Don’t hate on tutorials

“Press B to Crouch” under the obviously placed fallen ceiling. Remove your abilities to show you how to aim your gun. Wrest the camera control away to show the low cover you’re meant to be hiding behind. ‘Onboarding’? Vomit. Usability is a mark of all that is bad about modern game design. It undermines all the best things about games, sanding off their edges, taking autonomy away, designing for the lowest common denominator. Right?

Nope. “I’ve never met anybody yet who only wanted ten people to play their game,” says Graham McAllister, founder of Player Research, a playtesting and user research specialist for games. “These are passionate people who want as many people as possible to love their game.” Usability is one of the more misunderstood elements of game design. It doesn’t strangle challenge, depth and imagination. In fact, it’s meant to do precisely the opposite.

If you played Minecraft back in its earliest years, you might wonder whether usability is essential to finding an audience. It dumped you in the wilderness with no pointers on what to do next or how, and you had to read guides or watch videos to know how to craft torches and tools and to build a house so you could survive your first night.

A lot’s been made of how this helped build Minecraft’s success. PC gaming is full of similar examples, and always has been. The games we value tend to be complex and experimental. Many, from DayZ to DotA, rose out of modding scenes, evolving their own conventions for interfaces and progression systems and forcing players to learn them for themselves or to dive into forums and YouTube. Objectively, they are usability hell, and yet they’ve led to some of the most popular games of all time.

So why should we care about usability? The answer is multi-layered, but first it’s important to note that we tend to forget the hundreds – maybe thousands? – of mods and indie experiments that didn’t get anywhere. Survivorship bias is a thing, and if you’re a developer wanting to make a living you’d be forgiven for wanting a little confidence in your game’s prospects. That’s why you don’t see big budget games attempting to do the same as Minecraft once did, and why Minecraft today has tutorials and help pop-ups to guide you through its opening days.

But a lot of players don’t think they need to be taught anything. “We observe that people believe they know a lot of the elements of the MOBA genre and that they’re good to go and they don’t need any onboarding,” Celia Hodent, director of UX at Epic Games, tells me. While working on Paragon, Epic saw that a lot of players knew its basic controls, but they didn’t know the mechanics. “If we don’t do anything, we leave a big part of our audience without help.”

When players don’t understand a game they tend to stop playing, and for Paragon, which is free-to-play, that’s bad. “We can make money if we retain players,” says Hodent. “We need to see what makes them churn, what makes them stop playing, and what we see through analytics is that people will churn when they’re dying to towers and not equipping cards. Most of these factors are what we saw in UX testing six months earlier, people not understanding Paragon’s particular subtleties. It’s our job to make players competent in playing the game.”

It’s tempting to think that the fun in games always lies in discovering things for yourself. In Minecraft perhaps that was true, and it’s certainly part of its overarching themes of exploration and creativity. But it doesn’t fit quite so well for other genres. “When we speak to people who like deep strategy games, they say that lot of the time the fun comes from how to put the things you’ve learned together,” says McAllister. But if you haven’t discovered the constituent systems and units to combine, or simply don’t know how to, you’re missing out on exploring the depths of the game and finding what really makes it fun.

McAllister sees three layers to a player’s engagement with a game. First they need to understand what’s going on. Second they have to know how to do the things they understand. The final layer, the good bit, the game bit, is what he calls the ‘user experience’: playing with knowledge of both what to do and how to do it. Grappling with getting players to get through these stages and find the fun is a big part of what a developer is doing when they’re polishing a game. “Most people think that polish is visuals or art or audio, but polish is really: are people playing the game in the way you want them to? Is there any unintended friction?” he says.

“Game usability is about not having the game system get in the way,” says Katherine Isbister, professor in computational media at the University of California in Santa Cruz and author of various game design books on usability. “It’s like you’re suiting up to climb Everest. You don’t want your gear falling apart on you. If your equipment fails, that feels quite unfair, but if you fail to climb to the summit on your own merits, that can all be in good fun. That’s the difference.”

