Tutorials for those who need tutorials

 Sorry I missed last week, ladies and gentlemen (damn it, now that Saliva song is stuck in my head). As I explained, I lost track of my time. My life has been turned on it’s head since my diagnosis and I’m still getting things back in order. Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.

So, last week we talked about just a few of my favourite tutorials. This week I want to talk about bad tutorials. Why? I do this because its kind of hard to learn from a good example. In a good tutorial the gameplay and exposition meld together so perfectly that you might not even notice its there. The great thing about negative examples is that they are often so lopsided and mismatched that some elements poke out clearly and are easily defined. For example: when you play a bad game what do you say? “Oh, the graphics suck.” “The controls are clunky.” “My guy’s hitbox is poorly defined and I keep getting hit by shots that aren’t even close to me.” “The enemies all look like copy-pastes of each other.” “I keep getting stuck on weird geometry.” and my personal favourite: “For a game with a lot of platforming elements, that sure as hell is a weak jump. Also, while we’re at it, the difference between an un-scalable wall and a comfy perch is often a 10th of a degree, how am I supposed to know what I can land on?” (I’m looking at you, Guild Wars 2, I believe Carson’s catchphrase is applicable: “Hark the raven: this is bullshit’.”).

So without further ado. What is a bad tutorial? I know that this probably seems like a very stupid question but I feel it’s very important to define all terms. I suppose that’s the mathematician/scientist/academic in me. So, for the case of this particular discussion, a “bad tutorial” is a tutorial that fails to educate in a timely, informative and most of all, engaging manner. Simple enough. In order to get into my roster of bad tutorials I have to leave your intro level with no sodding clue what I’m doing. Of course, me slamming my head against my keyboard and chanting “Yeah, I get it.” will get you here too.

Man, I’m so not used to this 5 page format. Okay, lets start where we started last week. Lets talk about a bad platformer tutorial. Now, the games I cover today, very few (if any, I’m kind of doing this as I go along) are bad games. In fact, many of these games are excellent wonderful games that I would recommend to any player out there. This brings me to Rayman (the one for the Sega Saturn) I had no sodding idea what was going on in this game. I didn’t know punching was a thing, I mean, I was 8 when the game came out, but then again I was 5 when Super Mario Bros. Classic came out and I had no issue there. Here’s the trick : if you are making a platformer, nobody should have to read your instruction book. I know, games don’t have instruction books anymore. We have codex, the tutorial gets loaded into the game files so you can check it quickly from the pause menu. The point here is simplicity. You can buy a whole lot of depth with very little simplicity. Whenever you want your player to learn a new trick put it on the screen! I dont mean you need to halt everything and show a ghost-sonic bouncing across the springs, but a placard with a jumping picture posted right on the side wont hurt or break immersion.

Let us move from here to RPGs. Everyone say it with me, now: “WoW blows”. I’m sorry, Bliz, you guys make a mean strategy game. In fact, your entries that deal more with strategy tend to be excellent. You are masters in the art of perfect imbalance and strategic design. The problem is that nobody would know that by just picking up your games. Obviously, one can point to the 5 million subs that WoW boasts (seriously guys, that’s crazy) but anyone who has spent more than 20 minutes in LFG can tell you that even after 9 years of WoW, half the community has no bloody idea what they’re doing. I’ve seen people try to rogue tank. On my first character I thought a voidwalker meant that locks could tank and healthstones/soulstones meant they could heal. I understand that there is a -huge- community and hundreds of resource sites that will teach you to play your class, but the fact that most core raiders need to keep Icyveins on their homepage means that you are doing something horribly, tragically wrong.

I don’t even know how to fix it! WoW’s direction with low level quests (that is to say, only having 2 or 3 available in any given chain at a time) makes things a little better but that does nothing to address the fact that more than half of your community have no bloody idea how to play your game. Now, things have gotten better since you cut the talent system to 3 talents every 15 levels; and things have gotten better since you put a written how-to on your class-spec menu. Once again, you have the late game on lock. WoW, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone and Starcraft are all excelent once you get into the community level and professional level stuff. That, however, doesn’t change the fact that getting there requires months (or years) of training and a willingness to completely re-learn your class every year and a half.

