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Best Ways To Plan Puzzles & Dialogue?

I've been testing out AC and it's brilliant!

I'm now at the point where I've started plannng out my first 'proper' adventure game and I was wondering if anyone has any tips on planning out the puzzles and dialogue?

My inital thought is to print out all the 'scenes' or 'areas' and note down which object would interact with what - although I see this method getting very cluttered very quickly!

I can also see planning out the dialogue options getting somewhat confusing; like when a dialogue option is only available after collecting a specific item.

I usually go into these kinds of projects head-first but I'm trying to be sensible and plan it out this time!

So - if anyone would be willing to share their experiences on planning out adventure games I would be very greatful, and I'm sure everyone else will!


  • Hi, I also thought a lot about this when I started half a year ago. I think I have found quite a nice setup by now. This is what I do:
    • Story
      • Write in a plain (versioned, e.g. google docs) doc file, short lines, one info per line
      • Add crucial dialog points where important, otherwise no dialog
      • Split into chapters
      • Mark important plot points (p1, p2) per chapter where the story shifts/pivots
      • I am also reading a book on movie scripts currently and the flow for story is actually very similar
    • Environment
      • I start from a world map (game world, that is) and put all my locations on it, forces me to think about how they are related, how far they are, from where you can get where and so on, can also be a mindmap
      • Then I draw a top-down sketch of each location, if a location has several levels (first floor, second floor...) I draw one for each level
      • On this I sketch out the rooms and put items to be found into these rooms
      • Then if important I also create one sketch per room with detailed placement of items, triggers, cameras etc
    • Items
      • I write down all items with a short description
    • Item Flow
      • I write down all items that you can find individually
      • From these I draw a line to other items if the current item is a prerequisite, e.g. a key to open a door
      • This way you get a nice graph of which items you can find at any point in time, which ones you need to combine with each other (multiple inputs to another item) etc.
    • Tooling
      • Most important part for me. I searched quite a lot and settled on an awesome tool for now: Articy Draft. 
      • It actually comes with a complete Adventure example that is super awesome and detailed. You can actually create your whole adventure in articy draft and even play through with conditions to playtest it before doing a single click in unity. 
      • The dialoguer asset can even import Articy dialogue assets (I wish adventure creator would also support it).
      • I create one flow for each location and show how the story progresses
      • I create another flow for the items as described above
    They have a free trial, I really recommend to try it out. Works super good for me :-) Of course also looking forward to others sharing their approaches that might even be more efficient.
  • Thanks for the advice my friend, I'm slowly getting my head around the planning stage!

    I've also been pointed towards the following articles by the legend that is Ron Gilbert regarding 'Dependency Charts' - can get confusing but they're very useful!
  • If you're looking for a decent tool to do this, I'd take a look at LucidChart.  Or if you are an MS Office user on PC, just use Visio.  :)

  • edited August 2015
    Expanding a bit on this with some notes about the workflow I've established for my own games.

    I've found working in parallel on a proper design document (including maps and diagrams) and a playable game prototype to be quite effective and useful for my creative process. It goes something like this:

    Once the overall plot is in place, it can be broken down into a number of locations, which I then add to the game as empty scenes (with 3D text objects for identification). I then create the transitions between scenes and add very basic geometry using 3D primitives, so the player can actually walk through the entire game.

    Then I start adding the gameplay logic at a very basic level, including very simplified dialogue with NPCs that will trigger certain events, e.g. unlocking new locations.

    Along with this, I update the design document and fill out the checklist I have for each scene, basically: "How does this scene actually contribute to the game?" - and inevitably come up with new ideas or plot twists.

    During this iterative process, I also start experimenting with camera switches and angles, keeping in mind the basic cinematic rules of camera movement. (180-degree rule, 30-degree rule), and maybe add simple textures to the placeholder geometry to develop ideas for lighting and so on.

