The Bad and Ugly of Tutorials

Posted on Oct 23 2012 - 12:00pm by Seijitsu
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Every game is it’s own universe. Just because you were awesome at Counterstrike doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be awesome at Battlefield right off the bat. Luckily, to help bridge the gap between experiences, most game designers have developed an aid. Back in the day, we read manuals, or you got the local arcade guru to teach you how to play for a pocket full of quarters. Nowdays, they have your ten-minute instructional built right into the game. This is known at the tutorial.

However, between games, there are both good and bad tutorials. Unfortunately, we tend to remember the bad a whole lot more than the good. After all, game designers know how to make a game, but tend not to be high-school teacher material. Below are some of the worst tutorial concepts a designer has ever put into a game.
Excessive hand-holding

If you’ve ever shouted at your monitor, “I get it already!” You know exactly what I’m talking about. Playing games is about finding your solution to a problem the game designers give at you. Being spoon-fed everything every two seconds is no fun at all. I managed to buy the game without drooling all over myself. At least assume I am a competent human being with opposable thumbs! This is especially bad when combined with…

Force-fed tutorials

What’s more annoying than a bad tutorial? How about not being able to skip past it at all? Yes, we’ve all experienced these, and some games even make you play through the tutorial again when you start a new game+. Great way to cut the replay cycle short is to put players through another tutorial! Some tutorials are built into the first level of play, and while you may not notice it the first time you play, you definitely will the second, third, and eighth time, and you will hate the developers for it every time.

Leaving out mechanics

Going in the opposite direction, not explaining a vital mechanic sets the player up for failure. It would be like giving the player a toolkit and telling them to build a house, but leaving out key tools like a hammer, or a carpenter’s square. Sure, you could manage without them, but I sure wouldn’t live in that house. This doesn’t include games that don’t teach you the mechanic until it becomes relevant, but imagine if Peppy shouted, “Use bombs wisely!” without teaching you how to lock-on? You could still play Star Fox 64, but some segments would suddenly be tougher.

No tutorial!

Welcome to the Jungle, player! What’s that, a tutorial? I hardly know ‘em! Yes, some games like to throw you in ‘the mix’ and disguise it as a tutorial, but some games are just as happy to throw you out there without one. Forget leaving out mechanics, it’s up to you as the player to figure this out on your own! Reminds me of when my dad ‘taught’ me how to swim.

Exposition dumps!

(not pictured: exposition)

This might be the worst. Video games have many ways of conveying information. Text is for books, and monologues are for plays. If you rely on either to convey the majority of your information, you might be doing something wrong, game designers. It’s a video game. You can teach us by letting us do, you know! We won’t hurt ourselves, we promise!

Creating a game tutorial isn’t easy, nor is it easy to explain how to make a good one. This is because every game is hand-crafted, and needs a largely hand-crafted tutorial to introduce newcomers to it. Cover core mechanics at least, and you’re doing well. Going over every combination isn’t necessary. Gamers are natural problems solvers. Just make sure you equip them will all of the tools they need.

Seijitsu

Jaa is a former US Marine, shut-in gamer, Pax Enforcer, and amateur game designer. When not playing games, thinking about games, or eating meals in between games, he is probably asleep dreaming about games. He is currently majoring in Software Architecture. He can be found on Twitter @Seijitsu_