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Dauntless

Learning curve balance

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How many people get frustrated by a high learning curve, even if that learning curve allows for greater game play? I ask because I think a huge part of the fun factor of a game is how quickly it takes the player to reach a level of competence that makes the game satisfying to play. Take chess versus checkers. Checkers might be fun initially for a child, but it quickly runs out of steam. Chess on the other hand, while more diffucult to learn has an almost infinite level of complexity to make people come back for more. I don''t mean to confuse this with challenge. You can make games with a low learning/complexity level into an extremely diffucult game. On the other hand, a game that takes a long time to learn could be relatively easy once you have gained a good level of skill (flight2000 for example). I think lots of people shy away from games with high learning curves, simply because the learning process isn''t fun. Part of this can be solved by making the training sessions fun. Strategy games for example often have simple basis, but require a lot of memorization of what key does what command, and what unit build has what requisites. I know it isn''t a direct analogy, but usually games with high complexity levels tend to have more depth to them. They usually have more ways to "win", and require more forethought and planning than easy to learn games. So while the more complex a game becomes, the more rich the gameplay can be....at the same time it scares away lots of players. Related to learning curve is skill curve, where new players are afraid of jumping in because they don''t want to get pounced on by the advanced players.

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it depends on just HOW high the learning curve is... if it is too high there is no reason to start playing because you lose before you know what happened. i think the best way is for the basics of the game to be fairly simple, but with additional features which make the game better, but aren''t totally necessary (like, um... well i can''t think of an example here, but i have certainly seen games like this).
by the way, if you have two very good checkers-players, the game can get complex indeed (you should have seen some of the tournaments i was in when i lived in the honors dorm at college; when your opponent is thinking three moves ahead of you and your only defense is to taunt him into messing up, checkers can be VERY intense!)...

--- krez (krezisback@aol.com)

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I''ve been thinking about this too, especially when a radical change in control is being introduced. My idea is to introduce "helper AI" that can be turned off gradually as the player becomes more comfortable with the game. So the esoterics of precise motion can be ignored while the general gameplay is grasped.

The incentive to ever turn off the helper AI? The possibility of even more accurate control - of performing actions the computer wouldn''t think to pull off.

Obviously, my thoughts pertain to control but the analogy can be extended to other aspects of gaming.

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If you make climbing the learning curve part of the game, as with Warcraft and Starcraft, I think a very complex came would be fine. Just don''t ask your players to know everything before they can beat level one.

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quote:
Original post by krez
it depends on just HOW high the learning curve is... if it is too high there is no reason to start playing because you lose before you know what happened. i think the best way is for the basics of the game to be fairly simple, but with additional features which make the game better, but aren''t totally necessary (like, um... well i can''t think of an example here, but i have certainly seen games like this).
by the way, if you have two very good checkers-players, the game can get complex indeed (you should have seen some of the tournaments i was in when i lived in the honors dorm at college; when your opponent is thinking three moves ahead of you and your only defense is to taunt him into messing up, checkers can be VERY intense!)...

--- krez (krezisback@aol.com)


The learning curve is set by the game''s target audience and not the other way around. Making the curve lower and simpler than what it is intented will only result in the game losing more core audience compared to the additional player you would expect to gain. The bottom line is you can''t please everyone at the same time.

Checkers is nothing compared to the good o arcade fighting games like SFII where even 1/8 of a second could change between winning a match and losing. Oh the horror, the magic, and the excitement of those classic games.

