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so I'm making this graphic to explain a game mechanic and my problem (middle example) is that Aiming and especially Firing do not clearly appear as being main timespans (yellow and orange) but subsets of them. I cannot simply place the labels first because Rushes, Kill Bullet and Hit are events that occur at the beginning of those timespans. I can't find a solution that wouldn't make the graphic more complex.

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A little more information about the game mechanic would be nice :] –  Johannes Jul 12 '11 at 3:28
    
Unfortunately, I haven't a clue what this is trying to communicate. A description would definitely help. –  Alan Gilbertson Jul 12 '11 at 3:43
    
Not useful I'm afraid, could be potato growth, problem would be the same. –  user855 Jul 12 '11 at 3:44
    
But if you insist: Delays delay when Aiming begins, Rushes shorten the Aiming timespan, Kill bullet (instant) happens sometime early in Firing, Hit (instant) shortly after Kill Bullet. –  user855 Jul 12 '11 at 3:50
    
The example shows three different options you've considered, correct? –  e100 Jul 12 '11 at 11:58
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3 Answers

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I would recommend a Gantt chart here. This is specifically designed to show the components and length of multiple and/or nested time-based events. The time frame is certainly on a different scale, but the principles are still the same. Change weeks to seconds (or even microseconds) and the Activities into yours.

Example Gantt chart

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Dunno if it's still a Gantt chart, but in the end I dissociated some information and put it into bars below while still keeping it as simple as possible. –  user855 Jul 30 '11 at 12:28
    
@user855 Care to share the end result? –  Shawn Sep 30 '11 at 18:24
    
@Shawn Sorry material is copyrighted now and I have no time to edit it. Basically I turned Engagement, Kill shot and Hit into lines and extended them down where I put Delays and Rushes. –  user855 Oct 1 '11 at 11:47
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If Kill Bullet and Hit are instant events, they are lines or points, not blocks. That's your problem. If you're generating bar graphs in a program (Illustrator or Excel), change those data points to 1 or 3 or even 0.25 (something very small) and put the label outside the graph with an arrow pointing to the line.

The second one makes the most sense, because "Rushes" take up part of the "Aiming" timespan, but it's part of the same overall event. You only have X time for Aiming, and Rushes consume X minus n part of that time.

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I'm using Omnigraffle. I used blocks for Kill Bullet and Hit because I wanted to show that they occur "sometime" during firing. The kill bullet is not always the first bullet. –  user855 Jul 12 '11 at 13:57
    
Okay, but all the bullet events happen during the Firing section, right? They can happen at any point from beginning to end? The Kill Bullet is the single event you want to highlight. It's one instant event. Ergo, it's one point or one line. –  Lauren Ipsum Jul 12 '11 at 16:11
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You're trying to cram sequences, event lengths, and labels into an abused stacked bar graph. Consider organizing this information using a flow chart.

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From looking at examples in Google image search, flow charts are complex and not time based. –  user855 Jul 12 '11 at 6:01
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Your original timeline graphic is suffering from trying to fit in a complex idea into a simple representation. Something like this flowchart: edrawsoft.com/images/examples/Process-Flowchart.png would work well for your purposes. –  imsky Jul 12 '11 at 15:32
    
Agreed. The information as to what this is supposed to communicate is coming out little by little, and is now spread across comments under three different answers plus the comments section of the original question. A Gannt chart, or a critical path type of flow diagram would make it clear. –  Alan Gilbertson Jul 12 '11 at 22:39
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