Moving on to shooters. Now, the great thing about shooters is how popular they are these days. Shooters don’t really need to have good tutorials (at least in the Bush and Obama years, I expect this blog to be running when I’m 80. hey young people, did you know that people used to have to actually type these essays out?) because they are so ubiquitous that 90% of people who pick up a shooter will simply know what they’re supposed to do. In this situation, I must (ironically) assign the dubious honor of worst tutorial ever to my favourite FPS of all time: Team Fortress 2. Now, keep in mind, I love many of the games that find themselves on this list. In fact, I still come back to TF2 on a regular basis just to screw around. That being said, there is a brief tutorial section you can access but all it covers is basic controls.

“But that’s all you need.” wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. Okay, that joke doesnt work over text, I was singing that to the tune of Ode to Joy. Anyone who has ever played a multiplayer game (co-op or PvP) knows that once you get the basic forward, back, left, right, aim, shoot mastered you are still less competent than a bot, let alone capable of actually rolling with the crowd. Now, I’m not saying that you should come out of every tutorial with the unstoppable machismo of Duke Nukem. All I’m saying is that when you roll Medic for the first time you shouldn’t be so ill-informed that you try to take point on him. The point to take here is comprehensive knowledge. Have your players run a few bot matches with stat-boosted AI so that they get the feel for exactly how squishy your shiny support is.

On to Action/Adventure. The award for worst tutorial in an action/adventure game I’ve ever experienced is Devil May Cry. All of the entries before the most controversial haircut in gaming history. Seriously, things are a good deal better in DmC:Devil May Cry but that’s only because there are less combos to learn. If you want to really be competitive in the high-score leaderboards you need to learn dozens of moves for each of the dozen or so weapons. Once again, it’s not nearly as bad in the reboot but that is only because there are less weapons and less combos for each weapon. In the reboot they also allowed for a zero stress area in which to practice, which is actually a huge step in the right direction. Now that I think about it, I should have put DMC :Devil May Cry in my list of best tutorials.

Finally, we will talk about fighting games. Now, this one is kind of a tough pick. Fighting games have come a long way towards making themselves accessible. They haven’t even come close to the best they could be, but they are lightyears beyond where they were 10 years ago. If I had to give a Worst in Show to any fighting game it would have to be my all time favourite fighter: Super Smash Bros. Now, this is not because SSB’s tutorial system is by any means bad. Hell, SSB’s tutorial system is basically the progenitor of the modern tutorial system (seriously, go back and play SSB classic for the N64 and tell me that every single fighter to come out in the last 14 years didn’t copy/paste directly from that thing). The reason I chose SSB classic is because while it is the progenitor of every modern fighter tutorial, it simply isn.t very good at teaching it’s own system. Once again, it’s a hell of a lot better than it was before SSB, just that the massive range of movement in SSB precludes the “standing dummy” approach to fighting tutorials.

You see, the most important part of a tutorial is providing a stress free safe place in which to play with your system. I would like to direct your attention to Kongregate. Go over there and pick any of the idle games. Could be Idle Mine, Thrones of Fantasy, any of them with the tag ‘Idle’. Now, these games are not good games for any stretch of the imagination but they are excellent for a meditation technique I use. Just go into one of those games and play. There’s no purpose, no explicit point. If your mind is at all like mine you will eventually realize that these games are effectively unlimited. They aren’t really particularly fun so you have to find your own way to enjoy them. This is what a tutorial is supposed to be; an effectively infinite space completely free of responsibility or goal where you can take all the time in the world to figure out the system of your game. Also, you know what? A space like this is perfect for finding the breaks and kinks in your system. Personally, in an idle game, I love seeing at what point the math becomes too big for the game’s calculator to function. If your game is well-made then your players will thoroughly enjoy figuring out all of the kinks and holes. This, if you are an attentive designer, will give you a flood of data with which to tune and tweak your game. In the end you will have players actively playtesting your game, which will allow you to make the changes and fill the potholes. Your game will become a self-continuing cycle of updates and playtesting, and all the while your players will be finding new ways to mess with your systems. Is that not what games are about? If a game isn’t about learning exactly how each individual system works together and using those interactions to find the solutions to a series of problems, then I don’t know what gaming is about.


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