Experienced Points: Tutorial Torture

By Shamus
on Jul 2, 2013
Filed under:
Column

Last week I mentioned BioShock’s thick-headed approach to tutorial popups. I decided to talk about the idea a bit more in this week’s column.

A lot of people have praised Half-Life 2, and while I don’t disagree that HL2 had a really awesome tutorial (it helps that the time is spent worldbuilding and setting a mood and not just bossing the player around) I wonder how much of the slack we give to HL2 is due to the fact that you can pick a chapter of the game. Just about every other game insists that you start over from the beginning. The train station is awesome, but I’d be a lot less patient with it if I had to do it every time I wanted to fool around with the gravity gun or mow down some metro cops.

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  1. Napdance says:

    Every time I replay HL2 I jump in at the start, enjoy it all the way to the part where you’re jumped by CP, then I sigh and jump ahead one or two chapters.

    Most times I just play Highway 17 over and over again. That chapter was an amazing game in itself. I’ve always felt that “roadtrip shooter” should have been a genre.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      That does sound interesting, but just imagine the outrage from the moral watchdogs when it hit the shelves. “First the family, and now the family roadtrip? Is nothing sacred?”
      Best call it a “rails shooter” instead. People feel less threatened by train heists than vehicular crimes.

    • Alex says:

      “I’ve always felt that “roadtrip shooter” should have been a genre.”

      I’ve been saying for years that Fallout 4 should have drivable vehicles for just this reason. I’d love to play a sandbox game where me, my companion, and a trunkful of gear could go on road trips across the Capitol Wasteland.

      Or just make a Gorkamorka sandbox game.

    • swenson says:

      I don’t dislike the canals, exactly, but yeah, I just don’t find them particularly interesting after the first eight thousand times I’ve played them. I still love Water Hazard, though. Half-Life 2’s greatest accomplishment may well be making the vehicle sections some of the most fun in the game. (Or at least I love them–I understand there are people in the world who don’t like the airboat, but I’m mentally incapable of comprehending that.)

      • Andy_Panthro says:

        I’m one of those other people. I dislike the vehicle sections, mainly because I feel like they go on too long. (Also those little physics puzzles, which now just seem to shout LOOK AT OUR PHYSICS ENGINE! LOOK AT IT!!!)

        I’ve been replaying HL2 recently, and it does have plenty of stuff in it that I would either cut or shorten (much like HL1). The atmosphere is still fantastic though, and it’s important to remember how much the series revolutionised first-person-shooters.

        Still well worth playing though, and I haven’t played Episode One or Two yet, so I have that to look forward to, and then HL3… right? Guys?

  2. DGM says:

    HL2 had its own form of tutorial torture:

    “Reload, Dr. Freeman!”

    • MichaelG says:

      My favorite is “You’re not leaving without me!” followed by “Ugh” as the follower takes a bullet from a sniper.

    • swenson says:

      *while in the middle of reloading*
      Don’t forget to reload, Dr. Freeman!
      *while out of ammo*
      Don’t forget to reload, Dr. Freeman!
      *while full up on ammo, I don’t even know why they’d mention it*
      Don’t forget to reload, Dr. Freeman!

      As Concerned puts it, “I just helped Dr. Freeman!”

      • DGM says:

        I could understand it if you hooked up with resistance members right after you got your first gun, since it’s possible you might never have played a shooter before. But by that point in the game there’s no way you haven’t figured out the need to shove bullets in one end of the gun before they can come out the other.

        Also, it’s narratively absurd. Freeman is legendary for having already fought his way through an alien invasion almost single-handedly. That’s why everyone wants to follow him in the first place. Why would anyone think he doesn’t get how to work a firearm?

  3. Mormegil says:

    The Witcher 2 lacks this sort of thing and I returned to it after a couple of weeks. I bought a new sword and drew it to have a look at it. All the guards shouted at me to put it away and I ended up having to murder them all because I could remember how to kill things but not how to sheathe a weapon.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      Yeah, some sort of character “instinct” would be really cool. Like, your character in-game could have their own reflexes, and inform you about them in QTE fashion. Of course, this could lead to all kinds of hilarity when your character’s reflex is to skewer guards instead of sheathing the sword, but at least it would play into the story and character motivation instead of being random silliness.

    • Ringwraith says:

      Try booting up the arena, at least you can flail around with the first wave or so while remembering how to do things.

    • swenson says:

      I went through a significant portion of Oblivion without realizing it was even possible to sheathe a weapon. I even complained about how silly it was that I had to walk around with a sword out all the time (unless I was riding a horse)!

  4. guy says:

    Having picked up a JRPG just this week, I have discovered that it is possible to place detailed tutorial instructions on the menu so they can be read at any time.

    I highly recommend it.

    In most modern games I fumble around the keybindings menu at the start because I think little of their tutorial/hint quality.

  5. Paul Spooner says:

    Good thought experiment! I’d think the next step in a “auto help” system (after implementing what you suggested) is to give the player an in-game way to express intent. That way the game can tell what they are planning on doing, and solve for that. If the player is sitting outside the door, maybe they don’t know how to open doors, or maybe they are just admiring the sinage. Without allowing the player to communicate with the game, there’s no way to tell. The mechanics could even incentivize this by offering bonuses to actions that are performed in-line with your stated goals.
    Of course, it would have to be implemented with some cleverness. Like the turn-signal on your car, there would need to be a way to de-activate these goals if you stray too far from the path, or “complete” them well enough. I feel like the “quest” system in many MMOs is ripe for this kind of dynamic reactive hint engine. Do any of them do this?

  6. Daimbert says:

    I’d say that the best way to do this sort of tutorial and in-game help … is to not do it automatically, but give a context sensitive hint button. Pop up relevant hints if the person dies, that they can ignore if they know what to do (but just can’t do it). If they’re stuck, have a hint button that brings up relevant actions that they might have forgotten. For example, if they need to get past a door, and hit the hint button, have it say “Try kicking the door open (command)” if you’re supposed to kick the door, and “Try using the panel” if you’re supposed to open it, and something else if you aren’t even supposed to go that way at all. This puts it all in the control of the player and so avoids telling them things they already know AND not telling them things they want to know.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      Ooh, an entire button devoted to nothing but a control hint HUD? Lavish! You could have it pop up an entire overlay with callouts and color codes that show which objects in the current environment can be affected by which commands as well. That would be really cool.

