Remember the days when you brought a new game home, loaded it into your console, and then immediately started playing? Sure, NES games sometimes needed a little goosing to get them going, but in the 16-bit age we hit a sweet spot where games always worked, and they worked quickly. Even cartridges stacked with 24 huge megs of memory started up instantaneously.
With the advent of CD-ROM, suddenly we were spending half our time waiting for things to load. Wipeout XL advertised Red Bull during the downtime before races. Resident Evil played a silly animation of a door opening each time you tried to access a new area. Ridge Racer even let you play Galaga on its load screen -- which, all things considered, was pretty clever. But in each case, at least you could get started playing almost right away.
I had plenty of time to think about this subject -- indeed, enough time to relive my entire gaming life, Walk Hard-style -- while I was waiting to play Grand Theft Auto IV yesterday. For several excellent reasons, I took home the PlayStation 3 version. I haven't played anything on that system since Devil May Cry 4 in February, so when I turned it on I was informed that a system update was required. This was the big 2.30 firmware update, and all told it took about twenty minutes to download and install (this was almost, but not quite, enough time to read the entirety of Bill Simmons' epic ESPN.com chat).
Once that was done, it was time to play -- just after the mandatory install, that is! This one was not nearly so onerous as that of DMC4, but coming as it did on the heels of the firmware update it felt like a cruel joke. About five minutes later, GTAIV's opening cinematic started to play.
At that moment, my fiancee walked in the door and I had to turn the game off to make dinner.
I know, I know: not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. I only missed out on half an hour of play time, when I wouldn't have been able to do much anyway. I had the rest of the evening to play. And I know there are several compelling arguments for the usefulness of firmware updates and pre-installs. All of this stuff makes sense to me, intellectually. As a practical matter, what a kick in the balls! This is the price of progress, I suppose.