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Tutorials - How to Learn a Game's Mechanics


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#1 m.m.fox   Members   -  Reputation: 169

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 07:43 PM

hi guys,

i'm currently writing a paper on game tutorials or to be more specific: on how game mechanics are taught in computer games, for example with text-hints, cutscenes, implicitly through level design, etc.

the point i'm trying to make here is that learning and understanding is an extremely gratifying experience, yet (good) tutorials in games seem to be undervalued in the design process - and game design literature also doesn't provide too much help on this. (as far as my current readings go)

so, i'd be very thankful if anybody knew any sources which might be helpful for my research and/or could name me games with especially good or bad tutorials/how it's mechanics are taught.

thanks in advance, have a good one!

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#2 NapoleonicMonkey   Members   -  Reputation: 147

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 08:38 PM

Heh, looks like we posted something similar at the same time.

I think the very best ones are just when people get it without explaining anything. I've heard people talk about the first level of Mario as the best example. "Hey look, I must be this guy. If I press right he goes right. If I go left I get stuck at the edge of the screen. Guess I'll keep going right. Look there's a question mark box, I'll jump into it. Chase the mushroom. Wonder what happens if I jump on this guy". The game is so simple and intuitive, and the first 30secs so well designed to introduce these concepts, that the player doesn't need any explanation at all.

For more complicated games I think user feedback is key. If they do something clever (showing they understand the game), make a big deal about it. Give them points, or a flashy animation across the screen. If you make it clear they're on the right track, they'll keep exploring that way.

#3 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6489

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 09:23 PM

All I'm gonna say is that the best tutorials is those that don't tell you upfront what they are.
If you look closely a mario bros (the original) the actual game's pacing (introduction of new gameplay elements, gates that verify your mastery over these mechanics or ingredients, etc) are bringing the player always one step further along the way, while never telling them "try this now".
This type of gameplay requires a bit more exploration from the player's part but it both more rewarding and less intrusive.

Most tutorials suck at being invisible.

#4 EngineProgrammer   Members   -  Reputation: 295

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 10:14 PM

The well known game "Runescape" has a nice way to learn their game mechanics. Posted Image

If you want to get your players motivated to keep playing try "Operant Conditioning".
In the game mario, if you pickup a mushroom there is an awesome sound and you grow. meaning you really want to pick another mushroom because it's good! This is Positive reinforcement. You receive a cool sound and you gain something.

But if you hit an enemy a bad sound appear and you shrimp or die. This is a negative and positive punishment. Negative because they take away a life, Positive because there is a bad sound.

You can go very, very far with psychology. The better you get these conditioning into your game. The more "addicted" you can make the player.

#5 Mratthew   Members   -  Reputation: 1496

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Posted 01 September 2012 - 03:08 AM

One of the challenges of today's game's is complexity of controllers. Intuitively exploring the keyboard can get a little rough pretty quick. The wiimote should be one of the most intuitive controllers around but they decided it should be a button heavy controller, a pointer, a gun and a wand. A player can look at a tenis game but they won't know how much or how little of the wiimote to use until they are told. The same goes for modern consoles. Not that I'm complaining, its just a longer trial and error system for player's to work out controls without visual indication and tutorials. Imagine Mario with a PS3 controller.

Something I've never seen is a feedback only tutorial, as the game's mechanics enable new controls the player is tasked with working out the controls themselves using the game's "reactions" to the buttons the player is using to solve that mechanic. Like if there was a tutorial for mario and it was saying that mario needs to jump over the tube instead of saying the player should hit A to jump, a gumba simple shook his head when the player hit up on the D-pad or when the player hit the B button. Letting the player work out how to jump on their own and harboring a reasonable frustration with the game's enemy ;D

I was impressed by Homeworld's short tutorial. The Sims 3 has a text heavy tutorial but its integrated into a msg system the player relies on for other game mechanics later on so it its actually good reinforcement for players to take the time to follow tutorials for complex games.

