Five of the Best is a weekly series about the bits of games we overlook, those poor old things. I’m talking about crowds, potions, mountains, hands – things we barely notice at the time but can recall years later because they’re so important to the overall memory of the game.
Now is the time to celebrate them – you and me both! I will share my memories but I’m just as eager to hear yours, so please share them in the comments below. We’ve had some great discussions in our other Five of the Best pieces.
But now it satchelly time to talk about this week’s topic…
Bags! Or, well, what do you call them – backpacks, inventories? Aren’t they the same thing? You know, something you put your stuff in. And where would we be without them? Can you imagine not hefting a sack of axes and swords and suits of armour into town to sell to the improbably rich local merchant? No. Can you imagine not having a bouquet of freshly picked flowers in your bag, or slab upon slab of dripping wet meat? No! It’s ridiculous – we can’t not have bags.
We’ve been picking stuff up in games for years – as far back as the point-and-click dinosaurs of the 1990s. We’d collect all kinds of junk, then mash it together in some way to create something new to help us solve a puzzle. I really liked Manny Calavera’s inventory in Grim Fandango, which was effectively a capacious inside tuxedo pocket. He’d suavely reach in and produce object after object, one after another. How’s that for style?
But where did he keep it all? Where do any of the characters keep it all? Heck, in The Elder Scrolls games, you don’t even seem to have a bag, so where are you putting all – down your chausses? I don’t think so – think of the chafe! Brings a whole new meaning to the word ringmail.
Anyway! Enough of that because I’ll probably get fired. Here’s to magic, invisible bags!
Is there a more iconic backpack than Lara Croft’s? Box design, leather body, leather straps. Bold. And it also doesn’t seem to get in the way when she’s rolling around dusty tomb floors. It’s really been cleverly designed for the job! Quite lucky she came across it, really! There was even a special sequence in Tomb Raider 4 to show her first picking it up. Doesn’t check inside for spiders, though, does she?
In recent years, the backpack seems to have been quietly phased out. Lara now shows the equipment she’s carrying around on her back, like the bow, which she kills dozens and dozens of people with, the maniac. But still the bag remains forever linked with the character.
You can buy, for instance, replicas! Tthere’s a very nice-looking one for only €175! Or you can make your own, following one of a few handy cosplay guides. There are even Lara Croft-inspired fanny packs. I won’t say a word.
Ratchet & Clank
Backpacks don’t have to be boring, dead objects. They can be, for instance, friends! Take Clank, Ratchet’s robo buddy: he’s not only a source of companionship, which is very important you know, he can also turn into a helicopter and fly Ratchet around. That’s remarkable! None of my friends can do that. Clank can also become a kind of plane with a booster, and hop off to complete levels on his own.
I tell you, Clank makes even the very cute bags in Fortnite (you know, the doggy bag so to speak, or the one with the hamster on a wheel) look naff. What good are they other than to look at? They adorable, admittedly, but isn’t it also a bit irresponsible taking your dog into a gunfight with you?
I went round and round trying to decide which RPG to include here. I toyed with it being the original Diablo because it’s a series all about loot, where a lot of other games drew inspiration from. It’s also, as far as I can tell, one of the first big RPGs to have inventory Tetris in. I don’t mean an actual Tetris game but an inventory with grid tiles and objects which take up more than one. It meant spending a lot of time trying to work out how to cram everything in. Inventory space was precious. Run out of it and you’d have to leave the dungeon and sell – and who wants to do that?
But then I thought about Torchlight! Clearly, it’s a game inspired by Diablo, but it makes one incredible improvement: a pet which takes loot back to town for you! I could kiss the person who came up with the idea. All you’d have to do is send it back with a load of stuff and wait a little while and it would return with the money you’d made. Inspired!
There were RPGs without inventory grid systems, of course – with no real bag organisation of any kind. One was Ultima Online. You’d simply have your bag open on your screen and drag loot from one container into it – flinging it in willy nilly. By the time you’d been through a dungeon, it would be an absolute mess. Piles of armour, skins, reagents, weapons, gold – who knew what was in there? Mind you, it’s much more like a real bag this way.
It paid, then, to be organised, to get a bit Marie Kondo with your bag, because if you couldn’t see at a glance how many reagents you had for casting spells, and then you tried to cast a spell and couldn’t, while someone was trying to kill you, then you’d be royally fudged. People even got rather carried away with organising their bags, so much so it became a kind of art form!
The Luggage is such a perfect video game bag, it’s as if Terry Pratchett already had inventories in mind when he put pen to paper and created the Discworld’s infamous shuffling chest on legs.
A recurring character in Pratchett’s novels, The Luggage is a sentient creature able to stuff pretty much anything inside its wooden body, whose walls are imbued with a kind of TARDIS-like magic. And like everything Sir Terry created, it was laced with a dark whimsy – the Luggage is also fiercely loyal, and has been known to attack and consume anyone threatening its owner.
So it was no surprise the Discworld games utilised the Luggage exactly how it was intended – as a walking backpack to fill with objects that may or may not come in useful in future, and – more rarely – defend you by acting as a bodyguard. Tom Phillips