Bioshock EP7: Hold W to Win!

By Shamus
on Jun 23, 2013
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

Wherein Atlas continues to guide us through the zany madcap world of “BoyoShock”.


Link (YouTube)

I think it’s really interesting how Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite both have the same trouble with the hint system, which is that you’ll be 80% of the way through the game and you’re stilling getting messages explaining how to switch weapons or reload. Sometimes the game would even explain how to do something just after you finished doing it.

On one hand, I’m in favor of games that are accessible. It’s bad when games assume that you’re a master of all mechanics once you leave the tutorial area. It’s also bad when games simply take concepts for granted. For game designers, its important to remember that for some small percentage of players out there your AAA shooter will be their first AAA shooter. Crouching, jumping, and using cover are obvious to most players but can be completely mysterious to a newbie. If game designers take too much for granted then they run the risk of making their games too insular. Even if the player knows about all of the mechanics, they might forget which buttons do which things if they step away from the game for a while.

On the other hand, randomly throwing up tutorial messages at all players at random intervals and telling players how to do things they’ve long mastered is an ugly, brute-force solution to the problem. It breaks immersion, clutters the screen, and distracts the player.

It’s really strange that this design decision persisted throughout the entire Bioshock series. (I’m assuming it was in Bioshock 2 as well.)

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202040 comments. (Forty is the only number whose letters are in alphabetical order.)

From the Archives:

  1. TouToTheHouYo says:

    “(I’m assuming it was in Bioshock 2 as well.)”

    Yes. Yes it was.

  2. MrGuy says:

    That’s the one thing that makes me sad about the switch from viddler. That pun thread can never bee recovered.

  3. droid says:

    I think the tutorial thing was well handled in Left 4 Dead and the devs describe the logic in the developer commentary. They knew there might be new players joining in at any point of the campaign so they couldn’t rely on scripted locations for the prompts. For each possible hint the game tracks how well you have demonstrated your knowledge and shows the hint when there is a opportunity to perform it.

    • silver Harloe says:

      I hope the tracking is better than “did it recently” because, of course, someone might hit a key by accident, and not realize what they did.

    • Nick-B says:

      Pfft, Left4Dead’s tutorial never learned to tell me not to shoot my teammates. It keeps popping up all the time. I know not to! It just… Keeps on… Happening…?

      Oh god.

      Silliness aside, I Do always have the highest FF incidents, but I’m not sure why. It’s not like I intentionally aim for them, or shoot blindly into crowds. I’m a great FPS player. And I’m usually the highest regular and special zed slain numbers, but my FF is double that of anyone else. I don’t recall doing it that often, but…

      • Trix2000 says:

        Maybe you’re just trigger-happy and quick on the draw, which means you shoot more things overall.

      • Cineris says:

        You will shoot your teammates more often if you actually play the game as intended and cover your teammates and watch their backs. Fortunately the penalty for shooting teammates is not very steep unless you are playing on Expert difficulty.

  4. Keeshhound says:

    An amusing thing about that trap-that-activates-another-trap in the beginning; if you’ve researched the Houdini splicers enough to have the natural camouflage tonic (a gamebreaker in it’s own right), you can sit there and let the “ambushers” (if they can be called that) clear the trap bolts for you.

  5. bucaneer says:

    Spec Ops: The Line has the best loading tips. “The US military does not condone the killing of unarmed combatants. But this isn’t real, so why should you care?” It is generally a good idea to get killed regularly in the game so that you can fully appreciate this additional layer of narrative.

    • MrGuy says:

      What I especially like about it in SpecOps is that it’s tonally progressive. It’s more gameplay pointers early in the game, and then get into meta-narrative stuff as you progress further.

      Wait – a hint system that knows how far you are along in the game and adjusts the stuff it says accordingly? What witchcraft is this?

      • James says:

        you know with the Xbone, and its spy— i mean kinetic, they can adjust the on screen prompts to your level of heart rate, how many people are in the room or how naked you are. just imagine, your playing Call of Shooterman 98; More Grit and the game tells you that playing naked could effect your performance!

        (all of that, all of it is satire, aside the camera, thats real folks)

  6. Irridium says:

    I had a thought about the tutorial messages popping up later in the game. What if it’s for people who stopped playing for a while, then come back? I do this a few times, and it usually takes a bit for me to remember all the controls. Those hint systems can be pretty useful for someone like me.

