Apocalypse Week: Gearing Up

Welcome back to Apocalypse Week! So far, we’ve touched on the game types, resource tracking, and opposition. Today I’ll be talking about the way that apocalyptic video games provide gear, and reasons for emulating them or not.

Fans of apocalyptic FPS games know that most often you can find weapons, ammunition, and other supplies simply scattered around. This isn’t always the case; some post-apocalyptics have you buy your gear from enterprising survivors who set up shop in hopes of someone happening along to buy the stuff they’ve looted, and some games have you research and/or craft your equipment. Overall, though, finding an upgraded piece of gear isn’t unusual.

If what you’re going for is a high-action cinematic style of game, there’s nothing wrong with this, and it gives you absolute control over what the players can get their hands on much more precisely than any other method. You can go Resident Evil on them and make each bullet count by making them scarce, with a weapon that has a full clip being some nearly mythical Holy Grail for the players, or you can go with something like Left 4 Dead, where some weapons have ammunition so common they never seem to run out.

On the other hand, if you don’t want a such a high-action campaign, you might want to consider the other options possible. A game with the premise that the world is falling apart and everyone is at risk isn’t a world where you’re likely to find a loaded shotgun just laying around unless there’s the corpse of a person who died before they could fire it close by. A similar rationale can be applied to other supplies, to a lesser extent; the world ending means you’re not going to make a shotgun-led sprint through a grocery store to pick up abandoned food. You’re more likely to have to try to kill some paranoid survivors for what they’ve hoarded, or fend off people looking to loot what you’ve stockpiled. Half-empty jugs of water that might be contaminated, perishable food left out to spoil, flashlights that are half-dead, and so on make for a more thorough image of a world that has fallen apart around the players.

You don’t want to take this other end to an extreme in most cases, of course. Letting players occasionally find abandoned houses with intact stocks of canned goods and fully-charged batteries can set off the same sense of gratification as finding a magic weapon in a heroic fantasy adventure does – and have a much stronger reaction as they try to figure out if they should bunker down with this wonderful cache and fortify the area, or try to transport it all back to wherever they were before. Both options have risks; bunkering down there advertises to any other survivors that something good is there, and might draw attacks before they can fortify, while trying to take it all back – if the cache is of a decent size – may take multiple trips that risks some of it being found and stolen by someone else.

Either way – whether you choose to give players the action genre thrill of finding loaded weapons and fully stocked medical kits waiting for them to come along and benefit, or if you choose to provide supplies with an eye toward showing that the world is gone and what’s left are the hungry ghosts of what’s left – you can mix this with the forms of resource management previously discussed. Describing their finds to them while abstracting the logistics of it keeps players engaged while making sure the game keeps running smoothly and keeps it fun for everyone.

Come back tomorrow, when I’ll wrap Apocalypse Week up!

Apocalypse Week: Gearing Up

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