1. Understanding the Inventory System and Player’s Needs
  2. Design Principles for Inventory User Interface
  3. Visual Design and Aesthetics with Inventory Management
  4. Accessibility and Inclusivity
  5. Examples of Indie Games With Great Inventory UI Designs
  6. Budget-Friendly Tools and Resources
  7. Conclusion

Indie game development has seen an insane surge recently, both in terms of production quality and overall general interest. Games like Hades, Celeste, Cuphead, and Stardew Valley dominate the gaming industry. While they all have either captivating gameplay or an immersive story, there’s one more thing all these games share.

All the developers of the games mentioned above put significant thought into the inventory user interface. Developers need to pay more attention to inventory systems. They can significantly enhance the player’s experience by making it more seamless and natural.

Today, we want to shed some light on everything you should know about game inventory systems. Naturally, this includes their importance and what qualities good inventory system design should have.

Understanding the Inventory System and Player’s Needs

Assassins Creed Ability Selection

Assassins Creed Ability Selection

Because indie games don’t have a seemingly unlimited budget as AAA games do, their success often depends on their ability to create an unforgettable experience. To do this, the developers must deeply understand two things. The players’ needs and wants and the significance of analyzing the game’s types of items and resources.

Player Expectations in Indie Games

Indie games strive to create meaningful connections with the players. To achieve this, the developers need to understand and cater to the expectations of their audience.

Immersion and Storytelling

Indie games often offer players a unique and captivating experience through immersive storytelling. Therefore, to ensure the inventory user interface doesn’t take away from the immersion, it’s always a good idea to link the inventory with the game’s narration.

For example, take Disco Elysium’s inventory user interface. It’s a game where we play as a detective in a dark and gritty world. To ensure the system suits the narration of the game, it’s designed as a suitcase our character carries.

Ease of Use and Navigation

Let us be honest. No one likes a clunky and hard-to-navigate user interface in any aspect of their game. Players appreciate intuitive interfaces that allow them to access and manage items quickly without difficulty.

Say if an indie horror game like Outlast had a difficult-to-use inventory user interface. No one could manage their inventory on the fly, leading to a fair amount of frustration.

Customization and Personalization

Diablo 2 Inventory Customization

Diablo 2 Inventory Customization

Finally, many indie games allow their players to customize and personalize their inventory as they see fit. Allowing players to customize their inventory layout, organization, and interaction with items can enhance their sense of agency. This, in turn, also allows players to have a personal connection to the game

Analyzing the Types of Items in the Game

In addition to knowing players’ needs, wants, and expectations, indie developers must also know the differences between the types of items and resources in their games. Without this knowledge, developers can’t create good systems.

Naturally, there are all sorts of items depending on what type of game you’re talking about. However, many games have items that fall into three categories.

  • Weapons and Equipment: Items in this category are central to the core gameplay. Therefore, players should be able to quickly access them, as they’ll likely switch around their weapons and equipment.
  • Consumables and Crafting Materials: Many indie games also have a consuming or crafting mechanic; the resource management must allow players to keep track of how many consumables or crafting items they have and how much they might need to craft a specific item.
  • Quest Items and Collectibles: Many other games include quests and collectibles that contribute to the narrative and exploration aspects of the game. The inventory system should help players keep track of their progress. Specifically, they should ensure players take critical quest items and take advantage of valuable collectibles.

Design Principles for Inventory User Interface

Arc Survival Inventory System

Arc Survival Inventory System

The design of your inventory UI is critical if you want to make the experience immersive and engaging for players. Fortunately, some principles should, in theory, help you craft a user-friendly inventory user interface.

Consistency with the Game’s Visual Style

For starters, the design of the inventory UI should be consistent with that of the rest of the game. We’re referring to the inventory’s color palette, art style, theme, and overall feel. If the art style of the list is drastically different from the rest of the game, then every time the player opens the inventory, the design of the user interface will take away from the immersion.

Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight, one of the most popular indie games, is a prime example. The entire game’s art style consists of ONLY black and white colors. Therefore, the user interface is also black and white. If, instead, it had been rainbow-colored, then players would be taken out of their immersion every time they opened their inventory.

