Making the Epic of Sadko: Using Mindmaps and Making Changes

This is an overall update on the work I’ve done for the Epic of Sadko over the last week. This one will be a bit less technical than usual, as I’m still mostly in the planning phase and haven’t started really writing any code specifically for the game. Instead, I’ve been spending a lot of time getting all the details worked out, and changing some things that weren’t quite working when I was designing the game the last time. I’ll detail all of those changes here today, and explain my overall planning process. I’m going to start with the process first, and then go onto the more specifics. Future posts might focus on one of the topics discussed below.

So I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with mindmapping software. I’ve started using them for various projects to outline and explain concepts, but usually I find myself feeling lackluster towards the whole process and return to my older organization method: writing things down in a notebook. Writing in a notebook has advantages. First, you get to put things where you want them to be put. Second, the organization for things is usually just as easy as deciding how many lines you want. There are drawbacks, though. It’s really easy to give yourself too much or too little space when organizing ideas. This leads to a lot of wasted space, or a lot of really crammed in writing. You also have the problem of revisions. Your only recourse for revisions on paper is to cross something out and cram in a note above the text. I suppose you could use pencil, but as some of my older notebooks have shown, the pencil wears away over time, making the notes difficult to read. Plus, too many times have I ruined a whole page by erasing too vigorously, tearing the page any any notes that were on the back side. Still, it’s been a standby. Some people, writers specifically, say there is nothing like putting pen to paper and handwriting out ideas. And there isn’t. But just because there isn’t anything like doing something, doesn’t mean that doing that something is right for every project.

This is why I’m using mindmapping software. For those of you who don’t know what I mean by mindmapping, let me explain. Mind maps are a kind of flowchart which shows relationships between topics. They are sometimes call webs because they spider out from a central topic. Essentially you just put your main idea in the center and then describe the parts of that main idea by drawing lines to subtopics, which themselves have subtopics for explaining even further. Mindmapping software is used to create and organize the maps, making it quick to add new topics, edit old topics and rearrange ideas. There are a number of programs available for making mind maps. I use XMind, but some people who want more control over how their maps look might try yEd. I chose XMind because I don’t have to think quite so much about where everything is supposed to go. I’ve tried a lot of products for mindmapping, and if you’re considering using mindmapping for a project, then I suggest trying a lot as well. My choices aren’t going to be right for everyone.

My organization process was basically like this. I put The Epic of Sadko in the center, then I made two subtopics. One was for Concept and the other was for System Architecture. To Concept I added subtopics for Characters, Story, Locations and later I added Mechanics. I filled out each of those subtopics with more organizational subtopics, like the various acts for the locations. In Story, I have a subtopic for locations that held just stubs that linked to the Concept>Locations topic.  While filling out the map, I began to have problems with text getting to close to each other, so I added in a coloring scheme to show orders of topics, and I added borders around some topics that went together.  Eventually, I was running into too large of a single map, so I broke System Architecture, Characters, Story, Locations, and Mechanics into their own map. Here’s an example of the Locations map:

Locations Mind Map for The Epic of Sadko

I find that the mindmapping process is really helpful for figuring out what I need to work on. In the example above, you can see that there are some rather generic sounding places still. I haven’t updated the map yet to reflect some work that I did last night. It was pretty clear to me that I needed to work on the locations when I looked at the overall map. Right now the characters seem a bit sparse, so I might be working on that next. I might also spruce up the system architecture based on some decisions I made this week.

So about those changes I mentioned. The first change, as seen in the map above, is that I’ve decided to split the game into three acts. The player needs to get the main characters each a new skill to advance to the next act. This was done for two reasons. First, it gives the game an obvious pacing mechanism. Second, it makes the game easier to split up for me. I’m only committing to the first act for this semester, so I needed to make sure that the first act was compelling enough on its own.

Even though I’m only working on Act 1 for the game, I need to know some things about the whole game to be able to start work on the game. First, I had to know where the story was going. This wasn’t too hard for me, since I already had the overall story fleshed out. What was more important was to understand how the world was laid out. My original world map for the game was written down on paper (see image below). It was one of the first things I did for the game, and it was done without any concept of a pacing mechanic. As such, the map had to undergo a revision with the idea of acts in mind. Now there are three distinct areas to the game coming out of a central hub.

Old Map for The Epic of Sadko

In addition to the locations of the game, I needed to finalize the skill system. Throughout the game, Sadko, Alex, and Raise get various skills to help them traverse the world and complete their journey. Originally, each character was going to start with an environment skill and a battle skill, and then they would gain one of each for a total of six skills each. I had also only been considering skills on their own. One skill unlocked the way to the next part of the game whenever gatekeeping was needed, and the skills didn’t work very well together. I needed to know about all the skills in the game so that I could add in hidden things for the players who backtracked after getting new skills. Area design for the first act will need to be informed by what players will be able to do later on.

So what I did was abolish the idea of battle skills, and then have each character learn a new skill in each act. The characters start out with some minimally useful skill that is flavorful for the character, and then gets a useful skill for each act. In the end, each character has four skills. I’m not going to detail the skills here, that’s for another post down the road. Suffice it to say that deciding on these skills was no easy matter. This time, I was less concerned with trying to figure out how the skills would fit with the obstacles of the world. Instead, the obstacles of the world will be created based on the acquired skills. In addition to determining the environmental skill effects, I wanted each skill to be usable in another mode of play, the Performance.

I still want to have the player subject to something similar to typical RPG cutscene battles. I’ve determined that the way to do this is through performances. I’ll get into performances at another time. For now, I’m just going to say that they will be replacing the battles from standard RPGs to allow the three characters to gain money and experience by using their acquired skills.

I think that’s enough update for now. I’ve got some changes to make to my mind maps, and then I might get working on some systems for the game later this week. Until next time.

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