Thursday, 27 March 2014

MMOs: Ammunition

[Part of my MMO Design Folder]

A minor detail that is often overlooked.

During the early days of MMO's (at least the first few I played), ammunition was always something tracked by the game. These days it seems ammunition is in such abundance that MMO's no longer track them. You have a gun? You can fire it. You have a bow? You can shoot it. Foreeeever.

I can see why they might have done it though. If ammo is an item then there are probably different versions of it, like fire, exploding, poison, etc. Then people will want to be able to craft it AND the various versions which will probably eventually lead to the "why does 1 plank of wood = 10 arrows or one chair" argument. Then players that focus on ammo dependent weapons will ask for ammo pouches, because it's unfair that their inventory slots (or weight restrictions) are taken up by bullets.

Instead, they change it into weapon skills - like in Guildwars 2 a thief can use a bouncy arrow or an arrow that poisons the area. Those options are available as long as he holds a bow and has unlocked those skills. If games really don't want to track ammo usage then perhaps they should make use of the Gamma World method more. For those who don't know what it is, it goes like this:

Ammunition: Bullets are a limited resource that you must use sparingly. In the D&D Gamma World game, ammunition is abstract: You either have ammo, or you don’t. If you do, you can use ammunition to fire any weapon you have that requires ammunition. If you don’t, you can’t.

If you use ammunition only once in an encounter: You are managing your ammo reserves carefully. At the end of the encounter, you still have ammunition.

If you use ammunition more than once in an encounter: You’re going whole hog—you might as well rock ‘n’ roll, because at the end of the encounter, you are out of ammo. You must acquire more before you can use a weapon that requires ammunition again (if you borrow some from an ally, then that ally is out of ammo.) Your Game Master determines when you find more ammo.

That design is more built around the scarcity of supplies in that game world and helping the players from doing much book keeping, but slightly modified I think it would suit any MMO and ammo would still be "a thing" players would need to care about. How I would translate it into a game is as follows:

Generic "Ammo" items need to be carried in your pack to use ranged weapons. It takes up one slot if we're using the slot mechanic for inventory, and should be reasonably expensive.

Each "ammo" box has a cool-down timer. Every time you fire it fills x% of the gauge (depending on the weapon). As long as you don't fire then the timer cools down back to 0. Stay calm and collected and in the green, and you can fire forever - but if your gauge gets over 100% then the timer turns red.

If you are on the red cool-down timer, that means you're not being careful with your ammo. You can go nuts and fire as much as you want for the next minute or two as the timer cools down. After which the ammo items are depleted and destroyed from your inventory.

What do you think? Is this a good idea or too much hassle? Should ammo instead go back to being tracked individually or do you feel that having an unlimited supply makes for a more enjoyable gaming experience?


  1. I am really and strongly limited-supply-adverse. That means that when something has a limited availability, i am so terrified of running out of it, that i never use it.
    This is quite stupid, and inefficient as my inventories are full of thing that " i am sure it could be usefull".
    As soon as you add something like ammo or potion, or limited-used weapon be sure i will avoid to use it if it exists another unlimited source of similar thimg, or buy large quantity of reserve in case of...

    Your proposal hasvthe advantage of avoiding this problem, but i have not understood its benefit vs the no-ammo approach... there os simpler way to limit rate of fire than this complex design no? - such as hard coding the maximum rate of fire. Can you detail the other benefits you expect ?

    1. Basically adding details back into the world and giving the player more decisions on how they want to fight. That's what I was gunning for here. :)

  2. Ooops. Got quite long, have to split it up in two postings?

    Hmm. The proposed "fix" in my eyes is the inconvenient middle-ground. I see how it works in a pen and paper setup, where you have "the encounter" once in a while and some smaller fights "on the way" usually. I don't really see how it can make a convenient MMO system, though. In an MMO there is just too much combat involved, so limiting out one branch like this is just not doing any good in my eyes.

    That being said, i up to now played two MMOs with firearms, where i found the ammo system quite allright, but in both cases this was also due additional parameters. The first important thing to note is that both games in question did not use the "item count" inventory system, but had a weight system. So there was no "20 herbs or 20 chainmails, no matter, you can carry 20 of them and that's it."

