Inventorying inventory systems

I recently started into Mass Effect again and I’m absolutely loving it. (Somehow it just clicked this time I guess, I’ve a theory on why that is but that’s another thread, for another day).

One thing I disliked and continue to dislike about Mass Effect however, is it’s clunky inventory system. You gather a lot of stuff in the course of running around and just going through it is a nuisance, much less prioritizing and doling it out to team members etc. It’s to the point that I gel things instantly just to get rid of it, and I don’t let myself touch an inventory screen unless I’m on the ship. Futzing with all that again got me thinking about inventory systems in general, and I’m having a hard time thinking of one done really well.

Oblivion did the ol’ long ass list of stuff, which quickly got over-long though I recall some mods that made that a bit more manageable. I think trade was “my grid of stuff” and “their grid of stuff” wasn’t it? I guess that’s typical, NWN was like that I recall though I think the inventory was more based on location slots on your character than a list? ArmA/ArmA2 has an inventory of sorts (“G” for gear I believe) and somehow it’s clunky too, though that’s unsurprising. I’ve played Fable II a bit, but not long enough to even remember how the inventory was handled.

Is there one game that comes to mind which deals with inventory in a particularly good way? I was trying to puzzle out how ME might improve things for ME2, but I’m drawing a bit of a blank… especially for the console version where you’re limited to the controller vs a mouse.

I think some JRPGs aren’t bad, but I’m also blanking trying to remember one in particular. Where an inventory system is good, of course you don’t notice it.

It’s easy to see the problems in a bad system though, for example, no automatic “good item” selection, not enough sorting options, not enough filtering options, inability to page rapidly through a long list, or delays in even loading inventory details, and inability to deal with large numbers of items in bulk where a player is likely to accumulate a lot of junk.

None of this has to do with consoles as such except inasmuch as a PC can use a spreadsheet style sort/filter UI more conveniently, but plenty of sorting and filtering can be done with a console controller with no problems.

I haven’t played ME yet, but one game that really surprised me with it’s inventory system was KOTOR. Coming from PC gaming, playing a western RPG on a console for the first had me really skeptical as to whether they could pull off a system that would feel as intuitive as a mouse-and-keyboard interface. But I have to say they not only pulled it off, I thought the inventory in KOTOR was excellent. Better, less clunky than most PC games I’ve played. It had a lot to do with their game systems of course. The way you didn’t really need to know all that much about items in your inventory, but the little you did need to know was clearly displayed, and it was easy to sort through.

I can’t remember at all what the inventory was like in KOTOR. I guess that means it was good?

Think of it as the precursor to ME’s inventory.

So, no, not really good at all.

The only halfway-decent inventory systems I’ve seen are the ones where you have relatively few items to manage. Most RPGs, unfortunately, quickly balloon into these Monty-haul monstrosities. Any inventory management system which doesn’t have auto-sort and decent filtering options is living in the Dark Ages.

If we’re talking about games with good inventory systems rather than good games with good inventory systems them Brigade E5 is worth a mention. Best of all your vehicle has 2 drop boxes - one for items you want to keep and the other for items you want to sell. Whenever you enter a shop you just click on the ‘sell eveything from my trailer’ option and it clears the second box for you. I wish more games (and better games) used a smiliar system to avoid lots of fiddly item manangement.

Exactly. It was forgettable because it worked. If it didn’t work, or if it was hard to things like tell whether a vendor had an item that was better than what you had on, etc., then the system would have been more memorable for negative reasons.

Another system that I personally found great but a lot of people had problems with was the System Shock 2 inventory. I really liked the fact that going into your inventory didn’t pause the game, and that you could quickly access things with the click-and-drag interface, but were helpless while you were in the inventory. I thought that added a lot of tension to the game, and really worked well for that game’s other elements.

The best possible way to ensure a pleasant inventory experience is to design the game such that onerous inventory management never becomes an issue in the first place. Make only useful things carryable, and make it very obvious to the player HOW things are useful.

That being said, I also have always been fond of System Shock 2’s grid inventory. All items are 1x1 square, except weapons which are always 1x3, and armors which are always 2x2. Due to this simplicity and internal consistency, there’s very little of the “inventory Tetris” which plagues grid-inventory games with many varied item shapes.

I was about to post and mention System Shock 2. The real-time inventory was a massive contributor to the tension of that game.

I didn’t have any problem with Mass Effect’s inventory. Although I did play it on PC, maybe it was different. Only thing I can think of is that items of the same type should have been grouped together.

That is a huge annoyance with me. I play video games, I want instant gratification and waiting a couple of seconds for a menu or something to appear really bugs me.

A good example of that is any Grand Theft Auto title, and how the handled the changing of clothes. Admittedly they didn’t use an inventory system exactly but I really wish they had. Instead of a menu, or any fucking-other solution you needed to look in the mirror then sit there watching your guy go in and out of the changing room just to get a new hat. Painful, especially since in that instance a long boring list of things with little pics would have been fine. Just give me my god damned hat please. The system they had generally meant my character general wore the same clothes for the entire game, unless the mission insisted otherwise. ohhhhh you mean smart shoes. Sure, give me another 10 minutes.

I really like Oblivion’s inventory system.

Tension which comes from messing with the inventory is NOT good game design, IMHO. Anyone who thinks otherwise should have to play the last Alone in the Dark game until their eyes bleed.

SS2 was awesome, but a clever inventory-management system was not one of its fortes.

It was better than “clever”, it was good.

I think classical inventory systems went down the toilet when developers started to equate the ability to pick up every rusty tin can and weed in the game with immersion. I’d love to see classical inventory systems with a bag for things like alchemecal (sp) ingredients and other such junk. This would mean that you still need to think about what you can pick up but you wouldn’t feel too limited in what you can pick up.

if you guys think inventory systems went “down the toilet”, there’s a special place in Hell for you where you have to pixel hunt in bags in Ultima 7 for eternity

I disagree, why must the world come to a halt cause you’re going through your belongings? I really liked that the game kept going in SS2 and Dead Space. I don’t think these systems added tension they just maintained it, honestly, pausing the world is a tension breaker and for what, you’re still playing the game? If the player needs to stop there is an actual pause button.

Aw man, I love U7 and it’s inventory system. There’s a special kind of joy in how it actually resembles a real back pack, with that neat little sound it would make whenever you moved something into the bag.

Plus I loved compartmentalizing my stuff: the armor bag, reagent bag, weapon bag, etc.

I’m still hoping to figure out what makes for a better/worse inventory system, and there are some general issues that come up when talking about inventory systems:

  • Do equipped items get their own slots in the UI?
  • Are there weight restrictions, and what does it affect?
  • Does item size/shape matter? Do you have to play inventory-tetris?
  • Can you stack items?
  • Does item condition matter?
  • How easy is it to compare items/stats?
  • How is the inventory organized/sorted/compartmentalized?
  • Alan

Speaking of inventory systems, I guess Diablo III is now using a semi-Tetris system. Before, it was more WoW-like in that each item (no matter size or weight) used only one square. Now, there’s a mix of one and two square items.

Frankly, I think inventory Tetris is the least fun part of any game. Get rid of it.

These two are intimately related. An inventory system can model bulk, or it can track weight, but when they do both at the same time it’s just a pain in the ass.