Monday, January 07, 2008

Video game annoyances

So I was playing a video game called Team Fortress 2 yesterday (I don't play games often - except as a breather between releases) and it dawned on me that it took nearly five minutes to get to the main screen of the game, about another five minutes to load the level for the server I was joining, then another two minutes to find another server with the same level after getting kicked off for "filling a reserved slot".

The major companies out there, particularly Valve, make moderately fun games...but they take forever to load. Back in the DOS days, if we had to wait 12 minutes for a game to load, we'd be hitting the reboot switch. Compared to today's games, those games loaded nearly instantaneously. Even if there was a "Loading..." screen, we knew it was only a few seconds delay before we got to go blast our way through stuff.

Console game makers such as Nintendo about the same time weren't sitting around twiddling their thumbs on "Loading..." screens. Super Mario Bros. ran smoothly on lousy hardware and had near instantaneous load times.

Granted we've got 3D, textures, HDR, and other things that make stuff look "pretty" but I have one question for the entire game industry: Why not just load the level WHILE playing? Display wireframe models (or perhaps just simple blocks) and load the textures and other big items simultaneously while the user plays the game. All that is needed to play a 3D game are the level data and some basic wireframe/block models. Then, while the user is playing, in a separate, low-priority thread, load the rest of the level nice and slow. Sure - it will take about the same amount of time (a slight bit longer) for the graphics to load, but waiting for nearly 12 minutes to just start playing one level is beyond ridiculous.

You would think programmers would think, "Gee, this takes forever to load, let's do something revolutionary about the problem." But instead they are thinking, "It takes forever to load, but loading is going as fast as possible." No wonder the game industry is in a rut. No one thinks for themselves any more.

A new year. A whole new set of rants. Or something like that.