Waiting for the Tape to Load (and Other Life Lessons)

A loading screen from a ZX Spectrum.
You’re never going to get this time back.
Many of you will fondly remember the good old days of 8-bit gaming. Back then the world moved at a more leisurely pace, we had 3 TV channels, Ceefax instead of the Internet and games took about a week to load off cassette.

(Well, 5 minutes or so really but it felt more like a week.)

These tape loading waits were precious pockets of childhood time that needed to be filled, but what could you do? You could head off and make a cup of tea, build an Airfix kit, go outside and play a real game or stay in and wait it out.

How Long is a Piece of Tape?

A loading screen from a Sinclair ZX81.
Something’s not right here, you need to check your volume levels.

Manic Miner took a mere 3 minutes or so to load but as RAM sizes increased and games became more complex load times got longer. Rick Dangerous took 7 minutes on the Amstrad CPC and Arcadia on the Commodore 64 took a life sapping 13 minutes to load.

Soon the clever boffins who made the games came up with ways to make this time pass more easily.

At first we had loading screen pictures that got drawn line by line top to bottom, then we got music that played while the game loaded, but we still needed more.

A loading screen from Harvey Headbanger on the Amstrad CPC.
Harvey headbanger on the Amstrad CPC played the Monty Python theme as it loaded.

Game in Game

Then some particularly clever boffins started putting mini games into the loading sequence so that you could play one game while waiting for another game to load.

One such example was Invade-a-Load a Commodore 64 loading system used by Mastertronic on many of their later games, as the name suggests it allowed you to play Space Invaders to fill the time while your game loaded.

Not to be outdone by it’s fierce rival the humble ZX Spectrum also had a loading screen game in the shape of Pac-Man that you could play while waiting for Joe Blade 2 to load.

A loading screen from the ZX Spectrum game Joe Blade 2,
No frills Pac-Man while loading Joe Blade 2 on the ZX Spectrum.

Faster, Faster, Faster

Soon the floppy disk came along reducing load times to seconds and then hard disk and solid state drives made gaming virtually instantaneous. This is all well and good but we can’t help thinking that those long lonely minutes in front of the loading screens of the 80s taught us some important life lessons:

  • Good things don’t always come to those who wait.
  • Contrary to what your Mum might say a watched kettle (cassette) does in fact boil (load).
  • Sitting cross legged in the middle of the lounge for too long makes your knees hurt.

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