Loading screen

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A loading screen

A loading screen is a screen shown by a computer program, very often a video game, while the program is loading (moving program data from the disk to RAM) or initializing.

In early video games, the loading screen was also a chance for graphic artists to be creative without the technical limitations often required for the in-game graphics.[1] Drawing utilities were also limited during this period. Melbourne Draw, one of the few 8-bit screen utilities with a zoom function, was one program of choice for artists.[2]

While loading screens remain commonplace in video games, background loading is now used in many games, especially open world titles, to eliminate loading screens while traversing normally through the game, making them appear only when "teleporting" farther than the load distance (e.g. using warps or fast travel) or moving faster than the game can load.

Loading times[edit]

Loading screens that disguise the length of time that a program takes to load were common when computer games were loaded from cassette tape, a process which could take five minutes or more.[1] Nowadays, most games are downloaded digitally, and therefore loaded off the hard drive meaning faster load times; however, some games are also loaded off of an optical disc, faster than previous magnetic media, but still include loading screens to disguise the amount of time taken to initialize the game in RAM.

Because the loading screen data itself needs to be read from the media, it actually can increase the overall loading time. For example, with a ZX Spectrum game, the screen data takes up 6 kilobytes, representing an increase in loading time of about 13% over the same game without a loading screen.[1] Recently, however, more powerful hardware has significantly diminished this effect.


Loading screen of the Ubuntu operating system, displaying progress

The loading screen does not need to be a static picture. Some loading screens display a progress bar or a timer countdown to show how much data has actually loaded. Others, recently, are not even a picture at all, and are a small video or have parts animated in real time.

Variations such as the progress bar are sometimes programmed to inaccurately reflect the passage of time or extended during loading; opting instead for artificial pauses or stutters. This can be done in games for a multitude of reasons including encouraging players to engage with exposition during time away from gameplay and providing the player with an immersive transition between scenes. One notable example of this practice being used is for the real-time strategy game Age of Empires, with programmer Greg Street describing his method of timing visual loading queues with appropriate script queues when loading a randomly generated map.[3][4] Other developers describe the necessity of an artificial loading timer despite technical advancement making modern loading times near-instantaneous to allow the player a smooth transition between gameplay segments.[3] This technique also has grounds in the perceived perception of performance denoted by loading times. This perception of loading times can be altered by factors such as the movement of a progress bar.[5]

Other loading screens double as briefing screens, providing the user with information to read. This information may only be there for storytelling and/or entertainment or it can give the user information that is usable when the loading is complete, for example the mission goals in a game, or useful gameplay hints. In fighting games the loading screen is often a versus screen, which shows the fighters who will take part in the match.


Some games have even included minigames in their loading screen, notably the 1983 Skyline Attack for the Commodore 64 and Joe Blade 2 on the ZX Spectrum. One well-known loader game was Invade-a-Load. Another example is "the shop keepers quiz" in Dota 2 which was more of a game finding screen rather than loading screen.

Namco has used playable mini-games during a loading screen. Examples include variations of their old arcade games (Galaxian or Rally-X or for example) as loading screens when first booting up many of their early PlayStation releases. Even many years later, their PlayStation 2 games, like Tekken 5, still used the games to keep people busy while the game initially boots up. Despite the Invade-a-Load prior art, Namco filed a patent in 1995[6] that prevented other companies from having playable mini-games on their loading screens, which expired in 2015.[7][8][9][10][11][12] Recent EA Sports games have "warm up" sessions. For example, FIFA 11 has the player shooting free-kicks solo and NBA Live 10 has 2-player shootouts, while the game loads. NBA Live 08 features a 4-player general knowledge quiz. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of THQ's MX vs. ATV: Untamed lets the player partake in a free-ride session on the test course.


Some games like a number of Call of Duty titles have cutscenes that give an introduction to the level while the game loads in the background. Normally, when the level is completely loaded, the remaining portion of the cutscene may be skipped. The video may not necessarily apply to what is happening in the level, as Red Faction: Guerrilla sometimes shows news reports foreshadowing events that will become important later on, or that give tidbits about the game's universe.


On the Commodore 64, tape loading screens would often feature music in the form of a chiptune making use of the machine's advanced SID sound chip.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Loading Screens essay by Ste Pickford
  2. ^ "Rembrant + Co" article from CRASH issue 4; retrieved from CRASH The Online Edition
  3. ^ a b Contributor, Matt Jarvis; Jarvis, Matt (2023-06-30). "Yes, video game loading bars are fake, indie devs admit". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Retrieved 2023-09-20. {{cite news}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  4. ^ Piper, Grant (2023-07-14). "According To Tech Developers, Computer Loading Bars Are Almost All Fake". Medium. Retrieved 2023-09-20.
  5. ^ Persson, Samantha. “Improving Perceived Performance of Loading Screens through Animation.” Linnaeus University, 2019. https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1333185/FULLTEXT01.pdf
  6. ^ "United States Patent #5,718,632". United States Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  7. ^ Campbell, Colin (13 January 2015). "A secret slice of loading screen history". Polygon. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  8. ^ Hoppe, David (9 January 2015). "2015: The Year We Get Loading Screen Mini-Games Back". Gamasutra. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  9. ^ Sirlin, David (27 February 2007). "The Trouble With Patents". Gamasutra. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  10. ^ O'Dwyer, Danny. "The Point – The Patent That Gave Us 20 Years of Loading Screens". GameSpot. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  11. ^ "Random, Interesting, Amazing Facts – Fun Quizzes and Trivia – Mental Floss". mentalfloss.com. Archived from the original on 2016-01-29.
  12. ^ Larry Bundy Jr (27 March 2016). "4 Sh***y Patents That Ruined Gaming – Fact Hunt". Archived from the original on 2021-12-15 – via YouTube.