Writing and designing branching scenarios

One of the things we're beginning to realize is that while Presenter makes it easy to create branched scenarios, they're really not easy to write! We're having some challenges mapping out our scenarios and creating enough realistic choices and consequences for each path.

What's a realistic number of levels for scenarios and how do you write them out so your clients can understand them. I have boxes and arrows all over the place!

21 Replies
James Brown

FreeMind and mindmap may be ok for concept mapping but for branching scenarios you could very easily use the flow charting tools already build into MS Word and Power Point. In fact I used them for outlining major steps and processes when I developed a training course for the use of a GPSR unit. My other suggestion would be Gliffy.

Steve Flowers

Here are a few tools I really like for writing branched scenarios. These two tools are tuned around interactive fiction. In the end, that's really what we're talking about here. Searching for tools and communities that surround interactive fiction are really helpful, and practicing writing interactive fiction, participating in MUDs, etc.. are great ways to sharpen those skills. Here's one of many communities available for free participation - People's Republic of Interactive Fiction.

The first tool I like is Twine:


This tool is free. It outputs to a single file wiki. There are some really great previews you can use as prototypes to explore how your choices and feedback chains come together. This could be a really cool and easy way to preview stuff for your clients.

The other tool I like in this space is called chat-mapper.


Chat mapper is used by folks that write games, particularly MMO's for NPC (non-player character) interactions. This one has a pretty neat simulation / preview as well and adds the ability to track variables and add visuals and audio. While these don't port directly to Articulate, you can get a pretty good idea how things will work. For a fee, you can license chat mapper and export to an XML format. I've been entertaining building an engine using Flash to interpret and display the structures and media. That would enable you to export your chat-mapper stuff directly to an interactive story or conversation that could be included in Articulate. Like so many other ideas, this one is likely not going to see the light of day But it's possible.

Simon Perkins

The first thing I'd look at is how important is it to include scenarios?  Do you really need them?  How much measurable value do they add?  And how "real" are they?

I only ask because one of our ongoing projects (1 year and counting) is based 90% on scenarios that run 4-8 levels deep.  The topics are very sensitive and personal, hence the use of scenarios being conducive to enabling the learner to explore their behaviour.  Another project goes only 2-3 levels in, but gets right to the point.  

IMO, the key is creating scenarios (and indeed any content) that is "real", i.e. the learner is likely to encounter this type of situation and needs to know how best to handle it.  I've seen too many L&D managers/elearning leads come up with stuff just for the sake of it - and build scenarios that go off on an anti-value tangent.  I think (and again this is purely MHO), this is because some SMEs see things only from their perspective, i.e. they fail to put themselves in the shoes of the learner.  Maybe they're so used to delivering the same content, answering the same questions, and generally fielding the same responses throughout their training sessions that they end up playing the same record.

Spend time with your learners.  Find out what they know, what they don't know, what they want to know, what their issues and challenges are etc.  Find a model pupil who knows what they're doing - involve them in the development process.  

Then just get everything down on paper, on post-its, or in something like Gliff (which I only found yesterday) or Mind Manager or whatever, and write ... explore ... expand ... contract ... until you have something that is real, concise and of value.  Then build it!  HTH.

Shelly Cook

Here's a very, very low tech way to map out your scenarios --- use post it notes on a dry erase board.  Each post-it represents a slide and you can move them around until you are happy with the scenarios.  Then # of post-its and use those #s as slide numbers.

When presenting this to your client, you can do it in the form of a book - kinda like the pick your ending books.  Mock up the scenarios and print them in full screen view with "go to page XX" for each branching option OR publish the mock up so the client can see the interactivity and not get hung up in the confusion of flipping through slides.

Tom Kuhlmann

A tool that I've used in the past is MindJet.  It's a mind mapping product.  What's cool is that after you map out the scenario, each branch of the map can be exported as a PowerPoint slide.  The key is to title the branches so that when you export, it's easy to identify how to connect the links.

For example: scenario 1 may have three main areas with three choices per area.  The titles could look something like this:

1A1, 1A2, 1A3, 1B1, 1B2, 1B3

Doesn't really matter how you do it, just choose something consistent. 

There are a lot of mind map products out there (many of them free) not sure which ones output to PowerPoint, though.

Dianne Hope

I've been trying to create the steps for a scenario or "use case" for a screencast overview of how to use SAP Shopping Carts.  I've been using draw.io which is a free online diagram drawing application for workflow, network diagrams, etc.  It has a large number of basic vector graphics and with a little imagination you can create diagrams for branching scenarios, save them in the cloud on Google Drive, and export them in a number of image formats.  I'm fairly new to writing scenarios, but this is what I've produced as a rough first draft:

Joshua Roberts

Sergey Snegirev branchtrack.com said:

I can recommend two tools (one of which was developed by my company)

1. BranchTrack - visual designer for branching scenarios with preview and SCORM output - www.branchtrack.com

2. Twine - text-based branching stories with preview and HTML output - www.twinery.org

I really like Twine, allows for a great option for text based adventure scenarios. I'm currently considering the use of Twine in a Safeguarding module I'm creating.

Jackie Van Nice

I just got around to checking out Twine for building complex branching scenarios (thanks to the recommendations in this thread) and really like it. I especially appreciate that:

  • It's open source (simple, straightforward, and free). 
  • You can move the decision points and results around like sticky notes - easy to see exactly what's going on.
  • It's incredibly easy to share your scenario as an HTML file.
  • You can instantly preview it as a learner would - running through the scenario(s) and making decisions.

You can't include visuals - as Joshua mentioned, it's text-based - but that's fine for what I need. I can add tags to explain the visuals - that part is easy. I'm far more interested in cleanly mapping out a solid (yet potentially complex) structure for the story.

Thanks to everyone who made recommendations here! They were all helpful and I'm glad I got to check them out.

Elizabeth Miles

I use Inspiration, which is very affordable and easy to use right out of the box.  It's possible to include comments, still pictures and multimedia, and it exports to multiple formats, including PowerPoint.  I have a dual screen setup with Inspiration on one monitor and Storyline on the other.  The check boxes in Inspiration help me keep track of my progress and ensure that I set up the course navigation correctly.

Jonathon Miller

To throw my hat into the ring:

I have used a number of different tools, usually depending on my employer is willing to provide. 

must say I also love the sticky notes on a white board. It's my favorite when collaborating with others. It's interactive, it can be fun and it really speaks to this kinesthetic learner. Then I'll snap a picture with my phone and send it to OneNote so it can live with the project file.

For more basic or limited stuff I have used the tools available in PowerPoint. Easy to use and to the point. (no pun intended, just a happy accident)

If you already have Microsoft Visio available it is a great tool as well. Imagine that, a workflow tool is great for creating . . . workflow.

I have also used mind mapping software. It's great for brainstorming and I really like it for sketching out more intricate stuff. The one I am most familiar with is Bluemind