After all, one of the big misunderstandings around usability is that it’s not about making games easier. “Dark Souls is a very usable game,” says McAllister. “It teaches you exactly how the rules work and it’s brutally difficult and that’s fine. It’s what the designers want. They tell you exactly the rules of the game, and it’s up to you to beat that.”

Isbister puts it this way: “The thing about tutorials is that you’re not just teaching someone how to play the game, you’re teaching them how to have fun playing the game.”

“It’s our job to make players competent without being bossy,” says Hodent. “And this is what’s difficult to do.” The things that many players hate in tutorials, like the game taking control away to show you some new feature or screens of text instructions, are equally hated by usability experts. Instead it’s about contextual instructions, showing by placing a player in a situation and giving them the information they need to deal with it and space to learn. Picture the room with a low wall that slows or stops the zombies as they shuffle towards the player.

Something games really shouldn’t do is something like Driver’s forced carpark tutorial, where you have to perform various manoeuvres with a goddamned time limit to get to the actual game.

One of the best tools is ‘affordance’, which is to design elements of a game in such a way that they naturally suggest to players what they should do. The stone path that leads to the next important area; the lighting that guides the eye to the button that opens the door; the scrapes on the floor that indicates a crate can be pushed. “The more good affordance we have and the more polished the signs and feedback are, the less we need bossy tutorials,” says Hodent.

Affordances can work the other way around, though. Early in Fortnite’s development, Epic’s designers decided that players would use just one tool, a pickaxe, to harvest all materials from the environment. But Hodent and her team realised that when test players encountered an axe, which was one of the game’s melee weapons, they expected to use it to chop trees. “It’s not the player’s fault, it makes sense, so in that case we removed the axe to avoid confusion and some bossy and counterintuitive tutorial.”

“You have to think about your onboarding process early on,” she adds. “When we see pretty late that there’s a problem, you end up having to do quick fixes, such as taking control over the camera and showing something or having a wall of tutorial text pop up.”

Usability sits right in between empirical study and subjective design. It’s based on careful observation and hypothesis-making, but it deals with messy human nature. One issue Fortnite’s developers faced was around an ability that would allow players to harvest faster if they could hit a key when an icon flashed. The problem was that players didn’t understand the icon. They thought it was some kind of feedback, not a prompt for action. Epic tried changing the icon’s colour and placement on-screen to little avail, and in the end they solved it by making the ability an unlock in the skill tree. In highlighting it as a desirable skill, they finally drew attention to what it was and players understood it.

“Making games is just so damn hard, and integrating usability into the process adds another layer of trickiness,” says Isbister. “Some companies do it better than others, but if the team is really struggling and they’re over-time and need to scope down, they can’t always deliver the usability they would like.”

Many of the things that can be so annoying in games are not when usability has attempted to smooth them out, but when usability has gone out the window. As experienced players, it’s easy to forget the moments of frustration when we were first playing. This is the territory that usability is taming, the wasteland between designer intention and player experience. You shouldn’t always have to hack through it to get to the fun.

85 Comments

  1. zarnywoop says:

    The best tutorials are those that are a separate option in the main menu, so I don’t have to go through it every time I start a new game.

    • Stargazer86 says:

      For the love of god, yes. I keep thinking this with Pokemon Sun/Moon. The first flippin’ hour of the game is basically one long tutorial with a ton of cutscenes.

      • poliovaccine says:

        Gives me flashbacks of GTA San Andreas – “Here’s how you buy a pizza! Here’s how you cut your hair! Yes yes, the carjacking and gunfights, we’re getting to that – now here’s how you go to the gym!”

        • RichUncleSkeleton says:

          To be fair, they did that precisely because nobody would ever learn how to buy a pizza or go to the gym if you let them jump right into the high-speed chases, shootouts, and (my personal favorite) flying planes.

    • maxcolby says:

      This, or in other instances, it allows you to choose to use a tutorial to start or skip it and play without it.