      • Daimbert says:

        Well, it could be a menu item or anything else as well. But the key, to me, is to put it entirely in the hands of the player, and not try to guess when the player wants a hint.

        The more detail the better, so the highlighting is nice, and you can add in more detail if you make it so that the player never has to see it unless they want to.

    • Syal says:

      “Try opening the door”

      • Humanoid says:

        Why would you bother doing that when you can just program an NPC to open the door for you instead?

      • Daimbert says:

        I’d really love to see hints, even that basic, in adventure games like Sam & Max. You could get a lot of humour out of a hint that says “It’s time to leave the room now”.

        • Sleeping Dragon says:

          Didn’t Sam & Max (the new games) have a hint system in the form of spontaneous statements or conversations between the two? If the game wanted you to, say, ask a friendly tapeworm to squeeze under the door and open it after a little while of wandering one of them would just say something along the lines “I could open the door if I could squeeze under it, but I’d have to be thin like a tape or something”.

    • Abnaxis says:

      Ohh, oh! And you can have it say “HEY LISTEN!” every time you run across an item/area that has a hint attached to it!

      Or maybe not…

      • Daimbert says:

        That would seem to defeat the purpose of a system that the player can ignore unless they need it.

        Sure, if someone forgets the button for hints, they’re in trouble, but you can add that one in loading screens or after death animations to remind them of that. Again, add it in cases where the player can ignore it but can see it if they’re frustrated.

  7. John the Savage says:

    Bioshock Infinte is FAR worse. The tutorial messages interfere with Elizabeth tossing you ammo, salts and MOTHERFUCKING HEALTH during combat. I have, on more than one occasion, actually been killed by the “help” messages, before I realized I could turn them off.

    • guy says:

      Huh, I don’t remember that. Probably I turned off hints very quickly.

      Who on earth thought that was a good idea?

    • Mephane says:

      Since I have not played the game – how do these messages interfere with tossed ammo etc.?

      • John the Savage says:

        I’m not sure from a coding perspective, but here’s what happens on screen:

        1) I get low on health.
        2) Elizabeth shouts “Here, take this!” and the prompt to press X to have her throw health comes up.
        3) A split second later, this prompt disappears, being replaced with some “help” message, like “Difficulty settings can be changed at any time”.
        4) I furiously mash X, to no avail. The prompt must be on screen, and the “help” message has replaced it.
        5) Booker dies horribly.
        6) Rinse, lather, repeat.

        I imagine both the Elizabeth prompts and tutorial messages are responding to similar triggers (the player taking a lot of damage) and for some reason they cannot be on screen at the same time.

    • Torsten says:

      Sleeping Dogs has the same problem. Tutorial messages pop up and block the view in the middle of a car chase or some other situation where you need unobscured view. Add in that the pop up windows do not seem to scale down according to the screen resolution.

  8. HeroOfHyla says:

    In Viva Pinata, it is impossible to redo the tutorial on an existing account. I came back to the game after about a year, and had to make a whole new xbox profile to see how to play again.

  9. Mr. Mister says:

    I played through almost all of Resident Evil 4 without knowing how to run. I thought walking slowly away from giant monsters was part of the games tension lol

  10. Disc says:

    “What about you? Did you ever struggle in a game because you forgot the controls?”

    Not in recent memory at least. While I do mess up controls occasionally, it’s mostly just to do with conflicting muscle memory. Playing let’s say a FPS game for a long time and then moving to another which I haven’t played in a long time and which does a few things differently is the usual thing.

    There was this one time though a couple years back when they released an expansion to Lotro and in the meantime decided to do a major rehaul of skills and gameplay on my other favorite class to play, which completely messed up several weeks worth of gameplay time of learned muscle memory. A good part of the fun I had playing the character was all the routines I’d developed which were all heavily tied down to a specific muscle memory and now I’d have to effectively just relearn how to do a lot of very basic things, which kinda took the whole fun out of it for me. I tried giving it a shot, but the magic was just gone. There was no tutorial or anything to really give a better idea how to develop a new playstyle to fit all these new changes either and so my poor level 65 Minstrel has been sitting idle ever since.
    For those who’ve played the game, I’m mainly talking about the changes to combat skills brought in with the Isengard expansion. (They literally took.. or nevermind.) Power issues in lengthy fights aside, with proper traits you could really cause some havoc while still retaining survivability in Warspeech. Some of the new stuff admittedly did look on paper like it could work more efficiently in some areas, but like I said, I never really could be arsed to find out. Part of the fun for me was also in the challenge. The added power-regen skill was about the only thing I ever felt like was missing from the class.

    • Akri says:

      I get the muscle memory problem a lot. Especially when switching from a Diablo 2 (where you click to move) to just about anything else (or vice versa).

      As for forgetting controls, I recently jumped back into Guild Wars 2 after a several month break, and nearly died because I couldn’t remember how to heal. “OK, this isn’t D2, so it’s not 1-4. Maybe ‘h’ for ‘health’? Crap, that opens the Hero panel. Oh, right! 6!”

  11. Syal says:

    Games need only one hint; which button undoes your last action. Everything else can be learned by trial and error.

    Also games need a button that undoes your last action.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Most games have it.Its called F9.

      • swenson says:

        Unless it’s F7, which I immediately rebind to F9, because who would put the quicksave button next to the quickload button?

        • AyeGill says:

          I very much agree. The worst feelings in the world is when you’re trying to quicksave after overcoming a huge challenge and instead quickload, undoing it, and when you’re trying to quickload after screwing up completely and getting in deep shit, and you instead quicksave and make it permanent(well, unless you have a recent non-quick save).

  12. Humanoid says:

    I’d back the old system of having standalone tutorials which have no impact on the game that follows. Think Deus Ex or Baldur’s Gate 2. Or going back further, when the tutorial was really just a saved game, so that the tutorial text (which would have been printed in the manual at this time) would have a predictable set of circumstances to work from.

    • Ringwraith says:

      Yeah, but no-one reads anymore. Don’t be ridiculous.

      • guy says:

        In game manuals, that’s kind of become a self-reinforcing circumstance. I used to read them, but then at some point I got sick of most of them being short and useless and stopped.

