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Wavinator

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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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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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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I think this is an important part of interesting strategy. The player should not need to die to learn. It should always be possible for designers to introduce clues in the game world in a realistic and uncheapened way.

For your giant mech example, why should the player need to die to figure this out? Just have the mechs stumble back and shake off the rockets, or swat them down like flies. The mech animation and reaction should show that the rockets didn't do the job, and the delay will give the player some time to react.

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I just started playing the first Gears of War, and I like how they did it there. The guy who busts you out of prison says, "now, we can either go through the gaurds quarters - it's a bit longer, but also probably safer, or we can go straight out through the prison yard."

If you take the first option, you get the "Press A to take cover... etc" tutorial, if you take the second, it takes you straight to the action.

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Personally I see the issue in two ways:

1) While tutorials aren't really fun, not knowing how to use certain game mechanics is even less fun. As Wavinator already mentioned, Gears of War does this well, and there's really no reason why you can't either offer a branching choice (tutorial or not), or have the tutorial in a separate menu option.


2) A game's difficulty shouldn't be constant or even always increasing. My favourite games are ones where the tension mounts and eases, and the ebb and flow of these tense moments create the gaming moments you remember past turning off your game (this point mainly applies to action-oriented games). With that said it makes more sense to have the "tense moments" that occur later in the game be harder (or at least "bigger", "better", "longer" or any other buzzword you can throw in) than the ones at the beginning, but I don't feel it's a bad thing to have a few really easy sections in the later stages of a game.

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Quote:
Original post by dashurc
2) A game's difficulty shouldn't be constant or even always increasing. My favourite games are ones where the tension mounts and eases, and the ebb and flow of these tense moments create the gaming moments you remember past turning off your game (this point mainly applies to action-oriented games).

I'm going to wander off topic for a second to mention that this is a perceptive design concept. Something I've never really stopped and looked at. I enjoy increasing difficulty as I wander into newer areas, but I think it would help most games to mix it up some more. It would make their worlds feel a lot less artificial, as well as less predictable.

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I've stated this before, but I ABSOLUTELY DESPISE forced tutorials. It breaks immersion in every possible way. Even with the above mentioned Gears of War, it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Now, I'm not stating that you should leave the player to learn on their own through dieing, but there are better ways to present this.

Have a tutorial option on the title screen. Start, Continue, Options, Tutorial, Quit. So in Gears of War, instead of stating "We can head this way or leave immediately", you can have a separated side level that the user chooses to play if they want too. (Guitar Hero tutorial is more of what I'm after.). So instead of being in prison and stating "Look at those enemies. To shoot, hit X." Hey, apparently I'm a world reknowned marksman, but you're telling me how to handle a gun? Why not in the training level, have it take place back in boot camp, where it could actually make sense. Also, having a separated training level means that when a friend comes over to try the game, rather than having to start a new game, which might have a 10 minute unskippable cut scene, he could immediately go to training level to learn what he needs too. Or, if I forget something later on, I could go back and learn.

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I've played a game where you can play instantly, but don't have to do a tutorial: the first few levels are the tutorial and enemies are introduced, when you are ready for them. The key is in the signs. When playing for the first time, you note some clouds with a question mark on it. When you stand on that sign, they show the thoughts of the main character.

You can run past them, if you already know them and the signs don't disturb me. If you don't know how to play, you read the signs and you can do what they say. It makes you the main character, instead of being the one who controls him.

The game is called "Final Ninja" by Nitrome. It's definitely worth a play.

Even better is the system in "Cheese Dreams" also by Nitrome. The signs always show up, but aren't disturbing. This one is also worth a few levels. You can then see what I meant.

Emiel1

PS: the websites are: Final Ninja and Cheese Dreams.

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Quote:
Original post by KulSeran
Halflife 1 had this with the long-long jump where it was only realy useful in a handful of places.


Actually, I use longjump all the time in multiplayer :D

Personally I hate those games that teach you what WASD does... I mean, what kind of idiot doesn't know how to move... its probably best to train the player ONLY in the unique portions of the game, the thing that makes it different. But having some wacko NPC explaining everything is very annoying too. Text kind of works, but that's just as annoying. I like the Unreal 1 approach, having corpses with Journals that tell you what killed them and how to avoid it.

