Wow, that title sounds dramatic.
Anyway, we posted a preview of Dukes and Dirigibles for other game developers to try out. The response has been very positive, but the requests for improving the tutorials hit me right in the gut. It was that kind of situation where you knew it in the back of your mind, but you needed to hear it from someone else to fortify your resolve to improving things.
If there’s anything I learned from this, it’s that you have to continually remind yourself that players will be coming into your game with zero prior knowledge of what will be expected of them. Sure, there are tropes in gaming that can be exploited (such as pressing the left mouse button to fire a weapon), but they only go so far.
So back to the tutorials I went. The main offender was the first tutorial. Right in the first “room”, we required players to recognize they are playing an omni-directional (as opposed to just vertical or horizontal) scrolling game from the right/left turning instructions alone. Without proper instruction, however, players were flying straight ahead into the first wall they came upon.
Though I didn’t change it to be so blunt as saying, “This game scrolls in all directions,” I did add a clear indicator that the way to continue was to turn to the right. I also added a hint box (we already use these elsewhere) that fades into view if the player has been in the first section long enough for the game to infer they he may not know what to do next (plus, it’s always good to give players clear objectives).
In general, I added more, but simple and direct, signage that filled in the gaps of what we were asking the player to interpret. The tutorial we had before these changes now seems to me like almost a puzzle game. But it’s not supposed to be a puzzle game – the tutorial is there to get the player ready for the actual game as efficiently as possible. I think a good rule for reaching clarity is to look at the tutorial and ask yourself what gamelplay elements are currently the least clearly explained, and decide if more needs to be done to inform the player about them.
In my next post I think I’ll talk about the types of things you should actually let the player figure out for himself.