    • Kitsunin says:

      Frustratingly from what I’ve heard, playtests have consistently found that if you do this, people who badly need a tutorial will think they don’t, skip it, and think the game is bad because it didn’t force them to do a tutorial.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      Really disagree. Those are only slightly less terrible than a long forced tutorial at the start, because they try to cram everything you need to know into one obstacle course half of which you will have forgotten by the time you actually need it, plus as Kitsunin said some will choose to skip it, fail to understand the game and have a bad experience.

      • Foosnark says:

        Doing it right: Half-Life 2. It makes sure you know how to pick up that can, turn on your flashlight, reload your pistol, switch weapons and so on.

        Doing it wrong: Black & White. Two more miserable hours of “eidel, eidel, eee” because you wanted to try a monkey instead of a cow. I hear that newcomers to Hell are forced to play through that tutorial as an introduction.

    • unraveler says:

      Deus Ex did it as well, and since it’s a game with some complex mechanics, it was welcome!

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        Ninja Dodo says:

        I think Deus Ex might be the only one of those that I genuinely like… If I’m replaying I will actually still go through that one just for the atmosphere, despite knowing perfectly well how the game works.

    • Zhiroc says:

      I don’t find in-game tutorials all that annoying in general. But I’ll agree with you in the sense that I often put down a game, and the odds I’ll pick it up again are much greater if they had an out-of-game tutorial to refresh my memory on how to play it. I suppose I could start a new game to get an in-game tutorial, but I’d rather not.

    • Flopdong says:

      I completely agree. The original Half Life had one of my favorite tutorials ever. It was separate from the campaign, but still felt like a real event within the story. Gordon is learning to use the HEV suit, so it makes sense that we are being told how to do basic actions like crouching and jumping.

      The best part is at the end though, when you are in a room with a scientist and a security guard. You can just get on the train and finish the tutorial, but you can also cause havoc in the final room. It allowed you to experiment with the reactive AI and put all of the skills you had just learned to use, since the security guard would fight back.

      It has all the elements of a great tutorial: It makes sense within the fiction of the world, teaches you everything you need to know, gives you a sandbox opportunity to experiment, and is entirely optional.

  2. Wulfram says:

    I miss the days when you got a manual and were expected to read it. And you could refer back to it later, which you can’t easily do with tutorials.

    Dark Souls tutorial was particularly annoying for me because it only shows the controller buttons. But on the plus side its nicely easy to brush through quickly and without excess tutorialness if you know what you’re doing. It also fits the story quite well with the tutorial – one thing that’s jarring for me is when the tutorial stuff is mixed with some big cinematic epicness

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      I can’t understand them praising Dark Soles for usability. It had a tutorial explaining basic movement and controls but nothing about the weapons and armour or the utterly opaque character building system.

  3. crazyd says:

    I don’t think it’s commonly acknowledged, and in fact it’s been criticized for this, but in my mind, one of the best tutorials ever is in Brutal Legend. In that, the first half of the game is a very subtle tutorial, constantly building you up to learning all the various aspects of leading the stage battles. People have criticized the game for shifting into a kinda RTS-lite mid-way through, but, the way I see it, the third party action stuff is really just preparation and training for the stage battles. Pretty much every mission trains you in some gameplay feature, and the stage battles just tied them all together.

  4. jezcentral says:

    And please don’t put important tips on loading screens. Having an SSD means I can’t read them, as they aren’t on screen long enough.

    • poliovaccine says:

      Agreed – except for in cases where the game waits for you to tell it to continue after it’s done loading, and gives the option to scroll through *all* the tips (at least for that stage of the game) at your leisure – I think Resident Evil 7 was the last game I played with loading tips like that.

  5. maxcolby says:

    I find it amusing anyone who wouldn’t want the option of a tutorial.
    I’ve played plenty that don’t have any and the first 5 hours of the game are often spent alt tabbing to an open browser window explaining stuff.
    I just started playing “My Summer Car” which tells you absolutely nothing.
    I have no clue what I am doing but I’ve at least already died once.