    Simple storyboard slideshows stand in for more complex cutscene transitions between scenes. Physics puzzles are reduced to a simple "Solve puzzle" button with maybe a quick sketch showing how it would look in-game.

    If possible, I recommend bringing in one or two playtesters as early as possible, selected for their ability to see through the ugliness of the game at this stage. This really helps catching confusing scene layouts and logic errors early. It's much easier to change things or remove whole scenes before you've become too emotionally attached to them by investing lots of time polishing the visuals!

    Once the scenes start coming together and the simplified gameplay works, I can then start building proper scene geometry with the knowledge that the basic scene design does its job - it just needs to look better - and work on polishing dialogue.

    Just my take on this ... the hard part that requires discipline is keeping the game prototype and design doc in sync!

    EDIT: I've also found it very useful to run the basic plot as a pen-and-paper roleplaying game for a single player at a very early stage - it highlights things that the player wants to do that you haven't thought of in the initial design.
  • Oh, just one more thing about this workflow (though it's not directly related to puzzles and dialogue):

    In 3D games, once I'm happy with the basic scene geometry as laid out with primitives inside Unity, I export everything for treatment in Blender, using the free Scene OBJ Exporter (!/content/22250), which allows me to make a full and detailed scene model in a proper 3D modeling programme. I usually start by removing all mesh faces that won't be visible in-game. It also makes it really easy to create the navigation mesh.

    This model can then be brought back into Unity as a single object or broken up into individual bits as necessary - and reimported as many times as needed as I refine the model. With the correct settings, everything can be located at the origin point (0, 0, 0) which I think is much easier than fitting elements together inside Unity.

    Small props and pick-up items can then be added as usual in the Unity editor.
  • edited August 2015
    Back to the original subject: In the very early prototype phase, I find it useful to have a single NPC dialogue line stand in for an entire conversation, basically just a note about the purpose or outcome of the interaction. To keep track of things, I enter the scene name and text as a C-style comment, like this:

    /* Parking lot: Heinrich reveals the location of the missing crates of beer if player has the gun. */

    ... which is then what Heinrich will say when you talk to him.

    This makes it easy to spot when you export the game's dialogue text, and you can then go back and flesh it out later.
  • A quite useful free tool for creating dependency charts:
  • I can also highly recommend working on an actual gameprototype and the design in parallel. IMO, that's the only way computer games can be created anyway, creating a "game design document" first and when it's "finished" starting with making the game just doesn't work. No one should try to make games that way.
  • Also, it helps catch technical issues early - before they become real problems!

  • As others have said the most helpful thing for me is to rely on some flowchart software. I use a program called MindMaple that gets the job done.

    However most apps aren't necessarily built for efficiency in making your games, you might want to extend them with custom scripts to automate, style things onscreen, and remove annoying clicking/options menu repetitive tasks. I use AutoHotkey for that and it works with any windows app... even the Unity editor.
  • edited September 2015
    On the subject of plot and story design, this site is a real treasure chest:

    It discusses a huge number of subjects related to story design and fiction in general, and also has lots of very useful material about games, including puzzle design and interfaces - food for thought for any game designer!

    EDIT: Here's a good place to start reading. :-)

  • Im late here, but i used grim fandango's design doc that was released as a template on what to do ;)
  • ... and what a great game it was! :)

    I recently started using Articy Draft, which was recommended by 10FingerArmy earlier in this thread, and it's really the perfect design tool for adventure games. It used to be a bit pricey, but now they have a "flex license" plan on Steam, which made me pick it up. Warmly recommended!
  • All brilliant suggestions so far everyone!
    Thanks very much!
  • On the subject of designing puzzles:

    I've decided my game needs a few REALLY illogical and stupid puzzles - otherwise it wouldn't be a proper adventure game, would it?

    So, I've arranged to meet a couple of my friends at a bar tonight, get absurdly drunk and design a handful of old-school puzzles - sounds logical, doesn't it??? :D

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