    Don’t know if that’s the intention though, but it’s one group of people who are helped.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      Surely that group would remember where the in-game help menu, or the controls list, is located. It would literally take all of one minute to check.

      • Irridium says:

        Well, yeah. But, um… huh.

        I feel silly now.

      • Soylent Dave says:

        Surely the people who need the tutorial in the first place would just read the manual / in-game help?

        But then we’re gamers, and we don’t read manuals (if they’re even included).

        That would be too easy! We just blunder about, bashing buttons until it a) works or b) reaches a critical level of frustration.

        Checking even an in-game manual is a bit too much like asking for directions.

        • MrGuy says:

          I realize you’re being a bit tongue in cheek here, but this is an important point. Needing to “read the directions” is a failure mode.

          Having to read a book or read a document to figure out “what do I do?” is an immersion-breaker. You don’t want a game that can only be played by periodically STOPPING the game.

          Making a game that can be played seamlessly is pretty hard. What you really want is something so intuitive that it just flows this naturally. You don’t have to teach anything – it just makes sense.

          Even tutorials are a bit of a hack (so much so that games let experienced players skip them). That said, reasonable games need SOME way to introduce mechanics and skills, so tutorials aren’t going anywhere soon.

          The problem with tutorials is they teach things once. If you forget “wait – which button do I need to press to reload?” after the tutorial, you need some way to recover. In-game hints are annoying, but if done well they’re less intrusive than “hit pause and cruise the manual.”

          A good hint system should really operate on a few key principals.

          First, the system needs to understand relevance. If your hints are going to show only when someone died, you need to analyze the circumstances around why I died. If I fell off a mountain, telling me which key uses the medkit isn’t terribly relevant. If I killed myself with splash damage from a grenade, talk about grenades and not the assault rifle.

          Second, it should keep track of skills acquisition over the course of the playthrough, not just the “current state” of the game. i.e. if Josh has used the reload key 97 times already, maybe we shouldn’t tell him how to reload, even if he’s running around with a half-full clip.

          Third, it should be able of being customized to the general level of experience of the user. Someone who’s played dozens of AAA shooters probably just needs the “which key uses the medkit?” and stuff that’s unique in your game. Someone who’s never played a shooter before needs to be told what that glowing circle is for and why there’s jam on the screen. Civilization V is actually really good at this – you set a “hint level” from “total newbie” to “I’ve got this,” so as an experienced Civ player I’m not constantly told how combat works or that I need a worker to corral those horses.

          Fourth, it should have some level of monitoring. Even if I’ve used “throw grenade” 50 times before in this game, but I haven’t used it in the last 2 hours despite having grenades and fighting some big battles, maybe I forgot (because I went on vacation for a week and just got home).

          • X2-Eliah says:

            No, sorry, that is BS. If someone plays a game halfway throuh, leaves for a month, comes back to it and refuses to re-check the controls they have forgotten, then they are quite simply being an arse, full stop. And it is NOT the game’s nor the dev’s duty to accomodate for arses.

            • Matt Downie says:

              The user might have forgotten that there were grenades in the game. They might have forgotten there’s a controls page.
              As a game designer targeting the mass market, you have to bear in mind that 90% of your potential customers are idiots.

              My worst experience for not knowing the controls was in Fallout 3. I was wandering around in the dark for ages. I checked the control setup screen for a ‘flashlight’ button, but none was listed. I had to go on the internet to discover that, due to consolification, I had to press the key to bring up the pip-boy menu and hold it down for a second or two.

              Contextual tutorials are best. Monitor the user for things they’re doing wrong and then tell them things they really need to know. If they’re walking around with an unloaded gun, remind them what the reload button is. And don’t automatically tell them how to jump or crouch in the initial tutorial section – wait a few seconds to see if they can figure it out on their own.

            • Trix2000 says:

              I tend to find the need to look up that sort of thing just more incentive not to get back to a game, which is not a good thing if it’s otherwise a fine game. Sure, it’s not that hard, but it’s just an extra step I don’t want to worry about when I already have most of the ingrained basic gameplay trends to start with.

              It’s part of why I personally like the shift to more in-game teaching/tutorials as opposed to, say, instruction books or whatever. It’s a lot easier to remember what does what when I can mess around with each mechanic in turn, rather than looking them all up at once and trying them out later (assuming I remember them all).

              My only gripe with Bioshock Infinite was how some of the tips really weren’t necessary – controls I get, but telling me that Elizabeth can pick locks isn’t really useful when I can easily run up to a lock to see ‘Lockpick’. But its a nitpick that was otherwise ignorable.