  6. steves says:

    What kind of evil fucker makes “B” the crouch key?

    Unless…do I have Trump hands?

    But seriously, it should be left-CTRL, how else do you crouch and strafe-right?

    Also, how do left-handed folk deal with this? I guess if you WASD with right hand then left-CTRL is the obvious jump key, and you have a ton of pinky finger options…

    • Xocrates says:

      I honestly can’t tell if you’re joking, or if you simply never played a game with a controller using the standard xbox mapping.

      • steves says:

        I am joking…sort of (left hand question was real), but hadn’t even considered that controllers have a ‘B’ button!

        • TheRaptorFence says:

          As a leftie, I’ve never encountered any other left-handed person that doesn’t use the mouse and keyboard as right-handers do. Computer keyboarding classes back in elementary school were always right-handed, so all the lefties I know (including myself) learned this way.

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            teije says:

            Here’s a leftie – I use mouse with my left and remap keys – like WASD to the arrow keys. Given that, I absolutely hate games that don’t support rebinding – that’s an instant refund.

          • Faldrath says:

            Also a leftie – I invert my mouse buttons, and I usually map keys to the numpad. So instead of WASD, num8456, jump with num0, reload with num1, etc. If I need more keys, I use either the arrow ones or pgup, pgdn, etc.

            So yeah, every game requires the keybinding ritual.

          • Omeros says:

            Leftie here as well. I used to use arrow keys or the numpad for movement but at some point in my WoW addiction I needed access to more nearby keys and the shift/alt/ctrl modifiers. My current setup is okl; for movement. It’s comfortable to reach the modifiers and each of iup[]jl’nm,. are available for skills and actions. I use a 12 button mouse as well so I don’t have to reach the 1 through = line on my keyboard, although 8 to = is easy.

            It might seem weird at first but I highly encourage you try it out if you’re left-handed.

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            Qazinsky says:

            Leftie here, I use the WASD for moving and ctrl for ducking (sometimes c). Q for melee bash, E or F for use. G for grenade. Pretty much standard FPS control scheme, apart from melee bash I guess.

            I’d say a leftie can learn to play with the mouse in the right hand without problems, hey, I sometimes win the “Most headshots” counter in Killing Floor 2!

            If you ask me to write my name with a pen in my right hand though, you’ll assume my name is Squiggles.

            I also have my mouse look inverted vertically, but that’s most likely not a leftie issue.

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        CrackedMandible says:

        Ha! I totally thought of a keyboard and thought ‘B’ to crouch was designed by monsters. So funny that a controller didn’t even come to mind until I read your comment

    • Ushao says:

      Left hander here. I uh… mouse with my right hand. Not that hard for me to be honest.

    • ThePuzzler says:

      While I assume it was talking about controllers, it doesn’t seem particularly difficult to me to press D & B on my keyboard at the same time… Maybe it’s just my early piano training paying off at last?

    • poliovaccine says:

      I actually watched a Let’s Play recently where the game was some indie effort with non-rebindable keys, and the crouch key was Left Ctrl… and the guy recording it just thought that was the strangest thing – clearly he’d never encountered that binding before (which in itself is confusing, if you’ve played more than three first-person games ever), but not only that… *his* idea of a logical crouch key was either Caps Lock or Shift…! I..! But he..! Gwahhh???

      • syndrome says:

        Sweet Jesus! I assume he runs in games by holding backquote?
        I used to jump with RMB, but CAPS LOCK crouch is ridiculous.

  7. haldolium says:

    I kind of liked the way how PREY recently embedded the tutorial in this very weird test, that did fit right into the world and made the very basic controlling of a FPS character not entirely stupid.

    Otherwise certain things in game dev that are now the commonly agreed upon standard are just the worst and *do* disregard players intelligence. Such as continuous displaying what button to press when, disfiguration of loading screens through writings of on-liners from the handbook and the general lack of putting some more thought into the introduction of the player into the world.

