Best Way to Present Game Tutorials

What do you think is the best way to present a tutorial in videogames?

Anyone can tell you that the best approach is generally structuring a level so that it suggests what you need to do and creates a barrier that you can only pass by demonstrating the skill you’re supposed to be learning. Much like Mario 1-1, or many Megaman levels.

Not everyone can read, not everyone wants to read. Sometimes reading is necessary to explain what the controls do, and it’s nice in those cases to present something that users can call up, and which can be called up again once dismissed, much like the soapstone messages in the dark souls tutorial. The downside of these is, they are not automatically activated, some are easy to miss, and many of the challenges in the tutorial can be bypassed without actually learning what the soap stone messages are trying to teach you. This is a good thing for repeat players, because it’s faster and less annoying, but a bad thing for new players.

Mirror’s Edge has a tutorial that holds your hand much more. I don’t really approve of its tutorial design, where you are constantly stopped for cutscenes or tutorial messages that take time to skip or cannot be skipped. It is programmed so you must do every step of its tutorial the way it wants you to do it, ensuring you actually learn the skill they want you to learn, consequently, it’s really easy to break the tutorial, making progression not impossible, but requiring you to go back to the last step. The Mirror’s edge tutorial can be skipped in the menu, which is very nice. The Dark Souls one cannot, which is kind of a pain.

The ideal is to have no tutorial, you want to get to the meat of the game as soon as possible, and the game itself is kind of a tutorial in a way, offering lessons and punishing you for messing up. Most level design literature focuses on the nature of level design as a form of teaching, which is what makes shovel knight, which listened to ALL of that literature, kind of a slog to play, even if it does teach you every level’s gimmick then iterate on it slightly really well, it means that late into the game, you have to endure that type of slow progression until the final couple levels actually try to challenge you. If you need to use a video, consider letting the player control the video, with a mouse and a play bar, much like youtube. Hell, consider this for all cutscenes maybe.

Even if having a wordless cutscene-less tutorial is ideal, sometimes there are concepts that players just won’t get unless explained to them, and even if it’s bad User Experience, you just gotta shove a video or a block of text in their face. This means you have to play test and find out whether players are actually understanding the concepts you’re trying to teach them. Making a good tutorial is a balance between allowing players that understand to pass through as quickly as possible, and making sure players that don’t get it will come to understand it quickly, and not get by without learning it. This is going to be different per-game.

How important do you think tutorials or instruction manuals are? I guess it would really depend on the genre/game. Case by case basis and all.

Nobody reads instruction manuals anymore, and instruction manuals suck these days. The MGS3 instruction manual had a goddamn comic book in it, how cool is that?

Anyway. They’re really important, come on. The more you have to teach people, the more important they become. If you don’t teach people anything and your game requires them to know things to play it, then what the fuck are they gonna do?
Yeah, it does scale by genre/game, because some have more obvious characteristics and less complicated/more intuitive controls, so you don’t have to teach as much directly, but if something isn’t reasonable to intuit, then you gotta teach it.
Fighting games are in a big way brought down because they don’t have good tutorials/single player modes.

Smash Bros has a better single player mode than 99% of other fighting games. The Skullgirls tutorials are kind of fun in their own way because they set up some mildly tricky tasks and have clear completion markers for all of them. Combo trials in other games end up being way too difficult/invariant to represent a solid single player mode for most people. Guilty Gear Xrd has some interesting trials that are similar, and a good grading system on them too, grading for consistency, and their missions mode was cool in AC+R.

Give that a bit more structure, maybe some branching paths between mission unlocks, a bit of story perhaps, and you approach something like the Soul Calibur campaigns in terms of polish. Figure out how AI can be geared to teach players specific fighting game fundamentals (like the blockstring bot in skullgirls), and it will help introduce players to the multiplayer mode, and give them a framework for understanding how the fuck things work.


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