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Original post by Super Llama
Personally I hate those games that teach you what WASD does...


Everyone needs to learn this somewhere. I first played Doom with a joystick. When I had to play without a joystick, I had to look for what other options were available, the arrow keys in this case. The arrow keys made sense, since they were similar to the control pad for consoles, which I'd learned to use elsewhere. I forget the first FPS I played with the WASD configuration, but I never would've guessed that's how you moved. In some ways, ESDF, IJKL, or UHJK would make more sense, but the arrow keys or the arrows on the numpad would be the most intuitive option.


On another note, I only dislike training if it gets in the way of fun gameplay. I don't mind the immersion breaking aspects because they don't break the aspects of immersion that are important to me. Actually, my preference is for these sorts of things to be taken care of outside of the game world. I don't mind if they occur while I'm playing, but I find a popup pointing out that I can "right click to open" or whatever much less immersion breaking than my partner in crime saying, "Come on, man, right click the door already!" Basically, my immersion is just fine so long as there's a clear line between the game world and the game's interface (although breaking the fourth wall for comedic effect can be all right so long as it fits the game's world).

It's not an FPS, but the worst offender I've played is Final Fantasy VIII. Long, unskippable opening FMV, followed by a guided tour of the Garden, with 2-3 drawn out tutorials before you can do anything of any interest. IX was bad, too, I think it was a full hour before they let me off the leash.

But the impression I got from the OP was that this wasn't about tutorials, but about games leading you through progressively harder challenges to ready you for the "real" challenge. In Serious Sam, you'd get a new toy, and then you'd be faced with a situation where your new toy was the toy of choice. You could say that this is just grooming you for the real challenges later, but I didn't mind it since I wanted to use my new toy. You pick up the shotgun and think to yourself, "Wouldn't it be great to shoot some undead in the face?" and, lo and behold, you can hear the pitter patter of little skeletons coming your way.

I think what makes it work in some games is that they aren't just presented as glorified tutorials, but challenges appropriate to that point in the game.

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This almost sounds like a sandbox game idea. Let's take Fallout 3 for example, we are also going to make a couple tweaks to the engine (while keeping this post spoiler-free to boot!).

During the course of the story, you are faced with a large creature to defeat. In Bethesda's Fallout 3, you are specifically tasked with grabbing up a certain weapon to down this creature. In "My" Fallout 3, we are going to assume this weapon is not within your reach "just because it is meant to be used here".

We are going to assume you have rushed to this part of the story, and are woefully under-geared. You pull out a small rifle and begin plinking away at this creature. This thing is many times your size, and is shrugging off the bullets. Now you know that this thing is either a) not going to go down fast or b) it's going to kill you.

Now, say you take your time and get more, as well as better, equipment. When faced with this monstrosity, you are easily able to drop it due to your equipment that you weren't given "for the occasion". Instead you explored the world, figured some of the nuances out on your own (probably through trial and error!!) and you get a better sense of fulfillment because of this.

This is my understanding of the OP's point.

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Original post by Way Walker
In some ways, ESDF, IJKL, or UHJK would make more sense, but the arrow keys or the arrows on the numpad would be the most intuitive option.

One of the reasons WASD is popular is because it provides easy access to shift, control, alt, and space while you're holding movement directions.

However, one thing that's always bothered me about WASD are the goofy adjacency situations, like not being able to change your firing mode (F) while moving right (D), or trying to activate something (E) while moving up-right (W+D). Some of them might be possible with some awkward adjustments, but they're not friendly.

My advice to designers who want to get people quickly into the game is to provide a quick help screen with F1, while linking to it from the title and menu. The page should pop up instantly, with all binded controls listed. It could also include several other pages to list the type of stuff you find on those fold-outs in the game box. Unit vs unit strategies and that sort of thing. Having instant access to game essentials is a huge deal for someone who's only mildly interested in checking a game out. It's also very helpful to the rest of us, who don't have an easy time remembering all of the controls and gameplay gimmicks until we're well into the game.