    The least many devs could do is letting advanced players disable all that annoying stuff if they already fail to provide an immersive way to introduce the game. But even most interface customizations are a joke, since vital information of the game is often hidden away too due to lack of compensation over in-world mechanics

    • Xocrates says:

      I’ll be honest, I really really appreciate when games always show the button prompt for doing something.

      If you’re making a 40 hour plus game, and I have a couple hours a day to play it. Don’t expect me not to take a several days/weeks/months break and not wanting to start from the beginning.

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        MajorLag says:

        Sure, if A) you can turn it off, and B) you actually show the correct button. B is a big problem with lazy console-to-PC ports.

      • haldolium says:

        @ Xocrates

        Yes, I understand that side, that is one major argument for it. Another is a more complex control scheme that has been broken down into context sensitive mapping, usually for controllers.
        I also let games rest for months at times. But needs to be an option in case you do have the time for it at hand and furthermore it really depends on what is shown and how it is shown, depends a bit on how the control scheme is build and the complexity.

        It is not only an issue of the lack of trust in players ability to learn, but can be one of aesthetics, immersion and obstruction.

        Studios are learning very very slowly that this is the case and have adopted, f.e. replacing the default gummybear visuals of the Xbox pad input with something that might fit better into their game or offering a few options.

        Still kind of funny if you think about it, in default shooters with control mappings that haven’t changed for 20 years you see often these problematic displays for buttons, yet I have not seen a single racing game telling me at each bend “press LT to break”

  8. wwarnick says:

    I think it’s ideal when a game doesn’t have a “tutorial” set apart from the rest of the game, but instead subtly teaches you as it goes without you realizing that it’s happening. I think that’s the “contextual instructions” that they were talking about. You put the player in a situation that nudges them in the right direction without stopping the action for “tutorial time”.

    I realize that this isn’t always possible, unfortunately. But nonetheless, the more subtle the better.

  9. kalirion says:

    Tutorials should be skippable. And there should be a way to replay them if you’ve put the game on hold for a while.

    As for the actual mechanics, loved the way Blood Dragon did it – but only once.

  10. Frank says:

    “It’s tempting to think that the fun in games always lies in discovering things for yourself. In Minecraft perhaps that was true” — not for me. It was a wiki open in another window at all times. Wish they’d just thrown a craftipedia into the game along with biomes/depths at which to find resources.

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      MajorLag says:

      On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of projects that evolve quickly make an effort at documentation only to leave it incomplete and never update it. I can assure you that having bad documentation is often worse than having no documentation.

  11. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Yeah, exactly, teaching the player how to play is essential but as soon as it feels like a tutorial it’s tiresome. It’s all in the delivery – it’s a game, so teach through play. Don’t tell.

    Portal is approximately 75% tutorial, but so well delivered you never feel like you’re being schooled.

    Opposing Force and Deus Ex both had good ones by tying the tutorial into the game. It was a natural thing for your character to be doing, were quick, optional and fleshed out the world a little.

    Nintendo were always best at this, though. No tutorials, just smart level design teasing out the player’s capabilities with a dumbed down starting area to flex your muscles in and work it out for yourself. Mario 64’s opening outside the castle. Zelda’s starting in Kuriki villages or wherever it is. They’re the best tutorials.

    • Baines says:

      3D Zelda titles tend to have terrible tutorials. You get stuck in the starting village doing annoying tasks before you can proceed. I want to recall one game even snuck in a starting village tutorial for a weapon that you wouldn’t even get until later in the game.

      People hated the 3D Zelda tutorials so much that once Nintendo used the promise of “We made the tutorial shorter this time” to help push the next title.

      • lobotomy42 says:

        They have certainly gotten worse over time. But I do think Ocarina’s is fairly unobtrusive. They do force you through a sword segment and a crawling segment, but you can go and do other stuff and come back to it when you’re ready.

