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开发者以多款游戏的实际案例谈4种有效的游戏教程设计

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原作者:Darran Jamieson 译者ciel chen

没有人喜欢所谓的游戏教程。我们每次买游戏来玩基本都直接跳过这一步,因为我们懒得花时间看那么多菜单和流程图——然而,我们得懂怎么玩啊,得知道每个游戏的新规则呀——总之,如果每个游戏都一样,那我们还玩其他游戏干嘛?

也就是我们想让我们的游戏教程尽快地结束对不对?重点来了,游戏最开始的前几分钟直接决定了玩家对游戏的整体印象和体验。AAA级游戏会有更大的回旋余地,但是如果你做的是手游或者页游,那你得尽可能快地让玩家尝到游戏的甜头才行;否则他们就去玩别的去了。
好了,也就是说,教程还是要有的,但是我们不想让玩家坐在那里听一堂无聊的游戏运作课程……这可是个难搞的问题。解决方法在于我们要怎么构建我们的教程:我们可以把它做的好玩点吗?还是说,我们把它融入到游戏中成为游戏内容的一部分?
游戏教程可以分为三类:非交互式,交互式以及被动式。让我们依次来看看这几个类型。

非交互式游戏内置教程

The entire game tutorial(from tutsplus.com)

无交互式内置游戏教程其实从某些程度上来说是老式游戏设计的遗物。下图是《Infected》的内容,这是我和我的团队几年前做的游戏。

整个游戏教程基础就是这张图了;我们回忆了一下,发现这是一个巨大的设计缺陷。当看到人们真正玩游戏的时候,他们会点击这张图片,然后短暂性呆滞掉,接着他们会继续点“开始(star)”。我们的大部分玩家,都无法理解游戏到底是怎么玩的。

George Fan是超赞游戏《植物大战僵尸》的创作者,他遵从着“屏幕里的字不能超过8个”的准则——因为大部分玩家能集中注意力的时间很短暂,所以他们是无法消化吸收大量信息的。

然而非交互式游戏教程也未必就那么坏,他们基本总是冲破了“八字”限制。如果我们需要深入这个设计缺陷,我们可以总结为以下:

教程内容宜少不宜多

这在游戏内置教程设计中真的是头号规则。玩家应该全程了解游戏中发生的事件:如果你给玩家200个组合绝招和特殊攻击,那他们很可能只能记住其中两三个,然后就靠这两三个绝招招式玩下来整个游戏。然而如果你“有技巧地指导”玩家——每次只引入一个概念——那么他们就会有很多机会掌握每一个本领。

我们之前大体地谈过这个想法,就是在把成就作为游戏教程辅助——迫使玩家用基础武器来过一个关卡可能会有损游戏整体的“趣味等级”,但是如果把这个过程作为一个成就来让玩家选择性地完成,这就可以鼓舞玩家(尤其是那些在游戏中已经很有能力的玩家)去尝试新的游戏策略。

任何一种等级或者奖励制度都可以用在这里,比如星级评定啊或者A+到F的排名啊之类的。就是“玩很烂的”玩家都可以秦公司能够完成,而那些迷恋难度更高的挑战的玩家会得到更高的分数。这也让喜欢挑战百分百完成度的超级玩家有了目标,同时那些休闲玩家也可以在不被困难关卡难倒的情况下享受游戏的乐趣。

《超级食肉男孩》(Super Meat Boy )就把游戏的前六个关卡都纳入了“教程内容”——第一关是教你基本内容:左移右移和跳跃。第二关是教翻墙。第三关教冲刺。一旦玩家明白了这些基础内容,游戏就开始引入像旋风刀、平台撞裂、滚动这类操作的关卡。

Super Meat Boy(from tutsplus.com)

游戏的第一关。你知道怎么走怎么跳跃了是么?那你很棒棒噢。

事实上,《超级食肉男孩》第一关想不通过都难。游戏使用了一种通常被叫做“noob cave(新手洞穴)”的技巧。玩家的起点基本上处在一个不可能失败的位置——他们在到达他们可能会挂掉的关卡之前,要先有所进步才行。这让玩家有机会去了解游戏机制,并且不需要有敌人攻击或者时间耗光的压迫感。

