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Norman Barrows

character creation screens and other learning curve issues

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character creation screens and other learning curve issues

 

the game: Caveman v3.0 FPSRPG / person sim hybrid. open world, stone age setting, survival, sandbox. emphasis on realsim. IE a basic Paleo-World simulation.

 

Like the original version of the game, which made the evening news in Washington DC as a last minute xmas gift idea (talk about free PR!), i'm finding that the new version of the game has a strong appeal to non-gamers. Folks who'd never played anything more than solitaire or maybe chess on a PC - that kind of idea. They've never seen a character creation screen. The game uses character creation screens similar to the SIMS and Skyrim, which are the two major video games that influence its design (the gameplay is influenced by D&D and Traveller). 

 

right now it creates a default character and lets you edit it. it used to prompt you for everything (name, appearance options, stats, etc), then let you edit the results. but prompting for stats was still a screen that lets you distribute points over str, dex, con, etc using + and - buttons. and even that was a new thing to some folks. if its wasn't a common windows business app, they'd never seen anything like it in their life.

 

is it better to walk them through and prompt for everything?

 

here's what the have to choose:

1. name

2. sex

3. area of origin - determines basic appearance. area chosen determines skin tone, hair and eye color, and hairstyle options available.

4. assign points to stats. 36 points for str, int, dex, con, chr, spd.

5. interests - pick three from a list of a dozen of so.

6. start game in 1pv or 3pv

7. they can call up the difficulty settings menu to adjust game difficulty (hp, healing rate, NPC encounter chance, and monster encounter chance).

 

i could just start the game in say 1pv and tell them "V" toggles the view (1pv / 3pv).

i could also just tell them about the difficulty settings menu in the tutorial, and let them set the difficulty from the in-game menu once they start a new game.

these changes would simplify character creation down to: name, sex, looks, stats, and interests.

 

i'm not sure just how to deal with this level of noobie-ness in potential users. obviously i don't want them to get lost and give up. but we all puzzle our way though character creation the first time we play a game, unless we have a friend there beside us, telling us exactly what to click on.

 

and its not like the UI screens i'm using are unusual in any way, they are quite typical for game UI's. 

 

they also don't seem to understand the concept of tutorial vs non-tutorial game. 

 

in the way of help / tutorails there area number of options:

1. tutorial games. the escape from helgen quest at the start of skyrim is an example of this.

2. popup help dialogs the first time a feature is used each playthrough. skyrim also uses this.

3. in-game help with topics or lessons (the sims, skyrim)

4. game-encyclopedia (total war and others)

5. advisor. provides realtime advise on what to do. (total war and others)

6. searchable built-in or online docs. (many games)

 

i've tried all of these, and am currently using tutorial and searchable built-in docs for the moment. the current plan is to ultimately use tutorial and caveman-o-pedia.

 

 

 

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I think the ol' "pre-rolled characters for newbies, but with a choice of chargen for experienced gamers" solution would work for you.

 

Another potentially interesting sort of chargen that newbies could understand would be "Choose your ancestors".  Give them a choice of eight or sixteen possible "grandparents" and have them drag four of them into their "family tree", which determines their starting stats and skills by heredity.  (So if you want a bruiser, choose the strongest grandparents you can; if you want to start out with "Animal Lore", make sure one of your grandparents knows it.)

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is it better to walk them through and prompt for everything?
 

 

In my opinion, neither. This is an unfortunate tendency of games from the 80's that needs to go the way of, well, many other unfortunate 80's game designs.

 

A few games do try to do better, and they might at least be a good starting point for research. Fallout 3 for instance had a pretty good setup for its time; you "designed" your character through the intro areas via some level of actual interaction with the game mechanics. This could be taken a lot further.

 

For instance, starting the player with a fairly blank/average character and giving them a starting area with several obstacles and many ways of solving those obstacles. As the player naturally falls into a play style, the character is refined to better match that play style. As the NPCs in the area ask the player questions that imply some sort of background, the character becomes shaped by the player's answers. And not braindead questions like "were you a thief or a warrior" but more interesting questions like "you were kicked out of your old tribe? what happened? [I was hungry and stole food] [It was religious discrimination] [I had a violent outburst] etc." (and you can do even better than that if you spend more than 4 seconds thinking about it like I just did).

