Designing my Dream

Designing my Dream

Designing My Dream

Designer Diary by Sandy Petersen: Terror Paths & Invasion of the Brood

By Sandy Petersen

I have a lot of nightmares. This is no doubt at least in part because I watch a lot of horror movies, and read H. P. Lovecraft. Makes sense, no?

Now, when I’m actually experiencing a nightmare, it’s not fun. But when I wake up the next morning – or sometimes in the middle of the night because it was too scary. Or because my wife shook me awake because I was crying out. Well anyway, when I wake up the next morning, I frequently remember the nightmares. And sometimes they are useful to me. Many of the levels I created for Doom and Quake were inspired by an event in a nightmare.

But on rare occasions, an entire creation is based on one of my dreams of nightmares. Let me give you two examples of this.

I have been working on the game Call of Cthulhu: Terror Paths for the last two years. One of the maps in that game is of the Starry Wisdom Chapel, and I’d created three adventures taking place there. I felt I was done with the Chapel for the moment.

But then, a few nights ago, I had a dream in which I and my wife were visiting an old church, and she was kidnapped. In the dream, I had to search the church to find her, and over the course of the dream it morphed from an ordinary nightmare into an overlap with my ongoing work on Terror Paths scenarios. So in the dream, I was not only seeking my wife, but I was also designing the scenario, even remodeling the church to make the search more interesting as a game. For those who are worried, I did eventually find and rescue her in the dream. She was tied up in a secret compartment in the basement.

But when I woke up, I realized that my dream self had created a solitaire adventure for Terror Paths. So that day I started implementing an adventure in which a lone hero seeks a kidnapped wife in the Starry Wisdom chapel. The adventure is not identical to the dream. For one thing, my map of the Starry Wisdom church doesn’t have a basement for her to be imprisoned inside – the map emphasizes the church spire. The dream is a launching point, not a blueprint. When I get stuck I do review the dream to see if there is something else to draw from to stimulate my decision.
But there you have it. I have a whole Terror Paths scenario, and lo and behold it came from a dream.

In the spring of 2019, I had a dream in which I was designing a two player game about an alien invasion of Earth. This was not like any other game I’d designed. In the dream, the alien was one of my oldest creations – the Broodmaster – an alien I invented when I was only 13 years old. In this game,
the Broodmaster life-cycle is represented, as well as
diplomacy between human nations,
various human military units
and of course a map of earth.
All of these features were in the final game, and they all came from my dream. Obviously, lots of small bits of the game were skipped over in the dream, and I had to create these in my waking hours. Plus playtest the game, write a rulebook, and so forth. But still, this was an almost unique experience for me. I have no idea how such a complete game outline came to me over the course of a single dream, which probably only lasted 30-40 minutes tops. When I’m trying to figure out a new game the normal way it takes days or weeks or even months to get it worked out in anywhere near this kind of detail. I guess I’m way smarter when I’m asleep.
So … I guess I’ll go take a nap now.
Marry the Monster Design Corner

Marry the Monster Design Corner

Once upon a time a huge foot crushed my home. It was connected to a fachan – that mythological monster which has one of everything (one eye, one arm, etc.). I had been tinkering with a game design, but now that it was crushed, I decided to make a new one based on the Fachan.

I couldn’t really be upset at the fachan. After all, everything is one for him. That meant there can only be one fachan in the world. It makes sense, right? Furthering this line of thought, it’s long been my supposition that the fachan is very lonely, and wanders the world looking for another of his kind. Just like The Monster in Bride of Frankenstein, he recognizes that he is not like a human. He is different, singular and single, and completely alone in the wide world.

When I told all this to my brother Grant, he supposed that he’d probably go looking for one of his kind everywhere, including settled lands, which means he’d bother villagers all the time, inquiring, but also just being a monster – sometimes eating them or causing havoc generally. Something about this struck me as unique for a game.

Grant and I tinkered with some basic mechanics involving buildings that the fachan crushed, and the idea of a fake bride came swiftly, wherein each player uses this to destroy rivals. The game went through plenty of early stages – it was a grid of squares before moving to hexagons, for example. And there was an “anger” track that ramped up each time he found that a potential mate was fake. The purpose of this was to note how many buildings he could destroy (the angrier he was, the stronger, like Hulk, I guess). This mechanic didn’t make it in the final game for a variety of reasons, but I always thought it was neat.

Eventually, the game sat around, unfinished, as I simply didn’t have the bandwidth to design a game between all my actual duties at Petersen Games (design is not among them). At some point we were approached by Zoran Dobrijevic who showed us Potions & Profits, a fun little game that we decided to buy from him in order to publish. I showed him Marry the Monster, he liked it, and suggested some rules tweaks – and then more of them. He was hired to develop it further into the form you see now.

Although the theme is convoluted (you trick the fachan into thinking there’s a bride for him, but it’s false, and draw him towards you where he’ll trample your rivals’ buildings), it actually matches the gameplay precisely. That’s because I took to heart a mantra I’ve heard my father, Sandy Petersen, repeat about game design – that theme and gameplay must be married* tightly.

*That was shrodinger’s pun; both intended and not intended until you read it.

This game is weird. But it is also weirdly fun. I thoroughly enjoyed designing it, and I hope you enjoy playing it!

– Arthur

Designer Diary: Evacuate

Designer Diary: Evacuate

New Game by Jeff Petersen & Tony Mastrangeli Coming in February

Evacuate came about because I thought, “What game wants the player to be in the middle of a pack? Not the first, but not the last.”

In most games, you are racing to be the first, the one in the lead. So I had to think of a way to convince the player that they didn’t necessarily want to be in the lead.

What if there was danger all around and you didn’t know what was around the next corner? Would you want to lead the pack? And if the danger is all around then you don’t want to be at the back of the pack either. You want to be protected like the president with people all around you.

Designer Diary: Invasion of the Brood

Designer Diary: Invasion of the Brood

Designer Diary: Invasion of the Brood
(A game that will be released later this year)

by Sandy Petersen

When I was 13 years old, I invented an alien race to rule the star empire I pretended to control in my fun pretend games with my pals. All my friends invented alien nations too. Mine were the broodmasters  hideous black hulks without any sensory organs except telepathy. They spawn small arachnid-like broodlings from their bodies to act as workers, soldiers, and everything else.

While the broodmaster itself hid in an underground burrow or a fortress, the broodlings swarmed over the landscape building a civilization, all under direct control of their ruling broodmaster’s immense mind. Over the years I kept refining these aliens until I understood almost all the details of their grim society, rapacious personalities, and strange biology. Then I turned 16, found out about girls, and that was that for the broodmasters.