这个“新人洞穴”技巧从某种程度上来说,就是我们植入《Infected》的技巧:尽管 《Infected》很有可能让你在第一关就输掉,你得花点功夫才能赢。玩家在游戏开始已经得到了很关键的开局优势(是敌人数量的两倍)),并且这里几乎没有存在人工智能。在高等级时,人工智能才会通过运算来移动,但是在第一关,人工只能完全是胡乱走的(在游戏规则之内的)。这意味着即使玩家不知道怎么玩,还是有很大机会可以赢的。(当然有些玩家还是输了,不过他们的整体表现上比在我们游戏的第一版好很多,当时我们只是简单地把让他们扔给了很厉害的AI对战,他们输得可惨了。)

把“新手洞穴”放置到游戏的方法有很多,但是其中比较有效的就是创造一个交互式游戏教程:在一些游戏机制锁定起来的游戏小节里,玩家只能操作固定的动作来通关。这让玩家不仅“玩”到了游戏,还不用冒着失败和无聊的风险。

交互式游戏内置教程

让玩家在游戏内置教程中进行交互是一种很好的游戏机制指导办法。比起简单地告诉玩家游戏怎么运作的,让他们去执行所需的行动更容易让他们留下来。然而你可以给玩家100次指令,但是让他们去执行操作会让他们更容易记住和理解。

上图来自《Highrise Heroes》,这是让玩家如何投入到教程中的一个很好演示。尽管那比只简单地展示出一个单词是如何工作的会简单得多,但让他们通过实际完成一个单词的键入会让他们在继续游戏之前更好地理解这个操作。玩家在显示出他们能够完成基础的游戏内容之前,是无法接触到“完整的”游戏的。因为你迫使玩家去执行这些操作,你就可以确保玩家只有搞定了这个任务才有能力继续游戏。

这里有一点唯一不好的就是,如果玩家已经熟悉过了游戏,他们会觉得这种强制性游戏教程很烦人。这一点缺陷可以通过让玩家跳过教程(不管他们之前有没有玩过游戏)来避免。而Steambirds的创始人Moores则说过他是如何制作不可跳过的游戏教程把玩家留存率从60%上升到了95%。

背景式游戏内置教程

背景式游戏内置教程让玩家可以直接进入游戏。虽然玩家可以通过“新手洞穴”这个方法进行游戏,但背景式内置教程让他们能够(希望如此)以更快的节奏完成,从而更快进入到“游戏正题内容”。
这里是例子:

在游戏《VVVVVV》中,玩家从这里开始——一个安全的地带,他们可以练习控制。

VVVVVV(from tutsplus.com)

这是《VVVVVV》的初始画面,用了一个小小的弹幕来告诉玩家怎么左移右移。随着玩家能够完全地掌握操作,他们唯一能操作的星斗就是移动到下一个画面,这里他们会被告知如何“跳跃”来越过障碍。从那之后,他们就基本掌握了游戏玩法——尽管这里移动和跳跃可以放在同一个房间里来掌握,不过把它们分开能确保玩家掌握了每一项技能而不会被大量的文本所淹没。

背景式教程和交互式教程之间的区别是很微妙的,因为他们都可以使用类似的教程风格。主要区别还是——背景式教程可以无需任何努力就跳过:所有的东西不过是合并到了背景里了而已。

《我的女友是僵尸》是一个超好玩的FLASH游戏。你可以玩看看,要注意,游戏会在主菜单还没出现就让你开始操作游戏。

交互式或者背景式的教程是我们应该使用在《Infected》中的。整个教程可以通过三个步骤来学习(如何移动,如何跳跃,如何捕捉),所以如果我们做的是交互式或背景式教程,游戏的玩法就不会有重大的损失。虽然我们知道这个问题,但是教程是我们开发的末尾事项之一,所以这时好的设计在完成游戏的过程中只能占据第二的位置。

