Zelda is awesome, but loading screens suck.

Today I've got a real treat for you. We're going to look at the latest Zelda game from Nintendo! 

*Pause for dramatic effect*

Okay, let's be honest, you might have read the title and thought to yourself - Okay Zac... is talking about the loading screen in Zelda really going to help me with gamification?

Fair question.

Apart from being a great excuse to talk about one the best games I've recently played, what I want to look at today are ways to get you thinking about how to engage people when they have to wait. Why?

Because no one likes to wait. 

Especially when we're in the middle of doing something - waiting can really break our flow. This could be why we see people speed up in their cars to make it through an orange traffic light, or try and skip a queue, or click the mouse button madly while waiting for a webpage to load.

So with that in mind we're going to look at one of the places where waiting can be a real pain. Loading screens in video games! In our case - the latest Zelda game.

Let's go!

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(Jokes! Just keep scrolling.)

OMG. Thank you Nintendo!

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the 28th game in the very popular series developed and published by Nintendo. It was released in March this year.

And boy oh boy, it is a great game!

It has received incredible review scores and has been met with praise by fans and critics.

The story plays out like every other Zelda game. You play as Link and need to save the land of Hyrule from the evil Ganon with the help of Princess Zelda.

But this time the gameplay is unlike any other Zelda game.

The world is huge and completely open where you can go off and explore any part of Hyrule you want. Combat is much harder and there are new mechanics introduced, such as having to cook food in order to recover health. Also gone are the traditional dungeons and instead you'll find yourself tackling temple puzzles and exploring four giant mecha-beasts. For anyone who has played a Zelda game in the past, these changes are huge. 

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Introducing the loading screen

But we're not here to discuss the gameplay - just know that it's excellent. Instead we're here to discuss the humble loading screen found in Zelda.

So what is a loading screen? For those of you lucky enough never to have seen one, a loading screen is something shown while a program is loading or initialising.

At minimum it's an image with the word loading written on it. If you're lucky then you might see a progress bar which gives you some kind of feedback as to how long you have to wait (unless it's one of those fake progress bars... grrr... lazy programming).

Luckily in Zelda you can go for a long time without having to see a loading screen. But if you die, warp between locations, or enter temples, then you'll start to become quite familiar with it.

Here's what it looks like...

Hey that doesn't look too bad! Let's see what we've got...

  1. There's the logo in the bottom right of the screen used as a progress bar.
  2. There's a spinning wheel in the bottom left so we know the game is doing something (aka it hasn't crashed on us).
  3. I can see useful character information about my character in the top right of the screen (e.g., amount of money and health you have).
  4. And there are tips and tricks provided that you can cycle through by pressing a button. 

So why does it suck?

Okay, it's not actually that bad compared to some other loading screens out there. But saying it sucks is provocative and got you reading this far right? 

There's two main issues I have with the loading screen. 

  1. It takes a long time to load.
  2. The tips and tricks presented are random.

A long load time leads to tedious waiting and it can break the flow of the game, especially when you die quickly and suddenly and want to jump back into the action.

The tips and tricks can be useful (in fact I learnt a lot about the game just through them) but they seem to be shown randomly. Which means that you'll see the same tips over again.

They also don't take into account what you're doing in the game.

For example, I was also told I could use Amiibos in the game immediately just after I used an Amiibo.

Then I was told not to rush into battle as I could easily die immediately after I died from trying to be stealthy. Thanks, real helpful.

So, although it's not the worst loading screen I feel that it's under utilised. It feels like a last-minute effort, tacked on to an awesome game. 

    So how can we use gamification to improve the loading screen?

    Well, how long it takes to load is a technical issue that we're not equipped to even attempt to fix. Instead, we could try to make the waiting time more enjoyable. The tips and tricks are a good starting point, but I think we can do better than that...

    Fix #1: Context-aware tips

    One nice improvement would be to provide context-aware tips. That means if you've just started the game, you'll be presented with beginner tips. Been playing for a while? Expert tips for you!

    For this to work you would have to track what the user does - which the game can do, and does do, already (the first update will show your path travelled on a map).

    We could take this one step further and track whether the player has performed specific actions.

    Has the player tried shield surfing yet? No? Great, give them a hint on how to do it.

    This way the loading screen becomes a very useful and very personalised screen.

    Fix #2: Mini-games!

    Another option that works well for particularly long wait times is to provide a loading screen mini-game. 

    Nintendo have actually done this before as well! In the game Splatoon on the Wii U, while waiting to be matched online with other players you could play the Squid Jump game.

    This definitely made waiting less boring.

    Why haven't we seen more loading screen games?

    Well, this idea was actually patented for a while by Namco, which was a real pain in the butt. But the patent finally expired a few years ago. Hurray!

    Okay, so what about gamification?

    So those are two ideas for Zelda, but these ideas could be applied elsewhere in non-game contexts where anyone has to wait.

    Don't believe me? Let's look at a couple of examples. 

    First up, Yelp's 'pull to refresh' rocket ship animation. This is a super playful way to make the pull to refresh action a little more engaging yet still functional. 

    Next up, Google Chrome's Running T-Rex. If you use Google Chrome as your Internet Browser you may have noticed a dinosaur appears when you can't connect to the internet. Hit spacebar and you can play the Running T-Rext game until your connected to the internet again. Brilliant.

    Those are just a few examples, but they demonstrate well the power of play and games to make waiting more fun.

    Conclusion

    So we've tackled a bit in this post. You had to put up with me crushing hard on the new Zelda game, but we also discussed how waiting times could be improved by using personalisation and games.

    What next? Have a think about examples you've found or think about times when you've had to wait and how the situation could be improved with games.

    It doesn't have to be digital waiting either - maybe we need more games in real life queues? 

    If you want to share your examples or ideas, post them to the Gamification Geek facebook page or comment below!


    Another castle...

    It doesn't really fit with the seriousness of the Zelda game and so I didn't mention it above, but one more suggestion is to use humour during waiting times. It depends on the context, but it can make for memorable loading screens.

    Here's a great example from Yooka-Laylee which I love (The old Rare team's humour has always been fun). 

    Of course just make sure to have enough fresh content in there so the humour doesn't get old quickly!