When it comes to a new invention or idea, you can bet that there will be a patent for it at some point. While you would think patents would be reserved for things like the Playstation Move controller or the Kinect, they actually boil down to much simpler things. Game mechanics that you assume were open for just any company to use are actually the property of single companies.
And the owners of those intellectual properties can actually be very surprising. You wouldn't expect a company like Nintendo to hold the rights to an insanity meter in their games or any game for that matter, but in just a few minutes that is exactly the sort of thing you'll be reading about. And the insanity doesn't end there.
Nintendo Chooses Who Is And Isn't Insane
Like I said just a few seconds ago, some of these patents just might surprise you when you figure out who owns them. When you think about horror games that use some sort of sanity meter, you think about games like Penumbra and Amnesia, both series made by Frictional Games. But it is actually held by Nintendo, and it has been for over a decade.
DON'T EXAMINE IT FOR GOD'S SAKE! DON'T DON'T DON'T!
Now just why would the most family friendly console developer own the right to an insanity meter? The answer lies in the Gamecube classic, Eternal Darkness. One of the first Nintendo games to ever get an M rating, Eternal Darkness put you in the shoes of Alexandra Roivas, a young woman trying to solve the murder of her grandfather.
Crazy things happen and you get an insanity meter to let you know just when things are starting to appear real to you that aren't actually there or happening. Eternal Darkness did a lot of cool things that you usually only see for short periods in other games, and for good reason - Nintendo locked that concept down and made sure that only they, the family friendly company, could make people go insane.
Kind of a waste when you think about it.
Loading Screens Will Always Be Just Loading Screens Thanks To Namco
Despite how absolutely advanced our game worlds have become, we can still look forward to seeing many, many loading screens far into our foreseeable future. Odds are pretty high though that you've played at least one game in the last few years that had a nifty little minigame to play while your game loaded.
Even though spinning The King's head around while shooting letters isn't exactly huge, it is exclusive to Namco.
These are called "interactive loading screens," and thanks to Namco, they will never ever become a standard feature in any game released outside of their company thanks to them patenting the whole "play a minigame while your actual game loads" technology. Unless you're playing a game like Katamari or any other Namco game that makes use of this patent, then you'll just have to sit and wait for your game to load.
Thanks a lot, Namco. Jerks.
You Listen To What Microsoft Lets You Listen To!
You may have realized in the last six years that both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 can play music that you load onto them. The main difference between the two though is the fact that only Xbox 360 games have the ability to play your many different songs as you play your games! There are a few exceptions to the rule on the PS3 side of things, but they have to go through a lot of trouble just to make it work.
MICROSOFT DEMANDS SMOOTH JAZZ!
The reason why that is leads us right back to those pesky little patents. When Microsoft released the Xbox 360, they were quick to patent the technology behind making music play while you were in your selected game. Since Sony didn't want to pay Microsoft a fee just to let people hear music while they played Uncharted, they set about finding a different way to add music to games.
As it turns out, that is a pretty difficult thing to do thanks to the wording in the Microsoft patent. It is nearly all-encompassing. Instead of wasting time and resources developing something that would get past the patent, Sony just kind of abandoned it. So whenever you think your selection of music on your PS3 would go great with your Uncharted playthrough, you're just going to have to get a CD player if you want to hear it.
SEGA Decides Who Gives Directions And To Where
At one point, SEGA was one of the biggest gaming companies in the world. They were developing things other companies hadn't even thought up yet. Case in point, arrows that guide you to your destination... Things were simpler back then! As small of an advancement as that is, the fact that SEGA patented it has led to some pretty strange clashes in the courtroom.
I was always so terrible at this game, but the minigames were fun.
And the most famous of clashes belongs to the time when SEGA sued EA and Fox Interactive for using their patented technology in Simpson's Road Rage of all games. Simpson's Road Rage was nearly an exact copy of Crazy Taxi, so even without the patented arrow guide system, SEGA probably had a case either way.
While there was technically no winner in the court room drama, the warring companies did settle out of court with SEGA for an undisclosed sum, so chalk that up as a win for SEGA. While there are ways around the arrow guide system (like using compasses or minimaps), may Segata Sanshiro have mercy on you if you even think about putting an arrow guide on the screen.
While you would think all of these game features would be accessible to anyone that wanted to use them, you may be surprised to learn that there are hundreds of patents out there for different, simple game mechanics that force other developers to work outside the box or pay the owner some ridiculous sum. Making games will never be as simple as just going out and doing it thanks to all that red tape.
What do you think about all of these different gaming patents? Are they holding back developers or forcing them to be even more creative? Know of any other crazy patents that weren't mentioned above? Well why not leave a comment below and let me know!? As always, thanks for reading.
You can follow Jared on Twitter at @PresidentMerkin and watch as he hopelessly tries to make contact with different big publishers, or follow @GamePodunk to get links straight to our articles and many awesome contests!