无内置教程

你是怎么从水龙头里弄凉水的?一般来说,你把把手转到右边就好了。那你是如何拧紧螺丝的?顺时针转就好了。这些都是没有说明书的——我们是本身就知道它们怎么用的,或者说我们从小就知道了,因为这些工具(通常)都以同样的方式使用,所以我们的生活中,这种知识得到了加强。

游戏的运作也是有这种原则的。作为资深玩家,我们自动就会知道我们要在游戏里搜集金币还有升级,而非游戏玩家本身可能是无法理解这些目标的,因此,让这些目标尽可能明显是当务之急。(即使你以前没玩过横板平摊游戏,你也知道跳到火坑里不会有好结果的。)
一个玩家通常可以一眼就分辨出“好”和“坏”的区别,而不需要真的去死来作为试错方法。宫本茂曾经说过他是如何决定在马里奥中使用硬币的原因:

“所以,我就想,什么是每个人看到了都会想‘我超想要那个!’的,我们就想,‘是了,肯定是钱。’”

《植物大战僵尸》用的是“植物”和“僵尸”主题,这有助于在没有任何解释说明的情况下指导玩家:玩家指导植物不会动,而僵尸动得很慢。与其去找一个无聊的“炮塔和士兵”的游戏主题,植物大战僵尸的主题就有趣可爱得多,并且还能传授重要的知识。

Plants vs Zombies(from tutsplus.com)

说实在的,要弄清楚这里大概发生了什么并不难。

因为玩家都很“了解”游戏怎么玩,我们不用老解释所有内容。当你把玩家扔到一款游戏里的时候,想象什么都不告诉他们——让他们自己发现玩法。如果他们一动不动地站着,就给他们点提示(“试试移动控制杆来行走!”),但是记住,玩家通常会尝试执行基本的命令——因为游戏“基本规则”差不多都是统一的,这意味着我们可以假设玩家对游戏是有点熟悉的;然而,这也意味着,如果你要对这些基本规则做出改变是件很危险的事。

一些初出茅庐的游戏设计师认为,“正常模式”的做事方法是错的,因此他们喜欢忽略既定的规则一意孤行。实时战略类型游戏在过去就经历很多这方面的挫折,虽然今天的游戏都倾向使用相当标准化的控制系统(左键选择,右键移动或攻击)——而老式游戏的一致性就非常小了,它们还会时常变换鼠标左右键的控制,或者试着将多个命令绑到一个键上。如果你现在玩一款老游戏,那种奇怪的控制可能会让你很别扭,因为我们学习的是不同的控制设定。

实施“明显的”控制是《Infected》的可取之处:当玩家可能不想读教程的时候,按一下棋子就马上可以显示出玩家可以做出的移动,通过玩家视觉上的反应,让他们点击可以做出“正确”移动的地方,这让玩家会继续对控制系统进行探索。我们游戏的最初版本是没有这部分提示部分的,后来我们发现,添加了这个小图形之后,游戏变得更好理解,玩家也更知道要怎么操作这个游戏了,并且不需要删减任何其他内容。

在《Infected》中,你选择一个棋子之后,标明的区域告诉你哪些是你可以移动的位置。

如果你想改变传统游戏操作模式,你要有一个很好的理由才行。《超凡块魂(Katamari Damacy)》同时使用了两个拇指杆控制移动,而不是传统的一个控制移动,另一个移动镜头的操作方式。尽管这可能在一开始会造成一些混乱,然而游戏的简单性就意味着这个操作系统运作得特别好。

无独有偶,页游《过劳死上班族自杀》实际上是要求玩家自杀的游戏,经常的死法就是跳到尖刺上。然而游戏的反向主题(游戏邦注:死掉才算赢),这是一个“非标准式”的游戏行为,玩家的目标却总是非常明确。

游戏总是会改变和发展的,但是重要的是要明白当你做出改变时——不论是在控制方面还是游戏目标方面——都不应该让玩家需要“从头开始学习”。

持续的学习与试验

值得注意的是,不提供给玩家明确的指令实际上可以通过试验来鼓励玩家玩游戏。在《塞尔达传说》系列游戏中,玩家玩家不断地寻找新的物品和装备,并且需要学习如何使用它们。比起坐着看冗长的解释“水烟枪:学习如何使用你的新武器”,游戏只是把玩家关在一个封闭的房间里然后说“搞定它”——尽管这个“谜题”通常都非常清楚,玩家基本都能马上就掌握。

