Inventory Limits

What are thoughts on inventory limits?

Like Zork, my games tend to include many items which don’t have a direct use in the game, or at least are not needed for solving puzzles. (Such as the leaflet in Zork, which introduces the game, but has no purpose to take). So the inventory can get easily bogged down with many items.

On the other hand, I can see how it would be frustrating having a limited amount of items, especially if you don’t know what you’re going to need ahead of time.

On the third hand, it’s usually not reasonable for a player to be carrying a ton of items around.

What are inventory limit thoughts?
What are thoughts on useless takeable items in general? :question:

Michael Roberts wrote something rather pithy on this subject:

That said, I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with an inventory limit. It’s only a pain for traditional text adventure style games that involve grabbing everything not nailed down (also, weirdly, the kind of game the most likely to do this kind of thing). A good use of an inventory limit might be in a game where items have very significant uses, and the items the player is carrying are meant to define the PC’s role and abilities.

I don’t like inventory limits as a rule. One goal in designing a game is to maximize the ratio of cool stuff to boring stuff that the player has to do. Trekking back across the map because you realize you need that object that you had to drop back in the first room is definitely boring stuff. There’s a reason Annoyotron (parchment link) was designed the way it was.

– More seriously, the problem here is that the player has to type a long sequence of commands to do one thing, and there isn’t any novelty in how they’re doing it. I think of it as something like an act-to-command ratio; once the player figures out what to do, how many commands do they have to type to accomplish a single thing? If they have to, say, drop the fish to get the kitty to move off the comfy chair, that’s one command if they’re holding the fish, but twelve commands if they had to drop the fish, and that’s twelve commands that the player is not enjoying. Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid this sort of thing, like when you have a big map (though, you can include a “go to room” command) or a puzzle with lots of moving parts, but an inventory limit seems like it’s just throwing obstacles in the way of the player.

About the command-to-act ratio, I think this rant of Jenni Polodna’s about Jim Aikin’s A Flustered Duck is worth reading – spoiler-tagged for massive spoilers and also for swears:

You know what this game could use? Automated stufferating. Like, you know how every time you want to go south across the gorge, you have to tie your pig to the Volkswagen, dismount, lean right (or left) four times, then lean forward and dismount? Maybe you could friggin’ not have to friggin’ do that every friggin’ time. It’s just, y’know – okay, have you ever lived in a cold climate, and winter is just a pain in the ass because there’s all this shit you have to do before you can even go anywhere? All having to put on your coat and your gloves and your hat and long johns and three pairs of socks and turn your car on and brush the snow off of it and scrape the fucking ice off the fucking windshield and then when spring happens and you don’t have to do that anymore it is such a relief. I am looking forward to not playing this game anymore the same way I used to look forward to spring. That strikes me as less than ideal.

I liked that game, by the way – awesome hint system – but I definitely agreed with her about that.

Anyway, you can design interesting puzzles around inventory management, I guess, but realism isn’t a great reason to have an inventory limit. I will happily suspend disbelief about how much I can carry if it means I don’t have to spend time worrying about managing my inventory.

As for useless takeable items, they’re OK, I guess. Depends on how much atmospheric purpose they have, or how much of a distraction they provide from the main solution (and distractions can be a good thing, if the puzzle is still fair). Though no object is really useless in Zork, is it? You can drop them on the floor to help you map the maze.


(Before posting, I agree with everything Pacian said. Like, you could use the limit to make a player choose between fighting and magic – you can’t carry both the sword and the wand.)

I like the thoughts here between sword and wand.

And I suppose you’re correct on the realism aspect.

I was thinking more specifically about inventory management as a puzzle in itself.

Example: Your character is weak and cannot carry much, though he can eventually find a way to increase his own strength. (Which is necessary to solve puzzles that involve moving heavy things). Alternately he may come across a spell that summons a small hole where he can store things he doesn’t need. (Like a the zipper in spellbreaker). You will probably get to a puzzle that requires more items present than you can carry, so you would need to either tediously cart them there a piece at a time, (manually or via teleporting), or have increased your strength to have a greater load capacity (or have the hole spell) to get them all there at once.

I can definately see the frustration with having to run to the other side of the map to grab an item. (Though I have included a “find [item]” command and a teleport spell, so running around wouldn’t be QUITE AS tedious).

That doesn’t sound too terrible to me. There are a lot of things that have been done a certain way in certain games, and IF critics tend to just blanket say, “Those things are bad!”

But everything has a context, and I think IF is capable of a really wide variety of experiences. Something that might be a tedious chore in one game might be very compelling in another.

I agree with Pacian on this too – those sound like good reasons to have inventory limits. Completely different genre, but in my current game of SLASH’EM I’m very aware that I have to choose what I’m going to haul around with me and where I’m going to leave my stashes, so I’m not wandering around burdened all the time. (Though, well, I’m currently trying to move all my stashes down in the dungeon and it is a bit boring.)

The find + teleport thing seems like a nice feature independent of the inventory limit. As usual, it’s nice to make sure there’s some kind of cue there, so we know that the reason you can’t carry too many items is that you’re weak and need to be stronger, as opposed to because the author is being sadistic :wink:.

