Stay away from my idea
The world of patents is an odd one, and it happens to be familiar ground for the video game industry. For the uninitiated, patents give the original creator or creators exclusive rights to said idea, gizmo, or gadget for a set amount of time. The Pong Patent is considered to be the most important patent pertaining to the industrys beginning decades ago.
But not all patents are game-changing ones. Some of them are downright ridiculous. Others make a lot of sense once you know what all the legal jargon actually means. This list is but a small sampling of the thousands of patents on the books, and youve no doubt played a game or used a device that has at one time or another been involved with a patent filing.
Namcos patent on load-screen mini-games
The advent of the load-screen mini-game comes from the 80s. Now you might be thinking, "but they didn't even have CDs yet! Didn't those games load instantly?" While gamers werent fond of some PlayStation era load times, those of yesteryear were made to wait up to 10 minutes for the Commodore 64 to boot up--a good deal worse than tapping their foot for a few seconds while a match of Call of Duty loads up.
Load-screen mini-games were a way to not bore people before they could start controlling some on-screen pixels. Apparently, Namco liked mini-games tiding over gamers until the main course was delivered so much that the developer implemented a slew of them in some of its titles. Aging arcade games like Galaxian and StarBlade have popped up during load screens to keep gamers busy while they wait to play the likes of Ridge Racer. The FIFA series has similar distractions during load times, but nothing as complex as a full-on game. It sure beats the heck out of masking loading screens with lengthy elevator rides (heres looking at you, Mass Effect).
EAs patent on Mass Effects dialogue wheel
Speaking of the Mass Effect series, its considered by many to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, sci-fi franchise in gaming history. Some of the reasons it works so well is because of the freedom of choice, the story, the gameplay, and the generally great banter between Commander Shepard and his entire motley crew.
Much of the chatting plays out via a huge amount of dialogue choices presented on a wheel. Players simply rotate the analog to a response--questions, normal salutations, and naughty or nice responses--to keep up the conversation. Its a simple concept, but really enjoyable to use. It certainly debunks the idiom, talk is cheap, and has even made its way to the Dragon Age series. Some gamers may have gotten bored with the simplicity of the wheel, but the concept, no matter what you think of it, has helped shape some of the greatest role-playing games of the past decade.
Sega of Americas patent on in-game directions
Sega, like many companies on this list, has a huge amount of patents filed. One of them happens to be for Sonic the Hedgehogs animation when he runs around in vertical loops in his old Sega Genesis adventures. But thats hardly the companys most vague patent for on-screen directions. That honor goes to Segas insistence on being the only developer to provide a giant arrow showing players where to go.
If you used to visit arcades or owned a Dreamcast that might sound familiar. The helpful guide of a floating arrow was used in the Crazy Taxi games to show people where to drop off their eclectic mix of clientele--its unclear if playing songs by Offspring is also part of the deal. Sega took this patent seriously enough that when The Simpsons Road Rage was released by EA, the home of Sonic sued for patent infringement, which lead to the issue being settled privately between the companies.
Nintendos patent on character sanity bars
Eternal Darkness: Sanitys Requiem remains a cult favorite to this day because its a unique take on the horror genre. And it uses more intense scares than a simple zombie dog busting through a window. What makes Eternal Darkness unique is its Sanity Meter measuring the impact of Sanity Effects, concepts Nintendo saw fit to patent. When players run into something that would make anyone freak out--like the hideous Bonethief, a creature that wears human skin as if it were a casual suit--their character starts to lose a grip on reality.
As players start to lose their minds, odd things will happen, including blood dripping down the walls, paths suddenly being blocked with doors that werent originally there (followed by your characters terrifying screams), and the GameCube pretending to reset. All of the creative effects make for a unique horror game, but planned sequels and spiritual successors have all failed to materialize. And thanks to Nintendo patenting the concept, no other games can present horror in quite the same way, because a lengthy legal battle is scarier than anything Eternal Darkness can conceive.
Koeis patent on battle method
This is essentially a patent for Dynasty Warriors, and its a long one at that. Its officially named the battle method with attack power, take a deep breath, based on character group density, and strictly pertains to the way players do battle. It seems Koei wanted the name of the patent to mirror the titling of series entries like Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition.
The jargon in the patent is a little heavy handed, but it essentially boils down to this: Koeis million or so Dynasty Warrior games have staked a claim on the one-versus-an-army genre. The series may prove divisive, but Koei may have made a smart move by trying to limit any competition in the genre, and have had enough success to keep the series moving along on virtually every platform available. The companys gameplay system has even been used with Gundams, and will place Link from Nintendos Legend of Zelda series into his very own Dynasty Warriors-esque game. If you cant beat em, join em.
Activision Blizzards patent on using figurines with video games
Toys and video games--not everyone could have predicted the impact that would have had before Skylanders was released. Sure, arcade games in Japan have used similar ideas for Pokmon and soccer games, but Activisions ploy to revive Spyro gave birth to the Skylanders series in what was the first time the concept became so popular on this side of the globe.