User-Friendly Layout and Navigation

Another thing that’s very important to create the perfect user experience is a good inventory layout and navigation. After all, you don’t want your players to spend too much time figuring out how to manage their items, right?

Grid-Based vs. List-Based Inventory

To best manage your inventory’s layout and limited space, you first have to decide what type of interface you want it to have. The two most popular inventory layouts are grid-based and list-based.

  • Grid-based inventories are ideal for visually distinctive items, such as weapons and equipment, as they allow players to identify and select items quickly. The fact that you can fit more articles on a single screen by using this layout can potentially be advantageous.
  • On the other hand, list-based inventories are more efficient for managing more extensive lists. They provide a compact view; you can include sortable columns for specific attributes.

Sorting and Filtering Options for Inventory Slots

Skyrim Inventory Selection

Skyrim Inventory Selection

Speaking of sortable columns, allowing players to sort the items as they see fit might also be a good idea. This makes the process of finding specific things more accessible and is especially suggested for games that have unlimited space in their inventory. Imagine looking for a particular item in a game like Skyrim without sorting or filtering options.

Take an example of a relatively recent indie game, Death’s Door. Despite being a roguelike, its inventory management has different categories players can navigate. Quest items are in ‘inventory,’ weapons are in ‘weapons,’ other materials are in ‘shiny things,’ and so on. You can always use different methods if such categorization doesn’t apply to your game. This could include sorting alphabetically and filtering items based on attributes like rarity, type, or usability.

Interactive Elements and Tooltips

One thing that can drastically help you increase the immersion of your inventory design is adding some interactive elements to it. Not only does this increase the sense of control for players, but it also helps them understand how certain items work.

There are two specific interactive elements and tooltips we want to highlight. Because they’re so popular with indie games, you should consider implementing them in your game inventory to make the process more seamless.

Hover-Over Descriptions

The first interactive element is hover-over descriptions. Include informative tooltips that appear when players hover over items. Not only is this highly convenient, but most players also tend to unconsciously assume any indie game they play will have this mechanic if the game has a cursor.

As for what information the tooltip should have, consider adding necessary information like the item’s name, description, stats, and usage.

Drag-and-Drop Functionality

Resident Evil 4 Inventory System

Resident Evil 4 Inventory System

Additionally, it might be a good idea to implement drag-and-drop functionality in the inventory UI. Older games typically allowed one item in one slot. However, rearranging and organizing things into various slots enhances the player’s sense of agency and makes inventory management more enjoyable.

Scalability and Adaptability for Future Updates

Finally, the overall design of any indie game’s inventory systems should also accommodate potential updates that can come out in the future. Many indie games, especially recently, have been adding DLCs and the like that bring fresh and additional content to the game. To ensure the game inventory remains functional and relevant, some strategies developers tend to use are:

  • Modular Design
  • Flexible Layouts
  • Scalable Item Icons

Visual Design and Aesthetics with Inventory Management

Fallout 4 Inventory System

Fallout 4 Inventory System

In addition to how the inventory UI is made from a technical point of view, it’s also crucial that it looks good. The inventory UI’s overall visual design and aesthetic feel should be attractive and not at all over or underwhelming. To help with this, we want to highlight four specific aspects of the visual design and aesthetics of inventory UIs.

Color Schemes and Themes that Match the Game World

Selecting the right color scheme and theme for your inventory system is crucial. These elements should be in harmony with the rest of your game’s feel, visual style, and narrative.

To achieve this, maintain consistency with the game world by using colors that reflect the in-game environment. This consistency reinforces the connection between the UI and the immersive game universe. It’s the same reason you want the art style of the inventory system to be consistent.

Moreover, consider the emotional impact of colors, as they can evoke specific feelings or atmospheres. Warm colors like red and orange can convey excitement or danger, while cooler hues like blue and green create a more serene ambiance. Maybe you can change the UI to take a flashing color when the player’s health is low.

Getting the color scheme right involves a lot of psychology behind it. And it will help to increase your transactions and ultimately lead to more profit.