 

In other words, instead of asking a player a crapload of questions about mechanics that they can't possibly answer, just have them play the game. It's the same as tutorials: a good well-designed game just sneaks those into the story and natural game progression rather than dumping the player into a kiddie-land level with a bunch of prompts and dialogs. It's been said that a good game is just a very long tutorial for mastering itself. :)

 

Dialogs bad. Gameplay good.

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Maintain a good wiki. I find the single best way to learn a game is to tab out and read a wiki when I have questions.

 

yeah, couldn't get through skyrim without one.  but having to go look something up outside of the game - to me that's almost like cheating, and means the game is not sufficiently self-documented. but then again, i consider strategy guides to be cheating too - and i also consider them to be a form of "docs sold separately" - which is really ripping off the player.

 

but also look at the questions you're trying to answer. often i'll miss a hard to spot side tunnel in a dungeon, and think i've hit a dead end, when the quest marker and map clearly indicate there is more. so it off to the wiki to read the walk-through. the proper way to fix that is easier to spot tunnels. low rez rock textures and HDR shineyness seem to add to the issue. Or there's no quest marker and you have to explore extensively. acceptable if it weren't for those damn mountains always in the way.i don't want to spend the evening wandering around western skyrim looking for a dwarven site i've already discovered that's marked on the map with a non-dwarven ruin symbol. so i goto the wiki and learn that the map marker is the wrong type. its almost like the wiki is there to get you past the bugs!

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Dialogs bad. Gameplay good.

 

i'll take another look at fallout 3. been a while since i started a character.

 

frankly i was rather unimpressed with the G.O.A.T.

 

and if you think about it, the GOAT does the "prompting" and generates stats from your responses, and then you can edit them.  so its still a "prompt then edit" system.  they just wrap the prompts in a rather nebulous exam you take.   in New Vegas they have you looking at inkblots!   and none of the responses in these things is something i would choose. so they never come close to the stats i would assign.

 

so while they do a semi-good job of hiding the prompts in gameplay, for me at least the process leaves much to be desired. its long, with canned animations you can't skip past. at least you can skip the GOAT.

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Yeah, I've always hated having to put points into a skill or stat that I really don't know how useful it will be.  Deus Ex and swimming for example.  There are only a tiny handful of spots where you can swim in the game, it's a mostly pointless skill.  Fallout, if you've never played it before, you have no idea how fast or slow one will get access to Energy Weapons.  It's the same with lots of their skills, it's really hard to determine how much the designer(s) thought of having useful situations for the Science, Repair or Doctor skill  I kind of prefer the learn by doing method, with some minor fudging to let me specifically put points in a skill that I'm not doing because it's too low and a pain in the rear to increase by doing.  

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Yeah, the whole thing wasn't perfect, but it was at least fit into the fiction of the universe. It's a start.

 

bethesda has always seemed to try to weave character creation in fallout into the start of the game.  by contrast, skyrim just throws up the "edit your appearance" screen. but then again, skyrim has simplified character creation to just appearance and name, no stats, class, or sign as in Oblivion. fallout still has stats and specialties, as well as appearance and name.

 

i was almost considering showing a menu at the start of a new game and let the player choose "quick character creation" (edit default caveman using create a caveman screen), or "walk me though the process" (prompt for everything, with explanations, then show the create a caveman screen).

 

if you were tasked with simplifying the create-a-sim screen in The SIMs, how would you do it?  that's basically what i'm looking at.

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Yeah, I've always hated having to put points into a skill or stat that I really don't know how useful it will be

 

this is the code for the change stats screen in Caveman:

 

    c tx2 100 200 "Change stats..."

    c tx2 100 250 "You get 36 stat points to assign to your stats."
    c tx2 100 275 "You can assign no less than 1 and no more than 10 points to any single stat."
    c tx2 100 300 "Use the + and - buttons to change your stats. Click the done button when you're done."
 
    c tx2 500 410 "Strength affects damage done and max encumbrance."
    c tx2 500 460 "Intelligence affects how fast you learn things."
    c tx2 500 510 "Dexterity affects chance to hit."
    c tx2 500 560 "Health affects how hard you are to kill, and disease resistance."
    c tx2 500 610 "Charisma affects your interactions with other cavemen."
    c tx2 500 660 "Speed affects how fast you move."
 

 would you consider these brief explanations sufficient?

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