Last week, the United States Patent and Trademark Office assigned the maker of the Xbox 360 and publisher of Gears of War the feature to offer seamless switching from solo to co-op gaming in squad-based shooters.
The patent, #7,559,834 was invented by James York of Austin, Texas and filed back in the original Xbox era on December 2, 2002.
Seven years later, this is what the government assigns Microsoft a patent to:
A squad-based shooter video game allows players to dynamically join and leave the game, while that game is in progress, without the players having to save and restart the game. When a new player joins an in-progress game, a new squad member is allocated to the new player and the screen is split to present a viewing panel for the new player that depicts scenes from the perspective of the new squad member. When an existing player leaves the game, the screen is unsplit to remove the viewing panel for the exiting player and that player's squad member becomes part of the squad being controlled by the remaining player(s).
The patent specifically refers to squad-based shooter games, reducing the likelihood that it would apply to, say, re-making Halo matchmaking so that online battles were persistent with players smoothly dropping in and out. Instead, it reads like a brief on the co-op in Gears of War 2.
The patent is full of sketches (including the one in this post) that depict a shooter game being played on the original Xbox.
Microsoft did not return Kotaku's request by press time to elaborate on why the company patented this concept.
UPDATE: Several readers have noted the sketches included in the patent resemble screenshots from Xbox co-op shooter Brute Force, which was developed by the now-shuttered Digital Anvil. The company, like the inventor noted here, were based in Austin, Texas.