        Also, Steam has issues with its manuals system, so that’s kind of a problem.

      • Humanoid says:

        Touché.

        But yeah, I still love reading old manuals. Indeed I have manuals for such games as Wing Commander (Claw Marks), Alpha Centauri, MOO2, Civ4 and various Sim-titles (which had great humour in them) within arm’s reach of my bed.

        • Hydralysk says:

          I remember reading through the Starcraft and Diablo 2 manuals when I was bored as a kid. They actually had a long description of each area and faction, as much a lore book as a manual, and even they still pale in comparison to the BG2 manual which is thicker than most novels.

          It’s stunning to think of the amount of work put into those manuals compared to what passes for one nowadays, which is usually just the button mapping.

          • Humanoid says:

            Falcon 4.0 came in a three-ring binder to accommodate the manual. It was 600-odd pages, amazing stuff.

            I also liked the inclusions of secondary ‘manuals’ which were really nothing but in-game fiction. Origin games were particularly good at this – the aforementioned Claw Marks internal /newsletter magazine for the Tiger’s Claw, Strike Commander had the very cool Sudden Death magazine for mercenaries, Ultima 7’s propaganda for the Fellowship, Crusader’s rebel dossier. Fantastic stuff.

            SimFarm had half the manual dedicated to actual farming.

          • Tizzy says:

            The fist Fallout manual was pretty funny as well.

            • atma says:

              Yeah, it knocked me out *grin*

              I loved reading the manuals of my console games while waiting for the moment when i could play them; “ooooh there is this item” “ooooooh, this monster looks cool”

              • Tom says:

                When I was a kid, the printed manuals were a very important part of the experience of buying a game. On those magical days when I was allowed to buy a new game, I’d open the box and obsessively read the manual from cover to cover on the ride home from the game shop – it was all part of the anticipation!

                The boxes were important too – I had a kind of totem-pole of those big old cardboard boxes from the pre-dvd case days stacked almost up to the ceiling, of just about every classic adventure game – then, like an idiot, one year I had a clear-out and recycled the lot of ’em. If only I’d held on to my collection a few more years I could probably have made a fortune selling all that mint packaging to other collectors. Ah well. At least I’ve still got most of the manuals in a box file somewhere.

                I don’t know why in the old days everyone thought an enormous cardboard box the size of a large hardback book was the ideal container for a tiny jewel case CD and flimsy A5 leaflet to rattle around in, but I kind of miss them – I guess it’s something similar to the reverence people have for LP vinyl sleeves…

                • Humanoid says:

                  Yeah, I picked up a few copies of Ultima 5 on Ebay – a “few” because they often are missing the trinket, a coin in this case – and boxes in the 80s were smaller than that of the 90s heyday. So as floppy disks became smaller, the boxes became larger. I assume the real reason is shelf exposure, of course, rather than something more utilitarian, but I loved them all the same.

                  Aside, Garriott originally sold Akalabeth/Ultima 0 in ziploc bags, photocopied self-stapled handwritten manuals. Worth many thousands of dollars now, naturally.

          • LunaticFringe says:

            Age of Empire 2’s manual had unit stats, but then direct below each unit would be a ton of completely-irrelevant-to-gameplay historical information that the player could freely read. Not a surprise I learned more from that game then most self-proclaimed ‘educational’ ones.

        • ehlijen says:

          The first Homeworld had a great tutorial, including a long, detailed section on the history of the planet you start out on. It doesn’t affect game play in the slightest, but seeing the planet burn feels more impactful if you’ve spent an hour reading the history of all the clans that lived there.

    • Tom says:

      Strongly agree. Sometimes I really miss the late 90s – that was a special time in PC game design. Now you could almost say there’s no such thing as a PC game; even though just about everything is theoretically designed as cross-platform from the start these days, and I approve of that in principle, in practice most stuff is still designed with a console mindset, and a lot of it still feels kind of like a console-port when played on PC – you just can’t shake the feeling that if they’d designed it for PC only, certain things would be very different, particularly the interface.

    • swenson says:

      I’m going to be honest, a game which can’t teach me the mechanics in the game itself has some problems. I don’t want to have to go through a separate thing to understand how to play the game. Early games, it’s perfectly excusable, but in the modern age, we’ve learned how to do good integrated tutorials/hints. There’s no reason for a modern game to need a standalone tutorial.

      That all being said, standalone “try stuff out” modes are still quite nice to have even beyond learning basic controls if they let you try new tactics, test new weapons, etc.

      • Humanoid says:

        Which is fine until you want to play again without going through the tutorial-esque content. Even if the game lets you turn the overlay/pop-ups off, it’s still usually forcing the player into going through a “for Dummies” section of gameplay because of the decision to integrate the tutorial into the main game.

        Which is how things like the Temple of Trials happen.

        • swenson says:

          Unless the game allows you to use later game tactics/abilities in the earlier levels (one of the few things I like about Mass Effect tutorials…) or the tutorial bits are as fun and interesting as the rest of the game. But I concede this is the main problem with integrated tutorials.

    • Hal says:

      Stand-alone tutorials aren’t a bad thing, certainly. I liked the Deus Ex tutorial, for example, because it fit with the story and the setting without being mandatory for it.

      There is something to Shamus’s complaints, though, that a tutorial which adapts to the level of player knowledge is very useful. People completely new to FPS games probably need to know how to move their character, crouch, jump, fire a weapon, etc. It’s hard to put a system like that in a standalone tutorial because it’s probably not meant to have you skip around.

      Plus, I suspect the number of people who skip said tutorials, only to circle back eventually because they couldn’t figure something out, is pretty high.

  13. Darren says:

    Don’t forget about optional tutorials with extra rewards! Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines has a pretty good tutorial (it has a lot of well-delivered exposition on top of explanations of mechanics) which is entirely optional, yet I do it every time I play in order to get the bonus XP.

    Does the addition of a reward affect the acceptability of a tutorial? Also: Bloodlines would be a great game for Spoiler Warning!

    • guy says:

      Does it autosave when you finish?

      NWN2 does not.

      I was made sad.

    • Humanoid says:

      It’s like the worst of both worlds! Grrrargrrh.

