Shit Gaming Doesn’t Need and Should Be Dropped Entirely part 1: Inventory Management

You know what my favorite aspect of Skyrim is? Exploring the beautiful and atmospheric fantasy Scandinavia? Developing my character and creating my own story line? Modding it to the point of non-recognition where I run around in Space Marine armor shooting crabs in top hats with guns firing rainbows? Finding hilarious glitches where raiders get stuck to trees and spuzz out like amphetamine-superpowered disco dancers? Fuck no! It’s the aspect where, overcome with terminal greed to own more Leather Armour than any bastard in Tamriel, I pick up a pebble and go over my maximum weight capacity, crippling my movement until I sell my wonderful collection of old leather boots and silver candlesticks, or dump them in the ditch. Yep, the bit where you open your inventory screen and spend five minutes eating all the potatoes and uncooked rabbit you’ve been hoarding, and calculating which of your shit has the worst weight/value ration so you can discard it to run to the nearest innkeeper. I can’t wait until the next time I’m carrying too much worthless rubbish and get to micromanage all my shiny, red apples and tankards I picked up by accident.

TESV-Skyrim

By the way the statement above is hypothetical, simulating what someone completely mad might say. Because that would be something no sane person anywhere has uttered.

Inventory management it seems is firmly glued to the RPG genre, like pretentious writing and two varieties or armour: full body and practical for big burly men and steel thongs and bras for the ladies. Which still have the same damage resistance scores. Because of reasons. Like fetishism. But I say it’s pointless and it’s time to let go of it. Of course there are arguments towards having it, but mostly they are really crap.

But you can’t carry and infinite amount of stuff cos that would be so unrealistic

The RPG is a curious genre in this way, in that it seeks to immerse the player in the experience, simulating it to fine detail and trying to capture the feeling of being a big burly Minotaur with iron pants or a senile old man with incontinence and fireballs. It usually needs big, thick rule books and dice to do it. Of course, the obvious problem is that even in attempting to seek realism, it is really selective in which bits it wants to simulate. When your character is hurt you don’t have to wait seven months for them to recover from a sword-in-the-pancreas syndrome. The game doesn’t shut itself down permanently when your character dies. Blizzard doesn’t blacklist your IP and deny you the service for the rest of your life to simulate character death. EA doesn’t send hitmen to your house because Commander Shepard failed to save the galaxy.

mustikos-borderlands-most-expensive-rocket-launcher

You figure that since eating gives you strength to recover, why not add it to the game, so eating three apples totally heals that nasty arrow shaft sticking from your left eye. Besides, if your character can carry more than 200 kilograms of heavy equipment at any bloody time, while having two free hands to swing a broadswords, and running while doing both, how is it more realistic? It isn’t. It is completely arduous, artificial and arbitrary. It’s that way because somebody made a choice when picking out game mechanics and everyone went along with it.

Further, the rules are already stretched for some inventory items. Gold never seems to weigh anything, and it seems funny how apparently a shield can take up a good portion of your weight quota, but 100,000 gold coins are immune to gravity and fit quite snugly in a small leather purse. Though really it should weigh as much as the bloody Mjolnir hammer. This is even more apparent in Skyrim when you smelt gold bars and pick them in your inventory. Gold in bar or ore form apparently is quite heavy, but the minting process turns this heavy metal into weightless numbers.

"Damn...too...heavy...better...get...drunk."

“Damn…too…heavy…better…get…drunk.”

Therefore there is no natural law that forces you to have an inventory management system. Fish swim, birds fly, Vladimir Putin suppresses democracy and all RPGs need to have players micromanage their inventory every time they go and pinch all the shit from the bandit hideout. The logic of the game doesn’t demand it, it’s just a thing developers put in because they’re too goddamn used to it to let go of it. It is not really elemental to either game play mechanics or realism, while just frustrating the fuck out of you.

It adds strategy when you have to decide what’s important. Otherwise the game would be totally unbalanced.

No it wouldn’t, you lying whoreson. There is absolutely zero, ZERO, strategy in going through your inventory and picking the thing that is worth least money. It’s not even really a task, since the answer just sits there and looks at you in the face. In something like Mass Effect this is even more frustrating, because the thing worth least money is always in the same place: at the bottom of the list! Where you have to scroll down to see it to scrap it, for every, stinking little item.

Good thing interdimensional rules of villainy forbid anybody stabbing heroines in the unarmoured bits.

