RPS Suggests: Inventory improvements

Inventory of sensible things

Hello! As a counterpoint to RPS Asks where we offer up a question for your consideration, I think we need an RPS Suggests where we put forward our own ideas. Today I spent lunchtime thinking about inventories and how games rarely seem to be able to approximate the reality of a backpack. Here is my suggestion:

Ignoring how difficult it would be to program or to organise, I’d be so excited to see an inventory in a game where the objects behaved more like they were in a real backpack and could be compressed, crushed, squashed, mulched, ruined, tessellated and so on once the healthy limit of the pack had been exceeded.

Imagine, if you will, your Skyrim inventory. It contains your archmage robes, an apple, the Oghma Infinum, a potion that damages your health and bestows invisibility, vampire dust, nirnroot, a cheese wheel, a lockpick and a glass dagger.

As you pile more and more nonsense into your bag your archmage robes acquire the “crushed” quality and when you wear them people say things like “Would you like to borrow my iron?” or “Are you doing the archmage walk of shame because it looks like you slept in that?”. The apple goes from “crunchy” to “bruised” to “pulped on one side”. The Oghma Infinum’s pages get bent and torn and the book also gradually develops the “covered in bits of apple” quality.

Ramming further knick knacks into your pack will result in the tinkling of glass and your backpack suddenly turning invisible. The bag containing the vampire dust splits and your apple is now “bruised”, “pulped on one side” and “covered in dust” while the dust is now a dusty apple paste. (If you think that’s bad just be thankful Skyrim doesn’t have bananas.)

The nirnroot is emitting a low hum which starts to make your spine crawl so you fish it out of the bag and throw it into a hedge. You then need to retrieve the nirnroot because your one remaining lockpick was tangled up in its leaves.

The cheese wheel has bestowed the “smells really strongly of cheese” quality on EVERYTHING and if you forget to reposition the dagger it pokes you in the back with every step. It also snags your archmage robes and risks cutting a hole in the bottom of your rucksack meaning you have to retrace your steps to find your belongings.

I would be far more entertained by all of that happening when I overpack than just becoming overencumbered and having to throw away part of my fork collection.


  1. Andy_Panthro says:

    Basically a combination of Dwarf Fortress and the inventory system of Ultima VII?

    It might be quite amusing if you end up with dozens of potions of varying colours and can’t quite remember what any of them do. Number one mod would end up being a label-maker.

    • ansionnach says:

      Was thinking about Ultima VII and VIII, too. Maybe the open source engines that can play those games can be modified to simulate squashed sandwiches (the scourge of cycle tourists everywhere).

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      Your comment reminded me of that moment in Nakar’s Ultima VII LP when he manages to pick up the hold of a sailing ship, massively enhancing his storage space.

      Not the ship. Just the ship’s hold.

      I find that it’s better if you don’t overthink it.

      • MajorLag says:

        Yeah, that’s exactly the scene I thought of too. That LP was pretty great. I’ve never played Ultima-anything, but I’m pretty sure that LP made it seem way more fun than it actually is.

        • ansionnach says:

          I don’t know – it is a lot of fun. Think open world but lovingly hand-crafted to be full of interesting, fun and bizarre things.

      • ansionnach says:

        Was that in the DOS version or the open source port? Must give it a go!

      • FroshKiller says:

        You said he “managed” to do it, but the lack of detail in that section of the LP suggests he just used the hackmover cheat. That isn’t really “managing.” Is there some process that doesn’t involve an easy cheat?

  2. GameCat says:

    Sounds like inventory from perfect Discworld RPG.

    • Massenstein says:

      DiscworldMUD has some interesting inventory mechanics, though nothing nearing the complexity suggested in this article. But at least some items can be ruined by water, and any liquid-containers in your inventory or packs need to be closed if you want to go swimming, otherwise they will be filled with whatever liquid you swim in. (normal water is not so bad but gods forbid if you swim in Ankh river and get even a drop of that in your rum…)

      • Amstrad says:

        Wait.. you could swim in the Ankh?

        • MajorLag says:

          If you brought a shovel, yes. Technically.

          *Note: never played the game

        • Massenstein says:

          Well not in the middle of the city, of course. There you have to walk. But in the outer parts where the water is more liquid you can swim, and can also scoop it into liquid containers and drink it if you are feeling particularly masochistic. The Mended Drum also has Ankh-water on the menu for some reason.

  3. Malagate says:

    I always quite liked the Diablo style where you have the grid but you can rotate each item and they’re all different shapes and sizes, it’s like crap Tetris whenever you find an odd shaped item.

    A bit like that, combined with each item being fully modeled at all times and you inventory extends to more than just a backpack (think pockets, belt rings, pouches, satchels…).