这些空间基本都是“noob caves(新手洞穴)”:尽管在游戏中途发现的这些空间,但是这些空间提供了一个安全的环境能让玩家能探索他们的新玩具是如何使用的。一旦玩家了解了这些新玩具的玩法,他们就要被重新扔回到游戏主线世界了,在那里他们要继续过五关斩六怪。在游戏的最后,玩家已经非常熟悉他们的新武器了,这让他们进行武器之间的转换来解决多层面难题变成了第二本能。

《塞尔达》系列游戏处理游戏内置教程的方法也值得我们注意:对于《塞尔达》而言,游戏本身就是教程。可能除了最后的地牢,玩家永远都是处在学习之中的;这种“涓滴式教程”是塞尔达系列的最大优点之一。比起一开始就给出了所有的教程,玩家在解锁游戏的过程中慢慢学习,所以他们永远不会觉得内容过多,并且总能解锁新的玩具来使用。

还是《植物大战僵尸》,它也是有效地使用了“涓滴式教程”:在每一个关卡,玩家解锁新的植物(有时候是新的场地),并且必须学会如何使用这些植物(或场地)来打败僵尸大军。因此游戏始终都不会给玩家灌入过多的内容,而是持续地提供新鲜的内容来让玩家玩。因为玩家要在每种武器上花些时间,这鼓励了玩家来选择最有效用的植物,而不是把开始使用的那类武器在整个游戏中从头用到尾。

别把玩家吓跑了

所有的这些都是在说:别把玩家吓跑了,但也别让他们无聊到想走人啊喂。这似乎是个在明显不过的提议了,然而很少有游戏(包括AAA级游戏)能真的理解这点的重要性。

常见的例子——一次次再犯的错误:要求玩家注册后玩。如果你想让一个玩家上钩,不要让他们填写表格,填写他们的出生日期,他们的电子邮件地址,等等,你只需要给他们一个访客帐号,让他们玩就好了。如果他们觉得好玩,他们就会想要注册一个“完整版”的账户了。(《Tagpro》是一款多人在线游戏,它在这点上做得很好:选择一个服务器,点击访客试玩,你就可以开始游戏了。)

做复杂的游戏当然也好,但是开发者要意识到人类的记忆力并不是那么好,注意力集中期也很短暂,在一大堆文字面前也不会表现出很好的学习能力。如果你以前没玩过这些游戏,试试玩玩《十字军之王》、《欧陆风云》、《矮人要塞》、或者甚至是《文明》系列游戏。如果没人示范给你怎么玩这些游戏,那么你就会发现这些游戏的实际操作是非常令人畏惧的。虽然这些都是非常棒的游戏,但它们总会有特定的“小众”特质——不是因为他们有学习曲线,而是因为他们有学习的悬崖般的跳线,只有意志力最坚定的人才能玩得下去。
总结

记住:试着让你的教程好玩起来,别让它成了单调乏味的死板流程。每个游戏都是不同的,所以要在一个特定的游戏类型中实现这些所有想法可能是很困难的——但是如果你可以让游戏的第一个五分钟非常有趣,你也许就能吸引到陪你的游戏走到最后的玩家。

本文由游戏邦编译,转载请注明来源,或咨询微信zhengjintiao

We all hate in-game tutorials. When we buy a game, we want to jump straight into the action, not spend ages reading through menus and flowcharts of moves. But we need to know how to play. We need to understand the new rules of each game—after all, if every game were the same, why would we need other games?

And because computer games are so complex, there’s much more to a tutorial than just “use arrow keys and space to shoot”. There’s how we interact, our objectives, how the world reacts to us: all this needs to be imparted to the player, and preferably without sitting them down and specifically having to say “spikes are bad”.

So we want to get our tutorial out of the way as quickly as possible, right? The thing is, the first few minutes of a game can make or break a player’s experience. Triple-A games have a little bit more leeway, but if you’re making a mobile or web game then you need to get the player into the meat of the game as soon as possible to ensure they’re having fun; otherwise, they’ll just find something else to play.