      See also XCOM (the new one) giving you a free satellite for playing through the silly tutorial, with the weird arbitrary tradeoff of forcing you to pick Europe or the US as the home base. (Though the US is a great choice for the home base, so eh)

    • Hydralysk says:

      Oh please no…

      That game is already incredibly buggy. I’ve tried to finish it twice, and both times I stopped because of a game breaking bug that stopped me from progressing.

      The worst thing we could do is let Josh play that game, half the season would be the cast yelling “What the hell did you break this time!”.

      • guy says:

        Josh is a dark sorcerer, and can call or banish bugs from games of any quality.

        TR has already hard-crashed as least as often as New Vegas onscreen.

      • Elric says:

        Maybe you should apply the latest community patch. I’ve played Bloodlines three times through without any bugs or quest issues. An important thing to know is to play as a “normal” race (Ventrue, Toreador, Brujah,…) for the first playthrough. And then, if you liked it, don’t miss out on a second playthrough with a Malkavian. They are insane and get hilarious dialogue options and responses from NPCs.

        The combat mechanics are not the best (especially close combat), but otherwise Bloodlines is a very well made game. It’s Deus Ex as a vampire.

        • Tom says:

          “Deus Ex as a vampire.” Absolutely spot-on! I never could articulate quite why I liked it so much, despite the horrendous bugs and a couple of awful scrappy levels…

        • Humanoid says:

          My only full playthrough of the game was as a Malk! And I didn’t feel particularly hobbled from the choice.

          I’d probably struggle more from clans where rapid selection of abilities was important, i.e. the Ventrue. But then I almost never play a magic-user in RPGs: the last time I did as my player character was probably BG2, and even then it was a sorcerer for ease-of-use.

          • Elric says:

            I think the writers did a good job at adding the insanity (plus the uncanny Malkavian insight here and there), without leaving you entirely clueless on what you are communicating. But I think you appreciate the Malkavian more if you already have a vague idea of what your character would normally say and how the plot unrolls.

        • Hydralysk says:

          Both times I’d applied to community patch, sadly it didn’t stop the shenanigans, though it did make for some interesting stories.

          For instance my second attempt ended when pretty much every object was replaced with a meter long black rectangle that covered it from view. Phones turned into rectangle, ceiling fan blades turned into spinning rectangles, cluttered tables became a seemingly solid mass of rectangles, even doorknobs turned into rectangles. I would’ve been more pissed if the game breaking bug wasn’t so hilarious to see.

          Though really I guess I was asking for that kind of insanity since I was playing a Malkavian for the incredible dialogue options.

      • Tom says:

        As released, it’s unplayable. Heavily fan-patched, it’s OK. The one thing I get mad at is not a bug, though, but a really nasty boss fight near the end, which is basically impossible to pass unless you play as one specific class. The boss can teleport at will, so melee is useless, he has a ludicrously powerful and accurate ranged weapon that can punch right through all the cover in the arena, which he covers from a very elevated position, he’s immune to all powers, you can’t sneak past him because the start and end of the battle are both scripted, and there’s no way to speech-check out of the fight either. Oh, and you’re not forewarned that those are the skills you’ll need. In other words, if you’ve played as absolutely any other class than a heavily armoured super-sniper, you might as well consider that the end of the game for you. In a game that otherwise gives a mostly OK balance of opportunities for stealth, diplomacy and magic, this is unforgivably poor design (it’s even worse than trying to beat the final boss in Mass Effect 1 as an engineer, which is itself an absolutely direful experience).

        Oh, yeah, it also has the worst sewer level in the entire world.

        • Elric says:

          I suppose I never encountered this issue because I always chose marksmanship over close combat for my playthroughs. Close combat in Bloodlines looks and feels clumsy whereas there’s some fun to be had with the shooting.

        • krellen says:

          That boss is annoying to fight melee, but you should be able to get a hit or two in before he teleports.

        • Tizzy says:

          VTM Bloodlines was playable out of the box when it first came out. It had some bugs, and the community patches improved the game, but it could run. Now, that was almost 10 years ago, I don’t know what happens when you try to play it now.

          That being said, as far as nasty boss fights are concerned, nothing equals the aggravation caused by the Griffith Park observatory scene. It’s NOT a boss fight, I’ll take any of the bosses that at least can be killed in theory over that mess any day of the week.

          • Decius says:

            The boss in the park can be killed, but not with combat skills.

          • Tom says:

            Oh, lord, the observatory. I never normally get that far, on account of the other boss fight I hate coming first, but that’s just horrific, and it’s all the more terrible for the fact that it could so easily have been one of the most awesome scenes in the game instead.

            But they made so, so many mistakes in that sequence – while the game’s writers made it abundantly clear by that stage, to anyone who’d been remotely paying attention, that you should be mortally afraid of the particular creature you encounter, it never adequately explained that this is because it’s literally invulnerable to all conventional combat and you need to beat it some other way, and it’s not just going to be a tough fight that you’ll need to stock up on health and ammo for (did I mention the game’s broken economy means you’ll likely be both flat broke with no remaining cash quests to do and have none of either item left by this point?). No prior experience in the game would ever lead you to suspect this without being outright told, or finding out the very, very hard way.

            Then they made it able to instantly kill you as soon as you’re within arm’s reach.

            Then they made it able to run just as fast, if not slightly faster, than you can over open ground.

            Then they put you in a cramped arena where there are no places you can go where it can’t reach you.

            Then they gave you a slow-acting means to kill the creature, evidently not realising that there’s literally no time at all to even notice it’s there, in an area you’ve never had the chance to explore under non-frantic circumstances, let alone give it a try and figure out how you’re supposed to use it, let alone actually successfully carry it off without failing a bazillion times first due to the crazy timing requirements and the invulnerable, insta-kill, faster-than-you-are, always-knows-exactly-where-you-are boss. (to their credit, it does at least look sorta cool when it works).

            Then they gave you a supposed backup option, in that you can theoretically beat the encounter just by running like crazy on a constantly changing path that repeatedly passes into and out of the building in the middle of the arena (which contains at least one cul-de-sac where you can get trapped while trying to do this) until the agonisingly long fight timer runs out and the exit opens, evidently also not realising that this would be about as far away from “enjoyable gameplay” as it’s possible to get.

            About the only things they could have done to make that level worse would be a) make it happen in another sewer, or b) throw in an escort NPC to keep alive.