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This is a tad off topic from the OP, but inline with the current direction:

I prefer situations where learning about the world and the equipment available leads to logical choices about how to deal with situations. The situations should be honest challenges with multiple solutions. Not tests with a pass button laying next to them as is often the case. Metroid Prime 3 is doing this quite badly so far and I see no hope in sight. Everything has one solution and only one. You do the obvious thing, and if the solution isn't obvious, its because you haven't go the suit or ship upgrade for it yet. There are no tools and situations to find solutions to given your tools, there are simply obstacles with a specific, simplistic, obvious solution. You either have it or you don;t and thats the challenge level of the whole game. MP3 is obviously a little extreme in its grooming for later tests with its treatment of upgrades, but it is still often how games work. You get a new device or gun or whatever and then the next 20 levels are all about using it. I want free form access to tools of varying usefulness and efficiency and a game full of problems in need of solving which have many solutions using different tools.

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Quote:
Original post by Kest
Quote:
Original post by Way Walker
In some ways, ESDF, IJKL, or UHJK would make more sense, but the arrow keys or the arrows on the numpad would be the most intuitive option.

One of the reasons WASD is popular is because it provides easy access to shift, control, alt, and space while you're holding movement directions.


I'll admit to not having played many FPS's. The game where I used WASD the most was the TDS Infantry. Eventually, I switched to ESDF because it gained me easy access to three more keys (QAZ) without significantly hindering my access to tab, shift, ctrl, and alt. This was actually helpful, especially for classes with a lot of toys (engineer, medic, but some setups for the others as well) and is why I think it would make more sense than WASD in general.

EDIT: Or, if you were responding to the bit about the arrows being more intuitive, then, to be clear, I wasn't arguing they were more practical since I know why WASD is more practical. I was just saying that if someone was unfamiliar with the WASD convention and you asked them which key on the keyboard would move your character forward, they probably won't answer "W".


[Edited by - Way Walker on November 14, 2008 6:49:24 PM]

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Original post by Way Walker
Eventually, I switched to ESDF because it gained me easy access to three more keys (QAZ) without significantly hindering my access to tab, shift, ctrl, and alt. This was actually helpful, especially for classes with a lot of toys (engineer, medic, but some setups for the others as well) and is why I think it would make more sense than WASD in general.

You're right. As long as the game doesn't require shift or control to be held a lot of the time, ESDF would probably be better, providing a few more accessible keys.

Quote:
Or, if you were responding to the bit about the arrows being more intuitive, then, to be clear, I wasn't arguing they were more practical since I know why WASD is more practical. I was just saying that if someone was unfamiliar with the WASD convention and you asked them which key on the keyboard would move your character forward, they probably won't answer "W".

The last part of my reply was directed at this. If it was up to me, I would suggest all games have something like a quick help screen display. Press F1, glance at something, then press another key to get back to the game. I've only played a few games that used one of these, and they were old-school PC. If a game links directly to that screen from the title or menu, then shows the shortcut (F1) in the screen itself, even the most casual newbie gamer would have an easy time getting the hang of the essentials of the game.

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Quote:
Original post by Kest
If it was up to me, I would suggest all games have something like a quick help screen display. Press F1, glance at something, then press another key to get back to the game. I've only played a few games that used one of these, and they were old-school PC. If a game links directly to that screen from the title or menu, then shows the shortcut (F1) in the screen itself, even the most casual newbie gamer would have an easy time getting the hang of the essentials of the game.


One reason I like this is because of the old convention of F1 bringing up help in a lot of programs, not just games (F2 started new games back in the day). I've rarely found the help to be helpful (the organization and search facilities are just terrible, it's often easier to find an answer by googling it) so I don't know if this convention is still relevant, but it's certainly one I wouldn't mind reinforcing. And, since you suggest it'd be easily accessible from the menus, you'd almost have to try to not find it.

This is actually very similar to what I've seen in a lot of flash games. There's an instruction button on the main menu, and the pause screen often tells you the controls. Since the controls vary so much I usually have to read the instruction screen and make sure to note which keys pauses the game (usually P or esc).

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