Aztez – A Game of Conquest and Brutality

The Action Game Scenario Design Dump

This a brain dump of single player action game scenario variables that I want to curate not just for inspiration and reference, but also to hopefully introduce more standardized vocabulary to use amongst craftsmen of our ilk. So, first things first. This is a distillation of the most common configurations of enemies that are encountered in single player action games.

  • Standard Handful: A finite handful of standard enemies that confronts the player. When the last member of the handful is defeated the encounter is over.
  • Standard Series: An arbitrary number of standard handfuls that confront the player as they defeat all the members of the previous standard handful.
  • Timed Stream: An infinite stream of enemies that confronts the player until a clock has run out.
  • Trigger Stream: An infinite stream of enemies that confronts the player until a condition has been met.
  • Boss: An encounter with a powerful but pattern-dependent opponent.
  • Reinforced Boss: An encounter with a powerful but pattern-dependent opponent who is surrounded by some configuration of standard enemies for support.
  • Mirror Match: An encounter with a powerful opponent who has access to all of the player mechanics.
  • Invincibles: An encounter with a unbeatable enemy or group of enemies. Designed not as a legitimate challenge, but to progress a story.

Since action games have deep roots in the  arcade setting where simplicity in game structure is the rule, this shallow group of variations should make sense. The depth in the encounters in action games come from the mechanics themselves and the complexity of the enemy cast. Now I'm going to produce a list of common combat scenarios found in single player action games.

  • 400 Meter Hurdle: This is the most predominant and straightforward scenario found in action games. The player must get from point A to point B while defeating enemies along the way.
  • Protection: There is an entity in the play space that is surrounded by enemies and must be protected.
  • Assassination: There is a single specific enemy in a larger body of enemies that must be eliminated.
  • Genocide: There is a specific type of enemy in a larger body of enemies that must be eliminated.
  • Backup: There is a large group of allies and enemies fighting and the enemies amongst the melee must be eliminated.
  • Demonstration Of Skill: The game requires a skillful demonstration of ability in the one of the game's many (implicit and/or explicit) scoring forms.
  • Restriction Of Mechanics: The game enforces the exclusive use of a specific mechanic or set of mechanics to eliminate an enemy or group of enemies.
  • Timed Vandalism: There is a group of objects that must be destroyed before a clock has run out.
  • Triggered Vandalism: There is a group of objects (possible very large or regenerating) that must be destroyed until a condition has been met.

Finally, this is a list of scenarios found in other types of games that can and should be converted into a single player beat 'em up action game format.

  • King Of The Hill: The player must fight their way to a point in space and protect it for as long as possible from attackers while the enemy does the same.
  • Emperor Of The Hills: The player must fight their way to various points in space, establish possession, and protect them for as long as possible while enemies do the same.
  • Harvest: The player must survive a series or stream of enemies while something in the play space is collected in some way.
  • Capture The Flag: The player must fight their way through a stream of enemies and retrieve an object, at which point they must return it to a specific point in the play space.

I know there is more than this so please contribute! Anything you tell me personally or in comments that is useful I will add to the post. I'd like this to be a really comprehensive list when it's all said and done.

  • E Hocking

    I like to think Beat ‘Em Ups can benefit from other genres mainstays. Many of which are found in RPG’s.

    • Artifact: Player fights their way to retrieve a valuable item that acts as a catalyst in story progression.

    • Item Hurdle: Player must acquire a specific item in order to overcome an obstacle and progress to a new area.

    • Informant: Player must communicate with NPC(s) to gather information & story elements, as a means of progression and story telling.

    • Tri-force/Achievements/Trohpies: An item which has little or no benefit to the player character other then to drive progression as an esthetic reward. Can also be related to an Artifact*.

    • Stealth: Player must avoid the attention of enemies to achieve an objective.

    • Puzzle: Player must use elements given to them through game mechanics to solve an obstacle.

    I’m not sure these are the types of things you’re looking for, but these are what immediately popped into my head. Great stuff Ben! You inspire!



      So some of this stuff can be distilled into the existing items. For example, Artifact and Trophies are essentially 400 Meter Hurdles except with a story context. And Item Hurdle is essentially a series of 400 Meter Hurdles. These things are super fun! But they basically extend the basic classes. What I’m really looking for are either base classes I forgot, or even new base classes.

      Stealth is a bit of an internal controversy for me. I feel like the two are mutually exclusive (fun by themselves, but not smashed together), but then I remember Mark Of Kri and although it’s been years, I very clearly remember adoring that game. Now I want to go back and investigate it. ;)

      Puzzle is more of an external controversy because I personally hate puzzles in action games, but they keep putting them in action games which leads me to believe people love them. I need to do some serious data collection on this subject because I wonder if people really love them, or if other designers ASSUME they do because God Of War does it and people love God Of War. It’s a curious thing.

      In any case, thanks so much for the brain dump and anytime you’ve got more thought butter for my brain toast, I’ll take it.

      • thatguy

        just to let you know i hate the puzzles in god of war and the climbing bits. but thats just me

  • C

    An interesting variant of the 400 m hurdle (maybe a new base class, given the distinctly different method of goal-achievement) would be something like the “400 m semi-optional hurdle” or “opposed race” where you attempt to move from a to b not BY defeating enemies, but DESPITE defeating enemies. Most action games do not permit you to skip enemies, but situations where a time limit forces you have to use the existing skills to deflect/knock down/quickly beat enemies and keep moving can be pretty fun/interesting.