            Yeah, you know what? I’d like to add my vote to this game being the next spoiler warning as well – it’s got the potential for so much aggravated commentary!

        • AyeGill says:

          Oh, man, the sewers. That was literally the worst. Not just the worst part of the game, just the worst in general.

          • Tom says:

            Ironically, the game also has one of the best sewer levels in the world, right after the worst one. Which only makes it all the more infuriating on repeat playthroughs when you already know where the secret door is that leads straight there and you’re not allowed to open it until you’ve been through the awful bit first.

      • krellen says:

        Why do I never have this game-breaking bug problems that everyone else seems to have?

        Hint: it’s a game developed before Windows XP. You might try using compatibility mode to run it.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “Does the addition of a reward affect the acceptability of a tutorial?”

      Most definitely,and in a bad way.Especially if said tutorial isnt broken into basic and advanced parts.

      An achievement and some art or similar optional stuff are the only acceptable rewards for going through the tutorial.And this comes from someone who always goes trough the tutorial when starting a new game.

  14. X2-Eliah says:

    As for controls:

    Esc (or Enter, or Tab – whichever) -> Options -> Control Layout / Controls -> Read for 10 seconds.

    I mean, seriously. All of the above takes a grand total of less than one minute, in ANY GAME. And instead you want to push all that gunk into popups and persistent tutorials that keep popping up throughout the game, or when it automagically realizes you have suffered a concussion and forgot the controls? OH COME ON FFS.

    I can understand not reading manuals. I don’t agree, but I understand that. But not taking one freaking minute to re-read the controls? Especially when nearly all games are already controller-adjusted and have, what, 15-20 controls at most?

    Now, as for the more advanced stuff – I’m in firm belief that every game should have a “help” menu selection, wherein I can browse through all those advanced hints and tips that usually go on loading screens and such. I don’t want to flail around for 20 minutes hoping for the game to pick up what I’m doing wrong, when I could be investigating it within seconds myself.

    • Shamus says:

      As I said in the article: The problem isn’t when you forget which button is throw grenade. The problem is when you forget that grenades are a thing.

      The player thinks they know what they’re doing, so they’re not going to consult the controls.

      You can yell OH COME ON FFS all you like but you will never, ever change human nature. Videogames are played by humans, humans make these kinds of mistakes, and these mistakes make games less fun.

      Also, remember the point of the exercise was to improve on the system we see in BioShock. Like, “If you’re going to do this help-thing, then here is how to do it.” You can just yell “RTFM N00b” at everyone who has a problem, but then you’re not really participating in the exercise.

      EDIT: Added another paragraph because I got too trigger-happy with the post button.

      • X2-Eliah says:

        This was more a response to either a comment-theme on a previous article, or.. hm, was it on forums? Anyway, a lot of people claimed that they want games to constantly remind them what the keybinds are (which was also said in this post’s comments above). I find that to be both annoying and unnecessary, given the above.

        Also, consider this – loading screens are going away. A lot of games are moving to seamless, open-world form.. that means way less load cases, that means way less tips & hints shown to the player.
        So, how else to tell the player? Show a popup? That, to me, would be far worse than showing achievement popups (because at least those are contextual and timely)…

        • Syal says:

          Shape the worldmap in such a way that it tells you how to do stuff.

          • Peter H. Coffin says:

            Well, in-world context anyway. There’s a LOT that can be done with that. Having a teammate (NPC or otherwise) throw a grenade is a great way to remind someone “Hey, you have grenades” and get them to go look up the “throw grenade” mechanism. Give nitrous boost a distinctive sound and have the player hear it from the other cars. Etc.

            • Syal says:

              Alternately, brand the jump button into the side of cliffs you have to jump over, and make the enemy uniform have double shoulder pads, one of which is a different color than the others depending on their rank which shoulder button you should be pressing to kill them.

      • Peter H. Coffin says:

        Real-world example of related thing, that happened just yesterday, paraphrased.

        Friend 1: Self, alt-tab does not switch your browser tabs, as much as you’d like it to.
        Friend 2: I do that all the time too.
        Me: ctrl-tab, on the other hand…
        Friend 3: SORCERY!
        Friend 1: WTF? How did I not know this?
        Friend 2: holy shit! THANK YOU!

        And these are very computer-savvy people, working in user support, so they’re 100% on board with reading manuals and probably had. They’d just forgotten how something that THEY USED EVERY DAY did something and that it could do it at all. Human behavior’s a funny, tricksy thing…

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “Esc (or Enter, or Tab – whichever) -> Options -> Control Layout / Controls -> Read for 10 seconds.”

      Except that it doesnt work like that.For example,I recently started metro 2033 again(after a few years),and missed the hint about gas masks.I spent the whole level indoors with my mask on because in order to take of the mask you need to hold G not just press it like when you put it on.

      But I agree about the separate help option in the main menu.I see absolutely no reason to exclude rereading hints whenever you want from the menu.What,having that stupid huge logo on the title screen was so important that you couldnt put an extra line there?

      • Dave B. says:

        I remember once when I had just started playing an Assassin’s Creed game for the first time, and I accidentally turned on Eagle Vision. Then I couldn’t remember how to turn it off and none of the control hints appear in that mode, and I couldn’t even exit to the menu to look up the key bindings.

    • Aitch says:

      A while back I watched a playthrough of Bioshock Infinite done by Day[9]. He’s the type of person that likes to play the game the way he wants to play it – went through nearly the entire game with the sniper rifle, hardly ever used any vigors, approached battles cautiously from around corners, etc…

      And the entire time, the game is popping up these “friendly reminder” messages which, after a short while, seemed less like friendly reminders and more like a bratty developer going “you’re not playing the game the way I want you to”.

      So of course after seeing the same “don’t forget to use your vigors” and whatnot over and over, he mentally blocks them out and misses out on several actually helpful gameplay tips.

      Not like it’s THE problem, but it’s certainly A problem – and especially with developers acting more like control freak directors rather than good dungeon masters – in certain situations, you never know how someone is going to choose to play the game in a way that makes it fun for them.

      So all these messages showing up, instead of being helpful, begin coming off as condescending or patronizing to a person who hasn’t suddenly forgotten how to play the game – but just doesn’t want to play it necessarily so rigorously lockstep as the developer wants them to.

