Friday, August 26, 2011

Tin Mechanics - Loot Systems

Tesh's post inspired me to write and think a bit more about how loots systems are being implemented.

The loot window is a bit of a standard now. The process is simple: You kill an enemy, run over to his corpse, open it up, click on the items and money and they get put in your inventory. Some games, like Final Fantasy, give you the loot screen at the end. Others, like Fallout, make loot into a part of character management in that you can only carry a certain amount before it weighs you down. From bag spaces to hammer spaces, there are a lot of ways to handle this system. Is there a way to streamline the process? Should a developer even want to streamline it?

First and foremost, one of the most important things about loot is currency: Money, Gold, what have you. This is a no-brainer for all players. If there is money, you'll pick it up. I cannot think of any instance where this is not the case. I have yet to see a game that penalizes a player for weight restrictions on currency as well: I was carrying 30k bottle caps in New Vegas the other day and by all forms of logic I should be dead, either from the weight or from being the most obvious target for a mugging for eight miles.

Is the process of picking up currency fun? Does it add anything to the game beyond a touch of realism? Though I can argue that it would be a prime target for streamlining in MMO's, there is that element of looting the body yourself that just makes sense in a genre.

Then we have items. Weapons, armor, potions, quest items, and the like. Given that bag space is most likely limited, either by weight or slots, automatically looting all items would be a tremendous mess. Quest items, however, could be quarantined in their own container for simplicities sake in bag management. And keeping a running tally of loot in a floating container that doesn't effect your bag space is not only unrealistic, but just begging to be abused.

No, bag management is, though seemingly a chore, a notable part of MMO's. Not only does it serve the design purpose of making you return to civilization to sell things, but makes sure that Lunesta, the level 85 druid, isn't carrying around his healing, melee and caster DPS and tank gear all at once while still having room for potions, flasks, and those leather balls people throw at you. And wands to make the raid leader turn into a leper gnome.

Grouping is another concern. Currency is easily divided up between all parties, but items are typically rolled on in their own windows. There is the idea that these items could be reserved until the end of the dungeon to be rolled on, but if we're dealing with an awful LFG spawned group, you know some guy is going to Need on everything at the end and run for the hills.

DCUO simplifies looting and creates little glowing orbs that float towards your character. This is likely due to the action orient of the game and the fact that you can't click on anything on the screen or adjust the UI or anything that makes sense for a PC game. By holding a button, you can draw the items towards you. Actual items do not drop often, but when they do you have no idea what you've picked up until you actually pick it up.

Do loot systems need to be streamlined any further? Thought it seems that currency looting could be automated, perhaps with a tally window of how much you earned, the physical looting seems to be the most logical system in place. Minor improvements could be made, but such improvements are subject to personal whim rather than a marketed improvement. Grey items, for example, which typically only hold use for selling, have found niche markets with roleplayers. Plus we wouldn't want to lose the feeling of running over to loot a mob and being able to screenshot the random world epic that dropped, would we?


  1. Picking up loot and then selling it is one of the most important loops that keep your mind busy. It's extremely important from a abstract gameplay point of view.
    That's why games like WoW have grey loot. Something that even I would usually like to remove, even though it makes sense from a simulation PoV. Blizzard keeps it for abstract gameplay reasons.

  2. Nils has a great point about loot filling a role in the primary game loop. Even as far back as D&D, managing greed vs. encumbrance was an important choice for players to make. That's one of the reasons why games hold onto the system, even when they don't balance the economy properly to take limited portability into account.