    I mean, it’s dumb to just pile everything in to a backpack when it’s obvious that the robes are folded in the bottom of your backpack with the book on top to keep it flat, the vampire dust goes in a belt pouch for easy access (I assume to fling in attackers eyes?), the glass dagger is slid into your boot, the apple is in an apple-pocket sown in to your cloak, the potion is in your potion bandolier, the nirnroot in the side pocket of your backpack, lockpicks go in the little lockpick wallet in your back pocket and the cheese-wheel is clearly rolled along the road as you walk along side it (cos cheese wheels are usually chuffing HEAVY).

    The fun part will be remembering where all this stuff is, good luck finding those lockpicks after you change your pantaloons because you got sodden chasing a cheese wheel down a mountain and in to a lake.

    • Darloth says:

      Captive 2 had an inventory a little like that, way back in the Amiga days.

    • willow731 says:

      The text-only Dragonrealms is a little bit like that. At any given time one might be wearing a backpack, a pocketed cloak, several bags, sacks, and pouches. My character had a pair of leggings that were “pocketed,” and held a fairly surprising array of things, which made me glad, and sad, that it was text-only, because I imagine the elf in the lumpy leggings would have been quite a sight.
      Occasionally–thanks to some update they did at some point–one would have to take some things out of the backpack and then put them back in, in a different order, to get things to fit — basically playing Tetris while blind. I never was a fan of that mechanic.

  4. GenialityOfEvil says:

    Inventory systems have always been weird. You can store half a dragon skeleton in your pockets, but you’d better think twice about where you’re going to put that spoon…. well, I just had another creative idea for an inventory system.

    • Pogs says:

      The existence of spoons is pretty debatable so I wouldn’t worry.

  5. caff says:

    Is there any game where the inventory space restriction actually makes the game enjoyable, holistically?

    • zabieru says:

      Some narrower versions of it, yes. I think there are definitely games where “you have to pick two guns for each mission” adds interest, forcing you to make some tactical choices based on what you’ve got.

      That’s not a “let’s make them play dumb inventory-tetris with all their loot” restriction, but it is an inventory space limit, right?

    • second_hand_virgin says:

      Try Neo Scavenger. Apart from decent post-apo writing and incredibly absurd but very enjoyable combat mechanics, it’s basicaly a game about managing your inventory, sorting all the crap you found and making something useful from it. But in order to have “inventory”, first you must find something to carry things around – from empty cans and plastic bags to crafted rucksacks and backpaks and clothes with pockets – most things in this game has it’s own inventory slots, and can be combined together to make even bigger inventory. One of the best looking-at-100-slots-with-crap-and-having-fun games ever.

      • April March says:

        Neo Scavenger’s inventory system is truly beautiful. And it works because it puts scarcity front and center by just implying that in the post-apocalypse everyone is a hobo. And of course, it doesn’t get in front of the rest of the game because it knows it’s a very big and important part of the game so almost every other system revolves around it in some form.

        • Aetylus says:

          Yeah, I though I was happy when I found a plastic bag that was in quite good condition. But when I found that shopping trolley to push my stuff around, man was that cool. Now I could afford the luxury of keeping hold of my collection of left shoes, in the hope I might one day find a right shoe.

    • oyog says:

      I might be a little late to the party, but I very much enjoyed STACKER, from the TIGsource Remake/Demake competition.

      It’s the inventory in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. crossed with Tetris. It’s fun and bizarre and I had a great time with it, though I don’t think I could ever get past being attacked by dogs.

      By the guy who made the absolutely beautiful Venus Patrol, which I also recommend.

  6. zabieru says:

    Jagged Alliance 2’s 1.13 mega-mod did something intense and fetishistic but relevant. I wouldn’t necessarily want to see the whole thing replicated anywhere else, but it was interesting:
    -Rather than a pool of “inventory space” you had a set of slots, one item or stack per slot, in a hierarchy of sizes (so a water bottle, two hand grenades, or four pistol mags could go in a medium pocket).
    -You picked out a vest, two leg rigs, and a backpack, each with an array of different pockets and slots.
    -There were also specialized pocket types, most commonly for ammo, so you might choose between a leg rig with a couple of general-purpose pockets, or one with two pockets for four AR mags each (which count as small pockets for anything else but let you carry a lot more AR ammo) or one with a spot for a first aid kit and six little syringe loops (less capacity, but since you can’t stick six different medicines in one pocket, more versatility).
    -Perhaps the bit most useful to export: stuff on your vest or legs was quick to access. Stuff in a small backpack took a little longer to fish out. And if you carried one of those giant frame-packs, the sort you can stuff a mortar into and still have room for bombs? Well, good news/bad news: you’ve got a mortar! You can ditch the backpack when the shooting starts, too! But a) you can’t do some stuff (climb up on roofs, vault through windows) at all while wearing your luggage, and b) you can’t grab shit from it on the go, you’ll need to kneel and unzip the backpack to get at the goodies.