      The question is then, how do you separate for gameplay choices versus things the person would have no other way of knowing?

      For something like Metro, I feel it’s the game’s fault for not having game-critical commands listed in the bindings.

      And I’m very hesitant to encourage developers to tell people how to play “the right way” any more than they already do.

      It’s tricky.

    • Decius says:

      “Anyone who says ‘I am good at communicating but other people are bad at listening’ is confused about how communication works.”

      Allowing a quick-help screen IN ADDITION TO pop-up hints is a good thing, provided that the quick-help is easy to get to.

  15. postinternetsyndrome says:

    I watched an episode of a Ghost Recon Future Soldier LP the other day, and they pointed out that during the loading screens, a diagram of an xbox controller is shown (this was the xbox version, have no idea how it looks in other versions). Hitting buttons on the controller you have in your hand highlights them on the diagram and pops up text explaining its function in the game.

    So you don’t get the hints if you’re not asking for them. Seems like a reasonable approach.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      What about a PC?

      What about games where loading times are not stupidly long?

      • Drexer says:

        You show a picture of a keyboard(adjustments might be needed due to local variations of keyboard or it might be a more abstract picture with the letter keys separated from the function keys which would reduce quite a bit the variations) and let the player press the buttons freely to see the hints.

        You make it so that the loading screen persists after loading and you can continue by pressing space(one key we will assume the user knows the use of). You add an option to disable this behaviour in the options menu.

        Done.

        • Humanoid says:

          Clearly what’s needed is a return to the days where games shipped with cardboard overlays to physically place on your keyboard, around the relevant keys.

          Of course, this would also require a return to standardised keyboards, that being the IBM Model M. But that would be no bad thing.

          • Tom says:

            Oh, man, I can just barely remember those – I never had one, because I didn’t play that kind of game, but they looked so cool and professional, I always wanted one just for that.

            What would be *very* awesome, and I think got prototyped once or twice years ago but never caught on, is if you could get a keyboard with little backlit LCD displays on each key, so the game could print its own labels or symbols on each button, and light up ones it wanted you to press during training, etc.

            • HeroOfHyla says:

              You’re thinking of the Optimus Maximus. Unfortunately, the full sized model is always listed as unavailable in the developer’s store and the compact model is over $1000.

          • Abnaxis says:

            I had an overlay like that, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was for…King’s Quest? Lemmings (still have the 5.25 floppies for that one)? Maybe I’m thinking of Word Perfect?

        • X2-Eliah says:

          “You make it so that the loading screen persists after loading and you can continue by pressing space(one key we will assume the user knows the use of).”
          — game, meet my friend: the uninstall selection. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

          “You add an option to disable this behaviour in the options menu.”
          — you mean the same options that are a massive faux-pas to open and peruse? If I am not going to look up controls or a help menu in options, I sure as hell won’t search for some obscure “make loading times not suck” option.

          • Drexer says:

            I could very well engage here in a varied discussion of various alternatives and methods to integrate into games so as to make the user experience better.

            But from your replies all over the various conversations on this topic it seems apparent that you’re mainly looking for some kind of way to vent and scream at people in a passive-agressive way instead of going for a reasonable discussion so I’ll bow out of this now.

  16. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Remember the times when all games had separate tutorial option in the main menu where you could select various chapters youd like to (re)visit?Good times.

    • Thomas says:

      To do it properly you need the tutorial to mark progress in the game and update itself based on that, because introducing new mechanics as you go through the game is pretty standard nowadays. Or you could have the separate tutorial include all the mechanics including the ones you didn’t want to overwhelm the player with at the start, unless it’s a very spoilery mechanic

    • X2-Eliah says:

      Gamers who don’t want to check a manual or even check the control options will wanty to spend 115 minutes playing a completely disconnected, sandboxed tutorial? Don’t make me laugh.

  17. Didero says:

    Another possible solution to helping people refresh their memory on the controls after not playing for a while, is storing when a savegame was made. If there’s longer than, say, a month between the save being made and it being loaded again, pop up a controls refresher.

    • postinternetsyndrome says:

      …and play a short “previously on” clip to update us on the story.

      • swenson says:

        Games that mention your current objective/selected quest when loading the game are beautiful and I love them (or at least that part of them). I tend to drop games for months and then come back to finish them, and if I can’t remember what I was doing, I’m just going to drop them again.

  18. Grudgeal says:

    I’m still haunted by memories of the “press SPACE to change your ammo power” messages in Mass Effect 2. It still sticks out in my mind as bad tutorial design, because they were blinking, big, distracting, redundant and seldom of much use.

    Mainly because they always showed up when I died. Hint, developers: Tutorials on changing ammo isn’t of much use when you’re DEAD.

    • ehlijen says:

      Fun fact: ME 2 + 3 have broken me in regards to the space bar so badly that every Tomb Raider Combat looked like this for me:

      Run to cover
      Do a standing jump, catching many bullets
      shoot a bit from cover till someone tosses a molly
      Do a standing jump, catching many bullets
      if still alive, run away

      • Thomas says:

        Spacebar was take cover and] reload on the PC?

        • ehijen says:

          No, not reload. It was:

          Run faster
          Stop running and glue to nearby cover
          Vault over cover
          Jump from cover to cover
          Leave cover
          Interact with nearby object (especially deadly in ME2 as hacking did not pause the combat around you)

          And:
          Select dialogue option (could be done before the wheel became visible by doing the below)
          Skip current NPC dialogue line

  19. X2-Eliah says:

    Actually, I bet each and every one of us can name tens of games with terrible tutorials.

    But what games had tutorials / tutorial implementations that *you* thought were really good, without any “except, but, err”s?
    Personally? I am not sure I can name any that weren’t faulty at some facet (length, clarity, scope, ease, etc).

    • ehlijen says:

      Tie Fighter: purely optional, but offered shiny medals for completing them. They also went all the way from the basics of flight controls to advanced tactics to fully utilise the higher end craft in challenging tests, each individually selectable.
      And there are no popups or hints outside the game world unless you ask for them after a failed mission.

    • swenson says:

      Portal. You can’t complain about integration, because half the game is tutorial, and I think it builds you up with the various mechanics very well, with a logical progression from one to the next. Sure, it’s very transparently a tutorial, and its tutorialness is not hidden at all. But it’s intentionally so, because Chell herself is explicitly going through a tutorial.

