Item properties, and why we need them

Let’s talk a bit about items in games, and how little you can generally do with them. This was intended to  be an entry about the item properties in U.R.R, but I now realise a little bit of abstract discussion is required first in order to explain why I’m trying to model items so realistically, and why I actually care about the melting point of copper and stuff like that. When you contrast items in most games with individuals – the player, enemies, NPCs, whatever – items are almost impossible to do anything with, and you interact with them in a very linear manner. The extreme is obviously point-and-click advantages where the player must somehow work out which one item will connect with which other one item to move them forward, but this is still a strong trend. In the average FPS, the sequence is thus:

You cannot choose to drop a gun – but then, why would you need to? Gordon Freeman can apparently store all his weapons, bazooka included, in the apparently prodigious storage orifices the Hazard Environment Suit has designed, presumably, for this purpose. Or perhaps it’s a flat-pack bazooka and just telescopes somehow to fit in his pocket.

Whatever the cause, there are no more advanced options with the average FPS weapons than displayed above, and excluding keys, keycards, quest items, etc, there aren’t really many other items in FPS games. However, given that – to some extent – I’m making an RPG, let’s look instead at a quick flowchart I put together for weapons – which you can do more with than most items – in a relatively advanced RPG. Were Skyrim out, I’m sure I’d wax lyrical about it instead, but since it isn’t, let’s talk about Oblivion, and look at this flowchart.

This has a lot more to do. Sure, you can’t attack an Orc with a pair of rusty greaves, hack its arm off, pick up its arm and then beat it to death with it before kicking the battered corpse of the Orc out of the pool of its own blood and vomit (which, I feel compelled to point out, you can do in U.R.R) but you can still drop them, repair them, and (nominally) move them about even outside your inventory.

However, all of these actions take place in inventories – which is to say, some of the time the weapon is in your hands, sometimes in the hands of a shopkeeper’s hands, and the only time they are out of your hands are the moments between the slaying of a foe and the looting of its corpse, and there isn’t really anything you can do at this point.

Additionally, these items are generally invincible, except under specific circumstances. Which is to say – if you collect a sword from Oblivion, climb to the top of the tallest mountain, hurl it off the peak, then find it, leave it underwater for a year, then find it again, hurl fireballs at it, jump up and down on it, throw it against a cliff a few thousand times and then look at it again… it will be undamaged. Utterly. However, if you take this same sword and kill a bug with it, the sword will be damaged upon the conclusion of the combat. The weapon only actually functions as you’d expect in a very specific context (though, with that said, it would have to be some flimsy iron that becomes damaged by slicing a bug) and if you do anything outside that context, the item simply remains invincible.

Thus: what can be done to resolve this? To me, items in most games are almost ‘on rails’ – unless you do the specific actions expected, the item behaves as if it simply doesn’t exist at all. I’m hoping to try something different in U.R.R. However you use items – whether you wield that sword against your enemies, or throw it on the floor, or leave it in a fire, or dip it in the ocean, or a large enemy stamps on it, or anything else, the item will respond appropriately. If you leave your armour in the path of a rampaging horde of Titans, you will not have any armour left to come back to. If anyone has any thoughts on the narrow functions of items in games (or any property items should have in U.R.R. I don’t seem to have thought of!), then please leave your thoughts below…

Coming Monday: U.R.R. items: damage to decay, volume to weight, and material to melting point…

Coming Friday: Detail of the morale system, or: how to terrify an Orc into insanity.

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10 thoughts on “Item properties, and why we need them

  1. Great, funny post :D. I can’t wait to try your game to be able to beat the vomit out of a troll with his own arm ! Item awesomeness pushed to the next level 🙂
    I’m a bit disappointed, though, because I still don’t know why you care about the melting point of copper !

    Now that you tickled my curiosity, will you provide U.R.R. item action flowchart in next post ?

  2. Glad you liked the post: the importance of melting points and other things will be explained properly on Monday, but to give the quick explanation, it’s related to the hierarchy of weapon quality (bone, wood, copper, bronze, iron, steel, etc), and therefore the level of enemy you’ll be fighting with each, and therefore the ‘durability’ (in terms of melting point, and in other ways) each item has determines where and when you should actually use it. Plus, it’ll have an effect on smelting and manufacturing much, much later.

    And yes – a delicious item flowchart will appear next time. I do like these flowcharts…

  3. I do, I do. Thanks for the feedback : ) – rest assured, more flowcharts will on their way soon. To be honest, there are so many I could just rename the blog to something about flowcharts, and make it the world’s first ‘Flog’ – a Flowchart bLOG…

  4. The main reason items are “on rails” is because the game creators tend to have a very specific gameplay setup in mind when they start designing and it doesn’t pay to model the rest of the item properties. A classic pareto reduction : 99% of players will just worry about killing things with weapons, so only model the damage from that.

    Of course, you’re going for a more open-ended simulation of a game with a less designed gameplay setup, where items just “are”. I’ve been playing littlebigplanet recently, and this seems similar in many respects – levels are just made of materials which have certain properties. The main reason I suggest that Oblivion doesn’t do this is because it’s too costly, especially with the graphics and worldsize premiums they have to pay in development. Oblivion (or Skyrim!) *must* be cutting edge and bigger than their predecessors. So the models are ‘deep’ (weapons have many combat options e.g. effects), but narrow (only combat-based).

    URR is obviously paying the minimum graphics premium and the worlds are presumably going to be generated, so you have more game resources to devote to the models. I think the trick from such bottom-up design, especially when considering melting points etc., is to get some properties to emerge naturally. If you could model at the level of quarks and electrons perfectly then your game items would be very realistic. The rest of their behaviours would emerge…

  5. Agreed – few people are going to want to do all the things you could, hypothetically, do with a ‘real’ item in the Oblivion world. Then again, I think it might be tricky to find the causality there – does nobody want to do other things with their items because nobody wants to, or because the option isn’t there so it doesn’t even enter our minds? Some of the item properties in U.R.R. (see tomorrow’s entry) are under-the-HUD things, but volume and weight both significantly affect combat; melting point determines what weapons it is/n’t safe to wield around fire; material determines whether it’ll rust in water; etc etc.

    I think U.R.R. is definitely straying towards being a ‘sim’, like Dwarf Fortress is – objective-free, but give you a huge complex world to mess around in. And to behead things in. Which, I guess, is GMod-esque, even if some of the items there are ‘more’ modelled than others.

    Worlds are indeed generated; there will be a few small set rooms where specific uniques reside or things like that, but otherwise everything from the overworld, to the number/content of dungeons will be generated at the start of/during each game. I’m hoping for things to emerge by themselves – as I (think I) mentioned in a previous entry, I found enemies having a stand-off with each other based on what I’d then done of the AI, which I never expected. Similarly, I’m hoping to get a lot of interesting stuff going once I start properly programming the overworld’s generation, since currently it’s an almost endless expanse of grass. Not that grass isn’t cool, but…

  6. Your work is very appreciated. I’ve dreamed most of my life of a system such as URR. This is inspiring to say the least. I’ve always wanted to create a world like this and I feel like this is exactly what I needed to move forward. I heard you on the roguelike radio podcast. Keep it up. It’s truly a masterpiece.

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