Setting the Scope

Setting the Scope

When I was nine years old, I started my first adventure as a Pokémon trainer in Pokémon Blue Version. I still remember the excitement of entering a whole new world. Compared to today’s games’ worlds, the world of the 1990s role-playing-game hit for Game Boy was tiny. So how did the developers at Game Freak set the scope to make the adventure still feel so grand?

In Pokémon Red Version and Pokémon Blue Version you enter the world of Pokémon with a blank slate. You start at Pallet Town and are sent to retrieve a parcel in Viridian City, which is just over Route 1. You go there and return. No big deal. On the way, you learn the basics of the game: moving through the world and fighting other Pokémon with yours.

Then you go on your mission to beat all eight Gym Leaders and catch all 150 Pokémon. One Gym is in Viridian City. You have just been there. But where are the others? Fortunately, once you delivered the parcel, you can receive the Town Map at your neighbor’s house. When you open it, you see a world of seven cities and several other locations connected by 25 routes. By now, you know how big a city and a route are, so you instantly realise the scope of your adventure. (You could also take a look in the manual, but I will talk about the demise of paper manuals in another post).

Another good example for scope setting is Star Fox 64 (or Lylat Wars in Europe). After starting the 1997 space shooter game, it shows you the Lylat System, but you cannot choose anything. When you press A, there is an explosion on Corneria, the first planet. You get into your first briefing with General Pepper and take off to your first mission. Only after succeeding you are tasked with flying to the planet Venom to defeat the evil Andross. Back on the map, you see that you need to cross the whole system to reach Venom. And since your first waypoint is Meteo, which is right next to Corneria, you realize that you will hop from location to location. But you have already learned how to pilot your Arwing and beat your first level. So you are ready to go!

A game that fares badly at setting up its scope is Tyranny. The 2016 role-playing-game presents you a magnificent looking map of a world with interesting lore and a dog-eat-dog society. You climb your way to power and just as you reach the top of your province and think that you can now take on the world, the game ends. The map you saw at the beginning? That is all you will see. Whereas other RPG’s offer 80 hours of story content or more, Tyranny is done after 20 hours. This is still a decent amount of content, but the game never really tells you that reaching the top of your walled in region is your ultimate goal. It is even weirder considering that you accumulate this much power mainly to survive and there still is an evil overlord threatening your existence from the other side of the wall.

If you want to excite your players by setting the scope of your adventure, give them a glimpse of the game play they are going to enjoy, before revealing the scale of their journey. Do not lead them on with a false sense of grandeur, which leads to disappointment at the height of their achievement. Instead, let them focus on their first steps, before zooming out on the rest of the climb – be it an epic mountain or a joyful hill.

What are your most favorite memories of setting the scope of an adventure? Share your experience! I am looking forward to read them in the comments below! In the meantime, I need to go on a new adventure.

(Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash)

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1 Comment

  1. Estes

    I think one of the best games in that manner was the (imho) drastically underrated game Blast Corps.
    The setting was great: a nuclear weapon on its unstoppable way through a village and you are the only one to save mankind. With a bulldozer. By tearing down exploding houses. Somehow felt very right as a 9yo.

    After that mission you see the map: the whole earth. Four lines are going off into different directions from the spot that was your first mission. Which one to choose? Three of them were tutorials, but it didnt take long to realize this is preparation for the real deal! After the first totally cool mission I was excited for every single one.

    After those 4 main missions at the end of the lines I reached phase 2. “Time to get serious” or something like that was the announcement. (I still feel so cool thinking way back.) Back to the map: and there are new lines like two from every main mission. Pure exitement.

    And then there was a phase 3. And the moon. And more planets. And the platin medals.

    So basically you realized quickly that the globe was your scope, but you did not really know what or how much to expect. But the developers met your initial expectations pretty well and did not even stop after you stopped expecting.

    I still dont know how that transporter was driving a straight line and yet managed to drive through cities on every continent, but still… one of my favourites.

    PS You should watch the speedrun, its really unique.

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