Home Editorial Grahf Games guest article: Unlocking the truth about limited arsenals

It’s hard to say when it happened, but it did happen.

One day we all seemingly went from having access to all the weapons that we’ve picked up a la Doom, to the current system, which lets us carry two weapons and a choice of grenade or something quite close.

Perhaps it’s just nostalgia talking, but I kind of miss having a backpack that must have been the size of a water buffalo and having access to all your toys at once. That being said though, it’s time to look at each system and see what they have to offer.


The right toys for the job: SP vs MP

Now, there are two separate distinct fronts that each of these arsenal systems needs to be judged by: single player and multiplayer. The two are very different beasts and demand to be treated as such, so I’ll be starting with multiplayer.

With multiplayer, the limited vs. unlimited arsenal is a lot harder to judge. In older games like Unreal a large part of the strategy is knowing where the best weapons spawn along with also knowing how to use what you’ve got. The race to get the Redeemer or the Plasma Sword or just the plain old rocket launcher was part of the definition of the old multiplayer games, and while it did make for some strategy it also lead to a great deal of stagnation. More recent titles allow you to select your own loadout off the start and then pretty much restrict you to it throughout at least a life, if not for the entire match.

Arguably, the multiplayer is where a limited arsenal really gets the chance to shine. Allowing each player to choose a loadout — like the classes of TF2 or the somewhat more linear choices of a Call of Duty game or the like — is that it allows for the use of both personal and team tactics in the ideal situation. For example, I really wouldn’t want to see a game of TF2 where a Scout is running around with the Heavy’s minigun, or the Heavy using a rocket launcher.

Restricting loadouts in this case allows (or forces) people to use their heads, find out what they’re good at and understand when and where each different type of weapon can be the most beneficial. If ideal balance is reached then you can have a highly diversified group of tactics that employs multiple weapons and strategies in order to reach victory, something that’s ultimately satisfying when it all comes together right. Of course whether this actually happens or if the game just because a spamfest — I’m looking at you FAMAS and noobtube and dozens of other weapons — isn’t really the point that I’m arguing here, just that it’s possible with the limited arsenal idea and certainly more justified.


When your gun is your only friend…

Some would say that strategy should likewise extend to the single player campaign, but this is where I believe the limited arsenal runs into a problem. I can understand the need to limit weapons in games that are trying to emulate real world scenarios like any World War II based shooter or Call of Duty or Battlefield game. Games like these often have the enemies dropping weapons, allowing you to quickly and easily scavenge what you might want or need and leading to a lot of choice on the part of the player. When it comes to games like Halo though, which uses the same type of set-up, holding two weapons is severely limiting and might often result in as much frustration as it does strategizing.

The key difference between having all of your weapons vs. having one or two is that the first scenario means that you’re probably going to have to find the weapons first. In Doom you couldn’t just get a minigun from a dead Zombie or Baron of Hell, you had to find it in a level; once you did though, it was yours forever. Scavenging the weapons due to a limited system does on the surface seem to afford more opportunities to switch up combat and force the player to think on their feet, but I find that it’s really a false way of doing so because having access to everything can encourage just as much tactical thinking.

Let me explain: when you have only one or two weapons you’re probably going to just swap out something whenever you run low on ammo or find something clearly better, it’s usually never a difficult or agonizing decision. The thing about having all your weapons though, is that you still need to worry about the ammo pools for each. The last I checked, games like Doom didn’t just hand you rockets and BFG cells on silver platters. Recklessly using the most powerful weapons on Imps might be somewhat funny and satisfying, but you’ll always suffer for it later when your rocket launcher is empty and your facing down an army of Hell Knights and Pain Elementals with nothing but your pistol and an abysmally low amount of shotgun shells.

You always have to consider: if I use the big gun for this threat, is there going to be ammo later on before the next, even larger problem gets in my face? If I try to use the pistol or shotgun against this high tier enemy to conserve ammo, am I going to end up paying for it with my life? What clears a room faster, a sweep with the chain gun or a few well placed rockets? There are just as many, if not more, opportunities for strategy when you have all your toys, because you must then choose which ones to use when, as opposed to always knowing that the next enemy is going to drop a (mostly full) weapon that you can pick up to replace your nearly empty one.


All part of His divine, violent plan

So, when it comes to multiplayer, or realism, then sure, restrict my weapons, that’s understandable. But most of the time it isn’t actually doing any harm to give me nine guns. That’s why God put the number row on the top of the keyboard after all. Having access to everything doesn’t take away the challenge or make the game boring, it just means that I have more choice in how I get the job done, and choice, more often than not, is a great thing.

Enjoy this article? Check out more at the Grahf Games blog.

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5 replies to this post
  1. GREAT ARTICLE IT REALLY COVERED [insert x compliment here]
    AND I REALLY THOUGHT YOU WERE RIGHT WHEN YOU SAID [insert point I agreed with here]

  2. I suppose both systems have something to them, but mostly it’s better with MP having only two and SP having all you found.
    Because if you get to keep your weapons, you will at best be able to find some ammo on enemies, which could be just how much you need to defeat another of the kind with the best weapon for them.

    The problem with two weapons is, you have to be able to switch them, and most games feature magical cabinets that randomly ALWAYS appear before a boss fight so you can equip your best weaponry and fill up ammo. And even if you already have an enemy’s weapon, if they’re carrying one, it’s going to be at least half loaded, to encourage picking it up! So it’s almost infinite ammo there, too.

    I would like to see a system where you just have “ammo”.
    Each shot with any weapon uses some, the more powerful weapons use more for the damage they deal in the wrong situations than lesser ones.
    For instance, you have two shooting mobs standing close to each other. You could shoot a 15-ammo-rocket at them, killing them both, but you could also just shoot 4 revolver shots into each, which will kill them for 8 ammo!
    Any games where this is in effect, apart from the Deu sEx engi?

  3. Great article as always Grahf, love your insightful takes on game design and balance.

    @Toraka, I’m not sure about an all-purpose ammo system… it just seems a bit strange, although I think the idea behind it is sound. There’s something to be said for the economy behind ammunition and I think there’s a lot of room for new potential to be discovered in that mechanic area.

    • Thanks FC.

      I know that I don’t really have all (or really any) of the answers when it comes to these kinds of design issues, but I’ve always enjoyed thinking about way that things are done in games and wondering why they’re done that particular way.

      Thinking about ways that things could be made different has often lead me to some rather curious ideas about games.

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