Khyle’s Out of Time Development Diary: The Mind Map – Characters, Plot, and Puzzles.

(Yes, I realize it’s been like, two or three months since I last posted about mind-mapping.  Oh well!)

Using the Mind Map for Development: The Process of Story Creation Part 2


In my first development post, I explained a little bit about the process of getting used to the idea of using a mind map for initial game creation and development.  In this post, I will dig a bit deeper into the depths of how wonderfully versatile such a tool is for game creation between developers, and exactly how much you can plan and organize by simply using a mind map.

For this entry, I came up with a very simple idea for a game: “Cookie Jar”, wherein you play a six year old named Little Timmy, who wants to get a cookie from his mothers’ cookie jar.  He has a dog named Ruff who tries to keep him from stealing cookies from the cookie jar.  This game has everything: action, drama, and staggering moral decisions.  Let’s see how we can work with it in a mind map!


Character Outlines & Plot Development



Outlining your characters is very important when developing the foundation of a plot, especially if you intend on having a more mature audience.  Considering stories are built upon the concept of character development in relation to events and conflicts that they experience, you can really only have a good story if you have a set of good, solid characters that have various forms of depth to them.

When taking a mind map to a simple story concept like that of “Cookie Jar”, and the more you pan out details about a simple character and their fears, desires and motives, you will be surprised exactly how far the rabbit hole can go. A simple story about a boy wanting a cookie can turn into a tale of obsession and addiction: wherein the moral ambiguity of theft to feed a seemingly innocent desire is certainly brought into question. Perhaps to a shocking (or even humorous) degree.

Now, you might be sitting there, thinking: “But, aren’t you over analyzing the simplicity of your own plot?”

Well, true. I might. But for the development of a several hour game that you really want to sink your teeth into story-wise, as well as game play wise, it’s almost necessary to do so.  The farther you dig, the deeper you go, the more you can add to your game: not filler, but quality content that hasn’t been thrown in at the last minute to extend playtime. Not only can you make a simple childhood story into a conflict that everyone can relate to, but something that can be experienced by an age group that enjoys a completely different, mature level of drama.  The mind map is an extremely helpful tool for helping one visually attain and brainstorm these sorts of conceptual ideas, and one can easily add new branches as new ideas form and attach to previous ones.  You can then adjust branches and clip and trim away ideas to fit your target audience, what sort of tale you wish to tell with your story, and figure out what sort of symbolism or metaphors you can integrate into your environments and puzzles (if need be).

From a multi-developer standpoint, mind maps are even more useful as they can be color-coded to assist in showing unfinished ideas, important character traits, character traits that will effect game play, a character’s direct role in game play, and so on and so forth.  This way all developers can be on the same page, add their own ideas and questions to be finalized by lead developers, and not even have to be in the same room while doing it.


Puzzles, Events, and Variables


Whilst I may write a future development diary about the concept of variables, and how they are the cornerstone of versatile gameplay, I will briefly touch on them here with their siblings: puzzles and events.

First, a small description of each:

Puzzles – These are situations in game play where the player must interact with the game to directly solve a problem.  Whether it be a straight-out puzzle that concerns mechanized objects, a puzzle wherein logic and use of information must be used to give a certain outcome, or a puzzle in which directly relates to events and variables, puzzles are certainly key mechanics for any form of game (especially those of the adventure variety).

Events – These are the actual ‘parts’ of the game that are triggered by puzzles and variables. Don’t get actual game events mixed up with things like ‘quick time events’: QTE’s are a type of event, not the definition of a game event.  A game event is simply an moment in the game that effects continuing gameplay. For example: in a game like ‘Cookie Jar’, an ‘event’ could occur once, say, one discovers a puzzle where they must gather a pile of books to climb high enough to reach the cookie jar, and then another would occur once the puzzle is complete. Usually (but not always) events are marked by cutscenes, major plot points, or the introduction of major puzzles/game elements.

Variables – Basically, the entire concept of variables is simply based around the idea of ‘choice’. Like the word ‘variation’, or ‘variety’, a variable is an expression of a possible choice within a given range of choices. Due to the fact that variables (choices) can literally be endless, this is really the main reason why building non-linear games can be so challenging and complicated to make: you can’t possibly get inside every single player’s head to see what sort of decisions they will want to make while playing a game, as everyone will look at a given puzzle or situation differently. A main concept of good game design is to be able to inadvertently manipulate and encourage the choices a player will make at any given time. If you can do this successfully (and very well), a game can be very enjoyable. Do it wrong, and you’ll end up with some very frustrated players. The few complaints we actually got about The Marionette‘s gameplay were due to over-complicated variables.  Hopefully we can improve on this in Out of Time.

In mind-mapping, these game elements can be easily displayed for better understanding. Here, I have made a simple Event, Puzzle, and Variable action map for the “Cookie Jar” game I made up earliar:


As one can see, using a mind map can greatly sort out confusing things such as variables, events, puzzles, and even the endings after whatever variable route is taken. You can then add and subtract more variables, events, puzzles, and endings from your initial mind map.  You could add a variable to have a second thought after you pile the books in front of the cookie jar, and come up with the ending on the top. Or you could even make it so that you could make the choice to come back inside and attempt to steal the cookies after all.

It really depends on how you want your game to play out, how linear you wish it to be, and what sort of experiences you wish the player to have.  If you plan on having lots of variables and decision-making, you also need to ponder how much control and freedom you want to give to the player throughout the game. If this isn’t fine-tuned, people will end up with too many variables and not really know where to go, or what to do, to get a certain outcome.

For now, I think I’m going to leave mind mapping to that. It’s a very important part of game creation, but I don’t think it really needs more than two posts to get a good idea of what it’s all about.

Potential developers out there: take this information any way you wish. Use it, utilize it, and remember to check out all the neat mind mapping software I mentioned in my first post.

Now, back to work…