Wordless Tutorials are Overrated

What do you think of tutorials that try to teach the player without words?

Okay, personally, the idea that you can make a tutorial without words, and that I’ve been playing games where this was the case all along, that hit me like a pile of bricks back in 2011 or so where I first heard it. I hated common tutorial structures, and I still do. It’s irritating to get stopped to explain something so basic I was already doing before the prompt came up. So naturally for someone frustrated as hell by Zelda tutorials, Mirror’s Edge tutorials, Far Cry 3 tutorials, and others like those, it was like, “aw man, this is the perfect way to build a tutorial, everyone should do this.”

And we had great examples, like Valve games which never stop you with tutorial messages, at most having a control hint pop up.

But I think the flip-side is, sometimes things need to be explained with words. Like there’s no way to explain how to kick in dark souls without using words. Sometimes things can be explained faster and with less effort with words. I remember reading this one gamasutra article about a space ship game where players just didn’t get the stealth system at all and how it related to power usage and no matter how hard they tried to build a wordless tutorial, they just couldn’t figure it out, so eventually they just threw in a tutorial video and everyone understood it fine.

Wordless tutorials are elegant, they aren’t necessarily functional at the job of teaching the player. A lot of people advocate them because A. They’re sick of hand holding tutorials that stop the flow of action to explain things B. They dislike being demeaned by tutorial text explaining them the obvious C. They think mentioning how the game is operated breaks the 4th wall and therefore their immersion

For a corollary, I’d like to present the Dark Souls tutorial. It has tutorial messages written as text on the ground. You are free to ignore them. They do not pause time while being viewed. You can finish the tutorial in less than 5 minutes.

I’d also like to present tutorials like exist in Braid, where the instructions are written as text in the landscape and a simple barrier is placed in front of you that must be passed with that knowledge.

Tutorials can have their information delivered through a lot of different methods, many of which don’t stop the player, or unnecessarily waste their time. This is cool, lets do more of that. Some tutorials, like the Mirror’s Edge and Ori and the Blind Forest ones, allow you to hit escape and skip the whole thing. Awesome.

If a game is simple enough that you can just make a level and not bother with a whole tutorial, like most NES games (1-1 is the most famous wordless tutorial ever), then go ahead. Otherwise, balance between teaching new players adequately, and allowing competent ones to proceed unhindered.


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