  12. RichUncleSkeleton says:

    Wow. I just had flashbacks to that Driver tutorial because of this article. I was stuck on that as a kid for hours before finally being able to pass it. Terrible, terrible design.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Phasma Felis says:

    “Dark Souls is a very usable game,” says McAllister. “It teaches you exactly how the rules work and it’s brutally difficult and that’s fine. It’s what the designers want. They tell you exactly the rules of the game, and it’s up to you to beat that.”

    Haha, what? Dark Souls doesn’t usefully explain how its attributes work, has one attribute that is essentially a useless noob trap, and permanently penalizes you for guessing wrong. (In that each soul level spent on an attribute dramatically increases the cost of all future upgrades.)

    I *like* Dark Souls, having gotten an experienced player to explain the attributes, weapon scaling, etc., but people fetishize it so much they ignore its faults. It is definitely not fair.

    • RichUncleSkeleton says:

      This is all true. I was well into DS before fully understanding how stat scaling works, and that was even while using supplementary material (a wiki).

    • dylan says:

      Dark souls is a good and flawed series, but I think we’re in for another couple years of slobbering before its weaknesses get talked about.

      • fish99 says:

        Let’s hear it.

        It has a few issues with hit boxes, especially DS2, and enemies tracking you during attacks. The other gripe I have is enemies hitting you through objects like walls, when your sword will bounce off.

        Other than that though I don’t see much worthy of complaint. Compared to the clunky combat and movement in say Witcher 3, the souls games are amazing to play, fun and fluent, challenging and satisfying.

        • FreshHands says:

          Totally agree!

          DarkSouls basically ruined most action games for me, because I get constantly reminded how indirect and artificial everyting feels in comparison.

          Rather strange, considering how simple/limited DS’s control scheme is.

          The first one was pretty opaque, though. It wasn’t till part two that I really fell in love with the series. That one seems to be more accesible for some reason.

        • Jazzhole says:

          Funnily enough I think Dark Souls pales in comparison to Witcher 3 in terms of the way the combat is handled. The Witcher is a bit floaty in terms of movement, but the sheer variety of offensive and defensive options you have and actually very much encouraged to use if you play on Deathmarch is really nice. While I just spammed my way with R1 through 3 games and 4 DLC’s (haven’t played the ones for the third game)of Dark Souls without any punishment.
          Once you crack the combat rules, the series becomes bery boring unfortunately.

    • wcq says:

      True. Dark Souls also has a fairly important mechanic that’s not explained at all and left for the player to figure out (humanity/hollowing and the effects thereof) and a weapon upgrade system that makes it very easy to waste hard-to-get materials or make a weapon completely unsuitable for your character, if you don’t know what you’re doing.

      People tend to forget, I think, how much of their knowledge of that game comes from the community.

    • Static says:

      Obligatory Dark Souls Apologist Post: I still don’t understand exactly how scaling works in Dark Souls. That hasn’t kept me from beating every game in the series multiple times, or enjoying it. I also don’t think it makes the game “unfair”. It’s just a part of the game that can either be tinkered with and understood, or just messed with enough to work for you. Understanding beyond “hey this number went up” is not required.

      At the end of the day the game is about being observant, timing your attacks, and not getting hit. You can do all of this without understanding the rest of the systems layered into the game. The tutorial covers what you absolutely need in order to play the game, the rest is up to the player’s discretion how deep they want to dig into it. “Noob trap” not withstanding.

      You are right that its opaque systems are a pretty big flaw. But this doesn’t impact the game in a huge way unless you are insane about optimization, at which point no game does a good enough job of explaining its systems and you will be using guides and community information regardless. Given I can beat Dark Souls with a starting character and 0 additional levels…. optimization doesn’t seem that important.

      • Antongranis says:

        Having your weapon deal 20 percent extra damage due to understanding the upgrade-mechanics can make a massive diffrence for a first time player. Like, enough to actually
        Stick with it rather then drop the game. Dark souls failing to explain basic things is a major problem.

        • Unsheep says:

          The tricky thing with Dark Souls is that it was designed to be a “community”-driven game, where people meet on forums to exchange information. This scaling matter must have been a part of this concept.

