Thursday, 1 October 2020

Discussion Point: Inventories

We are NOT talking about warehousing

If you’ve been reading comments for Freddy Pharkas, you might have noticed discussion about inventories. And inventories are worthy of serious discussion, since they seem so essential part of adventure gaming experience. Could a game without even inventory even be a true adventure game?

What we are looking for is the best and the most optimal inventory system. Do you prefer a complex inventory, where you can use some items as containers for other items and even have containers within containers? Or do you prefer simple inventories, with no bags to carry further bags?
Things I picked up today
And what about inventory items? A game with only two inventory items might seem too simple, but an inventory with dozens of items is difficult to use. Is there some optimal range for the number of inventory items in a game?

Speaking of numbers, inventory limits are often a topic of heated discussion, whether they are based on mere number of the items, or in more realistic systems, on weight or size of the items. Especially in the early days of adventure gaming such limits were a common sight and inventory management was often part of the challenge. Sometimes this challenge was handled in a creative fashion, requiring imaginative ways to transport items you otherwise couldn’t move to the desired place. Sometimes it just forced the players to spend time in carrying all their items from one end of the map to the other or to find safe places to stash all the stuff not currently in use. Should inventory limits and inventory management puzzles be a thing of the past or could they have a place in a modern adventure game?

And what about other restrictions on the inventory system? Do you want to be able to pick up everything that seems useful in a screen, even if majority of that stuff turns out to be just waste of space? Or do you want just puzzle relevant items to be pickable, to keep your inventory neat and clean? Or do you allow some red herrings to be included? And speaking of red herrings, could they sometimes be potentially lethal items or is that just playing a cruel trick to an unsuspecting player?
I am sure I can use that unstable ordnance somewhere
Let the discussion begin!


  1. I start playing adventures with Maniac Mansion and never played a text adventure game, so when i read one of Joe's post about an Infocom game (and considering that they are the best in that genre) i always was amazed by the patience that the player must have to juggle with all that inventory limits, moving all or the most important items to one safe room, then coming back cause the one you need wasn`t in your inventory when you need it....
    To me, the best system is that of LucasArts golden era, and i am thinking specially in Monkey Island 1 & 2. You can pick a lot of things, lets say about 20 or 30 items, with maybe two or three red errings, but it never feels too difficult to manage. Besides, when you advance to some area forward in the game some items that aren`t useful dissapear of your inventory. In any case, I prefer always a system with no limits even if it is plenty with items and red herrings, like Discworld 1, than having to fight with an inventory limit that seems, to me, just a way to make the game longer.

  2. I have always preferred the no-limit inventory system featured in both Sierra and LucasArts games, rather than the arbitrary inventory limits of Infocom text adventures.\

    Or rather, not so arbitrary - classic Infocom games secretly assigned each item a weight, and the player couldn't carry anything that exceeded a certain threshold. A detail that probably comes, like randomized combat, from Zork's roots in tabletop RPGs.

    If there have to be inventory limits, I far prefer the Quest for Glory-style approach of telling the player how much weight she's carrying currently, and how much the maximum threshold is.

    1. QFG also allows you to go over that limit, at the cost of increased fatigue, rather than just saying "you can't pick that up". (IIRC this is also true of D&D proper - slower movement, etc.)

      OTOH, limits on size, weight, and number of objects carried do make some sense if one of your concerns is at least vaguely accurate world modeling; I think Zork's roots in Adventure are more responsible for that feature than RPGs are.

      On the gripping hand, I sure don't find "AUGH how do I shuffle things around to pick up JUST THIS ONE MORE OBJECT I'm just trying to get something ACCOMPLISHED HERE" situations very fun. Optimizing inventory can be kind of interesting when I'm trying to write down a personal "best" route through a game.

  3. No limits, although I feel it can be implemented properly on a game-to-game basis.
    I also appreciate the self-referential humor, such as when Larry buys a soft drink at the beginning of LSL2.
    While some people complain that being able to pick up everything in your path, I feel it both tempers the difficulty and also allows for a sense of accomplishment. When I can only pick up a few items, often a puzzle solution becomes too obvious. But if I have to think about it, it makes the game just a tiny bit harder, which makes it more worth my time. It also allows for multiple solutions and point differentials for doing so. Again, using LSL2 as a reference, you could either bring fruit with you on the life boat, or go fishing with the sewing kit. You could use sand or ashes to climb the mountain later in the game.
    Limits are only frustrating. Even in a game I like, for example, Legend of Kyrandia, the amount of extra walking if you pick up the wrong gems...

