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Dredmor Beta and The Interaction Problem

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By the way: We're currently running Dungeons of Dredmor through beta testing! The announcement is here, and if you're masochistic and awesome enough, maybe you'd like to help out.

[The rest of this was originally posted to the Gaslamp Games blog.]

Oh playtesting, how you tear down my illusions, besiege the fortress of my ego then poison its well and set fire to its stores of grain.

Fig. 1: The good part of Dredmor's interactivity.

It is shocking just how surely a player will ignore tutorial text. The help button is effectively invisible, ignored, the text left sad and unread. Whatever it is, the "go away" button is clicked via Skinnerian response to years of training at ignoring inane popups. Yes, Nicholas passed me a link (or possibly a newer one) to Jeff Atwood writing on the subject when this issue of the tutorials being completely ignored came up, and it got me thinking.

Fig 2. The bad. Don't ask why it says "Axe" on that lightbulb.

We've got issues

1: We need some kind of hook to get people to notice the tutorials, some way of breaking them out of the usual ignore-tutorials behaviour. I'm thinking of replacing the starting text dialog pop-up with an informative one-panel mini-comic which points to the tutorial button and the skill bar, which should be what people absolutely pay attention to. Everyone love comics, right? Or maybe it's that people really hate lightbulbs.

2. We need to make our interface more intuitive, or at least cover the intuitive expectations a player makes of our UI; A player should not really need to read the tutorial if they're familiar with common UI schemes of games in and around this genre.

3. Absolutely no one has understood using the skill tome and skill bar without being explicitly told how to do so. You have to open the skill tome with the skill button at the bottom of the screen, then drag appropriate skill icon to the skill bar at the lower right of the screen. Then you must left click to select a skill in the bar, and with a skill selected right click to use the skill. Possibly on an appropriate target.

Fig 3. The ugly.

Actually, that whole process of readying skills to use sounds confusing when I write it out. I don't think we noticed lots of things like this because we've been trapped in a bubble staring at our work for over a year. (So this is how MOO3 happened! That and a pushy publisher, which is a problem we're lucky enough not to have. Ahem.)

On the other hand, there are interactivity schemes I've noticed people take to almost immediately. Pointing and clicking to move around and use things is something everyone seems to know. The first thing players do is start walking around and clicking on vases to break them, on enemies to attack them, then on items to get them - and when the item is attached to the cursor, it is intuitively dropped into a slot in the inventory bar.

Let's look at Fig.1 again:

I notice now that we've been mixing metaphors with game object interaction: Why do skills not work like items? Everyone understands how items work in Dredmor with little trouble, can we not let a player 'pick up' and use skill icon instances the same way we let them use items? This demands baseless conjecture and rash experimentation. I have notified the relevant authorities.


Fig 4. The weird.

No one at all has asked me about this little section of the interface and I don't really know why; From all I can tell no one has even noticed it exists.

UI design boggles the mind.
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One way of 'forcing' the player to do and understand the tutorial is by not having a tutorial but make the first level/dungeon a tutorial that covers all (basic?) things. You can only continue with level 2 when you've done level 1 plus there has to be an in-game reward (getting your sword, get a piece of armor) that seems to work best...

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Putting on my game playing cap now, not the game developing one. I have far more experience with that cap on :)

the best way (IMO) to get people to learn how to do things: make sure they HAVE to do it, without it being abundantly apparent that it is done as a learning tool. As the previous poster suggested, a tutorial level where you have to go through the steps to learn how to do the things would be best; the only help you give is to (optionally) say "you have to do this and that, good luck".

For example: how to break pots? Put a line of pots blocking a hallway, give the player an axe to pickup and if they want to continue they'll just have to smash those suckers. No guidance needed, if you cannot work this out you are not fit to play games. for added gameplay value, make the axe a reward to be found in a chest or something.

How to combine? Well give the player two items to combine and make sure they need the end result to be able to continue. You give them the two items, you give them a hint "you need to combine these to be able to progress...".

That way the tutorial is part of the game itself and it becomes "fun" because you have to work it out in stead of the information being fed to you - working out problems is fun, being held by the hand is not.

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These are good solutions which unfortunately run contrary to the whole setup of the game as-it-exists now as a very open-ended roguelike that throws the player into the midst of a randomly generated dungeon with skills entirely of their own choosing.

We couldn't very well force the player to make a potion to proceed through the game if they didn't choose alchemy as a starting skill.

Maybe, if we did it this way, we could have a "Level 0" of the dungeon with a series of tutorial rooms that appear based on the skills you chose. There'd be an alchemy room to make you use alchemy if you chose it, a wand room to make you use a want, a fighting room if you chose warrior skills...

... I think the lead programmer would have a fit at all of this, but it could actually be a really neat solution.


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Hah, that is a fun article.
Perhaps the lesson is that we don't need to absolutely coddle players - they'll figure it out (and if all the tutorials were available from a help menu, it wouldn't hurt at all). Besides, so much of Dredmor is about being a game for gamers that I think most people who play it will be familiar with the protocol needed to learn & use a game.

Of course I say this now; we're actually re-doing the whole UI to be, we hope, more intuitive. We shall see!

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