So I’m curious. When you are writing an interactive fiction I’d assume you don’t just have an idea then just start writing the game. There has to be some sort of storyboard you make before you even start inputting the story into TADS, Inform or whatever.
So where do you do this? Do you use a program, write on paper, just notepad? I guess i’d looking for tips.
The game i worked on while learning the basics (not even worth compiling) I started with a collection of main locations and basic story and just kept fleshing it out until it made sense. This was great for learning but building a game worth publishing needs more forethought. There has to be a better way then sketching it out in notepad.
There are a few programs that purport to help writers organize their ideas. I’ve looked at a couple – by now I don’t even remember their names – but my process is more intuitive, not very structured.
At a certain stage in the development, I have been known to use a spreadsheet (in OpenOffice) to try to organize notes about puzzles or rooms or whatever, but even then, the spreadsheet rapidly grows outdated. Keeping everything organized on the spreadsheet is an extra step that ends up just being annoying.
Basically, I just take lots of notes in a word processor. Again, OpenOffice – not Notepad. I want to be able to bold and underline important stuff, or use strikethrough type for notes that are now out of date, but without deleting them, because there might be an idea in there that I can use later.
I make long lists of unanswered questions – things like, “Is there anything hidden in the shrubbery?”
For my current project, I have a complete map constructed in a drawing program (yes, OpenOffice again). This map will eventually be bundled with the released game; for now, it’s mainly a way of reminding myself which rooms are southwest or northeast of which other rooms.
Also, there are comments sprinkled throughout the code, saying things like, “As of this date (2/13/14), I don’t yet know how to let the player look through the window.” By making those notes, I remind myself of stuff that I need to work on.
I would say pen and paper is the way to go, if you have a story in mind. I sort of use a method I picked up from Zork. The maps for Zork have a key for location connections on a map, with passages requiring solving a puzzle or an item as a dotted line in connection, and solid lines for open passages. They also used “A. B. C., etc.” as a reference key next to each room, and then wrote out in white-space on the map what’s going on in that room, what puzzles need to be solved, what the steps to solving them are, etc., next to the key reference. Like “A: A chest holds an item. The key is in room C.”
A map is the easiest way to figure out the structure of your game, because a game is different than a story, in that the progression is usually non-linear. You have to adjust what happens in certain locations if the event that happens in that room has been changed by going to a previous location. You can write these out in the “A. B. C.” method, with bullet-points for changes.
Anyway, pen and paper is the easiest way to get your hands dirty in the planning stages, I’ve found.
True… I’ve thrown away quite a few. But I couldn’t imagine keeping a complex progression of events in my head without drawing a map, or creating a bullet-point progression, either on paper, or in a word processor. I’ve found a mental map is generally the easiest thing to lose, if its not written down. I’ve found this to be the case with any complex idea I’ve had. I need to write it down, or its gone. Funny thing is – I might not even refer to the notes. Writing the idea down has a way of further cementing it in my memory. That’s just me, though. And, paper is cheap.
I’m less on the pen and paper but more on the digital side…
I’ll start noting ideas and concepts in a text editor on my smartphone that syncs with my DropBox (PlainText on iPhone/iPad).
As soon as one game idea becomes more fleshed out, I create a subfolder to contain all corresponding notes, ideas, open questions and so on. (So I don’t lose the overview.)
I then start to write up mockup transcripts on my smartphone (this method works pretty well for me) before starting to code on the PC (with sublime text 2 where I can compile with a hotkey).
At some point I also draw a map (not on the smartphone, I use EDraw, but an old free version…)
Having very limited spare time (with full time job and family) I have to use the travel times to and from work to brainstorm, take notes and write transcripts.
Syncing all my devices via DropBox is ideal since I can write on the go and read my notes and transcripts on the bigger iPad screen while programming on the PC or just copy the text directly!
I start drawing the map and creating the objects in PUCK, AGE’s graphical IDE, and fill in the details and the code from the bottom up. I only tend to use paper when I need to write down ideas while I’m away from the computer, and then they’re usually in the form of short bullet point lists.
My physical docs are always physical pen and paper - notes on plot, characters, puzzles, a rough map of the game. I go from there to a code outline in Inform, and then I typically start programming in the direction of play (begin at the beginning, end at the end).
It’s become rapidly clear to me that this approach isn’t viable for me with Twine, because I bog down at the top and short-form pieces turn into long-form pieces. Still figuring out how to write choice-based games more smoothly.
I’ve recently begun to use Freemind (free, open source - http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page) to plan my works-in-progress using mind maps. Here’s a simple example, a gangster story I’m writing in German (I blurred some details to prevent spoilers for any German speakers present):
As you can see, the main branches are called Orte (= locations), NPCs, Puzzles, Protagonist, Enden (= endings). These branch out to the sides, containing nodes for all the NPCs, locations etc. (who would’ve thought ), and whatever details I care to write down about them (notes, descriptions, puzzle prerequisites, possible implementation problems…).
The process is quite nice; it doesn’t feel like much work to add a new node here and there, and you can see at a glance where the branches are sparse, meaning you have to flesh things out. You can add icons to nodes, and you can link nodes to files. For example, if you don’t want to store the complete text of the actual room descriptions within the mind map, you could store the descriptions in text files on your hard drive, and then add links to those text files to the nodes in your map which represent the corresponding regions or rooms. When you click the link, Freemind will call the relevant external application to open the linked file.
(I have to admit that I don’t know how well this whole method scales when you’ve got a huge game. It might become confusing - but you can always fold branches to keep a clean overview.)
I use a text document to jot down all the ideas that occur to me. I give rooms a letter after the name and put that letter on the map (just a dumb boxes and lines thing in Gimp).
For general plotting I’m still looking. I’d do paper if I had tidier handwriting and the ability to draw circles freehand (I wish I was joking about this inability). There’s a program called advelh that I’ve found useful for rough plotting recently, and I’ve been experimenting with using Twine as a drafting tool. It’s nice to see the connections between nodes/rooms so quickly. I also found a program called “ZTAB” on sourceforge but it’s a bit much for what I’m using it for. Same with the one I’m really lusting over, articy:draft (and the price tag makes me wince).
I was keeping notes in a generic word processor (Word, actually) but found things were just getting out of control as I started implementing. I have switched now to Scrivener as a sort of super duper outline which enables me to organize things by rooms, puzzles, characters, etc. And I’m mostly working on tidying up the story elements (motives, suspects, clues, since it’s a murder mystery) before going back to coding in Inform7. But I’m glad I have it in an electronic form that is searchable since I was away from the project for an extended period of time.
I attended a panel on worldbuilding in static fiction yesterday in which somebody* suggested using a personal, internal wiki to keep worldbuilding straight. I’ve never tried this before, but it seems like a tool that could be readily adapted to IF design.
[size=85]* Can’t remember who it was, but the possible candidates are Scott Lynch, Saladin Ahmed, Patrick Rothfuss, and Max Gladstone.[/size]