The Rule of Six

Remember the Rule of Six!
Never carry more than Six items on your person!
Private property is a privilege:
Keep your pockets empty and your bag light

This is the Rule of Six. It’s the in-universe justification for your limited inventory in survival horror title Signalis. Your character could carry more, but we don’t do that here.

I have to admit: I really like the thought behind the Rule of Six. It naturally forces players into situations where they’re more vulnerable. Every shot taken leaves you less prepared to deal with unknown future problems because you can’t carry a boatload of ammo. This naturally helps to ratchet up tension as your supplies dwindle. That’s the very essence of survival horror, so the Rule of Six is great design in theory.

Screenshot of Elster shooting deviant replikas

Unfortunately, the Rule of Six is single-handedly responsible for diminishing the enjoyment I had with Signalis. By its very design, the Rule of Six should increase the tension that players feel while playing the game. For me, it was a constant reminder that I was playing a video game, and it also encouraged a degenerate strategy that severely undermined many of Signalis‘ goals.

To be clear, I’m not saying limited inventories are bad. What I am saying is my subjective experience with Signalis was largely dictated by the inclusion of a limited inventory. This is a shame because Signalis is an alright game otherwise. I just had a miserable time playing it.

A Predictable Rhythm

To understand the issue I had with Signalis‘ limited inventory, we first have to examine how I was playing the game.

When I started, I went about looting everything that wasn’t nailed down. This seemed appropriate. I had a couple healing items, and a fews shots to work with at any given time. The supplies came, and went at about the same rate so I was always balancing on the razor’s edge for my survival.

This changed once I had unlocked the third, or fourth different weapon you’re provided with. Instead of always finding ammo for the pistol, or shotgun, I was now finding ammo for 4 different types of guns. This became a very large problem for my tiny inventory.

The solution was two fold: I had to pick up less stuff, and organize my inventory more judiciously. However, I chose to do neither for fear that I’d run out of supplies when I needed them most.

Instead of playing sensibly, I began playing Signalis in the most degenerate way possible. Each of the game’s saferooms, also contains a chest that allows the player to store all of their items for future use. As such, I started making looting trips to, and from the saferooms like a deranged hobo goblin trying to collect every single piece of ammo Signalis was going to give me.

Screenshot of Signalis' saferoom

It was during this time that I began to travel a lot more light. I needed to maximize my haul, so I would only leave with a single emergency heal, and a couple bullets loaded into a random weapon. My route was planned, and my trousers had plenty of room to collect whatever supplies I happened upon. Perfection!

Except it wasn’t perfect. Playing Signalis with such a predictable cadence robs the experience of any tension. Sure there were times when something would throw a minor wrench in my plan, but for the most part I would peacefully loot while weaving around enemies. It was a lot like going to the park to pickup litter. That’s not exactly the vibe you want in your horror game.

That’s all before mentioning how tedious it was. Having finished Signalis, I now know that all the ammo I picked up was overkill. The real problem is that the game never tried to stop me. Nothing was done to tell me that my degenerate strategy wasn’t the intended way to play. As such, I ended up kind of ruining the experience for myself.

You Were Just Playing the Game Wrong!

I’m aware that now would be a common time for Signalis‘ most fervent defenders to cry, “skill issue.” Obviously it’s my fault that I didn’t enjoy the game because I was playing it wrong!

Well yes, but no.

I’m not a person that designs games. I am a person that plays games. It’s not my job to decide, or establish the rules of a game. I simply play what I’ve been given.

Screenshot of Signalis' inventory screen

If there is an intended best experience, it’s the designers job to guide the player to said experience. An easy example of this can be seen in the recent Doom games. The player is rewarded with health, armor, and ammo for playing aggressively, which encourages a butts-to-nuts style of play, instead of passively taking shots from behind cover. The designers want the player to feel like a predator, so they reward them for actions that contribute to the intended experience.

By contrast, Signalis let me run around exercising my degenerate strategy for almost its entire runtime. It was boring as hell, but I was never punished. By the same token, I was never rewarded the few times where I was playing properly. The result was an experience where I was frustrated by the tedium of Signalis‘ limitations. The limited inventory acted as a hinderence – one which didn’t manage to accomplish any of its intended goals during my time with the game.

What about you? Has an inventory system ever ripped you out of a game before? Maybe you had the opposite experience to me, and actually enjoyed Signalis thanks to the Rule of Six? Let me know in the comments.