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Sink or Swim?

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What's your opinion on the concept of training a player in an earlier part of a game to deal with challenges later in the game? What do you think of a game which throws the player into an environment and challenges them to learn the rules on their own? This is opposed to those games which stage challenges, keeping more complex ones at bay until the player is deemed to be ready to take them on. I raise this because I was thinking about first person shooter design. I love FPS games, but I've gotten a bit tired of the notion that I'm supposed to be trained in baby steps for later challenges. One thing it does is take some of the mystery and excitement out of the game for me. I know I'm being groomed for something, and that takes away from the something once I encounter it. What I find more exciting is to be able to play around in the game world and discover its limits, preferably with varying degrees of consequence. If, for instance, I find out that rocket launchers don't work on giant mechs and get squashed for my efforts, then so be it-- as long as I can keep learning. If you prefer this kind of approach to games, what do you think makes the "sink or swim" dynamic work well? What sorts of things would you emphasize and avoid?

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The simple answer is good HCI design would say that you could use a training mode or it could be disabled if not needed.

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I don’t think it’s so much a matter of sink vs. swim. You don’t really want to “sink” the player.

This discussion reminds me of the first time I played X3. I got the game, started it up and had no idea what I was doing. The game provided no direction and I shelved it for about a month. When I was ready to give it another try I read some online forums that gave some basic “starting out” kinds of tutorials (they weren’t really in-depth, but they got me going) and I was off exploring the universe and loved it.

To me, every game needs to provide a tutorial on the basics (and like CmdDev said, it should be optional). The real question is, when is enough, enough? Where do you draw the line and tell the player to go figure it out for themselves?

I think at an absolute minimum you should cover basic controls and world interactions as well as any non-obvious gameplay elements that the player *has* to use. Gameplay intricacies, optional interactions and element like that all come down to how heavy handed you want to be.

Since I threw out X3 as an example of too little, I'll throw in Black & White 2 as an example of the opposite. It had a tutorial, a long one that covered every single mechanic they could think of to cover. Oh, and it wasn’t optional (they later added an option for it in a patch but you’d lose out on some exp.). Beyond the tutorial, each of the missions very slowly built up your skill set and what you could do. Now I was "ok" with it the first time I played through, except that it felt a slow and confining. I’ve since wanted to go back and replay the game but the tutorial and heavy handed learning through missions keeps me from having any fun so I usually quit about 5 minutes in.

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I like it when it's progressive, that way I don't have to deal with absorbing too much at once.

I hate going into tutorials that cover everything, because I'll forget it because I don't have to deal with it immediately afterwards.

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Heheh, I had the exact same experience with X3 as gxaxhx.

I think you need to introduce the player to the experience in stages. I might even go so far as to say that the entire fun of playing a game is progressively learning something new. However, you don't have to make it as obvious as an explicit tutorial. For example, Mario Bros is very easy to learn and cleverly introduces you to the world progressively through its level design and gameplay structure. In a way, every level is a tutorial... without the player even realizing it. That's the holy grail, in my opinion.

There's a good talk about this here by Dan Cook (his website is down at the moment, unfortunately):

http://lostgarden.com/2008/10/princess-rescuing-application-slides.html

And you can find another, possibly more useful discussion (also by Dan) here (it starts slow, but it's definitely worth the read):

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/1524/the_chemistry_of_game_design.php

[Edited by - venzon on November 10, 2008 4:49:32 PM]

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Aw man. This isn't about the game Sink Or Swim, the wonderful adventure to save the passengers of a doomed ocean liner much akin to the Posiden Adventure.

But more to the point. I don't mind tutorial stuff as long as it fits the game. I'm ok with the Call Of Duty take where you run through a small training course at camp shooting targets and blowing up dummies. It gets just about everything out of the way in one go, but I really wish those levels were shippable sometimes.

What I really dislike is the on-the-fly training where the game stops for a min each time you get a new item / puzzle type and the narrator voice walks you through the use of the items in question. (on my mind recently because this is how things are presented in Dead Space)

I prefer the Halflife 1 approach, where in you are slowly given the tools you need to solve the puzzles, but there isn't in general someone pausing the game to show you that the green goo will kill you if you step in it. Most the hints for things are given in character through the use of Hadji scientists who befall the traps just before you would have.

I think the biggest training problem is really the one-shot. The one-shot is a big issue with usually only one game mechanic,
where in they spend too much time on setup and then you only get to use the mechanic once or twice. Halflife 1 had this with the long-long jump where it was only realy useful in a handful of places.

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As long as you are being taught within the context of the plot, not only can it be bearable, it can be enjoyable. Taking the classic 'pile of goo' example, which of these two solutions would be better:

A.
[popup]
"watch out for the goo, it really hurts!"
[game continues]

B.
[player gets shoved into goo by NPC]
"dodge it next time."
[game continues]

Which is more entertaining? 'A' gets the point across, and forewarned is forearmed, but it is sorta bland. 'B' on the other hand does more than just inform the player in-context, it also teaches them to watch both their environment and the people around them.

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Quote:
Original post by KulSeran
Aw man. This isn't about the game Sink Or Swim, the wonderful adventure to save the passengers of a doomed ocean liner much akin to the Posiden Adventure.



All the furniture sticks to the roof?

Awesome.

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I think if there are elements that won't be obvious to most players, then a tutorial is necessary, but yeah, it should be optional.
Also, I think the player _HAS_ to be able to rush through a tutorial quickly to skip the bits they already know/understand if they want to. Civ 4 is a fantastic example of this. If you can do what Sid is telling you to do faster than he's saying it then he'll shut up and move on to the next part.
The tutorials for Red Alert 3, however, were painfully slow. The 3 tanks that instruct you take for-bloody-ever to get anything out, and if you've already 'drag[ged] a box around the units to select more than one at a time', it doesn't matter, they'll just keep droning on for another 10 seconds about it.

cheers,
metal

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I think the "sink or swim" dynamic works on the same psychological principle as "explorer", or people who enjoy problem solving. I believe there does need to be a (avoidable) tutorial covering the basics (movement/using), but having many other non-essential mechanics left unexplored for the player to discover can add a lot to a game. Things you may want to avoid are obscure or difficult mechanics with harsh penalties.

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