A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Discussion – Inventory Maintenance

Hey everyone! As promised, the discussion on Inventory Maintenance in games!

Inventory maintenance in games is essentially the act of messing around in your inventory… from rearranging things so they fit better to just selling off the clutter, this is an integral part of a great many Role-Playing Games, Turn-Based Strategy Games and Action Role-Playing Games. Allow me to demonstrate…

X-COM UFO Defense (all these screens will be 300×200 resolution even though I took them at 1280×800… yay DOSBox?):

Okay X-COM has a rather robust inventory system. Your soldiers carry equipment (armor, weapons, etc), your aircraft carry equipment either for the soldiers to use or for air combat, and your bases hold all that equipment for the soldiers and aircraft to use. The above picture is indicative of the amount of stuff you can put on your soldiers. The armor is equipped on the soldier back at base as one unit, so you never really have to worry about that in the field. If you note, the objects that this soldier happens to have possess specific shapes. This comes into play when you’re juggling grenades (1 square), heavy plasma rifles (2 squares wide by 3 squares tall), magazines (1 square), heavy explosives (2 squares wide by 1 square tall), mind probes (2 squares wide by 2 squares tall), and pistols (1 square wide by 2 squares tall). Personally, I think less is more, hence the Laser Rifle (1 square wide by 3 squares tall) and the Medi-pak (1 square wide by 2 squares tall). At night they get an Electro-flare (1 square).

Next up is the Aircraft/Soldier Inventory. You’re allowed to have a maximum of 80 items on the Aircraft (although it never says the limit unless you hit it). Therefore, you need to consider balancing the desire to have Heavy Plasma weapons on all your soldiers (in a Skyranger, you can have 14 soldiers, so that works out to a Heavy Plasma per soldier plus at least one clip, I prefer two, and that works out to 42 items out of your 80 right there), and the wish to have other equipment. Late in the game one craft can be built called the Avenger. It can hold 26 soldiers and at that point I either start using mixed arms (a smattering of Heavy Plasma and Laser Rifles) or I just go ALL Laser Rifles (yeah, 1 item per person or 3 items per person… when you have an 80 item limit versus 26 people?). In this case, the Tank/Laser Cannon counts as one item that takes up four soldier spots on the transport (it’s a simple way of reducing the number of items per soldier that you need, but tanks can’t gain experience or use equipment at all… oh well, they’re good expendable scouts).

This next screen is here to show you a specific line… Stores. Essentially you need to keep an eye on your population (another inventory subset if you will) as well as your facility usage. You can build General Stores in your base that hold 50 items per. As you can see here, even with 5 General Stores, it’s easy to max out. Here’s where the next screenshot comes in:

This is the result of clicking the Stores button on the previous screen. Here you see that 20 Heavy Plasma’s equal 4 space in your General Stores and so forth (BTW, see that Elerium-115? NEVER SELL IT!… hence the 182 space it takes). Also… what happens if you try to buy more items than you have space? Well, you get this friendly message!

Yeah… and I’ve played this game from 1995 to now. I am well trained in the art of inventory management according to X-COM UFO Defense (it pained me to create this screenshot actually, but it happens if you already have maxed out stores like I showed above).

I’ve got two more examples of inventory management for you in the guise of Star Trek Online and Torchlight. First Star Trek Online (and it’s got a 1280×800 screenshot!):

STO gives you plenty of space as you play. Firstly, as you rank up (going from Lieutenant to Lieutenant Commander to Commander and so on) you gain more personal inventory space and personal bank space (you see the Inventory page on the right there? Yeah, that’s the side effect of being a Vice Admiral). Also, the bigger/better your ship is, the more stuff you can put on it (a Light Cruiser has two forward weapons and one aft whereas I’m rocking four and four). Further, each of your bridge officers can handle one weapon, one suit of armor, and four devices. You can personally handle TWO weapons (that you can switch between), a suit of armor, a special skills kit, and four devices. Every item in this game only takes up one box (unlike in X-COM where things have drastically differing shapes and sizes at the soldier level).

Here’s Torchlight (also at 1280×800):

Here you can also see the now lovely “one item per slot” design that’s become popular since Diablo II (I’ll talk about that in a bit). However, note that space is ALWAYS an issue. The developers of this game did a few neat things that I really liked. First, they added tabs to your personal inventory, so if you picked up spells, they’d go to a separate inventory page (which is awesome and makes finding them way easy). Further…

They gave you a pet. The pet has the same amount of inventory space as YOU do and they let you send it back to town to sell its pack full of crap that you don’t want. Then, the pet returns to gift you with the monetary amount you are owed. Genius.

Now, here’s why I mentioned Diablo II. Diablo II basically DEFINED the term Inventory Maintenance for me. First off, you had very limited personal inventory space and objects frequently took 2×3 parcels of space (Bows, Armor, Longswords, Large Shields, the list goes on). Further, before the expansion showed in 2001, the Stash was about as big as the inventory in Torchlight (only one tab though) and it was pitiful. When the expansion hit, they made your stash huge, but still, you had the same limitations. The Horadric Cube works in a pinch for giving you a 3×4 space that only takes up 2×2 in your inventory, but still… it’s a pain. At least gold didn’t take up inventory space any more like in Diablo. At least I picked up on Spatial Relationships pretty quickly.

Anyways, inventories in all their flawed glory have played an integral part in my gaming experience over the last 15+ years and I have a feeling that I’ll miss it when it gets streamlined down to a ghost of its former self. You can’t get rid of the joy of picking up cool new toys as you go. It’s just too rewarding. Next time you take a look at your inventory screen, wonder… where did this come from and where is it going? It’s fascinating.

Until next time, don’t forget to sell your junk loot!

– Elorfin

P.S. “He who knows he has enough is rich” – Tao Te Ching Chapter 33

P.P.S. “Capitalism tries for a delicate balance: It attempts to work things out so that everyone gets just enough stuff to keep them from getting violent and trying to take other people’s stuff.” – George Carlin


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