Carrying Stuff

I am working on a game in which the player will need to carry around a fair number of items. Overall weight and bulk are within the reasonable carrying capacity of an adult human; it’s just that the number of individual things is such that carrying them uncontained would require either the skills of a juggler or more than the usual complement of hands (particularly when some of those hands will also be needed for doing things).

I most emphatically do not want to make it a game about inventory management. (As a player, the only thing I dislike more than mapping is juggling inventory.) I could, of course, give the player a suitcase or duffle bag, and in Inform 7 I could designate it as the player’s holdall so that putting stuff in and taking stuff out of it happens automatically as needed. However, this has always struck me as a little contrived. My inclination is that if I’m going to go that far, why not just allow the player to carry the stuff barehanded; it’s unrealistic, but in a way that’s not really important to the game, and the player’s holdall idea is also unrealistic in its own way.

How offended are people at the idea of departing from “realism” by allowing the player to carry perhaps a dozen items without a carrying container of some sort?


Robert Rothman

I am not offended in the least tiny little bit. I wouldn’t notice it, any more than I notice it when the main character in a novel seems to go an entire day without using the bathroom… When a game forces me to goof around with item handling for no reason other than some misguided sense of realism, I do notice it, and it annoys me – even if it’s just supplying messages about putting stuff in my holdall.

Seconding matt w. If you don’t want inventory management to be a part of the game, just let the player carry everything barehanded and don’t give it a second thought.

Ditto; realism is not some inherent good.

A magic bag is just as unrealistic as a person’s carrying huge piles of stuff around in their bare hands, and either way it’s the kind of thing I’d only give any thought if the rest of the game’s presentation were extremely realistic or serious.

I’d prefer whichever option made it easier to see what I was carrying.

People won’t even notice, because this has been a common practice for many years.

Thanks to all. As a player, I agree that I would be more bothered by the inconvenience of dealing with inventory issues than I am by any lack of realism engendered by not having to worry about it. I just wanted to be sure that there was no consensus to the contrary.

Robert Rothman

The way I rationalize this is that the PC has lots of pockets, or maybe an unmentioned carryall. Even a holdall can sometimes prove to be an obstacle. For example, dropping something contained by the holdall produces the message “You haven’t got that.” So yeah, go ahead and let the PC carry unlimited stuff. I promise you, no one will complain!

I’d complain, just for the sake of pointing out that it is unrealistic. If I’m carrying around 20 different things, it just makes me not take the game very seriously. Will most people care? No. However, you won’t be able to escape the fact that this will scream “This is a game! This is a game!” every time somebody picks something up.

If you can build in just a very little bit of humour - a reference to Simon the Sorcerer will do the trick (“You sack the ladder and stuff it into your pockets - StS style.”).


If you’re making the game less fun just for the sake of making it more realistic, I don’t think that’s ever a good trade-off. I know some authors want their games to be regarded as serious business, but is an inventory limit really where you want to direct your focus? Is anyone going to go “oh, good, I’m glad I couldn’t pick up this thing that I need; that would have been unrealistic”? If the limit shows up during gameplay at all, it will only be when it’s stopping them from doing what they’re trying to do in the game and creating a pointless obstacle to enjoyment. It can only make the experience worse.

If (as an author) for some reason you really do care that it’s not realistic for the player to be carrying around a ridiculous number of objects, a better solution might be just to avoid letting them pick up things they won’t need in the first place.

All kinds of stuff are going to scream “This is a game!”. Because most IF are games. Just the fact that the protagonist is succeeding at a difficult task, like saving the world or driving a giant robot or traveling in time is pretty much a giant fictional signpost. My life consists of a near-endless cycle of working, sleeping, eating, and internet time, punctuated by book reading or program writing. There’s a reason that extreme realism doesn’t particularly appeal to me. (I like my life fine, but feel no particular urge to replicate it in my free time.)

Agreed. If I were to write a game (if I dare use the term) in which one gets to play a fat middle-aged tax lawyer, it would undoubtedly be very realistic. It would also be very boring (whether or not I give the player a briefcase in which to carry about a gazillion pieces of meaningless paper).

(Just thinking aloud, as I begin yet another day of shuffling paper as a fat middle-aged tax lawyer).

Robert Rothman

Entering commands via the keyboard screams “this is a game! This is a game!” in a much more intrusive way. Would you also complain about that, just for the sake of it being unrealistic?

I once wrote a game in which I sort of made fun of the fact that in IF you can often carry anything the author lets you. For example, there was a six-foot ladder in the game, but the game took place at a house party. If you carried the six foot ladder around the house, the guests grew increasingly suspicious of you, but you could carry it outside around the house without issue.

