S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Positive Limitations

The entire S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series is available on Steam.

The overwhelming majority of the time, your inventory space in any given game won’t matter. Doubly so for anything that isn’t some type of survival-based or role-playing game, but even many of those are content to give you an implicit Bottomless Bag of Holding and send you on your way.

Usually it’s just more of a hassle to the player than anything else to introduce some restriction on what the player can carry. The Pokémon series early on tried to make the player juggle both items and party members through a system of storage boxes, but by 2002 dropped the idea for just being a fun-killer. Now all of our potions and gizmos are presumably stashed away using whatever freaky space-warping technology they use to fit a literal whale inside a softball.

Sometimes it’s there as a token gesture, like in Bethesda’s offerings. Sure, in theory there’s a limit to what you can have on your person for some feeling of carrying your supplies on your own back, but that threshold is more than generous enough for one to systematically clear a whole building of scroungers with plenty of rations and spare weaponry left untouched in their bag. Really, it’s just there to give you a slap on the wrist if you try to swipe every ashtray and toaster you come across.

stalkertoaster
But I waaaaant it…

Most of the time, though, it’s just a limit on player power, especially in multiplayer-focused games. Many MMOs will use limited inventory space in some way or another to curb a single player’s ability to manipulating a market through sheer volume (at least, until they figure a workaround) or create an enticement for just a bit more room in your bag that you can conveniently purchase from an in-game cash store.

stalkerdeusex
Granted, this character was more the “break-down-the-doors” sort.

Some titles do a much better job with making things make sense. Deus Ex, for example, uses a severely-constrained carrying capacity to make the player consider their approach to a given mission and choose their equipment appropriately. And since it’s a cyberpunk setting that places value on “clever” skills like stealth and manipulation, it uses a puzzle-like inventory system that reflects that clearly and lets Tetris-inclined players eke out just a little more volume in their pack. Double score!

Then there’s the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series.

These games are designed to be tough.

Not just “hard” in the usual way where enemies are more difficult to fight off or puzzles get a bit more complex. Nearly every element in those games down to the environment itself is downright hostile to the player character, from the crapshoot visibility at night to regular radiation storms to all manner of mutants that can tear right through any player not aware of and ready for them.

Naturally, it’s a game that benefits the crazy-prepared.

Also naturally, the game creates tension by making this impossible for all situations. Especially considering a certain set of necessities that all sane players will have on them (medkits for health, food to stave off the hunger mechanics, a radiation mask, the actually-quite-necessary vodka, and so on), there’s only so many contingencies a given player can be equipped for at a given time, especially considering what a trek it can be between outposts at times with no fast-travel available in the game as it’s shipped.

It bares down on the player with both a weight limit and an area-based inventory like the Deus Ex example above, with weaponry cutting deeply into the real estate of both (so you’d better hope that who-or-what-ever you come across can be taken out by one of the three things you can afford to carry). And with a select few designated “active” equipment spots, switching out to that spare shotgun is costly to the tune of enough time for a rabid dog to pounce you.

Never knowing if I can actually survive an encounter with the man holed up in that shack over yonder or being legitimately terrified for my well-being when I hear a growl from behind perfectly fits the setting. It’s an unforgiving wasteland you’re in, and one filled to the brim with tough-as-nails survivors and unnatural monsters. Depending on your constitution, the whole thing can make you feel like the side-character in a horror movie, swinging around the only pipe wrench you can get your hands on until the boogeyman snatches you up.

(And with how not-at-all I can stand horror movies, I have to openly admit here to never braving a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. title past the first few missions.)

In many ways, your inability to every truly be prepared is just one more thing the game does to make post-nuclear-catastrophe Russia even more hostile and terrifying.

Good on you, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.; you’ve hit on a niche where deliberately weighing me down in multiple senses of the term actually contributes to the game you’ve built every bit as much as the washed-out trees and grotesque pig-mutants.

 


This post is inspired by the wealth of other writers participating in Blaugust Reborn who have latched onto the same topic and examined it through different lenses, often but not exclusively that of MMORPGs. Here’s a by-no-means-complete list:

Inventory Woes – Aywren
Inventory Full: All We’ll Keep – Bhagpuss
Different Mindset for Different Games – Magen Tales
Inventory Management – mmosey
Guild Wars 2: Inventory Full – Princess in a Castle
Inventory Woes – Shades of Imagination
Inventory Full (and bank and crates) – StarShadow
GW2: Inventory Woes – Why I Game

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