Inventory Management and repeated tasks in RPGs

I’ve just come from posting a medium-length rant on Rampant Coyote’s blog about loot / inventory management in RPGs. The impetus came from playing mount & blade and realising (i) how much better it is to have an end-of-encounter roundup screen than manually to have to search every damn corpse; and (ii) how much more painless the process of carrying out immersive everyday tasks (like camping out, visiting the markets or going to the castle to speak to a possible employer) is when everything is handled through a text interface. It’s reminiscent of Darklands, which I find a wholly good thing.

But it set me to wondering: what’s the current state of thinking at QT3 as to what is ‘good’ inventory management in a game? The most common model seems to be that of Diablo / WoW / NWN2: each player has n number of slots, which can be increased by levelling up or paying money or otherwise doing something in-game, and each item in the game (sometimes including gold, sometimes not) takes up one or more slots. I find this a chore, not least because it involves lots of clicking on items and moving them around. This is a task I dislike.

For the record, if a game makes me fight more than twice each hour, I’d like to see end-of-encounter screens so that I don’t need to go track down every chopped up goblin etc. after each fight and mouse over the screen to find the ‘loot corpse’ hotspot. I guess the technical issue is working out when an encounter is ‘over’ if one of the opponents escapes or gets stuck or something, but this shouldn’t be an insurmountable problem. Should it?

…it is more painless but less immersive. So there is that trade-off.
(p.s. spell check tells me immersive is not a word?!?)

I’m all about highly abstracted, efficient interfaces. Screw immersiveness. I think I’m a bit of a minority here, though.

No, I do not want to read your blog and this is a piss-poor attempt at advertising it.

I’d say your comment is a piss-poor attempt at trolling. Blog link aside, the OP offered a perfectly well-written and legitimate post about RPG interfaces. If you don’t want to participate in the discussion, bugger off.

I guess the thing about Mount & Blade, Darklands & the like is that they have a separate “battle screen” wherein all the action takes place, so that it’s quite straightforward to have some sort of automated “leaving the battle, what your loot?” type thing when you leave the battle mode. But in a game where battle takes place in the same interface/environment thing that everything else does, then it makes sense to have the “loot corpse” method work in the same way as the “pick something up” method that you use on anything else in the world.

First: If you take both weight and space out of an inventory system in an RPG, hardliners WILL gripe about it. Historical evidence will show this to be true pretty much every time I think?

My preference would be an abstract and efficient system to represent the data, with the applied limitation of either space or weight (not both please).

The UO Inventory bag system was cute the first 10 minutes, then I hated it ever after. Give me a drop down sorted list like Oblivion, only with a better UI for it. Put newly received items at the top of the list the first time you view them in your inventory. Make sure your inventory system automatically stacks minutiae. For these types of objects, use 2 or even 3 columns with simple names and counts next to them, to make recipe procedures not take 3 minutes to find the stuff you need.

I think generally adding +str or more bags seems to work well for progression. Better yet, make the inventory system allow you to convert gray loot to something useful outside of money, so you aren’t carrying around 20 pairs of pants you will never wear. An inventory system that breaks down crap gear into recipe items or something like that is always welcome.

Do people still need gray loot these days if it serves no purpose other then making you find a merchant to convert crap to gold? Can you just give me the damn gold, and skip the crap gear? playing with your inventory bags every 30 minutes is NOT game play. its maintenance. blech! If its only purpose is to convert to cash, just give me the cash.

I mostly agree with your point about gray loot, Fozzle, but I think there’s a competing interest there. There’s a sort of slot-machine, pack of CCG cards, mystery prize aspect to loot collection in most RPGs, diablo-clones or anything else with an inventory. Maybe not for everybody, but I am willing to bet, based purely on anecdote and conjecture, that it’s at least a sizable minority.

So, it seems like there’s only two options to get rid of crap items in a loot-driven system, either do what you mention and simply replace them with gold, in which case you get rid of the scavenger hunt fun for however many players enjoy that kind of thing, or have mobs drop a smaller or less frequent amount of better gear, which seems like it just turns into a “green is the new gray” situation.

I think, in the end, it’s probably a balance thing, where the goal is to not piss either end of the spectrum off too much.

