A quick look at Articy:draft
Working on a role-playing game like Might & Magic X can be at times daunting for the writer, due to the game’s non-linear structure. This is why we decided to use a tool made specifically to facilitate video game writing and design: Nevigo’s Articy:draft. Let’s see what it does and why it has been so helpful for us.
Articy:draft uses a very visual approach to game writing. Instead of actual scripts or tables, here you work as if you were drawing a diagram of the story’s structure: this is called the Flow. As you create the Flow, you add blocks called “Fragments” that you can fill with pictures or text. Then you can connect your Fragments together with arrows. You can even add labels to the arrows indicating what the player has to do for this Fragment to lead to that Fragment.
A Fragment represents an interaction, be it with a place, a character, an event, an item, etc. Each Fragment can itself contain its own Flow, with its own characters and events. For instance, the city of Sorpigal-by-the-Sea would appear as only one Fragment on the game’s general Flow. However, if you were to look inside Sorpigal’s Fragment (or “submerge”, to reuse Articy’s terminology), you would see all the buildings and NPCs found in this small coastal town.
Of course, you can use colours to differentiate the types of Fragments. For instance, on the screenshot above, the bright green Fragments are various areas of the outside world (a forest, a mountain, etc.) The red Fragments are dungeons. The light green Fragments are towns, while the purple Fragments are interactive places found in the world that are neither dungeons or towns (for instance a special building or a merchant’s cart).
Once you have your Flow into place, with your major story beats or quests, it is time to create Entities. Entities are the “actors” of Might & Magic X. The player’s party is an Entity, as is each NPC the player will interact with. As you create Entities and use them in Fragments, Articy builds a database that the developers will later be able to export.
For instance, let’s create a NPC. First, I will import a portrait for this guy. To make sure the integrators won’t lose time, I took the habit of putting the portraits in the good format to be used directly in the game (in this case, a PNG file of 152 x 152 pixels, with transparent background). That way, I know Limbic Entertainment just have to grab the file from the database and won’t have to convert it to another format before it can be used in the game’s engine.
Now that this guy has a face, we need to create the actual Entity. An Entity is made of various fields, that can of course be defined to fit the needs of the game. In the case of a character, the fields will include information like Age, Species, Gender, Profession, and other things that will go straight into the game’s database.
Once the Entity is created, it is ready to be invoked within Fragments. Once an Entity has been associated to a Fragment, the Fragment will also appear in the Entity’s properties, allowing the writer to quickly see the places, events and dialogs in which the character appears.
Let’s now create a dialog for our friend Zale here. To do that, we must use a special kind of block called, wait for it, a Dialog. Funny story here: as I started writing the dialogs for Might & Magic X, I used a classical “dialog tree” structure in Articy. Back then, the rest of the team was still knee-deep in game design and had not yet started implementing the story within the game. But after a few months, when story implementation actually started, the team realized the dialog trees were not that practical for them, so they asked if I could use a different structure.
That’s how game writing goes. You have to constantly be ready to adapt your methods :)
One of the first dialogs I wrote, in classical “dialog tree” format.
The dialog structure we ended up using.
Articy:draft also allows to import map and level design layouts and drag-and-drop Entities and Fragments directly on them. So if you put something on the game’s map, a member of the team wondering what happens there can easily double-click on it to open its Flow. Everything is connected.
Here’s the game’s world map, with all the Flow Fragments. This doesn’t include “regular” gameplay objects such as enemies, shrines, etc. As you can see, there will be lots of stuff to do :)
That’s Articy:draft in a nutshell. As you can imagine, it is a very powerful tool that proved really helpful all along the development of Might & Magic X. For more information about Articy, don’t hesitate to have a look at their website.
But as powerful as Articy:draft can be, sometimes you also have to do it the old-school way… :)
The level designers and content integrators put together the “Flowchart Wall” in order to have the structure of the game in plain sight at all times. It’s also great for conspiracy theories :)