Design and documentation journal for my interactive fiction (text games); also reviews and other miscellaneous stuff.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Flow Charts

I'm not usually a flow chart kind of person.  I like writing things out, and I can keep stuff in my head/notes pretty well until the time comes to implement. 

I've been told that flow charts are a relic of the 90's, a mere blip in the scheme of things, but I've been feeling an itch to do some explicit diagramming of some of the more difficult actions - partly to figure out the best way to go about implementing, and partly just to nail down a tricksy, convoluted process.

I've tried a couple ways of making them, including the built-ins for Excel and Open Office Draw, but it feels slow and clunky.  I'm almost down to drawing them on a pad (if I can find mine) or by hand and scanning them in.  Anyone have a free tool they like?  I don't need shapes or fancy connectors or pretty colors - just something fast and dirty. I can imagine quite a few tools that *might* work - Photoshop's not terrible, except it doesn't allow for easy movement of the graphics.

Or is there something that accomplishes the same goal - visual organization of complex tasks?


  1. Popplet is a very easy to use, cloud-based service (I think login is required). I've also used the free MindNode (Mac app) once or twice.

    If the idea of writing code-like text instructions for a chart that's then auto-generated appeals, you might like Graphviz (also free).

  2. I use CmapTools. It's not super great and lacks some crucial features, but the best part is that it can arrange the flowchart into a nicely formatted tree when you're done so you don't have to worry about placement of the nodes manually.

  3. If you do decide to go low-tech, the method I've always seen at design firms is Post-it notes on a whiteboard, which seems to work fairly well.

  4. I too use CmapTools for IF projects. It's handy for working through sequences of actions and their causality. For other projects, like traditional fiction or academic writing, I find Cmap too rigid and limiting, but for IF where you need to think of not only the narrative but also the player/reader actions (that are always, well, limiting) it is a great help. And there's also a light version available, if you don't need the fancy stuff.

  5. When I've wanted to diagram a project like this, I've used the graph editor yEd. It's not complex, but I've usually been able to accomplish what I wanted.