Game design notes – gear

Handling Gear in Games (FPS/RPG)

Managing gear in games is an apparently simple thing but so many games do it in different ways with different agendas it creates some confusion as to what people think a human can actually carry about and still move. In the case of the first person shooter RPG type games I put forward these ideas:

Use the simple Diablo 2 type gear layout. It works, makes sense and is visually expained on screen. Sections are: back, chest, thighs and belt. You can add ‘containers’ to each of these locations that expand space but only for certain items. Eg. on the belt you could add a bum-satchel, hip holster and another hip-magazine bag. On the chest a pistol holster and some more magazine-bags. On the back there’s room for one ‘long’ weapon (eg. RPG, assault rifle, sniper rifle, shotgun) and a bag/backpack of gear. Another option that many games should have is the ability to ‘quick-drop’ your backpack so that you can come back for it later. This function could also be adapted to carry an ‘arm-load’ of gear – which could also be dropped and retrieved at a later date. In current game design complexity this is almost nothing. The awesome logicians that code AI could do this in a day, I believe.

An Arm-Load of Gear

An arm-load of gear would work as a pseudo-container. It is a collection of items that fit into the ‘arm-load’. If the game tracks what a character can carry by each item’s weight then the pseudo-container of the arm-load will have its own weight. That’s the limit of the arm-load. The items are also ‘rendered’ as a collection. This can be a conglomerate of the first three items put into the arm-load. The collection doesn’t break apart spectacularly when dropped. It stays somewhat cohesive.

The ‘arm-load’ in gameplay: Imagine Fallout 3, FarCry 2, or any other FPS RPG. You’ve vanquished a group of enemies and are looting the remains. You want to move all the good gear away from the combat site to get it later or perhaps to put it in your nearby waiting vehicle. So you pickup all the assault rifles, one at a time, adding it to your armload until you can carry no more. You waddle back to your vehicle and dump them in the back (itself a large container) and then go back for the others you couldn’t carry. You’re on your way back to the vehicle, another armload of G3 rifles, and a roaming pack of mercenaries wander into the scene and open fire. You dump your armload and it lands in a heap on the ground then you sprint off for cover to start firing and fighting back. A tough battle later and you wander back to the armload of rifles on the ground, hit the ‘pick-up’ key, and your ready to take them all back to the vehicle.

The Backpack

To illustrate the backpack idea imagine this. You’ve loaded up for a mission. A backpack with picklocks, medical gear, ammunition and some demolition packs is strapped to your character. You have abandoned your vehicle and headed down the jungle trail towards the old plantation where the target site is shown on your map. Suddenly the flash and chatter of automatic weapons breaks the natural noise and you’re under fire. The backpack with your gear is suddenly a burden – you need to move fast, so whilst moving, you hit the ‘drop backpack key’ and the character is animated pulling the pack off its back and dropping it. Now you can move fast and the battle is on.

Looting the Fallen

As a mechanism for controlling player-wealth some games don’t let you pick up the gear of fallen enemies. The gear just disappears. Very very bad game design. If it was good enough for the NPC to use then it’s good enough for the PC to use. The designer needs to control things in other ways. If a merchant is over-stocked with an item then they probably don’t want any more. What retailer who can’t sell item-X would want more item-X? Smarter merchants are required. This tool could even be used to make the game more immersive. STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl comes to mind.


You’ve returned to “Trader” at the newbie village.
“Ah. You’re back.”
You click on the trader and open the mercantile dialog. When you try to sell him another dozen PPK pistols you get a message on screen “Trader does not want to buy this.” And you get a voice track played.
“I don’t want that. Can’t you see how many I have already?” or
“I don’t want those. They’re worthless to me.”

So that can be part of the immersive experience of a good FPS RPG.

It could also be designed that merchants deal with other merchants or wholesalers at discrete times. A truck could be seen at the merchant’s location and an NPC with guards is there whilst a transaction of goods takes place from the truck to the merchant. This could be done with a scripted encounter. The truck can then drive off the map at an appropriate place. For some merchants it could even be a helicopter or other aircraft.

Weapon and armour degradation

Fallout 3 did this very well. Weapon and armour could degrade and lose its effectiveness. In weapons the damage inflicted was reduced and reloading would take longer as the character had to give it a knock or re-insert the magazine and recharge the breech. In armour the damage-reduction was lessened. Using other items of the same type you could repair any other item of the same type – assumedly by cannabilising parts & materials – and the donor item would disappear. It’d be nice to have an option in the game control menu that made these repairs take a bit more time. Fallout 3 repairs were instant. FarCry 2 repair of vehicles was about five seconds.

A progress meter would work well. The condition improving whilst you let the process continue. If you heard a noise you could manually stop the process to have a look around. If a wandering NPC started attacking you the process would automatically stop if you were damaged at all.

Consistency between NPC and PC

It is vital that the wandering non-player-characters/enemies be created with a load-out of gear that they work with. They should NEVER have unlimited ammo or anything else. All of their gear should be available for taking if they are defeated. No disappearing weapons. That destroys internal consistency. If I see an NPC attacking me with a P90 SMG then I expect it to be available if I defeat that NPC. I also expect that if the NPC keeps firing at my cover that they’d run out of ammo because they have the same limitations on carrying gear that I do and therefore cannot have unlimited ammo.

Emplaced weapons should be removable. Their ammo sources also should be removable.

Gear Management Options

It would also be a great option to have menu-driven choices about gear management details. Personally I’d like to have each magazine’s number of rounds tracked. I’d also like it if I had to spend time reloading magazines (not manually, just click a button to start the process, this option could be configured in the menu to be instant, take a few seconds or take a realistic time per round). Then I’d have to manage my magazines. Auto-pickup should be an on-off option. So here’s a list:

Auto-pickup (on/off)
Ammunition management (auto/one-click instant/one-click progress meter)
Repairs (instant/progress meter)
Traders (easy/smart/scripted)
Arm-load (on/off)
Gear (auto/grid/grid + containers)

So: there’s some ideas. 🙂


Game design notes – gear

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