Months ago when working on our final student project in term 5 and 6, one of the difficulties of our core mechanic was how to actually teach it to the player. If we told the player verbally how to play while they were experimenting, they were able to take what we told them and what they were experiencing to figure out exactly what was going on. When we got to the point where we were having blind playtests without talking to the players, it became a very different story.
Even if we typed out the exact words that we would verbally tell the player, “When your pack is the opposite colour of the surface, you will bounce. When it is the same color, you will slide.” It took players a long time to figure out exactly what that meant. We tried to simplify it down by introducing the inter-workings of these mechanics down, and trying fancy word graphics that were colored to match what color we wanted you to be, but it still wasn’t enough. Too many player’s still were not able to understand what we were trying to teach them by the end of our tutorial to set them up for the rest of the game.
When it sunk in that we wanted the player to ‘fail faster’, this really helped us shape the challenges in the tutorial to allow them to fail, try to figure out why they are failing, and correct it. This saw improvement, but control layouts and certain aspects of the mechanic still weren’t quite sinking in.
Around this time we were also seeing what some of the other groups were experimenting with their own tutorials. One such example, I remember picking up the controller, moving around when a text prompt showed up, communicating to me how to move, attack and controls. The only thing that I actually saw though was the B button that told me to skip the text. I then had to restart the game as I had no idea what was going on. This was one of the inspirations that helped drive us towards our final tutorial level.
If the only thing I noticed was the icon that told me what button to press to do something, what if the only thing we communicated to the player was the button that they were supposed to press to accomplish something. Combine that with only displaying the button when they are doing something wrong, and suddenly we had something that complimented our tutorial challenges and helped players gain an understanding.
Players would walk forward, start bouncing into a wall and would be confused as why that was happening. Add in a single prompt on the screen that showed the icon of the left and right bumper with no other text, the players would think that hitting the button would help them in some way. The player would then be provided with visual and audio queues that pressing that button had an effect on their character, along with the change to sliding along the surface rather than bouncing, avoiding the obstacle they were previously running into.
All it took to teach the player was provide them with a challenge and a prompt for the button that would potentially fix their problem, and suddenly players were able to figure out for themselves what was going on and why everything was happening. With both of these changes complimenting each other, we saw a much higher success rate of players understanding what they needed to do following their tutorial, nor did they feel bored through learning the ropes!
Ultimately, finding the right tutorial is done through lots of playtesting and lots of iteration, as is many of the games aspects of aesthetic/audio communication, core mechanic feel, challenge design, etc. Hope this helps in shaping your own tutorials, as well as these videos that do an excellent job of further communicating these ideas.
Sequilitis – Megaman Tutorial Breakdown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FpigqfcvlM
Portal intro Breakdown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_AsF3Rfw8w
Mario 1-1 – How it teaches the player: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZH2wGpEZVgE
You can also download Strange Eden or play the lower quality web build here: http://www.westleybassett.com/projects/
Wes Bassett is a Teaching Assistant at VFS, and an alumni of the Game Design program.