Take the 2-minute tour ×
Game Development Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional and independent game developers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

If I have picked up 500 spare ammo and I 73/100 bullets in my current gun, why will I end up with 473 spare ammo instead of 400 (losing the 73 unused rounds in the previous magazine)?

Is this just to make it easier on the player?

I want to make a challenge shooting game and it seems like timing your reloads would be interesting.

Is there any reason I should stick to the norm?

@NicolasRaoul No I do not. –  Jackson Gariety Jun 5 '13 at 5:42
I find it disappointing that in a question about the lack of realism in depicting firearms, no one seems to have used the correct definitions for cartridge, magazine or clip –  congusbongus Jun 5 '13 at 7:52
You should also check out the game Reciever by WolfFire games. They use the mechanics that you are talking about. Specifically they allow you to refill the magazine, check the chamber for rounds and view remaining bullets in the clip. These choices are intrinsic to the game design of forcing the player to think about his next move and not run & gun. The addition of perma-death also encourages a more thoughtful approach to resource usage. –  neomonkeus Jun 5 '13 at 12:36
While you're at it, how could you reasonably swap out five 100-round magazines while on the run? Realistically you should have to hunker down and open your backpack. Of course, you're probably switching between ten full-sized guns on the fly, so we're kind of missing the forest for the trees here. –  Rick Yorgason Jun 5 '13 at 12:51

8 Answers 8

up vote 76 down vote accepted

It's not true that "every game ever made" uses the reloading mechanic you've described. I can think of least one (Red Orchestra) that didn't, and others which I believe didn't as well (Day of Defeat, Rainbow Six).

But that's not the point.

This is simply a game mechanics decision, often made because the designers felt that the complexity introduced by a more complex or realistic reloading mechanic would not add any additional fun to the game (and in fact might actively annoy players). It's not all that dissimilar from the choice not to require characters to feed themselves, or stop for bathroom breaks, in most games.

Thus, the decision was made to opt for a simply mechanic that eschews realism in favor of a system that treats every gun as having a giant continuous "hopper" of bullets you just dump your spares into when you reload.

If you think you can build an interesting, fun mechanic by forcing players to be more careful with their reloads (and I think it's totally doable), then by all means go for it.

Two examples come from Borderlands 2. First, reloading a Tediore weapon throws the weapon as a grenade, doing more damage based on how many rounds are left in the weapon when you press the reload key. Second, Gaige's Anarchy skill resets when the player reloads. In both cases the player has to take note of the ammo remaining and make a serious choice "should I reload now or later?". –  Greenstone Walker Jun 5 '13 at 4:29
I think most of the "realistic" 3D FPS use real clips and most of the others use continuous clip. –  sm4 Jun 5 '13 at 6:47
Amarica's army uses a realistic reload system. In fact, because clips are also sparse in that game, you actually have to do some bullet management and not always reload your clip after 2 shots. On the other hand, they also let you cycle trough your partial used clips once the full ones are up, adding some additional dept. –  Dorus Jun 5 '13 at 12:27
How has the ARMA series not been mentioned at all? –  Brendan Jun 5 '13 at 12:35
The Jagged Alliance series, while not FPS games, had re-loading by the clip. However, you could actually move bullets between clips (to combine half-used clips, for example) if you were willing to spend the time doing so. –  Kaz Dragon Jun 5 '13 at 12:56

I was involved in the development of the halflife2 mod hidden-source, which enforces the 'full reload' strategy.

The reason for this is that we wanted the game to be very tense and give the marine players much more to worry about. We wanted to discourage spray-and-pray tactics by giving firing your weapon a large cost.

Each marine spawns with limited ammunition. Allowing them to reload partial magazines gave them too much freedom and changing damage/lowering ammo count made the weapons and the marine loadouts look unprofessional and unrealistic.

Would you say that reload technique was a success? Did it make the game more fun for all? –  Jackson Gariety Jun 5 '13 at 8:25
Fun is a very subjective thing so i cant really comment. It did achieve our goals of making gun fire more controlled. Early tests often descended into hailstorms of bullets. We wanted to avoid that in the final product. As reloading a partial magazine lost the remaining rounds and reloads themselves are deliberately time consuming, the best players learnt to be very conservative. Weapon management became as important as map position. Shooters often lack micro-management mechanics. They lend nice depth imo. –  Gusdor Jun 5 '13 at 8:50
probably ghost recon (series) –  horatio Jun 5 '13 at 14:05
+1 I was just going to use this game as an example. Though, you should mention why it's so important that gun fire is controlled in Hidden-Source: the game involves one or two super-powerful nearly-invisible players (The Hidden) against a bunch of others, so it's important the others can't just spray-and-pray all over the place looking for the Hidden. This mechanic helps prevent that nicely. Nice job making such a fun (free!) game! –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jun 6 '13 at 6:57
Me and a bunch of my friends have been having Hidden sessions every weekend for a while, and sometimes the "full reload" was the certain doom of someone, because they used up their ammo all too quickly. As a side-note, very fun mod, thanks for bringing it to us. –  Xeo Jun 7 '13 at 8:26

Instead of throwing your magazine away, couldn't developers choose to make reloading a half-emptied magazine longer. Since the player would need to remove bullets from a full magazine and place them in a half empty magazine. Except maybe for a revolver, it would reload faster with less bullets to fill the "magazine"

A lot of games encourage reloading before the clip is empty because this would be faster then let the system autoreload on empty magazine (Some more engagement of the player, because he has to monitor his clip and press the reload button instead of just holding down a button).

