Artificial Amunition Scarcity in FPS Games

Here is another pet peeve of mine: artificially created ammunition scarcity in FPS games. It is a gameplay element a bit similar to the insurmountable waist height fence syndrome with respect to prevalence, annoyance factor and overall goal. What am I talking about?

Recall the last FPS game you have played. I’m going to use Half Life 2: Episode Two as an example here because that happens to be the game that I just finished. Try to remember what happens when you find a large weapons and ammo cache. In most cases you will load up on ammo clips until you can’t carry any more. For example, you can only carry 300 rounds of ammo for your machine gun. Then you find a shotgun, and you can only carry 60 rounds of ammo for it. Then you find a rocket launcher and you can only carry 3 rockets. Why is that? How come the amount of ammunition I can carry is limited by some arbitrary number, and not by say weight? Why can’t I drop the machine gun and it’s ammo to carry more rockets?

In real life, if I knew I was going to face bunch of Striders (or tanks, or airships or whatever your game uses) I would empty out my backpack, and stuff it with rockets. I would also stuff rockets down my pants, then take some string and make rocket belts. But most games only let you take 3 or 4. Half Life uses this ammo scarcity to tell you where to fight striders and airships. Since you can’t hoard rockets, you must face them near the infinite ammo crates, conveniently located in the middle of carefully designed area with scarce, easily destructible cover. This way, every 2 or 3 shots, you have to pause, and then duck and run through open ground to reload. It makes for more intense, and difficult battles, but it does hurt immersion a little bit.

This is even worse in one of the final scenes of Episode two. You need to face wave after wave of walkers, and your only weapons is some sort of sticky bomb that needs to be tossed using the gravity gun. You can only carry a single bomb at a time, and your car has a rack, that takes exactly… One bomb, despite the fact, you could easily fit at least 3 of them there. Oh, did I mention the fact that if the bomb carried in front of you via the gravity gun gets as much nicked by enemy fire, it is rendered useless? So while the combat area is so vast that you really need the car to get around, you are really forced to find around the few bomb disposal units. I fought the whole encounter dangerously close to the base I was supposed to defend because that was the only place on the map with 3 dispensers in walking distance, and enough friendly firepower to at least provide some diversion to the enemy as I was screwing around with the bombs.

Almost every single game does this to some degree. In fact, this has become one of the staple features of the genre and no one seems to be noticing it anymore. How about this though: let’s introduce weight based ammunition management instead. It doesn’t necessarily need to be more complicated. You simply don’t tell the player about weight of each ammo type – you do that internally. All the player needs to know is that if he drops 8 machine gun ammo clips he can take one extra rocket or something like that. This also nicely limits the amount of weapons you can be toting around. Halo’s 2 weapon limit was as ridiculous as the ammo scarcity, but a weight/size based system would really solve the issue. If you want to carry the rocket launcher, you will probably need to drop one of the machine guns. And if the player drops the wrong weapon at the wrong time, you can always just conveniently place the right weapon right where it is needed. In fact most games actually do just that right now anyway so I don’t see a problem here.

What do you think?

[tags]fps, first person shooter, games, gaming, ammunition scarcity, ammo in fps games, half life 2 episode two[/tags]

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5 Responses to Artificial Amunition Scarcity in FPS Games

  1. jambarama UNITED STATES Epiphany Linux Terminalist says:

    I hate to bring up the same article again, but this article brings up the same point as part of creating difficulty in a unfair way.

    Ammo starvation. I’m looking at you, Resident Evil for the Gamecube. I have a gun. LET ME USE IT. Don’t pretend your game is “challenging” because you only give me four bullets to kill eight zombie dogs with.

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I think the article is talking about something slightly different. They complain that ammunition in the game is actually very scarce by design. In HL2 games ammo is usually plentiful – all the human enemies drop generous amounts of ammo, and in the monster-centric areas you find tons of abandoned crates, or dead bodies strapped with guns and ammo. The problem is that you can’t carry it all.

    So it’s not that the game designer only gave you 4 bullets to kill 8 dogs. They actually give you close to 800 bullets in total, but you can only carry 4 of a kind for each of the 17 big ass guns you are carrying with you.

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  3. jambarama UNITED STATES Epiphany Linux Terminalist says:

    Good call, that is different. And also quite obnoxious! I found Halo 1/2/3 was full of that – it’s fine to limit the player to 2 guns, but if I’m only carrying a sidearm as my 2nd weapon why the heck can’t I carry a 5th rocket. I don’t know how many times I left behind some ammo because I was (very) temporarily full at the moment, then had to ditch the gun later because no more ammo was forthcoming.

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Yeah, that whole 2 gun thing in Halo was a bit lame. I only played 1 but I found it to be silly, especially if I picked up one of those Covenant plasma weapons which could not be reloaded.

    Or I would be carrying empty pistol (for it’s sniping ability), hoping there will be some ammo for it around and passing over more useful weapons because I knew there probably won’t be another pistol lying around anywhere close.

    Or you are carrying a shotgun, and the assault rifle and you need to drop one of them if you want to pick up the pistol. Silly!

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  5. Mackenzie UNITED KINGDOM Safari Mac OS says:

    This is an interesting point, and could easily be placed into the HL universe. Consider: One of the most flaunted and interesting points of the game is it’s physics engine. I’m guessing that all objects are assigned a weight, ie, Barrels, Bricks, crates, etc. Note the stunningly easy to work out seesaw puzzle, or the buoyancy functions with negative weight reading within water.

    Surely Ammopacks and Weapons can be assigned weight, and a drop/pickup system in place, so Freeman can select the ammo he wants to fill the X’ amount of weight he can conviently carry?

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