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quote:
Original post by Mooglez
The learning curve is set by the game''s target audience and not the other way around. Making the curve lower and simpler than what it is intented will only result in the game losing more core audience compared to the additional player you would expect to gain. The bottom line is you can''t please everyone at the same time.

i never said the curve should be lower and simpler than what it is intended... i just don''t like it to be ridiculously hard to play when you first start off. Take SFII, for example: you can play the game without all the special moves, and when you learn them it is like a "bonus", and you can kick ass harder than before... imagine if you needed three button combos to just throw a punch. THAT would be too hard to be worth it, and i don''t care if these "core gamers" don''t like games where you don''t need to memorize 200 commands and/or button combos to do anything at all.
quote:
Checkers is nothing compared to the good o arcade fighting games like SFII where even 1/8 of a second could change between winning a match and losing. Oh the horror, the magic, and the excitement of those classic games.

different strokes for different folks i guess (i like SFII, but that is just reflexes and no strategy; it loses it''s fun quickly unless you are playing against another human and can talk smack to them).

--- krez (krezisback@aol.com)

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quote:
Original post by krez
Take SFII, for example: you can play the game without all the special moves, and when you learn them it is like a "bonus", and you can kick ass harder than before... imagine if you needed three button combos to just throw a punch.


Pushing three buttons for a punch is poor interface design, not learning curve.

quote:
i like SFII, but that is just reflexes and no strategy; it loses it''s fun quickly unless you are playing against another human and can talk smack to them).


I would have to disagree on that. There is strategy in every game out there not just the typical rts/strategy.

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The learning curve for gameplay could be pretty steep. I think it''s very individual how high it could be though. Some people will loose interest if the game is percieved as ''too hard'', while others will see it as a challenge and an incentive to continue playing.

The learning curve for the user interface should definitely not be steep. Personally, if I can''t figure out how to play a game with 10-15 minutes (without reading any manuals ), then I won''t bother. Therefore, for me in-game tutorials are great, as long as you can skip any parts that you''ve already figured out on your own.

A game should be "easy to learn, but hard to master."

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Easy to learn, hard to master....that''s the key, but easier said than done.

I remember long ago playing a role-playing game called Phoenix Command. It billed itself as being the most realistic modern-day (paper and pen) role playing game. It wsa the first game I saw of that getting hit by a gun could mean instant death. But the rules definitely had a steep learning curve to them, so the game didn''t catch on.

Nevertheless, once you did learn the rules, and the players got over the fact that you couldn''t get shot 3 times with a colt 45 and expect to keep fighting, it made the gameplay all the better.

So the trick is to make gameplay have a lot of depth, variety, and ways of playing, yet at the same time make it easy to get into. I personally don''t want to sacrifice gamedepth and play for an easy learning curve. As someone mentioned, I would try to design the scenarios so that one would be introduced to more advanced concepts as they come along.

One game that didn''t do this very well in my opinion was Starfleet Command (either the first or the second). Although the tutorial missions did at least teach you the fundamentals well, and even some advanced concepts, it didn''t show you HOW to use those advanced concepts. Take for example the possibility of using HET (high energy turns). It doesn''t really become clear why you would want to use one until you have alot of experience under your belt. Actually, SFC I and II are excellent game examples of a game that has a very steep learning curve, but an incredible amount of gameplay and depth. There are a myriad number of strategies to use depending on your ship type and that of your opponents. The trick with SFC is that although the basics are not that diffucult, if you want to be able to compete well against others, you better game your game up

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quote:
Original post by Dactylos
Therefore, for me in-game tutorials are great, as long as you can skip any parts that you''ve already figured out on your own.

Just wondering, but do you like any of the Gran Turismo games? You had to pass an elementary set of tests to get your license (only then could you race in the B cup, which had about 5 tracks). If you had passed your B license test, you could go ahead and try for the A license (which would make you eligible to race in the A cup campaign). Those tests were tutorials, and locked you out to make sure you didn''t get frustrated coming last in every single race. They were structured like mini-games (achieve such-and-such an objective in such-and-such an amount of time or under such-and-such conditions) and gave incentives for completing them with top grades (higher salary, more spending cash).

I think the tutorials must be tailored to the nature of the game. I admit that I know you''re probably talking about RPGs (and I, at any given time, am probably not), but as a generic design question I think most questions are answered "it depends..."

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