            • Shamus says:

              You can insist this is how the world SHOULD work, but it won’t change how they ACTUALLY work.

              And really, this is just a simple convenience. Players don’t review a manual before a play session, and they often don’t realize what they’ve forgotten until they need it or start having problems. They just sit down and begin playing, because that’s how it is with games. Some people play for an hour a day. Some people binge on weekends. Some people play every day. Some think about the game when they’re away from it, and some don’t.

              Maybe I’ve forgotten what button throws grenades, or maybe I’ve forgotten about the grenade mechanic entirely. A quick on-screen reminder – like an in-game tutorial – isn’t strictly needed, but it does help the player enjoy the game. A well-designed reminder system can ease a returning player back into the experience and so make the game more enjoyable.

              • arron says:

                I felt that the System Shock II way it was handled was far better. On the first level, you had a series of “info screens” around the level that you clicked on. It would then upload a single topic into your PDA you could recall later. In addition to that, if you wanted to know anything about a certain object, you could use the “?” function in the PDA. A lot of the descriptions were pretty funny.

                The great advantage of this system was that if you were a seasoned player – you were neither obliged to read or burdened with “help” messages popping up every few seconds. They should have done a similar system for the Bioshock games.

  7. Henson says:

    I generally don’t like hints in-game. It’s good for a game to display controls on-screen the first time you can use them, but generally, checking key inputs is what the options menu is for.

    …And then, there was Metro 2033, which didn’t even show all of its controls in the controls menu. I turned off the damn ‘show hints’ box in the options (by ‘show hints’, they actually mean ‘give a proper tutorial’), and consequently played through the whole game not knowing how to switch ammo, check my journal, or pump a pneumatic weapon. (hint: you have to hold down one of the keys).

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Thats why I never disable hints.Youll never know when theyll tell you something thats specific to this particular game,and its worth skimming over the occasional “use mouse to look around” in order to get to the advanced stuff.

      • StashAugustine says:

        I must go a little off topic and say that there should just be a standard for RTS games to clearly label one tutorial for “I have never touched RTS before” and “I have never played this RTS before.” I really hate it when I have to sit around for twenty minutes being told that right-click is move when I just wanna know how this game differentiates itself from Starcraft.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Beginning and advance tutorial should definitely be separated in every game,not just an rts.Though its much more time consuming there,its still just as annoying to have to go through “left button to shoot” when trying to find out just what special things this action game has.

          • Suburbanbanshee says:

            Especially since, every time I’ve tried to play an MMO or some kind of modern action computer game, the tutorial is too hard and too fast-moving. I’ve tried to play MMO’s online that were designed for LITTLE KIDS and failed miserably to be able to do simple things, like jump while moving forward. You go from the difficulty level of “jump forward once” to “complete this complicated maze of all jumps, constantly having to begin again every time you fail,” and you’re still in the tutorial.

            Alternately, they have the ones where you don’t even know that what you’re in is supposed to be a tutorial, until things keep flashing off and on every time you touch a key, and your mouse goes out of control for incomprehensible reasons.

            I miss Atari joysticks. That’s about as many controls as I can handle. Once Nintendo came in, it’s all been too complicated.

            And this is why casual games make money. Simple controls means you can focus on playing, instead of on learning controls or how slow your computer or internet connection is.

  8. Lesser_Panjandrum says:

    I like the discussion of how frustrating and immersion-breaking it is to drag an NPC companion around with you. Luckily Bioshock Infinite managed to avoid most of the gripes brought up there.

  9. Jerf says:

    Shamus,
    Sorry for the offtopic, but since the link in “If you’re looking to suggest or request an article on a particular subject, look here” doesn’t work, I have to ask this here: with all this hype related to the details about The Witcher 3 that were recently announced, I’m curious, are you going to finally write something about The Witcher 2?

  10. Lanthanide says:

    This “hints late into the game” has been raised by Shamus on here before.

    In BioShock Infinite, it was fairly easy to see that it would run through all the hints after you loaded the game up. Once it had shown you all the hints for one session, it wouldn’t show them again, until you saved, quit the game and started it up again.

    I managed to get through all of Infinite in just 4 or 5 sittings, so I didn’t get too annoyed with the hints.

  11. River Birch says:

    Never would have thunk it…but yeah, it’s there.
    I can hear SongBird’s sound when Fitzpatrick is playing the piano .

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