Yeah, the character is not human, and it starts out ugly, stupid, small, and without any gender, and as the game goes on you increase your intelligence (so you can read and perform more complex tasks), get stronger, so you can carry more and deal with large objects, become attractive and gain a gender, so you can communicate better with NPCs, and learn to cast spells to overcome puzzles.

I was thinking of giving each object a weight and limiting you by weight rather than by # of objects. (So you could carry tons of scrolls around, but maybe not so many heavy objects). When you gain in size/strength (or shrink your items) you can carry more, and you can hide them in a pocket dimension which you can access from anywhere once you get that spell.

There’s a big difference between an inventory limit for purposes of realism and an inventory limit for in-game reasons that both illuminate your character and lead to decent puzzles.

Yeah, your ideas sound intriguing to me. Again, implementing weight limits just for the sake of weight limits would just be annoying for you and the player; but implementing it so that a player can carry lots of some objects and none of another could give you a good way of controlling the flow of the game. Like, there’s a puzzle that involves digging, and a lot of puzzles that involve combining scrolls in various ways, and the player can carry lots of scrolls but needs to level up before carrying the shovel – so the scroll puzzles get solved first.

Yeah that’s kind of the idea. One of the major goals is to repair a broken time machine, and you need to be able to carry around a large pod to fix it. So you can’t do that until you become strong.

Meanwhile, you have several spell scrolls, each coded in a different way (ex: one has the spell as a watermark so you have to get it wet to see it), and you can go around adding spells to your spellbook while you solve the puzzles of making yourself stronger and such.

Relistically, the limits won’t come up very much, as most of the early items are fairly low in weight anyway (keys, wallets, money, scrolls, etc), but the later items require more strength (pods, giant jars of fluid, etc).

You might want to divide the world into light objects, which have no weight at all, and heavy objects, which are specifically called out in the failure message. (“You’re not strong enough to pick up the X while you’re carrying the Y…”)

If you lead the player down the path of emptying his wallet so he can pick up the water cooler tank, it’s fiddly, not very realistic, and possibly breaks your puzzle logic.

As it is now, objects have a numbered “size”, which affects what kind of container they can be put in (so you don’t fill the wallet with books), and whether or not you can lift them. Keys, money, etc has a size of 0.

Objects weighing 5 or more cannot be lifted unless you are strong. You can only carry one such object.

A shrinking/growing spell allows you to affect the size of objects.

This is effectively the same thing you said, it just has the size to allow certain containers to hold certain objects.

I’m probably unusual in that I have occasionally wished for an inventory limit in a few games, even as a player; however, I certainly don’t like to go through many boring repetitive steps when playing IF than anyone else. Part of the reason of my acceptance of inventory limits is that I have experience playing extremely realistic, roleplay-absolutely-enforced MUDs. In the roleplay intensive MUD I played the most, you could only hold two items (or groups of like items) at a time – one in each hand! The very thought of such a limit is enough to infuriate IF players, but RPI MUDers generally see the strict limits of such a detail-oriented implementation as an aide to roleplay and immersion. It would be out of character for anyone to walk around town all day with an armload of junk, after all.

I tend to play IF with a roleplaying mentality, thinking about what would be in-character for the PC to do. Although roleplaying isn’t necessarily a goal of modern IF, immersion and storytelling are. I think “mimesis” is really the IF version of “in character.” In order to immerse oneself in any story, one needs to invest some time and energy. An IF game should make it as easy as possible for the player to become immersed, but ultimately it is the player’s decision whether or not to choose to suspend her disbelief and get into the story. An inventory limit makes it harder for the player to immerse herself in some ways, but easier in others.

It is unrealistic to carry a dozen objects around, even if they are small. After all, most people don’t carry more than a few trinkets in their pockets, right? Therefore, a player who wants to become immersed in the character to a great degree will have to willfully choose not to make the PC pick up more objects than would seem reasonable. Doing so is certainly not as hard as the frustration of having to decide what item to drop, and where; however, it is also risky. The author of the game may have chosen not to impose an inventory limit, expecting players to take everything “not nailed to the floor” in order to solve the puzzles. The player who chooses to limit the PC’s inventory in order for the sake of immersion is even putting herself at risk of making the game unwinnable.

Therefore, I believe that the best solution is simply not to require the PC to transport any more objects than he/she would reasonably be able to carry (or else, it’s not too hard to supply a sack object :exclamation: ), while imposing an inventory limit on the higher end of “realistic.”

I disagree with the “therefore.” It’s actually incredibly unrealistic for people to talk the way that dialogue is depicted in, well, anything – even so-called realistic works of fiction. But this doesn’t break immersion at all, not nearly to the extent that an accurate transcription of dialogue would. I think I’ve heard it said that if you write out a word-for-word transcript of any real-life conversation, it will read as though the participants are completely insane. (Have you ever seen the Saturday Night Live sketch in which Dean and Nixon hold up a sign that says “Let’s talk in incomplete sentences” and then recite the transcripts word-for-word, falling over themselves laughing?)

