experience
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    Zestful Contemplation - Blog - Uncharted 2: Loading Times and the Gaming Experience
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    Zestful Contemplation - Blog - Uncharted 2: Loading Times and the Gaming Experience

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