The patent filed is for server based interactive video game toys and the use of a platform able to identify such toys. Anyone familiar with Spyros new game series will understand those as covering the avalanche of toys and portal, available for purchase everywhere that has screaming children. Interestingly enough, the patent did not cause Disney Infinity any problems when it was released, and Nintendo seems to be in the clear to work on its own interpretation of Skylanders toys-to-life approach via Nintendos stable of popular characters, much to the chagrin of wallets everywhere.
Nintendos patent on the d-pad
The Xbox 360s controller is one of the best ever made, save for one flaw: the awful directional pad. It seems like such a small, easy problem to fix in controller R&D, but heres the thing: Nintendo had a patent on the simple design since it was first used with the handheld Game & Watch devices pioneered by engineer Gunpei Yokoi. Its such a successful design that even the 3DS and Wii U GamePad use the very same d-pad more than 30 years later.
For a number of years the big N was the only console maker able to have a controller with the iconic plus sign design, which ended when its patent on the multidirectional switch expired in 2005. This means other controller developers can now create a non-Nintendo gamepads decent enough for 2D sidescrollers and fighting games. Now everyone else could take advantage of the cross-shaped d-pad, which remains is one of the most well-crafted items ever put into a controller.
Midways patent on unlocking secrets in video games
Its hard to imagine video games without secrets to unlock. There are entire websites dedicated to the secrets hidden within the virtual worlds many have enjoyed. This patent, however, is only partially related to that. Its actually linked to unlocking secrets via a special controller. So, although the title is misleading people into thinking Midway is patenting the idea of finding Yoshi chilling out on top of Peachs castle in Super Mario 64, its actually about selling more controllers.
You see, Midways patent was to help the developer sell peripherals that would unlock extra features or secrets of the video game which are not otherwise available. With third-party controllers typically not the most sound way to invest money, its probably good this idea never caught on. If you think DLC characters are bad, imagine having to buy a specific controller to use Scorpion in Mortal Kombat.
Konamis patent on a method of controlling a character
This one is a bit vague, but the gist of it has to do with how enemies or characters not controlled by the player handle themselves. In other words, its all about motivating the player to engage enemies, and how those enemies will decide to confront players in a 3D space. One specific part of the patent is how enemy characters originally on a mission to make sure you have the worst day ever react after exposure to, say, a smoke bomb. It also locks down the act of using a device to make enemies spar with each other.
This could have been specifically filed for use with the Tsurugi arcade cabinet Konami developed in 2001. Using a plastic sword, players take on samurai after samurai, which would sometimes react strangely to your attacks. Further proof is given by reading the language of the patent. It uses the word sword so many times that it would be understandable if you thought the developer was patenting the ancient weapon along with the gameplay concept.
Rampart Studios patent on dynamic content generation in RPGs
The Elder Scrolls series, as well as many other open-world role-playing games, do their best to fill their worlds with interesting non-playable characters. Well, as interesting as they can get while continually reminding you of taking arrow to the knees. Rampart Studios found the role of such NPCs so valuable it decided to file a patent centered on how they change what they do in a game.
It means the company wanted to patent what a character would do in the morning, and be able to have a server assign a different task or two based on the NPCs status. According to the developers, it was meant to make the game-playing experience ever fresh and challenging by making NPCs as unpredictable as your cat on catnip. According to internet cats everywhere, those results can be utterly devastating, as well as hilarious. Indeed, thats kind of like what players get in open-world RPGs like Fallout 3 when NPCs get stuck in rocks or randomly run headfirst into Radscorpions.
Microsofts patent on online game invitations using friends lists
Getting friends together to play Halo or Call of Duty online on the Xbox 360 was never a chore, and Microsoft knew it had a good thing going for it with sending online game invitations through your friends list. Hit a button, send a request. Play the game. Simple stuff, it would seem, and Microsoft knew well enough that the idea might be a good thing to file a patent for. The company has been leading the online gameplay accessibility ever since unless you really dig typing in Friend Codes on your Wii.
Many more of Microsofts patents come from the development of the Xbox 360. In addition to the game invitations is a patent for Achievements. So, even though a patent of Nintendos meant Microsoft couldnt give a great d-pad to the 360 controller, it did have the edge on everyone else with its online implementation and awards system, something some competitors are still struggling with.
Square Enix patents penalties for violation of a rule
Square Enix has created a lot of great gameplay ideas over the years. One that seemed very important to them is the penalty system introduced in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Taking cues from soccers governing bodies, the handheld games imposing judges dish out yellow and red cards for players unfortunate enough to break one of the battles rules. This could mean removal from a match for casting magic by accident, changing the battles outcome immensely, and then fining players a sum of money to add insult to injury.
Deciding to patent this idea seems a bit strange considering every game essentially dishes out penalties for failing to do what youre supposed to do, but the Law system in the Tactics games featured on Nintendos handhelds is a large part of the subseries. Stranger still is the fact that Square Enix hasnt revisited the idea in nearly six years. The HD remake of Final Fantasy X wouldve surely been improved by having yellow cards been dished out during Blitzball.
Hey, thats mine
With new ideas in the industry arising all the time, its safe to say patents arent going anywhere fast. Whether good or bad, the industry will most likely be shaped by them--no matter what they happen to be centered on. So, what do you, dear readers, think about these patents? Are there any other ones youve heard about that left you scratching your head? Let us know in the comments.