Despite all the good reasons for not imposing an inventory limit, I’m still not fully persuaded. I used to play roleplaying-intensive MUDs where you would be ignored by the other players or even banned by the administrators if you made your player-character “take advantage” of the code by doing unrealistic things that the code nevertheless allowed for. All players were supposed to be in-character at all times, and using the code to do unrealistic things was considered detrimental to the immersion of the players’ shared experience. Just saying this so you know where I’ve come from. :wink:

Sometimes, when I play IF, I close all the doors behind the PC and try only to carry things that I believe the PC has a good reason to be carrying around. Sometimes when I play like that I become frustrated because the author did not expect the players to restrict the PC’s actions based on any theory of being “in-character.” When a game with a strongly characterized PC and a strong storyline is not designed to allow for a player not to carry around a lot of objects at one time, I do think that breaks mimesis in a sense. It’s probably not very important in games that make no attempt at a very serious or immersive plot, especially if the PC/protagonist/ is left uncharacterized.

However, saying this makes me a hypocrite because I usually don’t bother anymore. I could perhaps accept an argument that the decision not to carry an “unrealistic” number of objects (or do other “unrealistic” things) should be something that the player should be able to choose for himself, and should not be imposed by the author. However, I think most IF simply isn’t designed to be played the way I described, which I think is unfortunate in the case of story-driven IF.

The thing is, if you’re dealing with a bunch of things in real life, you will naturally pick them up and put them down as you need them. You will not spend a lot of time thinking, “I have to put down the wrench in order to pick up the screwdriver, now I have the screwdriver and I need to pick up the screws, oops! hands full, now I need to put down something else.” You’ll just do it. (Unless you’re, say, climbing a ladder and you have to be very conscious about how you can get everything you need to the top of the ladder.) So an IF that makes you spend a lot of time consciously juggling with picking stuff and putting stuff down is a lot more mimesis-breaking than one that lets you keep everything to hand.

I think you’ll find that IF actually tends to move away from inventory limits as it becomes more story-driven. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence (although maybe it’s partly a coincidence, as both can be part of a move away from D&D). Spending every other turn dropping this and getting that because you’re trying to optimize the objects you need in order to cross the chasm before your lamp burns out is fine if you’re focused on a puzzle. It’s likely to break the flow of any story you have going. People don’t spend a lot of time juggling objects in read-only fiction either.

For an example of what I’m talking about, play Common Ground, which consciously manipulates this:

Playing as the mother, you have to try a couple of times to close the car door, because that’s an awkward thing that is actually hard to do when you’re carrying a lot of groceries. It would break the feel of the story to have the mother pick up a lot of stuff here, because this moment is about how heavily burdened she is. But once you unlock the side door, you don’t have to type a command to go through it, because it’s the sort of thing the PC would do automatically.

Having to fumble around like this is only mimetic because the character herself is fumbling. If your story isn’t about an overburdened person trying to balance too much stuff, making the player juggle inventory breaks immersion. (And I sometimes close doors behind me too.)

I suppose you could have the PC automatically put things down before picking something else up, and then have anything the PC has handled be permanently in scope, with a message indicating that s/he goes to fetch a thing before using it. You’d probably get ridiculous auto-generated messages like “You run back to the garage where you left the whatsit, put the whosit, the whensit and the whysit on the workbench, pick up the whatsit, and return to the living room”, though. “You try to return to the garage where you left the whatsit, but you can’t get further than the giant stream of lava running through your kitchen.” “You run back to the garage where you left the whatsit, but the side door is locked. You run back to the hallway where you left the side door key, put the whosit on the hall table, pick up the side door key, and return to the kitchen. You unlock the side door, open it, run back to the garage where you left the whatsit, pick up the whatsit, and return to the living room.”

"You run back to the garage where you left the whatsit. You fall into the giant stream of lava running through your kitchen.

*** You have died ***"

Depends on the genre and level of game-ness you’re going for. Like, if I look up at the status line and see “Score: 0”, then I won’t mind a bit being able to carry 10 featureless white cubes, 6 keys, and a cured ham. However, the inverse bugs me a lot, which is when designers assume “realistic” means that you can carry 6 cured hams, but as soon as you try to pick up that feather off the mantlepiece, you get “You’re carrying far too much already :laughing: deal widdit”.

There’s two ways to impose limits in somewhat realistic ways. You could have your PC lack the kleptomania so commonly found in adventure game protagonists (“You see absolutely no reason to pick up Jed’s truck keys.”). You could also have a simulationist approach and assign each object a weight value, meaning that the player can hold, say, 10 keys at once before having to drop something, but only 1 cured ham and 1 key. I tend to find things like this a little intrusive sometimes, although I’m sure it can be worked in well.