          It’s one of the reasons I did not like Dark Souls, I just don’t enjoy playing my games in this way. In my opinion a game should contain all the significant information and explanations needed, it should be a self-contained unit.

        • Deadly Sinner says:

          If they’ve actually gotten to the point where they can heavily upgrade their weapons, then it’s highly unlikely that they would drop the game at that point. Simple upgrades are perfectly fine for the average player.

          And I’m not sure you know what 20% extra damage means, because that’s, like, 0-1 extra sword slashes on most enemies. No one is quitting over that.

    • Shinard says:

      I think Dark Souls treads the very thin line between “perfectly usable” and “utterly incomprehensible”. I mean, it is an easy game to play, at the end of the day. Circle to dodge roll, right bumper to use the right hand weapon, left for left hand, square to use items, analog stick for movement and for the love of god don’t try it on keyboard. Getting those movements down takes very little time, feels fairly natural and will see you right through the game. And they’re all you need to have fun – everything else is a bonus.

      On the flip-side, Dark Souls is a very hard game to play *well*. Stats I can basically forgive – there’s only one true noob-trap, it’s fairly obvious and by the time you can really screw up your stats you should be far enough in that the grinding to fix things isn’t too off-putting. Humanity is hilariously opaque, I’ll grant, but again I’d put that under “needed to play well” rather than “needed to play”.

      Navigation is what gets me, though. It’s very, very easy to get lost in the opening area, and end up trying to take on the Catacombs straight out of the Asylum. And because Dark Souls has the rep of a hard game, the frankly unfair skeletons aren’t a warning sign. After you’ve got to Blighttown it’s basically alright, but I think it desperately needs another dev message saying “this way to the first Bell of Awakening” pointing the way to Undead Burg. That aside, I think Dark Souls is just the right side of incomprehensible.

      • Antongranis says:

        I disagree. You have to think as a new player. The game comes of as hostile, meaning alot of people who might have loved the game quickly give up. Most people dont have fun when playing poorly. This lack of information is a much bigger hurdle then the combat, making the game inaccsesible for the wrong reasons.

        • fish99 says:

          It does have a help button that tells you what all the icons on your character sheet do, including what each stats does. People who don’t find this suffer through their own lack of inquisitiveness.

          The game also shows you what every stat point will do before you spend it.

          Honestly most of the mechanics involved in leveling are just standard RPG stuff. Stuff like scaling you don’t need to know early game.

    • Deadly Sinner says:

      “Dark Souls doesn’t usefully explain how its attributes work”

      You see exactly which stats rise when you level up.

      “has one attribute that is essentially a useless noob trap,”

      That attribute is resistance, which is not something noobs are going to put many points in, if any at all. It’s immediately apparent that it’s at least of limited use, so its detrimental effect on new players is completely overblown. Nobody was planning on making a build based on resistance their first time around.

      “each soul level spent on an attribute dramatically increases the cost of all future upgrades.”

      Uh, yeah, that’s how the majority of rpg leveling systems works. It’s not as if souls are some precious resource in this game, you can easily over level if you don’t pace yourself.

  14. Merus says:

    I finished Snake Pass this week, and there’s a game that doesn’t have a tutorial and doesn’t teach players very well. You get the controls fine, but it basically leaves it up to the player to notice important movement mechanics like ‘don’t have all your weight on one side’ and ‘don’t constantly slither forward’. Because it’s physics-driven, if the stars align you can muddle through any one challenge by sheer luck, but the point is being able to do it consistently.

  15. tslog says:

    Tutorials need a difficulty level or is it experience level, the same as choosing how hard you want the game to be at the beginning.
    Options for a variety of hints or clues….need to be given more opting in or out and to what degree.

    The worst in one way is Nintendo who treats everyone like dip-shits no matter what their experience, and it’s infuriating.

  16. Unsheep says:

    Tutorials feel pointless in certain genres, like FPS and racing. All you have to do is look at the control/keyboard configurations, no tutorial needed.

