Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Flowchart Planning

Hello everyone,

This week I wanted to bring attention to flowcharts - something that the programmers among you probably know about already. However - the application of flowcharts in planning goes beyond software - particularly in the realms of designing systems for your games! For those of you who have never worked with flowcharts; flowcharts are diagrams that connect various shapes that represent concepts, ideas and so on. 

Flowchart Example
Flowchart Example

The various shapes used in flowcharts often have a meaning in themselves - it is a good habit to get into ensuring you follow a standardised meaning for the various shapes. For instance, the Diamond shape signifies a user choice, the rectangle a process, and in this situation, a circle or oval indicate the start or end of this flowchart's program or system. You can find the meanings of various shapes online - and use that as a reference as you work. 

The benefits of flowcharts is - as the name suggests, in looking how a system or program will flow. The above flowchart is a simple look into a main menu. As you work on the actual menu - you might change elements around, however the bare bones basic in representing that is similar to the example. 

Flowcharts can be used to plan out more than coding however. You can also use it to help think about how your various game systems will work together! Think about the game's economy for example; in simple terms - when you create a game's economy you need to make sure you have ways to 'inject' gold into the game, as well as a way for it to 'leak' out of the game. Otherwise - the player will either have too much, or too little gold to use.

In-game Economy Example
In-game Economy Example
The above flowchart is a very simply representation of how gold can be affected within a hypothetical game we have in mind. The player can earn gold via loot drops, selling items to vendors, and through quest rewards. If we stopped just there - gold would firstly be worthless outside of being a simple score - since the player can't spend it, plus the player will have a lot of it. We injected gold into the game's economy - yet there is no reason for it to be scarce, since there is no way for it to be leaked out so to speak. Knowing this - we can create a player respawn penalty that will take a portion of gold each time a player respawns, we can require the player to purchase certain quest required items, and we can also let the player purchase equipment. These two in combination - injections and leakages, allow the player to both earn gold and use it to their benefit. 

This is a very simple system we have listed here - but imagine if we had a lot more different ways to inject and leak gold out of the economy, what if we had even more types of currencies? The flowchart in this case would get more complicated and larger - but it would also be very useful in helping us both plan and balance out the game's economy!

Needless to say - you can always make flowcharts on paper, even in paint! I personally use yEd Graph Editor. It a both intuitively made software and it is also freely available to use at the time of me writing this post! So give it a try if you think it can help you!

I hope this has given you a view into the benefits of using flowcharts to plan out your systems - as well as code! It can be time consuming at times - however it is well worth it when you are working on a fairly complicated system! 

Until next time,

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