#6 m.m.fox   Members   -  Reputation: 169

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Posted 01 September 2012 - 06:09 AM

thank you so much for all your replies guys, really appreciate it!

i also think that a really good tutorial doesn't let the player know he or she is actually playing "just" the tutorial, here are some pretty ingenious observations
regarding this implicit approach to how to teach the games mechanics:

http://www.significant-bits.com/super-mario-bros-3-level-design-lessons

(unfortunately these two are pretty much the only ones i could find on this particular subject.)

yet today many games seem to jam its mechanics right into the players face - which i think correlates with the circumstance that players spend less an less time on truly exploring a game, thusly "giving it a chance".
(which in my opinion is because we buy/download/play many more and cheaper games [indie-bundles, steam sales, etc.] then some of us used to in the time of super mario bros. personally speaking in those days buying a game was a pretty huge investment, and therefore i was ready to spent much more time on "getting it".)

so what i think is that often this "getting-it" part seems so important to designers (or possibly doesn't seem to be important at all, as this article might suggest: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/134531/tutorials_learning_to_play.php?page=1) that we end up in clumsy, verbose tutorials - neglecting that actually the tutorial (in many cases) is the players first impression and might decide whether he or she keeps playing or not.

#7 lmbarns   Members   -  Reputation: 459

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Posted 07 September 2012 - 09:26 AM

I think it depends on the game and target audience.

I'm making games for kids and found that dual touch controls were too difficult for the 4 year old I tested with, while the tap to move was intuitive enough for a 4 year old.

I made 3 quick tutorial levels, one you just use one touchpad to go forward collecting some objects. Once you've collected them you go to the second training level where you collect objects in a circle, once you collect them you load to a 3rd level which introduces the jump mechanic. Once you get through it you enter the main world.

Now I'm wondering in the interface, how much to add? I can make a blinking arrow pointing at various controls during the tutorial, but it can get really complex.

#8 m.m.fox   Members   -  Reputation: 169

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Posted 07 September 2012 - 12:28 PM

hm, well it's a little hard to say anything without a screenshot or a capture, but since you said you had collectibles i would use them as a guide rather than any sort of on-hud-arrows (and since you seem to be in a position to do playtesting i'd definitely give this method shot), so that the level design itself guides the player. but it depends on the mechanics already taught of course. (not sure what you mean by "dual touch controls")

but what i generally think is that touch devices are intrinsically intuitive, so a bloated hud/interface is more likely to "overcomplicate" things.
all the best!

#9 lmbarns   Members   -  Reputation: 459

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Posted 07 September 2012 - 12:48 PM

hm, well it's a little hard to say anything without a screenshot or a capture, but since you said you had collectibles i would use them as a guide rather than any sort of on-hud-arrows (and since you seem to be in a position to do playtesting i'd definitely give this method shot), so that the level design itself guides the player. but it depends on the mechanics already taught of course. (not sure what you mean by "dual touch controls")

but what i generally think is that touch devices are intrinsically intuitive, so a bloated hud/interface is more likely to "overcomplicate" things.
all the best!


Dual touch pads uses 2 sections of the screen, it could be 2 textures, or could just be if you touch on the left half of the screen it triggers movement, swiping on the right half of the screen rotates.

Touching on one and moving your finger moves the player forward, left, right, backwards in the direction you slide the finger. Touching the second one and moving your finger rotates the character and looks up/down with the camera. Double touching/tapping the right touchpad triggers a jump. I could instead do 4 icons to rotate left/right and look up down, along with another button to jump, but that's 5 more icons on the screen.

For me I ended up ditching the forward/back and strafing "touchpad" and just made a "go" button that moves you forward, and you rotate/look with the other touch pad. Still debating on whether to add a jump button or leave it to double tapping the right touchpad.

Quick Prototype:
https://www.youtube....ayer_detailpage

Edited by lmbarns, 07 September 2012 - 12:49 PM.


#10 PyroDragn   Members   -  Reputation: 404

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 04:31 AM

I'm going to use Mario as an example of an integrated tutorial, but this time I'm going to use Mario 64. When you first get into the game you learn pretty quickly that the analog stick lets you run around, and you can jump and punch things. As you progress through the levels you reach an area where you need to jump across a long gap and there's a sign that says "this is how you long jump". When you get further you learn to side jump, wall kick, crawl, backflip. When you get to an area where you need to do a particular skill there's a sign that teaches you how to do it.

