Khyle’s Out of Time Development Diary: The Mind Map – Telling a Story

In retrospect of having an even larger development role in Out of Time than The Marionette, I’ve decided to start archiving our (my?) progress in the form of a journal-type-blog thing, to not only provide regular updates for those chomping at the bit for a new game by Team Effigy, but to also give information and game-creation ideas for those who might wish to try their hand in game development.

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Introducing the Mind Map: The Process of Story Creation Part 1

One of the most important components of a complex adventure game (if not the most important component), is a well-written, well-plotted storyline.  It is something that establishes the ‘creme de la creme’ of things like cult classics (Silent Hill 2), and even the simplest of stories can shine with effective and addicting gameplay (Katamari Damacy).

Oftentimes, a spectacular story will actually downright save a game with lackluster programming and sub-par gameplay (Rule of Rose), and pull it with incredible force from the drudges of across-the-board frustration which would normally bring fairly low ratings.

While some might say that good gameplay will take a forefront to a good story any day, I’d personally say that it’s a very finite balance between the story and gameplay that makes a title fantastic from beginning to end: one must remember that games are still entertainment. They must entertain, and be entertaining and engaging from the first moment of play until the final cutscene wherein the credits roll.  The story must be intriguing.  The gameplay needs to be as intuitive and immersive as it can be for its genre.  If you can achieve a good balance of both, you can really do anything you want; and, do it well.

The real challenge of moving from a somewhat short game like The Marionette and creating something that should require several hours of the players time is simply creating enough complexity to the story to carry the game along, yet keeping the base plot interesting and simplistic so that it is neither spoon-fed, nor completely flying over the heads of those who play it.

For something like Out of Time, creating a brand-new simplistic plot with many complex nuances and heavy character development requires a lot of time and organization. When working with so many themes, it’s often hard to keep things straight sometimes (Auriond knows I’ve forgotten important details about the plot more than once!).  Once you start accumulating enough plot points, you’ll notice that keeping them on separate note pages just doesn’t cut it anymore.  Sooner or later, you’ll once again find yourself in a mess of details that need to be articulated into something more understandable.

Enter the visual mind map:

Mind Map Example

I’m sure we’ve all seen these before somewhere.  Most likely in school or in the workplace.

I have to admit that I was never a fan of making these things while going to school.  I thought they were a little too cumbersome and time-consuming (you might think this, too), but I’ll also rightfully admit that these things have saved my proverbial posterior many a time when I’ve needed to organize themes, thoughts, and conceptual ideas.  I might just say I’ve grown to love the mind map.

There are some very decent computer programs that will assist you in mind map creation, which makes it much easier to express ideas over long distances, as the mind map file can then be transferred from person to person for review and modification.  It assures that everyone is on the right page, and places all details for each idea and concept up front in plain view.  You can use mind maps for basically everything.  Creating separate mind maps for characters, plot points, puzzles, and variable gameplay is certainly not unheard of.  In fact, the more mind maps, the better!

As a meat and potatoes tool for creation, it can work very well at pushing development along.  I won’t give specifics on how to optimize your maps for game creation in this post, but I will certainly do so in future development blogs.

In the meantime, here are links to some freeware (and not so freeware) mind map software, if you’d like to try it out for yourself:

FreeMind – Mind Map software that is being used for Out of Time.  Probably the most comprehensive MM freeware out there.

XMind – If you like a bit more graphics, and a bit more color, this might be a bit more suited to you.  It also has some nifty features, and more if you purchase the more complex version.

iMindMap – Apparently this is the only product endorsed by the dude who ‘came up with’ mindmapping. Also nice if you want something more organic.

Creately – Specifically focused on collaboration mind maps.  You can actually use this one for free, but the free version is limited.

Mindomo – Also focuses more on collaboration mind maps that you can access through the net.  Also has a free version, but the free version is limited.  Makes some sharp-looking maps.

MindView – This software integrates with MS Office.

OmniGiraffe – A beautiful mind mapper for MacOSX.  Can create graphics, curves, and some really awesome diagrams.

Hopefully this will help jumpstart your own mind mapping pre-production.

Next time I’ll talk a bit more about using the map for developing specific game concepts such as plot, characters, and puzzles.