      I’m sure there’s some complaints that could be made, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

      And Portal 2 gets props specifically for the “say apple” bit.

      • X2-Eliah says:

        So if I play it for two hours, leave for a month, start it and continue playing, having forgotten everything… will it handle that? Afaik no.
        Same with portal 2.

        • swenson says:

          Fair enough. That is a legitimate strike against it. But the game is sufficiently short that you probably are going to finish it in one shot anyway, and it’s good about continuing to use mechanics so you frequently encounter them again, not doing something once and just expecting you to know about it six hours later.

    • Syal says:

      I’ll say Super Mario RPG. Nearly impossible to forget which button did what, and if you ignore the tutorials in the beginning you get an extra item.

    • droid says:

      Mega man X (as demonstrated by the foul mouthed Egoraptor) does good “tutorials” through clever level design.

  20. Kdansky says:

    There are weird variations on this too: In badly ported games, the prompts for buttons would display the game-pad control as a reminder, and ignore the actual binding. That’s especially annoying when you remap the controls a bit different from the industry defaults (seg-way: Tribes has running “skying” on the space-bar by default, and jump on RMB. Warframe plays much better when you move sprint from shift to space-bar). In recent times, most games show the actual button set in options. Nice.

    But then Injustice comes along and uses (on the PS3) the button labels of the PS3. But I’m playing on a stick, and that thing has no Square button. Showing me “light attack” (or just [1]) would be so much better, because all notation used by players refers to that as “light attack”, and never as “square button”. That extra indirection makes QTEs (during some idiotic challenges) many times harder on a stick than a pad.

    They went too far with the prompts!

    • Humanoid says:

      Well, as shown in the first SW AC2 episode: press the legs button to move your legs. It’s interesting because in a way it’s less lazy than just leaving it as the console-specific button, they’ve actually changed it to a PC specific graphic. Just not a useful one.

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      But which button is “1”? Setting aside the whole issue of whether you’re numbering from 0 or from 1, there’s culture issues about even what button is “accept” or “reject”. Classically, Playstation in the US uses the green X for accept and the red O for back/cancel, reinforced by green for “go” and X for marking off a checkbox. Japanese Playstation interface reverses those meanings, because red’s a lucky color and getting a paper all correct in school gets you a bright red circle on it, while crosses tell you which ones you got wrong. If you remamp function like that (or key bindings on a keyboard, etc) then your pop-up *must* reflect it’s actually bound to, not just what the core game thinks it is. (That’s not a *hard* task, by any means, but it’s something that has to be considered all the way back in the design phase, because getting it wrong even once can be a very frustrating bug.)

      • Peter H. Coffin says:

        Oh, and in case you were referring to the button numbers as the drivers software referes to them, that’s a lot to remember. My mouse has eight, and it’s not particularly elaborate these days, plus three unbounded axes of control (left/right, push/pull, and a wheel). A PS-style controller has at least 14 plus two slider/triggers and two “analog” thumbsticks for a total of six bounded axes of control, *BEFORE* you start adding in any gyro-acceleration factors in. My HOTAS rig has *30* “buttons” (two on one trigger alone) plus seven bounded and one unbounded axes. And they’re all plugged in, all the time.

        I can tell you which ones are flaps and elevator trim. I can tell you which scroll sideways, which are sprint or fire, in a given context. But which one is “7” on each control gizmo? Hell no.

  21. GM says:

    Dust: An Elysian Tail has an awesome control help menu and has an sidekick remind you constantly of which button to click on chest,people actually i wonder if it´s possible to have that off heh.

    • Trix2000 says:

      Fidget’s indicators were pretty easy to ignore too, if you didn’t need them, since they were fairly small and localized to her position.

      It had a pretty nice tutorial, though I can’t really speak for whether it was amazing or not. I forgot some of the details of the first bit just because of how much fun I had with the game.

  22. Irridium says:

    Wait, waitwaitwaitwait, in Max Payne 3 you can activate bullet time without having to dive?! WHAT?!

    • Humanoid says:

      The original, after several embarrassing deaths in which I lay down on the floor while a half-dozen mooks filled me with lead, taught me to stop using bullet time in conjunction with diving at all.

      Never played the follow-ups though.

  23. Scampi says:

    I know this one’s a bit far off, but armour classes in WC3 can be hell of a pain. When replaying the classic campaign after being subjected to the Frozen Throne Expansion, you have to pretty much relearn them because they were completely overhauled and in some cases, the natural damage/armour counter from WC3 would be completely reversed in TFT, so you’d build lots of units of a type, only to realize the armour classes wouldn’t exactly work in your favor anymore…

    Another one: Ninja Blade wouldn’t allow me to remap the controls and I had to buy another gamepad since the controls (on my old pad) felt so awkward and outlandish compared to other platformers that I saw no way to play the game with those controls. The new pad had another button layout, so it kind of reduced the problem, but couldn’t completely get rid of it.
    It also used kind of unintuitive quicktime queues, to add to the confusion.

    Then there was Fallout 3, which never really told me how to holster my firearms, and since it uses the same button to reload, while holstering melee weapons, I used to holster my firearms by switching to a melee weapon and then holstering the melee weapon/fists, then switch to the firearm again without drawing it so I’d be correctly equipped once I got into a fight. Then, someone finally told me to hold the reload button for about a sec.

    A really annoying example: the (mandatory) flying tutorial in GTA: San Andreas. It occured about 2/3 through the game, held you hostage for an extended period the 1st time through because it was pretty difficult (compared to the intuitive controls for the rest of the game), and it was filled with stupid pointless tasks which, to top it off, were never a useful part of gameplay during the missions (or did anyone ever need to perform a barrel roll to play any of the missions?). So it was not only a boring tutorial, but totally pointless and, if you were interested in playing in the campaign, stopped you dead in your tracks to present you with a tutorial for an element that, I believe, noone was really interested in in a GTA game.

  24. Hal says:

    The latest Elder Scrolls games, Oblivion and Skyrim, tend to get picked on for their tutorials, since they are long-winded. They at least have the benefit that there is a “point of no return” where you can change most of the aspects of your character you’ve established up to that point, so in theory you could just load that save and make a “new” character each time.