OK, so we need to make a tutorial, but we don’t want the player to sit through a boring lesson on how the game works… this is a conundrum. The solution lies in how we construct our tutorial: can we make it fun? In fact, can we make it part of the game?

Tutorials can be largely split into three types: non-interactive, interactive, and passive. We’ll look at each in turn.

Non-Interactive In-Game Tutorials

Non-interactive in-game tutorials are, in many ways, a leftover of old game design. The image below is from Infected, a game my team and I made several years back.

Infected tutorial image

The “tutorial” from our game, Infected.

The entire game tutorial is essentially this one image; in retrospect, it was a massive design flaw. When watched people actually play the game, they would hit that screen, their eyes would briefly glaze over, and they would hit Start. For most of our players, they were none the wiser on how the game actually worked.

George Fan, the creator of the fantastic Plants vs Zombies, goes by the rule that “there should be no more than eight words on the screen at any time”. Players generally have short attention spans, and are not looking to digest large quantities of information.

While non-interactive tutorials are not necessarily bad, they nearly always break this eight-word limit. If we were wanted to explore this design flaw, we could sum it up neatly as:

Don’t overwhelm the player.

This is really the first rule of in-game tutorial design. Players need to understand what’s going on at all times: if you give the player a list of 200 combo moves and special attacks, then chances are they’ll remember two or three and use those for the entire game. However, if you “trickle teach” the player—introduce one concept at a time—then they will have plenty of opportunity to get to grips with each ability.

Controller image

We’ve used this image before, but its still relevant.

We’ve actually talked briefly about this idea before, under the concept of using achievements as tutorial aids. Forcing the player to complete a level with only a basic weapon might damage the overall “fun level”, but giving players an achievement for doing it makes it optional, and encourages players (especially those who are already competent at the game) to try new strategies and tactics.

Any sort of rank or reward system can be used in this way, such as a star rating or an A+ to F ranking. “Bad” players can complete the level easily, whereas players who adhere to more difficult challenges are rewarded with higher scores. This also allows more hardcore gamers to aim for 100% completion, while casual gamers can still enjoy the game without getting stuck on a difficult level.

Super Meat Boy spreads its “tutorial” over the first half dozen levels. The first level teaches you the fundamentals: moving left and right and jumping. Level 2 teaches wall jumping. Level 3, sprinting. Once the player has understood these basic concepts, the game starts introducing concepts like spinning blades, disintegrating platforms, and scrolling levels.

super meat boy gameplay image

The first level of Super Meat Boy. Can you handle walking and jumping? Then you’re probably good.

The first level of Super Meat Boy, in fact, is incredibly difficult to fail at. The game uses a technique often referred to as a “noob cave”. Essentially, the player starts in a position from which it is impossible to fail—they need to make progress in order to get to a point where they can die. This gives the player a chance to get to grips with the game mechanics, without feeling under threat of enemies attacking or timers running out.

The “noob cave” technique is something we implemented in Infected to some degree: although it is possible to lose the first level, it requires some effort. The player is given a significant starting advantage (twice as many pieces as the enemy), and the AI is almost non-existent. At high levels, the AI will make calculated moves, but on the first level, the AI will move 100% randomly (within the rules of making a legal move). This means that even if the player has zero idea of how to play, they are still highly likely to win. (Of course some players still managed to lose, but the overall experience was significantly better for our players than our first version, where we simply threw them against an advanced AI that would crush them.)

There are a few ways to implement a “noob cave” in a game, but one effective way is to create an interactive tutorial: a section of the game with locked down mechanics where the player can only perform the actions required to win. This allows the player to “play” the game, without running the risk of losing and getting bored.

Interactive In-Game Tutorials

Allowing player interaction within an in-game tutorial is a good way to teach mechanics. Rather than simply telling the player how the game works, making them perform required actions results in better retention. While you can tell a player the instructions a hundred times, actually getting them to perform game actions will guarantee that they remember and understand.