The interface in Mount & Blade should stick to the text menus for practically everything. When I’m playing I want to spend my time in the field, in tournaments, or in the arenas. Having to wander around towns looking for Guild Masters and the like just means it’ll take me that much more time to get back to the good parts. There’s no reason this game can’t be exactly like old-school Pirates.

Regarding loot, one solution is to maintain weight limits but allow gray items to stack in a single, bottomless inventory slot. The pile still counts against your weight, so you have to make decisions about how much of that total you want to devote to grays, but it would leave more inventory slots open for managing the stuff you really care about. Back in town you could sell everything in the gray slot with a single click instead of digging through all your bags for it.

I understand why they don’t do something like this in MMOs since the whole point is to drag everything out as much as possible, but single-player games really need to be fixed.

I’m definitely in the “less is more” camp: if it’s boring, streamline or eliminate it. Beating monsters is fun; playing Battlefield Looter is not. Sifting through trash looking for a single good item is tedious. Running all over town because the shops, trainers, etc. are scattered all over is annoying as hell: put them all in one place - or even better, let me access all of them from a single screen.

If you’re carrying around ten tons of crap, sorting through it all SHOULD be a pain in the ass.

Yes, because when I’m looking to relax and have a good time, the first thing I reach for is a pain-in-the-ass simulator.

Dungeon Siege had the “Z” key, which when pressed had everyone in your party run around collecting all the loot on the ground instead of forcing players to click on every item to pick it up.

Dungeon Siege also had a spell that converted all trash loot to gold, at some amount less rate of return than selling it would give. Immersion can go jump in a lake, every rpg should steal that.

Edit: Or maybe it was a targeted spell on specific bits of loot, but was still pretty fast to cast as needed on anything in inventory. Dungeon Siege didn’t leave much in my memory besides it and the pack mule.

Picking up items isn’t too much of a hassle in Hellgate, but I wish it had a toggle you could set so that you automatically break down anything you pick up that isn’t usable by your class or is too low-quality (with something like a Ctrl-F override for exceptions). The constant right-click/move/click/move/click required for every item is a royal pain.

Maybe it’s meant as some kind of effort-versus-crafting balance, but it annoys the player either way, whether you hoover everything up and break down the useless stuff, or awkwardly position the cursor to try to pick out individual items.

I’m with you. RPGs (and every other genre) abstract away plenty of other elements in the name of fun. Sleeping, eating, bodily excretions, travel…why should we be forced to tediously inspect every single corpse in the hopes that we’ll get a useful item once in a while?

One solution is to keep track of weight and space for equipping individual party members in combat, but let the player carry as much as they want outside of battle. This could be represented by a loot wagon or storehouse, or left completely to the player’s imagination. Final Fantasy Tactics and most SRPGs do something like this.

Mass Effect automatically looted enemies once you killed them anywhere, and it worked well (unlike the rest of the inventory system). I don’t recall any complaints about that, either.

At one point, I had designed a puzzle game based loosely on the concept of RPG inventory management. Think pentominoes crossed with Nodwick.

  • Alan

the interesting thing that this thread shows is the disparate views on how it should be handled.

Maybe the best system would be a flexible one:
Build a game that takes weight/space/how it would feel to have something pointy sticking you in the back into account. Then, create options for the player to disregard any or all of those constraints. Game balance might be a little tricky if you use strength to help determine weight limits, but I don’t see it as a huge problem: strength is routinely one of the most overpowered ability scores in RPG’s, so the potential of it being slightly more useful depending on your choices shouldn’t be too much of a burden.

Then if you then add a “Z” key, wouldn’t that make everyone a winner?

You are prolly one of those guys that believe death should be permanent, and you shouldn’t be able to run everywhere in game without getting tired. Just because it is like that in real life, doesn’t mean it has to be in game (GAME being the key word in that phrase) Any part of your game’s design spec that includes decisions that make the game not fun should be torn, shredded and smoked. How much fun woudl action movies be if the laws of physics always applied?

I don’t like loot limits in games where a substantial component is looting all the corpses for stuff (mostly vendor trash, as ever). But I know some people do, and so my main request is this: Please, please don’t model item size as well as weight. Or if you really must, abstract it. Say: “you can carry only X oversize objects” and then clearly label the oversize objects with that tag. Don’t do the Diablo thing and make me play inventory tetris. It is not fun.