    Skyrim, however, really screwed up in this regard, as far as I’m concerned.

    The tutorial technically continues as you start getting the dragon shouts. In order to complete the first shout you get, you have to play through . . . two or three dungeons? It’s insane. The signature ability of the game requires a couple of hours of play time before it’s available. Bad move on their part.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      It’s actually always a bit of a problem for me in those open world games because my instinct is to, usually, try and explore the side content before following the main quest. So for example in FO3 I’d stumble upon content that is way down the storyline. On the other hand if you progress too far in Morrowind it locks you out of a chance to try vampirism. Then there are cases when you get powers/abilities/resources during the game that are really useful or just fun to play with, but you’ve already did almost everything you could with them.

      • Syal says:

        On the other hand if you progress too far in Morrowind it locks you out of a chance to try vampirism.

        It doesn’t lock you out, it just makes it harder.

        • Sleeping Dragon says:

          Well it locks you out of the obvious way, to be honest it’s been years since I’ve played Morrowind without so many mods it makes the engine weep so I’m not always entirely sure which parts and mechanics even come from the original game.

  25. Corpital says:

    Time to be an elitist jerk!

    After clawing my way through the electrified barbed wire fence that is the controls/GUI of Dwarf Fortress and mastering it, I refuse to be beaten by any of those modern games, where I don’t even need 20different keys to get the most basic thing done.

    On a less serious note, since I was a wee little boy, I never had much of a problem with remembering stuff, even after months of not playing. EXCEPT grenades. Grenades occupy a blind spot in my brain, that is unable to memorise anything for longer periods of time and occasionally shorts out even after throwing several grenades.

    • swenson says:

      While it’s not quite as complicated (or at least doesn’t seem so), I play Nethack and can commiserate. I hate going back to old Nethack saves because I never have any idea what I was doing or what’s going on (and I’m probably about to be horribly murdered again anyway).

  26. Retsam says:

    I think the point I’m getting from this whole post and discussion is that we need to bring Clippy back.

    I mean, did no one else read the phrase “Clippy with a gun fetish” and think “That sounds awesome!”?

    “It looks like you’re trying to pwn a n00b. Can I help?”

  27. I would rather see a single info button instead.
    When you press it the game is paused (even during cutscenes).

    On the info screen you will see context help like:
    How to quit the game, how to skip the cutscene.

    Or if during combat:
    Which buttons to press to do what.
    Using X on Y is better than Z on Y unless you…

    That way a discreet “whatever symbol” could be shown now and again if the game think you are having issues. (that behavior can obviously be toggled).

    Also on this info/help screen various tips and stuff can be seen.

    Does any games do this currently?

  28. Smejki says:

    Adding one more bad habit – showing the tutorial text only outside of the time I am trying to execute the damned thing! Need to read the description again? Well at best press some button for a pause and pop-up. At worst you are fucked and need to restart the tutorial again. Arma 2 (also current beta of 3), Ass. Creed 2, Dishonored, Witcher 2, Deus Ex:HR are the most notable examples of this for me. These are games where you are to learn the thing but to don’t see the help while trying to execute the freaking action.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      See, you say that, whilst Torsten argued that it would be terrible:

      Sleeping Dogs has the same problem. Tutorial messages pop up and block the view in the middle of a car chase or some other situation where you need unobscured view.

      So.. Which one would it be then, for a game designer? Can’t make those indicators outside of action, can’t make them inside of action…

      • Smejki says:

        Well, unobstructive but present? You can combine that pretty easily. If it would be impossible, any GUI would be an obstruction to the player. The way I see it tutorial should go as follows:
        – Tell me how to do a stuff
        – Still keep showing me how to do a stuff while I am trying to do the stuff (don’t make me interupting my trying to the stuff)
        – Never let me pass to next step until I succefully do the stuff. Several times – to make sure I did not succed by accident for first time.
        – Repeat at each step
        – Ideally, let me train all I learnt

  29. SteveDJ says:

    tmc;dr (too many comments)

    You seemed to mix “forgot about something” with “I want to play that way” when saying to use a different timing threshold for hints. Unfortunately, you have no way of knowing which case it is for the user.

    For example – you said that maybe a player likes using the assault rifle, so doesn’t ever change weapons; and in that case, the hint system should wait a long time.

    BUT – if I’m that player, and I really did forget how to change weapons, you are making me wait a very long time to get that hint again.

    Perhaps this is something where the user needs to choose something in setup — I like lots of hints VS I like few hints VS Don’t bug me, ever!

  30. Jeff says:

    “bossing the player around”

    The funny thing is that the first thing that comes to mind is having a cop boss you around – throw that trash in the garbage can!

  31. Noumenon says:

    The Escapist needs to put a “Next” link at the bottom of your articles, not the top. I was really confused how abrupt it ended. Maybe this is the same bug that makes the Subscribe button not show up for many people.

  32. Pete says:

    Bit of a tangent, but Im reminded of the really odd case that was Homeworld… it had a separate, lengthy tutorial that explained all the mechanics one at a time… and THEN it had the first half of that repeated AGAIN in the first mission of the game in the guise of fleet preparations. Weird, and more to the point, extremely timewasting.

  33. Cuthalion says:

    I made it through the entire campaign of Orcs Must Die before I realized I could sprint. That would have made things easier.

  34. Rem says:

    I played the Call of Juarez: Gunslinger demo, and strangely enough it approaches tutorials in an odd way. In the demo, at least, the narrator (you) holds your hand through the level. Something like:

    “[…] so I decided to be sneaky.” [Camera points to a hole in a wall.]

    [Walk up to the wall.]

    [“Press CTRL to crouch”]

    But if you turn off the tutorial hints, he doesn’t say this, and the camera never pans. It just lets you figure it out, or if you already know, it doesn’t try to guide you anyway. I was a little shocked when this first happened, because I thought the camera movement was just programmed into that bit of the level, but it isn’t at all. Turning off the hints just lets you do whatever you want.

    In terms of helping players who are coming back after not touching a game, a primer system might be good. Like a screen or something you can open with all the basic stuff. A hint call system would also work for anyone who actually need help playing later in the game.

    Like, you should know how to solve the problem or not die, but you haven’t connected the dots. So if the game knows what the player needs to do, a player can call for help with a single button and get a hint or two.

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