As I’ve mentioned before, I often buy apps that seem like a good idea. I have the notion that I will find a use for it some time. One such example is Scapple from Literature & Latte whose main claim to fame is that they make the writing tool, Scrivener. That is not an app that I’ve ever used—it’s for “anyone who works on long and difficult writing projects”, which is not me. However, it has a strong reputation, so I decided to take a look at Scapple.
Until I looked more closely at the manual as I was writing this post, I didn’t realise that scapple is a real word:
scapple /skap”l/vt. to work or shape… roughly, without smoothing to a finish.
—The Chambers Dictionary, 12th Edition
This makes good sense in the context of the app. Scapple is a hybrid notes-taker and mindmap: simplified in some respects, but more flexible in others. It allows you to create notes on a blank page and connect them. As you add more notes, the page expands to accommodate them. Notes don’t have to be connected, or begin with a central idea: just double-click at the place you want the note and start writing.
- Notes can be short or long
- Notes can be connected (dotted lines, unbroken lines with an arrowhead at one or both ends)
– Drag one note on top of another to create a connection
- Notes can be aligned, split or merged
- Notes can be formatted with different styles and colours
– Formatting can be applied to the whole note or just to some selected text within
– Styles can be customised or new styles added
- Notes can be enclosed in a bubble with a coloured background
- Several notes can be enclosed within a boundary and, optionally, moved around as a single unit (the magnetic property)
- Notes can be searched
I played around a bit with Scapple a few weeks ago when I was reorganising the data on my external disks. I found it a handy way to jot down ideas and actions for a project that was short-term and throw-away.
About a week ago, I bought The Cave on iTunes. Since I rarely search for games, it must have been on some list highlighted by Apple. The main reason that I clicked on the buy button was that I remembered playing the original Colossal Cave way back when. We played using a mainframe operated by the university computer centre that we rented time on.
This isn’t going to be a review of The Cave. I’m sure there are lots out there. Suffice to say that it’s a fun game with some clever ideas, humour, tricky puzzles and attractive graphics. One of the clever ideas is that although there are seven explorers—Knight, Hillbilly, Scientist, Adventurer, Monk, Time Traveller and The Twins—you can only take three into The Cave for each adventure. As there are seven areas that can only be accessed when the appropriate character is in the group, you have to play the game multiple times to enjoy the complete experience. At £2.99, you get a lot of entertainment for your money.
I decided to use Scapple to help me navigate around The Cave. I played around and came up with a set of “symbols” to represent objects in The Cave. Here’s a small section from one of the maps:
You can see how Scapple has allowed me to distinguish objects using a combination of text, bubbles and colour. The combination indicates something about the object. For instance, the “Fiery Chimney”—red text in a pink bubble—indicates that the character, in this case The Knight, must use his special power. The Knight can create a protective bubble, which allows him to float down the chimney without being roasted and access part of the castle that otherwise could not be reached. Scapple allows the creation of Note Styles that can be applied once a note has been created. These allow you to standardise properties like font, points, colour, background, and more.
I didn’t try to represent everything in The Cave, but only key items, such as an object that the explorers need to complete a task, or a junction in the passages where there is a choice of direction other than backwards or forwards. So I used Scapple’s alignment tools to make the maps neater. Again the process is straightforward, but with plenty of flexibility: horizontal, vertical, and edges (top, bottom, left, right). There’s also a distribute tool that spreads three or more notes evenly horizontally or vertically.
I didn’t realise this until I browsed the manual, but if you are running Mac OS X 10.7 or higher, Scapple is able to maintain multiple versions of a document that can easily be accessed for reference or recovery.
Apart from the align and move tools, notes can be organised into groups using a background shape. The shapes and all notes within it can be then moved as a single object by setting the magnetic property. Notes can also be stacked to give a list effect, or overlapped.
Export and Import
Documents can be exported as PDF, PNG, TXT, RTF and OPML. Whether any of the text-formats are of any use will very much depend on the content in the document. Scapple has no way to adequately understand the organisation of notes within a document. The manual outlines a set of rules that are used, but I think you’d have to arrange the notes carefully to get anything useful out. For my cave maps only the graphical outputs are helpful.
I’ve not used import, but it seems to be just a way to get text without source formatting from a document into the app, or add images. Images can be moved and resized and connected to other notes.
I didn’t bother printing anything, but Scapple has the option to view page guides, so you can see how many pages your document would require.
All in all, Scapple is a well-featured app, but is very easy to start using. As you are reminded each time you open a new document:
Double-click anywhere to create a note.
Drag notes onto one another to make connections.
For a cent short of 15 bucks or a penny shy of £10.50, Scapple is excellent value.
I had a lot of fun creating the maps. I’m posting PDF versions here for anyone who might like to use them. Of course, they come with no guarantees and a spoiler alert as there is information that will help you complete some of the tasks. It won’t help you do them all, but if you get desperate or impatient (as I did), then this link will help.
- Scapple is easily learned, but there is a comprehensive manual that runs over 100 pages; although the authors do say that they hope nobody has to read the entire manual. ↩