Right now, I'm trying to start planning a story for my game. Problem is, since it allows players to pick what they want to do from choices, I'm having a hard time keeping track of what's happening at each branch.
Does anyone know of a useful program or method to keep track of how the story's expanding, and to see which branches are empty? Something like a flow chart/mind-map, only on the computer...
Thanks in advance.
This question itself is fairly complex, and depends a lot on the method(s) you are using to (a) keep track of the game's progress, and (b) track the story.
Here are three fundamental ren'ai game storytelling methods, in order of increasing complexity:
1. Single path with checkpoints - the story is followed up to a point, then you either make a correct or incorrect decision. If the decision is correct, the story continues to the next checkpoint. If incorrect, it ends in a bad ending. If you make it all the way to the end of the story, you win with a good ending.
This method is the easiest to implement, as the creator only needs to create a single story, without worrying about variations. However, the possibility of the game ending at EVERY decision can get very frustrating.
2. Single path with splits - This is a slightly more complex version of the first type of story. In this model, there is a single storyline that runs through the game, but a number of points where the storyline splits into a number of different paths, each either returning to the main storyline or reaching an ending. The path taken usually depends on menu selections made in the game. Also, paths split from the main storyline may also split.
This method is more time-consuming to implement than the first, but still efficient, as key parts of the story always appear. Only the split portions need to be developed seperately.
3. Multiple paths - This is the most robust, but most complicated and time-consuming of the models. In this model, key decisions lead to a whole new branch structure. In this case, multiple storylines have to be developed, and there is no "main" storyline to return to.
Within the structures there may be elements from the first two, but each key split is a story in and of itself, making for a lot of extra work.
Now, how to visualize these. There may be a program out there you could use, such as Visio or the like, but a really good method is, quite simply, a diagram/diagrams drawn with pencil on paper. This allows you to correct/change paths, and visualize the story path. Once you've got it mostly down, you can always switch over to software.
As to what the diagram(s) will actually look like:
For 1, the diagram will be a straight line, with a branch/branches off to bad endings, and a good ending at the end.
For 2, the diagram will be a straight line, with branches that lead to either an ending or back into the main story line. If desired, a path leading back into the main story line can split again on the way, returning back to itself.
For 3, the diagram will most likely resemble a family tree, with split after split ending in multiple endings. In this case, a separate sheet of paper may be neccessary for each branch of a key split. Elements 1 and 2 can be indicated in the same way as listed above.
Here's an ASCII version of a fairly complex story diagram, combining the various elements:
STORY PATH 1 (SP1)
|--B |--SP2 |---B |---B
|----/ |---/ |----/ |------G
STORY PATH 2 (SP2)
|----B |---B |----SP3 |---B
STORY PATH 3 (SP3)
S = Start, B = Bad End, O = split point, G = Good End, "=" = multiple path track, "-" = single path track
It should be noted that a "SPLIT POINT" need not neccessarily be a menu. For example, say the first split point in SP1 is a menu, and the bottom track, which merges back into the middle track later on, sets a condition.
Now, let's say that the next split point is also a menu. If the user did not select the bottom track at the previous menu, the third option is shown. This option, if selected, merges back into the main track, but sets a condition.
Now, let's say that the third split point is NOT, in fact, a menu at all. Rather, it tests for the conditions set by the first two menus. If the user selected the bottom track at the first menu, setting the condition to 1, it takes the top track, resulting in a bad end. If the user selected the third option in the second menu, setting the condition to 2, it proceeds on the main track. If neither, it takes the bottom track, which displays a side scene, then merges back into the main track. (it may even set a condition for later!
There are, of course, all sorts of variations on these basic structures, involving variables, optional menu items based on statistics, etc., but combining these elements should lay down the basic framework of a straight-ahead visual-novel style ren'ai game, as well as give you a good starting point for visualizing its various paths. And, of course, this is just one way of planning out and visualizing a story... feel free to experiment and come up with a system that works best for you.
Sorry this got so long-winded, but hopefully it makes sense, and will be of help to you. Good luck, and ganbatte yo! (go for it!/do your best!)