Good thing inter-dimensional rules of villainy forbid anybody stabbing heroines in the unarmoured bits.

As for balance, it didn’t matter a damn in Skyrim or Borderlands or any bloody RPG how many worthless, shitty pieces of equipment I littered all over the epic landscape, I still never, ever, for a second lacked money to buy what I wanted, and in fact spending all the time looking for merchants with any money left only made the difference between having enough money to buy everything and everyone in the universe and having enough money to buy everything and everyone in the universe and a kinder egg.

It’s not perfect, but it’s the best way we have to simulate the daily life of an adventuring pack donkey and traveling trouser-salesman.

I’m not falling for this one either. If this is an awkward compromise between realism and functional game play, then why not just scrap it and go all the way towards game play? Games are supposed to entertain you, not simulate a second fucking job you have to pay to do. Dishonored had you pocketing whale-oil, potions and bolts all over Dunwall, yet it didn’t have an inventory system. It didn’t need one. You pick up and object, it instantly converts into money. You don’t go through the menu and make room for more bolts by ditching all your potions, you are allowed a certain amount of both, deal with it. Was it worse for it? No! It didn’t have you running off selling your shit every 20 minutes, it merely had a mechanic that was infinitely more convenient for the player: it didn’t require you to deal with the sweaty pawn-shop man yourself, it merely left you to assume that Piero takes the stuff from you automatically when you return to the pub and goes and deals with the sweaty pawn-shop man for you.

dishonored-1

There have been some attempts to make the inventory management a bit more interesting, like for example Neverwinter Nights. There items didn’t only have weight, but also volume, and took up a certain number of inventory slots. A small knife might take two slots, but a longbow or a double-handed axe could take as many as ten. In the end you just ended up with double frustration, as you not only had to ditch the heaviest items during the prescribed five minute inventory catalog, but also play Tetris with six inventory screens, trying to find room for your awkwardly shaped crossbows and Tiara of Smart Packing +2. The system was quietly changed back to Baldur’s Gate style when NWN 2 came out.

Inventory management could work. It really could, if somebody put the proper effort into really thinking how to take advantage of it, so it would be an actual part of the game, rather than a dull, repetitive chore. It probably works best when you have to make actual choices, that aren’t painfully obvious to the player, like when you are only allowed under ten items, all of them useful or necessary. A healing potion or a bigger, powerful weapon? Drop your food reserve and risk starvation, or drop something valuable and play it safe?  If it added real strategy and challenge to the game, there might be a point in keeping inventory management, but in its current form it is nothing but dead weight.

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2 responses to “Shit Gaming Doesn’t Need and Should Be Dropped Entirely part 1: Inventory Management

  1. I enjoy inventory management.. I think Runescape has a great way of managing inventory where you can stack smaller objects and also take large amounts of objects out in ‘note’ form so they stack also. Every object on Runescape also has some use somewhere so it’s not like you have unnecessary junk, although of course you collect bits of armour that are below your level etc, but it’s not the end of the world because you can trade that to other players or sell it for coin that is actually useful and can be used to buy other ingredients. The sheer amount of different skills you have and the items you need for them means that it’s constantly changing and the trade system is better than in many other games.

  2. Encumbrance is a very strong element in immersion, if handled right. You really should NOT be able to carry a whale around. This has been a RPG staple since at least 1e AD&D, and, (I believe) back to OD&D in 1974.

    I like games where you have a set amt of slots and that’s it. Keeps it fast and simple, as you cannot carry 10000000 items, regardless of weight (tho gold weight is a non-factor in such a system, unless piles of gold </= a set amt take up one slot each). Just don't try to carry that many items. If you want to stock up, get a pack mule, and use THAT as inv mgmt, IF you want the option. Otherwise, you can only carry what you can, and no more. Keeps it relatively realistic, and yet not overly time-consuming. You get used to NOT picking things up, w/such a system, which fits an adventurer a lot more. Some systems are really restictive on this, and only let you carry what fits on your belt or in your hand, unless you have backpack items added; these are frustrating if you have no pack/sack, but work well to speed things up.

    IMO, issues w/encumbrance mainly occur when the system is weight-based and lets you carry 10 to the 10th power tons of gear; you invariably have as many items as molecules in your body, and that IS time consuming. This is why slot systems tend to feel "cleaner" to me, as they severely restrict items. Some slot systems are clever and have bags within inventory for small items, like gems; each also having a fixed slot count per bag. This works because you really feel like you are digging around in inventory for your gem bags, etc.

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