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In game tutorials for puzzle games

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#1 boolean   Members   -  Reputation: 1730


Posted 25 December 2014 - 10:08 AM

Hi all


I've been entering a few game jams lately and there's been a consistent problem I've run into - explaining to the player how the heck to play my game.


As noted in the great Tutorials 101 from extra credits, the best tutorials are usually integrated invisibly into the gameplay and text based tutorials are usually boring, ruin immersion and most of the time are skipped by players anyway. 

While I think that's a fair enough point, I think this applies better to games with already familiar actions (eg. platformers, shooters). What I'm finding this very difficult to apply to is puzzle games. Usually you are dealing with a unique user interface that needs explaining before the player gets started (consisting of buttons, labels, win/lose conditions), so it's very hard not to front load everything at the start. Making it doubly difficult is that game jam entries tend to only be a few minutes in length, so you can't slowly drip feed the player over hours of gameplay.
I just finished a puzzle game for a game jam and I'm not sure how to explain without text. I currently have the trifector of evil - front loaded, multiple, text based windows of text. Blech.
So I'm curious - how do you all deal with tutorials in (usually short) puzzle games? How do you explain to the player how the game works without boring text? Is there any good examples anyone knows of?

[Android] Stupid Human CastlesFull version.


#2 braindigitalis   Members   -  Reputation: 718


Posted 25 December 2014 - 05:37 PM

The way I did this was to simply let the player make mistakes, but the first time any mistake is made, a character pops up who gives a short explanation of why it was the wrong action. These explanations are only ever one or two short sentences. It seems to work ok. Note that the state is permanently saved to storage so that the player isn't bugged later about things they already know about...

Edit: if you can get voice talent, you could do it like gauntlet did. This is a good example. E.g. "don't touch monsters", "eat food to restore health"... Look it up if you've not heard of it :)

Games Currently In Development:

Currently rewriting Firework Factory - Casual Puzzler for PC in Direct3D 11. Latest Journal Entry.



#3 jbadams   Senior Staff   -  Reputation: 19431


Posted 26 December 2014 - 01:35 AM

Could you possibly teach some of the core mechanics in the game's menu with a playable UI?

Instruction as the player experiments (as braindigitalis suggests) can also be very effective for certain mechanics and play styles.

Do you have an example of the specific type of puzzle you're trying to teach the player to solve? What works for one game isn't necessarily a good fit for others, so a good idea of the style of your game would help to keep suggestions on-point. :)

(Posted from mobile, please excuse any formatting or auto-correct errors.)

#4 Thaumaturge   Members   -  Reputation: 1591


Posted 26 December 2014 - 06:29 AM

If feasible, it might help to spread the tutorial over a small number of levels, all but the last including only an increasing subset of the game's mechanics, thus teaching them a bit at a time.


For example, if your game involved clicking on tiles to reveal icons, with some set of rules affecting which can or can't be clicked on based on the most recent tile, you might have:

  • A first level that's impossible to lose, and uses only one or two tile-types; a text-box introduces the basic mechanic of clicking on tiles, and another points out how they affect subsequent clicks.
  • A second level that is still simple, but designed to be likely to trick players into painting themselves into a corner, making the level unwinnable; here a text-box introduces the ability to reset the level in order to try again.
  • A third level that introduces a few new tiles types, and concludes the tutorial.


#5 valrus   Members   -  Reputation: 808


Posted Yesterday, 03:18 PM

Two more ways to "refactor" instructions out of text pages:


Certain sorts of explanations can be dispensed with if the the puzzle is appropriately "themed".  If you can find a more concrete metaphor the fits the actions and win/lose conditions, the player might be able to reason it out.  "Oh, it looks like I'm controlling a girl penguin, and here's an egg near me, and there's a boy penguin over there and a leopard seal over there.  Presumably, I'm pushing the egg around, and the boy penguin is the win condition and the leopard seal is the lose condition." 


Also, there's always the possibility of instructive titles, like level titles that push the player in the right direction ("Use the Walls", "There and Back Again", "Beware of Dog").  Even the game title (e.g., "Cut the Rope", "Burn the Rope", "Where's My Water?") can set the stage, enough that players can reason out the intermediate actions.  

#6 boolean   Members   -  Reputation: 1730


Posted Today, 12:07 PM

Dang it, I must have closed Chrome before posting my reply. Well, short post it is:
@jbadams: Thanks for the link, that's a great article. It gave me some great reading on the train back from Christmas with the relatives haha. 
@valrus: Very true, I think that is something I see come up often in well designed puzzle games. It's similar to what braindigitalis mentioned where you let the player start the exploration process, let them get as far as they can and then pop up with tips to get through the first levels. I think part of that comes down to good puzzle design where the levels are structured in a way to support this, something my game jam entries are lacking right now. 

[Android] Stupid Human CastlesFull version.