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  • David Perry on Game Design: A Brainstorming Toolbox - Scenarios

    - David Perry and Rusel DeMaria
  •  [GameCareerGuide is happy to present its first excerpt from David Perry on Game Design: A Brainstorming Toolbox. This chapter presents a huge list of potential scenarios you can use to get your game's plot moving.]

    Most games involve some elements of a plot within a story, though not all do. In games where there is a storyline, there is usually a long-range plot -- the ultimate goal of the game. (See Chapter 23, "Goals.") And then there are the smaller elements of the story and the gameplay, which I am calling scenarios. There are many types of scenarios, and I've attempted to list as many as I could think of. Perhaps you can come up with some new ones...

    This chapter lists many common (and some less common) types of scenarios, along with some variations and refinements. Some are just keywords, such as birth, that are intended to trigger a scenario in your head. Armed with this list, you should be able to come up with all kinds of ideas for plot elements for your games. For variety, consider combining elements of more than one scenario. Also remember that, while most of this book is designed as a reference, it's also a brainstorming tool in print. So let your mind go wild; don't get too literal. For instance, when you see a word like birth, please don't feel that you should skip over that part unless it's a normal situation of a woman having a baby. Let it sit with you for a moment.

    What did birth make me think of? It immediately made me think of two things. I once went scuba diving to see a submarine that would hide airplanes inside, so it could "pop one out" and surprise the enemy. So suddenly, an airplane would be in the air and perform completely unexpected attacks on enemy ships in the middle of the ocean. It's a cool idea that went terribly wrong as, I believe, someone got stuck in a hatch, and it sank the whole submarine (hence me diving to it). Birth also made me think of that scene in the first Alien movie where the Alien pops out of the guy's chest. I hope you get the point. Use the ideas and words in this chapter as just simple touch points, and really open up your mind to where they can take you.

    In this chapter:

    • Neutralize the Base
    • Fleeing Something
    • Making an Area Safe
    • Unexpected Danger
    • Timed and/or Cyclic Events
    • Hot Pursuit/The Chase
    • Ways to Trigger Events and Flags
    • Tit for Tat
    • Delayed Gratification
    • Preemptive Strikes
    • Qualification Tests (Tests of Worthiness)
    • Struggle for Resources
    • Criminal Investigation
    • Political Motivations
    • Reversals of Fortune
    • Environmental Goals
    • Party Members
    • Cultural Differentiation
    • Unwanted Sidekicks
    • Cultural Manipulation
    • Is It Safe?
    • Mortal Threats
    • The Call for Help
    • Family and Personal Issues
    • Unexpected Location Changes
    • The Plot Thickens
    • The Obscure Object of Desire
    • Collaborating with the Enemy
    • Innocent Bystanders
    • Infiltration
    • Missing Persons
    • Ways to Gain Allies
    • Memory Games
    • Something's Screwy
    • Time Travel
    • The Observer
    • The Gauntlet
    • Imprisonment Scenarios
    • Godlike Roles
    • Misdirection


    There's a major problem somewhere, such as a tornado, tsunami, white squall, or tidal wave. For this scenario, you need to get away, to flee or to escape. It could be something like a serial killer, an animal, or a monster that is chasing you, or maybe it's on its way to get you. Maybe you are with the wife (inap­propriately occupied, shall we say?) and the husband is about to get home. Maybe you've found a dead body, and people will think you killed this person. If the best option is to bail, then that's the scenario.


    Something has been caused by accident, maybe even not by you, but now you're involved. It was unexpected and most likely is compounding your current problems. It could be immediate, such as a volcano erupting, or it could be slow, such as the town running out of water. (See the "Ways to Trigger Events and Flags" section later in this chapter.)


    Some evil deed has already been done by the bad guys, or maybe it's just about to happen. The bad guys flee, and now they must be chased down and captured before they get away. This can flip both ways, meaning you are chasing but then find yourself being chased, and so on. It can also get interesting when you're chasing the people who are chasing someone else. Or you're chasing a plane or train.


    Someone did something unpleasant to someone else, and now it's payback time. This was common when I grew up in Northern Ireland. Someone would get executed; the next morning someone on the other side would get executed. It has a tendency to run out of control, and there's a good scenario event -- particularly when it's just about to get out of control.


    This is the surprise attack, out of the blue or maybe meticulously preplanned. Usually the goal is to weaken the defenses before the main strike. Sometimes the planning part is the fun part of this scenario, not the actual strike itself. You can, of course, take this concept to the extreme, when you have an aster­oid coming to hit Earth and you send up a response before the collision occurs. Or maybe you try to wipe out an alien species before they arrive, after you discover that their visits to other planets are rarely in peace. Maybe you blow up the top of a volcano to implode it before it erupts. Maybe you cut off your leg before the virus or poison spreads. There's a lot of latitude in the concept of preemptive strikes. One of my "old" favorite movies was War Games, and it's a fun experimentation with this concept.


    • Resources are always a part of games in one form or another. Here are some ideas for how to create scenarios based on resources:
    • Maybe you need more resources because your society used them all up too fast or because there was never much to begin with. Or perhaps a natural disaster destroyed them all. Or it could be that someone (or something) is taking them.
    • Maybe you need something else, a new or better solution, because you've nearly exhausted some­thing you had relied on heavily.
    • Maybe your goal is the destruction of your opponents' resources. Maybe there's only one of this resource in existence. It could be controlling the flow or delivery of a resource, such as water into an area that has no other source.
    • Or it could be the reverse of that, where you're defending your own resources against attacks. It could be the expansion of your own resources -- you just want more of something. And yes, money is a resource.
    • Sometimes you are just collecting whatever is available (scavenging), such as in the movie Waterworld.
    • Sometimes you're stealing. Sometimes you're trying to gather the components to manufacture the resource you want or need. Sometimes you are bringing supplies to someone (or people you care about), such as taking food into a dangerous area or doing air drops. Sometimes you are moving the resources, such as a cowboy cattle drive. It's a common theme to squabble or fight over resources, and as you can see, there are many ways to use this concept to your advantage when brainstorming.


    Politics in games can take many forms. It doesn't have to be about governments. It can be about any group where there are leaders and followers and, presumably, tensions and opportunities. Here are just a few ways to think about political motivations in scenarios:

    • Someone wants to be a leader of a group.
    • Someone wants increased wealth (commonly, dramatically more wealth).
    • Someone wants influence (manipulation, or a voice in something, the ability to make changes, the power to force changes).
    • Someone wants to assassinate competition or to exile someone.
    • Someone needs to provide protection for someone else.


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