As you learn each individual skill it feels rewarding, and you get a nice feeling of advancement, yet Mario has always been able to do all of these skills that you're learning. If you started over in the game you can immediately execute all of these more advanced moves. If there had been a tutorial right at the start of the game that took you through all of these moves then it could be very overwhelming for some players.

The Assassin's Creed series does something similar. New skills are introduced to you gradually and portrayed through integrated gameplay. Although it does have an optional tutorial training area.

I can't remember the last time I really played through the individual tutorial for a game, and - unless I know beforehand that the game is going to be overwhelmingly complex - if I can skip the tutorial, I generally will. I think a lot of larger games now try to go for an intuitive 'learn as you play' style. It's the smaller games with 'unique' controls (android/iphone games for example) which tend to refer to a tutorial/gameplay guide.

#11 Ashaman73   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6763

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 06:01 AM

First off there are at least two kind of people when considering a tutorial.

The first group is the group of explorers. They often ignore a tutorial and want to find out the game mechanism on their own. A forced on tutorial is annoying for these people.

The second group are the watchers. They learn by watching/observing the game play. Showing them what to do is the best way.

To write a tutorial which suits the first group is quite easy: just add a skip button , that is all.

The second group is harder. You have several ways of showing them what to do:
1. written text:
This is the worst, though cheapest, way to instruct your players. But lot of people don't like to read lot of text.

2. audio instructions:
Listening to a voice which helps you navigating through a tutorial is much better.

3. visual instructions:
These one are the best way to show it. Some games even show short ingame videos of what to do (most often seen in FPS), others uses guides (ghosts, npcs etc.). Here you need to decide of what is more important to you. Either a clear communication, then a video is really helpful, or an immersive integration into your game world, then a guide is better.

As you can see, the better solutions are most likely the most expensives one. Either invest really much efforts into making a good tutorial , or take the cheap way. A good meant tutorial using lot of text which isn't skipable could be more hurting your game then a short instruction !

Edited by Ashaman73, 11 September 2012 - 06:02 AM.


#12 Inukai   Members   -  Reputation: 1297

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 06:15 AM

Penny Arcade made a sweet video about it.

http://penny-arcade....e/tutorials-101

#13 kseh   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1873

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 12:24 PM

It seems to me that simply having an area or two where you have time to experiment with controls safely with minimal consequence can go a long way. Inevitably, a player is going to press every button on the controller he has or every key that he knows has been mapped to something just to see what it does. The area doesn't have to be completely hazard free but safe enough to give the player a bit of a chance to experiment.

#14 Xoyo   Members   -  Reputation: 131

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 11:14 PM

Hi, didn't readed all the posts but watched the video. Another great game from capcom with writen tutorials is Monster Hunter Tri (I only played this version). This game is huge and in many ways the whole single player experience (that can be around 60 hours) is its tutorial. And in the very beginnig it has its own kind of "intro stage" where the written tuts get place. But anyway they kind make it part of the game, so it doesn't feel so intrusive. Tomorrow maybe I can read and answer better the thread.

#15 supageek   Members   -  Reputation: 126

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Posted 30 September 2012 - 05:46 AM

Put a library in the game full of books where the player cna visit and read all they want about the mechanics and controls of the game. All of thwe writing should be in service of the fiction of the game.

Or, just try to design your controls and mechanics to be like a puzzle, where part of the fun is figuring out the controls.

#16 Amadeus H   Members   -  Reputation: 1180

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Posted 08 October 2012 - 04:09 AM

Use the mouse to look around now.
Wow, thanks tutorial - I was fiercely wiggling my head in every direction and nothing was happening.

I wish more tutorials would tell me actual useful stuff.

#17 Jastiv   Members   -  Reputation: 146

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Posted 08 October 2012 - 03:14 PM

You could make the tutorials like little mini quests. One thing I hate about a lot of tutorials though, you have the choice to do the tutorial or skip it, but once you skip it, you can't go back to it. You leave newbie isle forever never to return. On the other hand, I don't believe in immediately dropping newbies in a dangerous spot filled with high end monsters and/or pkers.




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