oxm opin­ions

Steve searches for a so­lu­tion to in­ven­tory screens

XBox: The Official Magazine - - CONTENTS -

What’s in your pock­ets right now? I’ll wait here while you empty them out on the ta­ble. Of course, I’m not ac­tu­ally waiting, I’m be­ing silly and fun. Writ­ing is one-way com­mu­ni­ca­tion and I have no idea who you are or what you’re do­ing at any given – oh, you’ve fin­ished emp­ty­ing them? Good.

Now I will guess what’s in front of you. A mobile phone. A wal­let. A crum­pled re­ceipt from Lidl for tin of chick­peas. A bad crayon draw­ing of ei­ther a small horse or a large dog. A blood-spat­tered Po­laroid of a brother whose mur­der you vowed to avenge. A blood-spat­tered Po­laroid of a brother whose mur­der you vowed to jus­tify. The key to the room that no­body must en­ter. An off-brand Corona­tion Street fid­get spin­ner. A mo­ti­va­tional sticker that says ‘Keep on keepin’ on’, and a well-thumbed book of ad­vanced fid­get spin­ner tricks.

If I’m wrong about most of these, it’s for the sim­ple rea­son that we just can’t carry that much stuff on our per­son. The sit­u­a­tion is worse still for women, who rarely even en­joy the lux­ury of pock­ets and so must drag all of their be­long­ings around be­hind them in a beau­ti­ful silken bag on the end of a piece of string. Yet games per­pet­u­ate the well-es­tab­lished myth of the bot­tom­less pocket, the in­fin­itely ex­pand­able back­pack and the bur­den­less ar­moury. Games cre­ated the ac­cursed in­ven­tory screen. And it’s time we – or more ac­cu­rately I, alone, in my ca­pac­ity as a Renowned Fixer of Game Prob­lems – fixed it.

The Prob­lem

There are a va­ri­ety of types of in­ven­tory in games, and they are all ter­ri­ble to some de­gree. The first is weight-based, as seen in all Bethesda RPGs, a sys­tem that paral­y­ses you for pick­ing up one too many grapes. The sec­ond is tile­based, as seen in Res­i­dent Evil games, which in­ex­pli­ca­bly at­tempts to repli­cate the bound­less frus­tra­tion of pack­ing a suit­case while be­ing at­tacked by feral dogs. The third is slot-based, pi­o­neered by the orig­i­nal Halo and now found in most mod­ern shoot­ers. It per­mits you to carry just one big gun, one lit­tle gun and one flavour of grenade. The fi­nal and most egre­gious form of in­ven­tory is the sprawl­ing, scrolling, un­cat­e­gorised list of ev­ery po­tion, cog and pork chop you’ve picked up through­out the course of your ad­ven­ture. Im­prac­ti­cal and ugly, the listed in­ven­tory is very much the ‘kitchen drawer of as­sorted crap’ of or­gan­i­sa­tional meth­ods, and along with its vari­ants has led to such mis­er­able gam­ing quirks as freez­ing time mid-bat­tle to eat nine wheels of cheese.

The So­lu­tion

Many games have at­tempted to sup­plant the tyranny of in­ven­tory screens with their own sys­tems, but with lit­tle suc­cess. The 2004 re­make of Alone In The Dark had you pulling items from your in­side jacket pock­ets, which bulged like the trench­coat of a shady Rolex sales­man. In­ter­est­ingly, the game didn’t pause as you ri­fled for am­mu­ni­tion, so mon­sters could at­tack you mid-rum­mage. The satir­i­cal Dis­c­world point-and-click ad­ven­ture went in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, jus­ti­fy­ing your im­pos­si­bly ca­pa­cious in­ven­tory by hav­ing all your stuff fol­low you around in­side an an­thro­po­mor­phised trea­sure chest.

I ap­plaud that level of re­al­ism, but we can go even fur­ther thanks to my very prac­ti­cal so­lu­tion. Games should force you to stand on a set of scales as you play. With each in-game item you col­lect you must place an equiv­a­lent weight some­where about their per­son. Pick up a vir­tual coin and you must pick up a real one. Col­lect a nice sword and you must strap your mi­crowave to your back. As you play you be­come in­creas­ingly – and very re­al­is­ti­cally – en­cum­bered un­til, fi­nally, you are sen­sa­tion­ally crushed be­neath your own sofa in one beau­ti­ful, spinecrush­ing mo­ment of ac­cu­rate in­ven­tory sim­u­la­tion. Glo­ri­ous.

Steve wrote this col­umn with a key­board tucked into his belt like a pis­tol.

“Col­lect a sword and you must strap a mi­crowave to your back”

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