Highrise heroes gameplay image

Forcing the player through the motions in Highrise Heroes

The above image, from Highrise Heroes, is an excellent demonstration of how to involve a player in a tutorial. Although it would be easier to simply display an image of how making a word works, forcing them to go through the actions of actually completing a word ensures they understand this concept before they proceed. The player is locked out of “full” gameplay until they have demonstrated their ability to complete this basic gameplay element. Because you force the player to perform the action, you can be sure that the player is unable to progress until they have mastered this task.

The only drawback with this style is that, if the player is already familiar with how the game works, they can find playing through obligatory tutorial levels tedious. This can be avoided by letting players skip through the tutorial levels—but be aware that some players will then skip the tutorial regardless of whether they’ve played the game before. Andy Moore, creator of Steambirds, has talked about how he went from a 60% to a 95% player retention rate after making the tutorial unskippable.

Background In-Game Tutorials

Background in-game tutorials allow the player direct access to gameplay. While the player can still progress through a “noob cave” area, they are able to (hopefully) do it at a faster pace, and thus get into the “proper game” faster.

Here’s an example:

VVVVVV gameplay image

In VVVVVV, the player starts here, in a safe area where they can work out the controls.

This is the first screen in VVVVVV, which uses a small pop-up to tell the player how to move left and right. As the player is completely boxed off, the only action they can perform is moving onto the second screen, where they are shown how to “jump” over obstacles. From there, they have essentially mastered gameplay—and although moving and jumping could fit into a single room, spacing them out ensures players have mastered each skill and aren’t overwhelmed by masses of text.

The difference between a background and an interactive tutorial can be subtle, as they can both use a similar style. The primary difference is that a background tutorial can be skipped by the player with no effort: everything merely merges into the background.

I saw her standing there gameplay image

I saw her standing there, a fantastic Flash game. Try it out, and notice that the game gets you playing even before the main menu has come up.

An interactive or background tutorial is something we should have used in Infected. The entire tutorial could have been taught in three moves (how to move, how to jump, and how to capture), so there wouldn’t have been a significant loss to gameplay if we’d implemented it. Although we were aware of the issue, the tutorial was one of the last things we developed, so good design took second place to just getting the game finished.

No In-Game Tutorial

How do you get cold water from a faucet? Generally, you turn the tap handle to the right. How do you tighten a screw? You turn it clockwise. These things don’t come with instruction manuals—we instinctively know how they work. Or rather, we learn how they work at an early age, and since they (generally) all work in the same way, that knowledge is reinforced throughout our lives.

Games operate on this principle as well. As veteran gamers, we automatically know that we want to collect coins and gain upgrades. Non-gamers might not understand these things automatically, so it’s important to make these things as obvious as possible. (Even if you haven’t played a platform game before, it’s fairly obvious that jumping into fire is not a good idea.)

A player should generally be able to identify the difference between “good” and “bad” objects at a glance, without having to use death as a trial and error discovery method. Shigeru Miyamoto once talked about how he decided why coins specifically were used in Mario:

“Thus, when we were thinking about something that anybody would look at and go ‘I definitely want that!’, we thought, ‘Yep, it’s gotta be money.’”

Plants vs Zombies’ use of “plant” and “zombie” themes helps teach the players without any explanation at all: players know that plants don’t move around, and that zombies are slow moving. Rather than going for a boring “turrets vs soliders” theme, the Plants vs Zombies theme allows the game to be interesting and cutesy, and still impart vital knowledge.

Plants vs Zombies image

Honestly, it’s really not that hard to work out the basics of whats going on here.

Since players will often “know” how a game plays, we don’t always have to explain everything. When you throw a player into a game, consider telling them nothing—let them figure things out for themselves. If they stand around motionless, then give them a few hints (“try moving the control stick to walk!”), but remember that players will generally try to perform basic commands themselves. Because the “basic rules” of gameplay tend to be universal, this means we can assume the player has some familiarity with them; however, it also means that it’s incredibly dangerous to make changes to those basic rules.