Iconography and Item Representations

Deus Ex Revolution Augmentation System

Deus Ex Revolution Augmentation System

Icons play a HUGE role in your inventory UI. They help players quickly and efficiently identify information when used correctly. Some strategies developers use to ensure their icons are as user-friendly as possible include:

  • Using clear and easily recognizable icons
  • Maintaining a uniform design language for icons
  • Ensuring that icons accurately represent the items or actions they symbolize

Fonts and Text Readability

Text is a primary means of conveying detailed information about items in the inventories. Therefore, the text should be as clear and readable as possible to avoid frustration.

It might also be a good idea to base the font style on the game’s theme. For example, if we’re talking about a futuristic game that utilizes many neon colors, then making the font neon, too, might be a good idea. However, the background must also accommodate this font change to make it stand out.

Perhaps the best thing any indie game can do is allow players to adjust the text and font however they like. This makes the game much more accessible for people facing language, visual, or other barriers.

Animations and Transitions

Finally, incorporating subtle animations and transitions into your inventory system can infuse it with a sense of engagement. Remember, these animations have to be as smooth as possible. For example, many indie game developers add animations when their inventories are closing or opening and when the player changes the section.

It might also be a good idea to play a small animation once an item is selected. It doesn’t have to be too fancy, as simply highlighting and slightly enlarging the picture, like many games already do, will do the trick.

Accessibility and Inclusivity

Ensuring that your game’s inventory system is accessible and inclusive isn’t a matter of good game design nowadays. On the contrary, many players have come to expect games, especially indie games, to have at least some inclusivity so as many people as possible can play them.

Designing For Various Platforms and Screen Sizes

The first thing to factor in is how many different platforms players can use to play your game. To do this, there are two things any indie developer can do.

The first is to ensure the UI design can adapt to different screen sizes. This way, regardless of whether someone is playing on a console, PC, or even a mobile device, the UI will still be responsive.

Alternatively, it might also be a good idea to make platform-specific UIs. Naturally, this can only be done if the developer plans to release their game on multiple platforms. So, for example, you can make icons slightly bigger for the mobile-specific UI, and you can optimize the inventory system to be navigated using a controller for the console-specific UI.

Consideration for Colorblind Players

Speaking of struggling to distinguish between colors, making your inventories suitable for colorblind individuals is also something indie developers should do. This can be done using one of two methods.

  1. You can either ensure the color palette of your game is colorblind-friendly from the get-go. This can be done by using colors that are distinguishable for common types of colorblindness, like red-green.
  2. The second option is adding a colorblind mode for players to activate independently. Celeste is a prime example of an indie game that has added this option, resulting in an inclusive game for all sorts of people.

Examples of Indie Games With Great Inventory UI Designs

Knowing what you must do will only get you so far. There’s nothing more helpful than having some visual examples you can take inspiration from. Therefore, here are some of the most popular indie games that have exceptional inventory UI designs

Game Developer
Death’s Door Acid Nerve
Disco Elysium ZA/UM
Stardew Valley Eric Barone
Minecraft Mojang
Hollow Knight Team Cherry

Now, while all of these indie games are well known in their own right, their inventory UI is great for different reasons. May it be the art style of Hollow Knight, the tidiness of Minecraft, or even the narrative utilization of Disco Elysium. Go through all sorts of indie games and compare their inventory UI with what you’ve learned here to see what makes it stand out.

Budget-Friendly Tools and Resources

Indie developers often work with limited budgets, so it’s important for them to have access to some budget-friendly tools you can use. With that being said, here are some of the best free or affordable UI design software:

Similarly, if you’re looking for some good asset stores you can use for fonts, icons, and UI elements, then consider checking out the following:

Finally, you can find some excellent courses and online communities from YouTube, DeviantArt, and Dribbble. Remember to put yourself out there and make some valuable connections.


Well, that was everything important about inventory UIs in indie games. Remember, a well-designed inventory UI can significantly impact player engagement and immersion in your games.

But this is just one step on the much larger path of creating a complete experience. Checkout our post on creating a mobile game monetization strategy so you can capitalize on your success.

The process of finding the perfect system is one that is always evolving. At Zalance, we love helping developers take their products to the next level. Let us show you how we can help.

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