Game

Norco’s Mind Map narrative game makes the story so much smoother

Norco is a story about returning home to Louisiana to realize that everything is the same, and changed in terrifying ways. The point-and-click adventure begins with Kay learning about the death of her mother, Catherine, and so she returns to her childhood home to meet her brother Blake and finish their business. Things quickly go awry when Blake goes missing, and you discover that Catherine is clearly entangled in some shady corporate conspiracy. It is up to you to unravel the truth.

Norco’s story is quite layered, interweaving with elements of science fiction and mystery. The game switches between past and present and is full of eccentric locals. Players must explore their home town of Norco, solving environmental puzzles and gathering information about the inhabitants through dialogue trees. Fortunately, the game has a good tool to help me remember the finer details between languages: mind maps.

Kay’s mind map starts out very small and focuses on a few key facts. It looks like a grid of interconnected icons and can be accessed at any time when I’m playing Kay. When I click one of the icons, it prompts a conversation between me and thoughts on the topic, with dialogue that I can click through. When I think of family or friends in my mind map, I can sometimes make simple choices: How do I remember this person? In what context do I see them? Other characters float on the periphery of my mind map, out of reach but always present.

Norco - screenshot of the game's mind map feature, showing multiple interconnections of characters, events, and thoughts in protagonist Kay's mind.

Image: Geography of Robots / Rough Rage Through Polygons

As I moved back to town and talked to people, things expanded and more icons were added to the site getting more and more confusing. I remember one of my mother’s friends from childhood; his face starts out as an indistinct blur but eventually becomes the focus. I think of the town, of my mother’s projects, of old friends and new enemies. At any point, I can check my mind map to recall things; it’s a natural way to get a recap before I restart the action, and a tool to help me solve mysteries as I move on with the story.

Mind maps also make the pacing of the game feel much more natural. Norco was a linear game that moved at a pretty fast pace and I barely had time to understand that my mother had passed away before I had to account for her loose ending. Within hours, I had escalated from rummaging through my childhood bedroom to sophisticated corporate espionage. Mind mapping is a good way to spend time processing what happened, even if the story turns to a short one.

Kay meets the ideas and people of the world, sure, but I have to try to materialize all of that by going through mind maps. It’s a great touch on a great story; Even when things move quickly, I never feel rushed or lost. Norco doing a lot of things right and one of them constantly encouraged Kay to stop and think.

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