Interactive Reloading – Part 1 (Day 7)
To preface, I’m referring to reloading as in the act of reloading a gun, rather than a saved game. Reloading is a staple of shooters – obviously – but it’s also practically identical across every one of them. If I asked you to think of an interesting reload system in games, you’d probably either say Gears of War (released in 2006) or just come up with nothing. There have been a handful of games that try to make reloading a gun interesting and/or interactive, but they tend to be based on the old GoW system, if they exist at all.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing! I’ll talk more about the benefits of “passive reloading” just below, but I want to stress that I don’t think every game should make reloading interactive. This post is, as always, a stream-of-consciousness post on interactive vs. passive reloading.
Firstly, passive reloading is often a fantastic tool for horror games, or for any game that wants to ramp up the tension in gunfights. Reloading forces players into inaction, which makes ammo management much more important – particularly if the player can’t move while reloading. There’s an obvious risk vs. reward element at play, where players are always trying to judge when and where they should reload.
On the other end of the scale, it can also be an important break in the action. Constantly shooting and dodging can get dull in long stretches, and the need to reload can break up the action and add strategic options. Finding a safe place to take a break and reload is often an important and interesting part of shooters.
Then, there’s the idea that it’s intuitive. Whether it’s due to over-exposure from movies and games or whatever, it seems like most gamers are aware of the concept of reloading, but have absolutely no idea how to reload an actual gun. Having the complex process broken down into a single button press allows for players to make decisions without worrying about the gun jamming or exploding or whatever can happen when reloading goes wrong (I imagine pinching your finger is a real, terrifying possibility).
I’m obviously not championing for games to include “realistic” reloading, to be clear. Realism rarely aligns with fun, and fiddling with a rifle for four minutes to get a bullet in there doesn’t seem like it’d necessarily be the most entertaining gameplay – though it’d probably build tension!
My thoughts on interactive reloading are basically the same as what I mentioned above, only with the element of interactivity. More interactivity is great, right? Well, not necessarily.
Most obviously, it complicates the game further. “Complexity without depth” is often seen as a kind of antithesis to good design, because it obfuscates an idea without providing anything in return. Reloading can easily be seen as just this – it’s a common and intuitive system that already provides some interesting scenarios.
Depending on the game, though, I think an interactive system is potentially more interesting. I liked it a lot in Gears of War – choosing whether or not to risk a perfect reload was always tough, and “jamming” my gun with bad timing made for some unique scenarios (especially if I’d just left cover, foolishly trusting in my ability to press a button properly).
I’m not as convinced about it in multiplayer, though. There, it felt more like a skill that simply had to be mastered, or the player was at a severe disadvantage. The fact is that it wasn’t particularly hard to always get a perfect reload after some practice, but until you hit that point you were at a massive disadvantage in multiplayer games. It almost felt like you had to pass some arbitrary button-timing exam before you could play on equal footing.
And I think that’s the double-edged sword of the idea. Interactive reloading complicates the risk vs. reward system, basically placing one decision on top of another. Do I reload now? Am I safe? Should I try for a perfect reload? What if I fail the timing? Is it still worthwhile?
There are lots of questions to ask, and in some cases it can be too many, particularly if the actual act of interactive reloading comes down to a single timely tap. Though, of course, a much more complicated system may be unnecessarily esoteric and confusing.
I’ll actually stop it here and revisit this topic tomorrow, because I haven’t covered nearly as much as I’d like, but I’m running out of time. How do you feel about the idea of interactive reloading? Love it, hate it? Why or why not? Let me know!