Anyway, the reason that the stylization of “realistic” dialogue doesn’t break immersion is partly because it’s a lot less work to interpret that way; whereas in real life, a lot of the interpretation is done by non-verbal cues and shared background knowledge and things like that, which just doesn’t come across in prose. Similarly, stylizations in interactive fiction can actually help immerse you in the character rather than break immersion. If you constantly have to drop something to pick up something else that you need to use, it’ll focus your intention on inventory management rather than on what you’re doing with the inventory. And it’s not mimetic to make people do this. In an actual situation, even if we can’t always hold as many objects as we like, we don’t make a big deal about picking up and putting down what we need, so a situation in which you can always have what you need mimics our experience better than one in which you always have to consciously think about how to get it. Maybe it would be more mimetic still to have any easily accessible object magic its way into your inventory whenever you wanted to use it. But I think adhering to an inventory limit breaks immersion in the character rather than the reverse.

Hang on a second…

>inventory I am carrying: a blue shirt (being worn) a pair of jeans (being worn) black shoes (being worn) a mobile phone a wallet (which contains four ten pound notes a fifty pence piece four ten pence pieces and two five pence pieces) a card holder (which contains two loyalty cards a photo ID a credit card and a debit card) a Rocha John Rocha bag (which contains a book a diary a packet of Hula Hoops an umbrella (closed) a box of painkillers a bottle of antibacterial hand gel a packet of tissues and a bus timetable)

But maybe I’m just weird. :stuck_out_tongue:

You just reminded me of something that a game did. Can’t remember which game. Not even sure it was IF. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was a graphical adventure, and I’m reasonably sure it was made in AGS. The more I think about it, the more I think it might be a commercial AGS game, which narrows it down even further.

Anyway. I digress terribly. The point is, this game - whichever it was - addressed this issue by adding the “idea” of the object to your inventory. The object itself remained in the game world. And you could use the “idea” of the inventory item as you’d use a normal item. Whenever you actually needed it - and I mean really needed it for something useful, as opposed to needing it to randomly trying using it everywhere - then the character went and got it. The game instantly cut to a scene showing the PC taking the object, and then back again at the current scene, in a sequence short enough not to get on one’s nerves.

If you’re concerned with realism, this is a thought. Nothing actually changes in gameplay - your inventory still gets quite, quite full. But if you tell yourself you’re juggling “ideas”, and that if you need the actual object you’ll just go and get it… maybe it’ll feel differently?

This seems like it shouldn’t be too hard to implement in IF, actually. Just put every item you’ve discovered in scope, add an inventory-like command for which item you’ve discovered, and when the player types “DIG GROUND WITH SHOVEL” toss in a sentence about how you go back to the shed and get the shovel.

Even easier, you wouldn’t have to change a thing - just make sure the player knows that “inventory” is also where you store the “ideas” of objects, and have a suitable message appear when the player “takes” an object, and move an object to his inventory while keeping the original in place. Because this, interestingly enough, does not change gameplay one bit - what it changes is how the game is perceived by the player. It is, in short, a placebo. Which is quite cool, actually.

I’m not so sure about that. In a graphical game, those imaginary objects are needed in order to be able to express “DIG GROUND WITH SHOVEL”, but it seems a bit odd to me to require taking the idea of a shovel before being allowed to type “DIG GROUND WITH SHOVEL”. What would the reply be? “You don’t remember a shovel”? Yes I do! I just typed it, you silly game! So at least the “put every item you’ve discovered in scope” part of it seems needed to me.

You could make “remember shovel”, “note shovel” and “get shovel” synonims (sp?). For smaller objects, you could be told “Taken.”, for larger objects you could be told, the first few times, “You make a note of its location. If you ever need it, you’ll know where to come for it.”, and “remembered” or “noted” the rest of the time. Remembered items could appear in the inventory in italics.

I’m wary about having all things in scope at all times because it seems to me inneficient and prone to unexpected behaviour galore, not to mention unnecessary…

The response for something you’d seen (for I7 users, Epistemology would come in useful) but hadn’t made a note of could be “You do remember seeing something like that, but you don’t really remember where”, allowing gameplay to remain the same. If we create the illusion that every single object in the game world can be used anywhere and everywhere without first ensuring that it fulfills some basic condition (i.e., that we carry it, or remember it, or some such), we could risk frustration when that illusion breaks down. That is usually taken care of by disallowing taking and other actions at the time when the object is taken - if the player doesn’t have to do that, we suddenly have to deal with trickier issues. For instance, if we do it the way I just thought off, it would be trivial to disallow the player making a note of an item wich can’t be removed before another puzzle is solved, and the gameplay mechanics remains recognizable to every IF player.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not actually supporting this system, I’m just trying it out in my head. Personally, I think it’s a gimmick, and think it’s best to suspend disbelief and allow the player to carry a ridiculous amount of items, because of suspension of disbelief. The one game which I’ve played which was realistic to the extreme was the graphical game Conspiracy, a.k.a. KGB. I hated that constraining experience, and would rather suspend disbelief than actually go through all the drudging steps of real life.