  4. I agree with the posts above. In addition, I'm not a big fan of limited inventories because I feel like they add another layer between the player and the underlying puzzles without adding any new gameplay or fun. Often (and not just in adventure games) it simply leads to a lot of running backwards and forwards with the items that you need.

    For me, the real fun in adventure games comes with the inventory puzzles, combining those items together and using them with the game world. I think that having an unlimited and relatively full inventory helps with this because firstly, you avoid a lot of backtracking, and secondly it increases the difficulty slightly. With a full inventory it's harder to make the leap of how to combine a larger number of objects, and also discourages brute forcing the puzzles.

    I suppose a downside to a game which requires a lot of items to be picked up is that if they are not clear to the player, then it can require a lot of pixel hunting and drives players to a walkthrough. It's a complex balance to get right!

  5. I don't mind inventory limits as long as they're high enough to matter only occasionally (as opposed to: all the time). I find the limit in the Spellcasting series too low, as you're bothered with it very often. The limit in Kyrandia 2 and 3 exists but you only rarely run up against it. I don't think I've ever encountered the limit in QFG (except with all those apples in the first game).

    On the other hand, I do like the kind of puzzle where Object X cannot cross Room Y (for a clear in-universe reason). I think Zork has some where a big painting cannot cross a tiny crack so you have to find another way.

    And could a game without even inventory even be a true adventure game? I'd say LOOM qualifies, but otherwise I can't think of any examples.

    1. In a way, some games’ inventories don’t matter. For example, while you have an inventory in the Police Quest games, there aren’t any real inventory puzzles in most of them. It’s just a matter of making sure you have the gun, and the ammo, and the keys to your car, but that could just as easily be flags in the game memory instead of inventory items.

    2. In Zork I the painting is too large to fit up the chimney that leads from the Studio to the Kitchen. On the official map it's drawn with a special line labeled "Narrow passageway (baggage limit)". There are two others: between the Drafty Room and the Timber Room in the coal mine area, which stops you from carrying the diamond out directly, and going down from the Altar in the temple area to the Cave near Hades, which is too small to fit the gold Egyptian coffin through. The Lurking Horror also has such a passageway.

    3. >And could a game without even inventory even be a true adventure game?
      >I'd say LOOM qualifies, but otherwise I can't think of any examples.

      Myst doesn't really have an inventory either aside from allowing you to carry singular book pages in your cursor, does that count? In Riven, I don't recall being able carry usable objects that way anymore (correct me if I'm wrong) but you do gain books and journals to carry and read. I haven't played the remaining Myst games yet but one of them (or a Myst clone) might qualify better.

    4. Myst doesn't really have an inventory either aside from allowing you to carry singular book pages in your cursor, does that count?

      Thus opening up the can of worms that is Myst -- from the day it was released, many have questioned it being categorized as an adventure, except for those who didn't like adventure games, who were more than happy to lump it in the category.

      Going SLIGHTLY down that rabbit hole, I don't think inventory is the questionable part of that game. To many people, the definition of an adventure game involves an ego or self you can interact with.

      While I hated that game, I don't hate ALL games of that style. I very much liked Faust (aka 7 Games of the Soul), but maybe the reason for that was the inventory and the inventory puzzles in that game. You may have a point.

  6. I remember playing the first Dizzy game recently. You could only carry a single item there and in later Dizzy games you could carry up to three items. So moving items across the game world and storing them in a convenient location was a part of the game experience. Somehow this tick my personal need (you may call it neurosis) for keeping things tidy at home.

    When it comes to real adventure games I fully agree with Leo Vellès about MI 1 and MI 2. I really have fond memories of navigating my inventory in MI 2 and looking at those cool tiny pictures.

  7. I think inventory systems are one of the defining hallmarks of the adventure game genre, to the point where its inclusion can make an otherwise non-adventure game feel like one (like, say, the Dr. Brain series, where the inventory is 99% useless), but its limitations can make a game feel less like one (like the first Gobliiins, which, despite having lots of inventory puzzles, gets compared more to Lemmings than it does to actual adventure games partially due to its one-item-at-a-time approach).

    Inventory management is also a pretty good dividing line between RPG's and straight-up adventure games (Infocom being the obvious exception). Introducing inventory weight and space issues, as well as a large amount of useless items (i.e. items that don't even count toward your score) are far more common in the former, I would say, to the point where their inclusion might cross the line between the two, at least in terms of feel.

    1. Come now, nobody who's played either game seriously compares Gobliiins with Lemmings.

      Although Gobliiins (arguably) isn't an adventure game because it doesn't allow you to travel between rooms; you simply advance to the next room after solving the current. I say "arguably" because Wikipedia still calls it an adventure game, although Mobygames does not.

    2. (assuming you meant played both games, as one would need to to compare them...)