Some fledgling games designers decide that doing things “the normal way” is the wrong way, and ignore established rules. The real-time strategy (RTS) genre has suffered from this in the past: while today’s games tend to use a fairly standardised control system (left click to select, right click to move or attack), older games had very little consistency, and would often switch the left/right mouse button controls, or try to bind multiple commands to a single button. If you play one of these old games today, then the bizarre controls can be very jarring, as we’ve since learned a different control set.

Implementing “obvious” controls was the saving grace of Infected: while the player may not have read the tutorial, clicking on a piece immediately highlighted moves the player could make. By giving the player a visual response that clicking on a piece was the “right” move, it let them continue exploring the control system. Our initial versions of the game did not have this highlighting, and we found that adding this minor graphical addition made gameplay much more accessible and obvious, without taking anything anything away.

Infected gameplay image

In Infected, after you select a piece, highlighted squares show you where you can move.

If you want to change traditional gameplay elements around, have a good reason. Katamari Damacy uses both thumbsticks to move, rather than the more traditional setup of using one thumbstick to move and the other to control the camera. While this may cause some intial confusion, the simplicity of the game means that this control system works exceptionally well.

In a similar vein, the web game Karoshi Suicide Salaryman actually demands that the player kill themselves, often by by jumping on spikes. While this is “non-standard” game behaviour due of the game’s reversed theme (die to win), the player’s objectives are always clear.

Games will always change and evolve, but it’s important to understand that when you change things—be it controls or game objectives—the player should not have to relearn everything.

Continual Learning and Experimenting

Its also interesting to note that not providing the player with explicit instructions can actually encourage gameplay through experimentation. In the Zelda series, the player is constantly finding new items and equipment, and must learn how they work. Rather than sitting through a lengthy explanation of “the hookshot: learning how to use your new weapon”, the game just dumps the player in a closed room and says “figure it out”—although the “puzzle” is generally so obvious that the player should be able to work things out instantly.

These rooms are basically noob caves: despite being found halfway through the game, they allow the player to explore how their new toy works within a safe environment. Once the player has worked out the intricacies of their new toy, they are thrown back into the game world, where they can continue puzzling and fighting monsters. By the end of the game, the player is so used to using their new weapons that switching between them to solve multi-tiered puzzles is second nature.

The way Zelda games handle in-game tutorials is also worth noting: for Zelda, the game is the tutorial. With perhaps the exception of the final dungeon, the player never really stops learning; this “trickle teaching” is one of the greatest strengths of the Zelda series. Rather than being given everything at the beginning, the player slowly unlocks the game, so they are never overwhelmed and are always unlocking cool new toys to use.

Plants vs Zombies, again, also uses trickle teaching effectively: in every level, the player unlocks a new plant (and sometimes new stages), and must learn how to use these to defeat the zombie army. The game never overwhelms the player, but always gives them something new to play with. Because the player gets to spend time with each weapon, it encourages the player to select the plants that are most effective, rather than finding a few plants they like at the start and sticking with them throughout the whole game.

Don’t Scare the Player Away

All of this really just says: don’t scare the player away, and don’t bore them away either. It seems like such obvious advice, but it’s remarkable how few games (including triple-A games) seem to be unable to understand this.

One common example of this, a mistake made time and time again, is requiring registration to play online. If you’re trying to get a player hooked, don’t make them wade through forms filling out their date of birth, their email address, and so on—just give them a guest account and let them play. If they enjoy the game, then they’re more likely to sign up for a “full” account. (Tagpro is a online, multiplayer game which does this fairly well: select a server, hit Play as Guest and you’re in.)

It’s fine to make complex games, but realise that humans have poor memories and short attention spans, and do not learn well by being presented with masses of text. If you’ve not played them before, try playing a game like Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, Dwarf Fortress, or even Civilisation. If you haven’t been show how to play by someone else, it can be quite daunting to learn how the game actually works. And while these are all fantastic games, they will always have a certain “niche” quality—not because they have learning curves, but because they have learning cliffs, impassible to all but the most determined.

Remember: try make your tutorials fun, rather than a tedious slog. Every game is different, and it might be difficult to implement all of these ideas within a particular genre—but if you can make the first five minutes fun, you can probably hook the player to the end credits.(source:  )

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