    Exhibit 1: Neocron 2 (Yea, i like the play of numbers. :D )

    Ammo in this game was lightweigth, but if you wanted to explore some places like the old sewers, you were able to spend several hours there. So even bringing several thousand rounds of ammo, which actually slowed you down a lot, would probably not last you for a complete tour. (And yes, speed was tied to the weight system, the heavier your characters burden, the lower the movement speed. Thus players usually kept some weight free to be able to move well. )

    In such a situation, a character like mine was quite a welcome addition. I invested less skillpoints in offense than many players, resulting in my firepower being somewhat lower. But my character had skills like recycling and repairing. (Yes, weapons, armour, combat drones and whatever other "combat tools" you had available did not only use ammo, they also lost durability when being used. ) So all the junk-loot in those places went straight to me and, who recycled them to ammo, combat drugs, etc. Since some repairing material had to be bought and was not recycleable (but luckily had very little weight, so i was able to carry a good stock) and since repairing weapons also reduced their maximum durability and thus they still wore out in the run of time, it was impossible to stay "in the action zone" permanently, but due to plenty of pillaging, salvaging and restocking we were able to go on for several hours, where a team of pure combat characters would've had to retreat to restock ammo after 30 minutes.

  3. Exhibit 2: Fallen Earth

    I only played that one throught he first two zones, where ressources actually are scarce and ammo is a valuable commodity. I was told that in later areas the game turns around a lot, but i can't comment on that. (Also note that i played during closed and open beta and a little while after that, so my information is several years old and outdated. )

    So alas, to the part which i experienced: due to ammo being hard to get and basically having to be produced by yourself, anybody who is using a gun also has some crafting abilities. Players who don't go for crafting are easily identified by exclusive useage of melee weapons, but crafters also usually carry melee weaponry (at least in lower level areas) to save ammo.

    Due to weight limitations characters again only were able to bring a finite supply of ammo. Unlike in Neocron, restocking in combat is close to impossible, as Fallen Earth has significant crafting times. (You can produce while running around, but producing 10 shotgun shells within 20 minutes is just not enough to keep your guns blazing. ) You either bring enough ammo (and friends who have guns and ammo) when entering that old prison where the bandit leader is hiding inside, or you'll have to rely on your crowbar quite soon. Due to weight limitations one or another melee weapon might be your friend, anyway, as you probably can't carry enough ammo. But you can also see it positively, if your ammo is spent, you can carry more loot on your way out.

    In contrast to Neocron 2, the crafter was not taken along to combat because of his use to all of the group. There was no "in action" resupply, but the crafter indeed knew that he'd pay for using a pile of ammo in this "dungeon run" by having to scavenge for quite some time later and then placing a good ammount of ammo in the production queue. (Then log off and collect the ammo the next day. ) But for this price the crafter was able to deliver superior firepower while the others relied on melee weaponry all of the time. (Keep in mind: low level. As mentioned already, in higher up areas things are said to turn around a lot. )

    So in conclusion, either ammo system is closely tied to crafting. Neocron 2 made you bring the crafter into the dungeon so he can keep you supplied and combat ready. Ressources were not the problem, there was enough junk to be looted and recycled, but you needed your crafting facilities "on site" in the group. Fallen Earth was all about the scarcity of materials and the efforts of production, but the system at any time allowed and basically even forced you to also carry some melee weaponry to fall back upon.

    Any other ammo system i ever saw in an MMO was nothing else but a money sink, which specifically "punished" ranged players for using the ranged option, while all melee and magic using classes got the "free" option of not needing ammo and thus having all their tools available all of the time for no costs. There might be other games out there, where ammo plays a more reasonable role, but these two are the only examples i am aware of, and in either case the ammo system only works well due to alternatives being available and ammo being well tied to crafting.

    1. Wow, thanks for the posts Sylow! I think you had a higher word count than my post! :P I must admit I too prefer the hard numbers, and that knowledge of being down to your last two shots can add some nice tension.

      Totally agree that ammo can and should be tied to crafting, which gives yet another reason why crafting shouldn't be ignored by MMO's (I've been ranting about this in a few of my other MMO Design posts).

  4. Have you ever noticed that in most MMORPGs your characters never eat or go to the "loo" as well?

    It is boring and annoying.

    So is ammo tracking.

    1. Haha, while it's true I've not yet seen any MMO where people have to use the "loo" (think about the griefing opportunities) I have played a few MMO's where your character does get hungry (to eventual death) and many more where food, while not necessary to survive, provides pretty useful buffs for a set period of time.

      I found that those details actually added to the game. That you'd actually have to plan to bring rations when traveling out into the wilds and to consume them sparingly.

      That's just me though. Always good to hear from the other side of the fence. Thanks for the post! :)