One could argue that during a fight, no soldier would do this. But no soldier would throw away a half emptied magazine either, there are no benefits for him doing that, except maybe that he is more capable of performing a longer burst/support.

I think you have to make a difference between a simulator or survival, versus a more arcade game. People want to think that when they shoot 6 bullets, after reloading it should be -6, and not -whatever magazine size is. While in a survival or sim, you want the real experience, and make a conscience disission if you want to have the benefit of a full clip during a burst/support or you rather preserve ammo


In short, there are two main stylistic camps; tactical and adrenaline.

Adrenalin design is much like it sounds, almost the candy of video games. Lone wolf, run-and-gun styles that make very little sense outside of that game world, or even in it, but are a cheap hook to get lots of players. Call of Duty, in recent years, has been a great example of this philosophy. This sort of design is often pursued by large, established studios where executive meddling is more rampant. However, some games, such as Halo, use the magazine limit as a sort of damper on weapon effectiveness for balance. Because they consider magazines very similarly to cool-down or spin-up, they don't use them as units of ammo like in the real world. There's some merit to that discussion. (For example, in Halo Combat Evolved, most human guns were good for 4 kills per magazine if every shot hit. This let them focus each weapon on role rather than a hierarchy.)

In tactical design, teamwork, tradeoffs, and thinking as you play are vaunted, but you lose some of the addictive adrenaline. This allows clever players who aren't necessarily as "twitchy" to stand on a level field with their hair-trigger foes. This sort of design is often more popular with smaller studios who can make non-mainstream calls like that. A great example is Frontlines: Fuel of War, where the assault rifle loadout got about a dozen magazines and half dozen launcher grenades. The result was that you could always be prepared for a shootout and and that some waste was acceptable, but 1-round mags were totally averted.

The conclusion is that you should use whatever fits your overarching vision for the game. Will it be more tactical? Give them lots of ammo, tie ammo to mags, and let them sort it out! Will it be more adrenalin-y? Don't make them think too hard!


Actually in real life you use a dump pouch where you can quickly drop a non-empty magazine so you can refill it when there's a break in combat. Refilling or redistributing cartridges would probably not be well received by most modern gamers but if you are going for a more realistic take then I'm sure military personnel and gun-nuts would appreciate your focus on detail.


Why can I suddenly heal catastrophic wounds by running over medical kits? It's called POETIC LICENCE. These are games, not simulations. As previously mentioned, things like Red Orchestra or the SWAT games are more realistic in this regards. Call Of Dudebro and the like possibly aren't.

The point was: in terms of gameplay, why is this reload system so popular? -1 –  Gusdor Jun 5 '13 at 13:15
I don't think the sarcasm is necessary. We're all friends here. –  Richard Marskell - Drackir Jun 6 '13 at 17:26

The reason is that games usually have an audience they wish to target. There are people who enjoy playing realistic military simulators, and there are others, who enjoy more arcade-style shooters. If the game is planned for the second demographic in the above example, then a realistic reload system would just frustrate the players. There are plenty of video games using realistic reloading, but they usually have a different playing style as they target a different audience (these usually have other realistic settings, like bullet ballistics, reduced carrying capacity, more lethal wounds, no easy healing, horrible accuracy while moving, etc.).


To expand on what Josh Petrie and Alan B said, the broad, or general answer is that games employ various abstractions that remove parts of the real-world that the game developer decided are not contributing to the game-play they want, or is not worth the investment (or didn't make the cut, or they run out of time/money, or it collided with other(s) aspect(s) of the game that they decided to prefer one over the other, etc-etc). Whether it is HP instead of --for example-- blood lose, or critical hits instead of a major artery rupture, etc-etc.

On top of that, in many cases game developer sometimes just stick with what they saw in other games. Or in other words, "the norm" is sometime just lack of desire/resources to explore different ways of doing things or "don't fix it if it ain't broke" attitude, which can something leads to what can be regarded as unofficial tradition. Also, this may be a marketing decision (assuming it is easier to sell a game that the potential player base is already familiar with, i.e. more of the same).

Taking inspiration from other games is completely OK, but if there is some kind of aspect about a games (whether in this genre or another) that you personally think would be interesting to change, than don't get hung up about the current "state of the arts" too much.

The traditional way of doing things was not necessarily been establish by a vigorous process of trail and error.


protected by Noctrine Jun 5 '13 at 23:16

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.