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.
Sandy Designer Corner – Invasion of the Brood

Sandy Designer Corner – Invasion of the Brood

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.

In 1991, I designed the games Lightspeed and Hyperspeed for MicroProse Software, and I needed a bunch of aliens. Naturally, with the Broodmasters already pre-designed so to speak, I put them into this game series:

In 2018, I designed the tabletop game Hyperspace, and once again I needed a bunch of alien civilizations. Naturally, I pulled the broodmasters out of my back pocket. Again. And this time I made them a key feature of the game – one of the four core civilizations. In February 2019 we crowdfunded Hyperspace to reasonable success. Presumably they wouldn’t show up again. I mean, why would they?

But in March 2019, I had an extremely detailed dream. In this dream, I was designing a game in which a broodmaster was attacking the modern Earth. It was launching baby broodmasters onto the planet surface, molting them into adults, spawning broodlings, seizing control of human military units and leaders, and so forth. It was quite detailed. It was a two-player game – one as the broodmaster, the other as the human resistance. I don’t know how long the dream went on – time & dreams are hard to reconcile, and I have absolutely fallen asleep, had a long involved dream, awakened and seen that it was only 20 minutes later. Go figure.

Anyway after I woke up, I realized that all the core systems for a Brood vs. Humanity game had been designed by my sleeping mind. It was like a free game design. I didn’t do much about it till September, when I finally felt impelled to actually create this game, which I then named Invasion of the Brood.

So I started. I had a working prototype by October, which I playtested, and even took to Europe to conventions. It was a fun fast game and of course highly asymmetrical – the two sides don’t even have the same turn sequence. Response by my testers was super-positive, and now at last it is being released – about 10 months after I finished all testing and writing. But my team had other projects to work on, so Invasion of the Brood was on a back burner for a while.

But now at least it appears – my dream game, literally. This has never happened to me at any other time. Yes I have dreams about game design, but usually these dreams are along the lines of putting together a single game map; creating a monster; going to a playtest only to realize I’m not wearing pants; or finding out that my game prototype closet is full of huge spiders (I hate that one).

This is the only dream I can remember in which I designed a whole project from start almost to finish while I slept, so naturally I think it’s a pretty unusual origin story for a game. Let me know what you think, on the various Petersen Games social media sites.

– Sandy P.