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A lot of games start with their intros and vendor videos, and then show a "Press Start" screen before the actual main menu.

I never quite figures out the purpose of this. Why not go to the main menu directly? The only possible explanation that made sense to me is that when multiple controllers are connected it allows to identify the one that the player wants to use.

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Duplicate of a popular gaming.SE question: Why do console games require a button press before showing the main menu? –  user6347 Jun 26 '11 at 8:24
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To enrage PC players when they play a half-assed console port :( –  Zaky German Jun 26 '11 at 10:42
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Browser games are using "Start" button to gain focus (without focus keyboard controls won't work.) –  alxx Jun 26 '11 at 11:29

4 Answers 4

up vote 33 down vote accepted

The historical reason for this is somewhat different from the current reasoning - previously it was to have a 'safe' screen to go back to which was always resident in memory, so that if the game had gone to a demo loop and the player touched the controller, it could instantly return to the start screen and let interaction commence with no delay.

However typically these days it serves another purpose. For 360 at least, the start screen is deliberately user-agnostic. Nothing on the start screen requires knowledge of which user is actively playing the game. You get to the start screen without loading any save data, and without requiring a user to be logged in. So you can get to the start screen quickly and without having to show any TCR compliant messages.

Requiring the user to press start gets you a key piece of information: which controller is the primary controller. It's not necessarily the first or only controller connected, and you might have several equally valid controllers to choose from. You don't know which one the user has actually picked up though until they've pressed a button on it. Once that controller is used, it will remain the primary controller for the rest of the gameplay session.

On 360, finding out what the primary controller is also typically gets you another bit of information: which user is playing the game. Because each user is bound to a single controller, you know which user is playing, and from that you know which save data to load. Many / most of the content on the 360 is bound to specific users, so it's important to determine who is playing the game before continuing. If no-one is logged into the console, games will typically prompt at this point for a user to log in, or ask if the player is happy to play as a 'guest', i.e. without saving (because with no user, there's nowhere to save to).

You'll also find that, typically, changing users (by signing out and back in) will cause you to return to the start screen. This is because the relevant user-specific data is loaded after this point in the game, and the start screen is the easiest point in the user interface flow where you know exactly what data is loaded (none).

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On old arcade systems, pressing the start button, initializes the seed of the random number generator. This seed is used so that every play session is unique. On newer systems, I don't have a clue, I guess it's just a habit.

Also see:

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Nothing prevents the seed from being initialized when the hardware boots, or when the gameplay begins in response to user input from the actual main menu, et cetera. There's no technical reason why the seed must be initialized by a "press start" screen. –  Josh Petrie Jun 10 at 15:09
    
No technical limitations, thats true. It doesn't prevent some game devs from implementing it this way though. It's one of the reasons, for at least some of the games, to have a start screen. Added some references. –  Caramiriel Jun 10 at 16:28
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It's normal for games to use the real world time for the first seed, because it's inherently unpredictable, and that's true at boot as well. But bear in mind that old arcade systems didn't have a real world clock of any sort, so the boot sequence would be entirely predictable. The only unpredictable factor in an arcade system is user input, so using the number of ticks between boot and start being pressed is a fairly decent RNG seed. But the start screen isn't there just to seed the RNG, it's just a convenient point to do it. Any other initial user input would be just as good. –  MrCranky Jun 11 at 13:03

As well as the reasons given above, arcade games are also another reason. Usually an arcade game will loop the menu/intro until a coin is inserted to start a game, however when ported to home consoles, the coins are no longer needed so it looks for a button input instead.

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This is required by the console manufacturer as part of the standard Technical Requirements Checklist (TRC). One reason is to allow the startup screen to loop back to a demo mode if no one has touched the controller, this stops screen burn and makes it easy for a store to simply pop in a game and let it run looping action with no intervention.

Your guess is the secondary purpose, and that's the way it's used =)

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Rolling demos for in-store usage are really the primary reason that everyone has that "Press Start" screen, regardless of platform. Not all console manufacturers require it as part of the certification process. –  Trevor Powell Jun 26 '11 at 5:59
    
I'm pretty sure it's at least a requirement for the Xbox 360, and it's stated that it's for identifying the controller :). Obviously the demo mode being used is a much rarer scenario than players with more controllers. –  Roy T. Jun 26 '11 at 7:47
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So why not go straight to the main menu and then into a looping demo mode if no-one touches the controller? –  ajborley Jun 26 '11 at 9:04
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Reaching a main menu implies that you've detected a controller that can interact with that menu. You have to be in a really paranoid state of mind before some of these things make sense. –  Patrick Hughes Jun 26 '11 at 16:48

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