    • MajorLag says:

      I’m pretty sure I played a version of that mod that had no restriction on stuffing backpacks full of junk inside of other backpacks. I made Ira carry the Recursive Backpack of Holding around between missions. In mission she couldn’t move of course, seeing as she was caught in the event horizon of our collective inventory, but that didn’t significantly affect her utility.

  7. Pogs says:

    I suggest everyone looks up The Bag Wars as related in the comic Knights of the Dinner Table. A salutary tale of inventory abuse if ever there was one…

  8. Purchata says:

    NEO Scavenger inventory system is pretty cool. Good balance between full realism and casual “apache helicopter and 17 spoons in my pockets”. You can fill your pockets though (if you have pants).

  9. MajorLag says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if half of these ideas are already implemented in NetHack if you compile from git.

  10. willow731 says:

    At a certain point in the deterioration of the apple, it should become near impossible to hide, due to the swarm of fruit flies hovering around your backpack.

  11. Unclepauly says:

    I think the future of inventories involves 3d printers. In 25 yrs when everyone in the civilized world owns a 3d printer I think games will have you print out miniaturized versions of in game items. We could have a little scanner backpack thingy that detects the items like how Skylanders detects those characters. We could even wear an actual backpack that detects items that you put in it.

  12. BooleanBob says:

    You are carrying one (1) GEP gun (quality: slightly smeared in sticky residue) and seventeen (17) bars of CHUNKO-HONEY candy (quality: melted).

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    Otamono says:

    Physics based inventory, brilliant. Lets implement this.

  14. FreshHands says:

    I don’t even need a physics based system. Severely restricting the amount of junk you can carry around and creating a game around it would add 96.8% immersion to me.

    It would also help making every single item/weapon much more meaningful.

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    distantlurker says:

    For some reason this all reminds me of the Devourer in Alternate Reality: The Dungeon. A mechanic whereby if you you crossed a line of having ‘too much stuff’ (relating to a literal memory limit) a HARD monster, the Devourer, would turn up and start hoovering up your items.

    Would have been interesting to see it hoover up the “bruised”, “pulped on one side” and “covered in dust” apple and turn into a vampire. Presumably at that point it would start hoovering up BLOOD. o_O

  16. Rorschach617 says:

    If the inventory is going to be this complex, why not go full on?

    As time goes by, the small items in your backpack (like health potions, magic amulets, bullets for your sling) all settle into the bottom of the bag, while large useless items (like that half-a-cow you picked up and cannot drop because “Quest Item!”) come to the top and you have to dig past them to get to the stuff you need right now?

  17. haldolium says:

    This calls for a Backpack Simulator game in the spirit of Surgeon Simulator.

    Soft body dynamics are advanced enough by now.

  18. Catchcart says:

    Damn you, Pip, you made me bite down really hard on my finger to stop from laughing out loud at work. It’s gonna leave a mark, I can tell…

  19. Masked Dave says:

    The weirdest part of it for me is that most character models don’t even have a backpack.

  20. cloudnein says:

    The roguelike (no extra likes) Omega has a lovely inventory mechanic…your backpack contains a stack of your items, and the deeper down in the pack the item is, the longer it takes to retrieve it. Satisfyingly, you can spend much time reordering your pack’s contents.

  21. Urthman says:

    While amusing to consider, it seems like this exacerbates rather than solves the main problems with inventory in RPGs. Typically you have a world full of stuff most of which is not interesting. You have piles of junk that only exists to be turned into some kind of currency selling it or harvesting resources from it. You have piles of weapons and armor that aren’t as good as the ones you’re already using. And you have piles of consumables that you never use because you’re saving them for when you “really” need them. Making stuff hard to get at would just further push the player to using the same handful of items over and over again.

    Maybe there would be a way of doing this to solve those problems. Perhaps a backpack could serve to randomize the selection of items you have available in each encounter (although that seems like it would encourage ditching everything but the best gear). Or maybe this serves as an amusing(?) kind of item degradation as in Zelda Breath of the Wild, forcing you to constantly be switching to newer gear as the older stuff got ruined in your backpack.

  22. temujin33 says:

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but i have this weird backpacker’s instinct to totally minimize the weight that a character carries. Even if I can technically carry another 200 lbs with no penalty. I would like to be rewarded for traveling light. Extra movement speed, better dodge ability, and so on. Please.