      Sure they do, here and elsewhere: But for differing values of the word "compare". Obviously they are not merely the same game in different dress. But it seems to be one of those rather dividing things - half say "there's some similarities; the one reminded me of the other" and the other half say "what on earth are you talking about".

    3. Honestly, I wouldn't hold Mobygames as a golden standard, whoever first added the game usually sets the genre, and those are usually set in stone unless they're blatantly wrong. At least, I've never seen the genres on a game change. Themes, yes, genres no.

  8. I do always have a good laugh any time an adventure game protagonist picks up something gigantic ala LSL2, but I do feel that it can be a bit of an immersion breaker in some more serious games. Gabriel Knight does a good job of only providing smaller items which feel like they could feasibly be on hand in an off-screen satchel etc - with the exception of the costume you make up to vasvygengr gur phyg (spoilers, people who haven't played that great game) everything is small - notebooks, photos and the like.

    I actually don't mind the thought of a limit based on encumberance if it's implemented well. A game where you need to just grab absolutely everything in sight doesn't help much, but if your character needs to drop everything to pick up a couch or lift a sack of cannonballs? I think I'm okay by that. Just disable inventory while picking those up saying your character 'dropped all of that' and then 'pick it up' when finished shifting the couch, loading the cannon etc. That said, I don't think there's too much of a push to fundamentally change the wheel. Just not a 'one item' limit like Dizzy as above - even Mario Kart now lets you have two items..

    1. Excellent remark on GK 1. I had the same feeling that the game is "realistic" in terms of making an impression that you carry a reasonable collection of items. I also would like to bring KGB, one of my absolutely favorite games. KGB equally does a great job by providing a reasonable selection of items in your inventory, but also has a lot of cool inventory-based puzzles. I particularly like how sometimes you are brutally punished for taking things that you shouldn't take away while you carry an undercover investigation (Chapter 1). The game is really harsh but realistic.

  9. I don't mind the limits in games like Gobliiins 1, since everything of value was always on-screen. I don't even mind it with games like Dizzy, well, what I've played of one Dizzy game, they're usually made with those limits well in mind. I don't even mind a limit in general, Resident Evil, for instance, handled the inventory limit well in my opinion. Not too many plot items, and there are convenient places to leave your health and ammo items.
    What I think is a bad idea is when games start you off with a lot of items you need to use, but that need is much, much later. Not a ton of random stuff, not items with more than one use. Like you get the keys to open the final room right away, but you don't know that they're the keys to open the final room and you try them on everything. (they're not necessarily real keys)
    For other kinds of games I find it rarely matters about inventory limits so long as I don't have to put bags inside bags in order to carry everything I need.

  10. I just came home drunk, and I think, I'd I'd love the following:
    Mosaic depiction of muses all the way to the lavatories (in art nouveau style), all in white gowns, silentltly judging me (with very specific text in latin, set in gold, stating how I should get over my alcohol-overdose). Taking me for an idiotic, american "frat-boy".
    Judgdig me, but also giving me advice.
    In short, "inventory" should be something similar. It should be kept short by the gods - and whenever you feel like it should be sorted out, it should already be cut down to bare necessities, by outside forces.
    In short: you shoukdn't be allowed to do any kind of busywork.
    Can I get from A to B, with no random chance in between? Then inventory, and general progress should be either
    - automatically saved
    - be allowed to to be saved
    both, without the possibility of running into a "dead man walking" situation. There's no good reason to have those. Can one get to the same state without any change by chance or skill? Then why do we damn them to play through the same batch of the game all over again?
    And inventory used to play a significan part: Sure you can start over - we just nullify yout inventory!
    What a dick move!
    Honestly, most utilities (including inventory), became so much better in the past decade, it's almost absurd.
    And as much as non-linearity may lead to fun inventory mess-ups, they're usually just asking design-bugs.
    Sure, it may be part of the game to fight the parser, the interface, the plot, etc, but devs should be sure to reward persistent players with something really special. And tey never do.

    Inventory should be as tight as posssible.
    There's no need for possible errors. It's way to hard to tell if they're a feature, a bug, or an oversight.
    I'm sorry,
    I'm actually drunk.

  11. Also a bit drunk. I would say it depends on the genre ... in adventure games, allow everything to be carried around .. and do not ivest too much into graphic design, just make it the most easy to use. I'm thinking tables and possibly even search function.

    For shooting/fighting type of games, I'm inclined to limiting the inventory profoundly - just allow a handful of items, player should decide on the go what to lug around (just like in real life) and then not think back too much. I really hate when part of the mechanic is that you can pick up and sell stuff, turns into a chore with no real meaning for gameplay and story.