    4X strategy games on the other hand, typically have rather poorly designed tutorials, where they leave too many important things out.

    I like the gradual tutorial type, where the game gradually teaches you new things as you come across them.

    Being able to choose how much tutorial guidance you want is a nice feature, as in Sid Meier’s Beyond Earth game, where you could choose different levels of it.

  17. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    IMO the correct way to do a tutorial is to not do an explicit tutorial but to spread it across the game so you learn things as and when you need them. Show input instructions when relevant and design specific areas so you can only progress if you have understood the concept (eg Portal). Avoid forcing experienced players to jump through hoops. Just let them use their knowledge of the game to immediately progress and leave newbies to progress through those tasks at their own pace.

    Nothing worse than “Now do A. Now B. Now stand here. Do X. No wait-wait, we have to finish patronizing you about C before we move onto D.” Instead, for example, make it clear the player needs to go past an obstacle and they can only do it by jumping (Press SPACE to jump). A player who already knows this will just ignore the text and jump over the thing.

    Also don’t repeat things players have demonstrated they already know, but do let them look up instructions they may have forgotten (especially useful if you haven’t played for a while). Or repeat things when it seems the player has forgotten them (eg block reminders in the Batman Arkham games if you fail to block attacks).

  18. MrBehemoth says:

    Tutorials should be invisible. I want the game to teach me without me realising I’m being taught. Learning to play the game is part of the game.

    The usual example given on this is Portal (and Portal 2), to the point of cliche, but there’s a good reason for that.

    Another excellent pair of examples are Limbo and Inside. You’d be forgiven for thinking they had no tutorial – they do, it’s just very subtle and effective.

  19. k3zza_m4chin3_ says:

    Any mention of tutorials evokes terrible memories of boot camps in any WW2 game.

    • Crackerjacker says:

      “Press R2/RT/RMB to fire gun”

      • pepperfez says:

        “Press small droid/propaganda network/Chinese currency to fire gun”

        Ah, ’90s adventure games.

  20. LessThanNothing says:

    Fallout 4 could have really benefited from more onboarding for settlement building. It was the one huge difference between previous games. I had no idea how scrapping worked, where things went, where to put my junk, how to assign settlers to supply lines etc etc. There is no explanation of how to power anything with copper wire!

    I ended up watching a few youtube videos to understand a critical component of the game…

  21. Ghostwise says:

    Celia’s with Epic now ? Cool.

    So yes. What she said. :-p

  22. Chaoslord AJ says:

    I always cringe at “press wasd to move around” but better than not figuring out there’s a key for running until 30 hours into the game.

    Also wished there was an easy way to get into Dwarf Fortress, watching hours of Youtube-videos just is no good.

    • Shinard says:

      There is a relatively easy way in to Dwarf Fortress. Download the LNP, first off – Dwarf Therapist is a necessity, and the tile-sets are a small thing, but lower the barrier to entry dramatically. Then use the Dwarf Fortress Wiki Quickstart guide. It looks intimidating, but work it through step by step and you’ll get to a point relatively quickly where a) you know what most of the buttons do, b) you can read most of the UI and c) you aren’t at risk of immediately losing i.e. your fort is ticking over nicely.

      Then you can start messing around a bit more, dealing with the variety of situations that pop up (e.g. building a military for the inevitable were-badger attacks, mining out a medieval dunking chair to test for vampire infiltrators, and putting magma, just, everywhere). Your fortress will inevitably burn itself to the ground, one way or another, but then you can start again, and you’ll know what to do this time round. That’s getting in to DF by my standards, at least.

      • Chaoslord AJ says:

        THX for the hint. I probably got the pack with the tiles and the therapist already.

  23. Crackerjacker says:

    Wouldn’t another approach to this also be to, say for example in a GTA-style open-world game, allow the player to entirely walk past any tutorial “door”, as voices from within that door goad the player for being a noob or simply bad at the activity the tutorial is meant to train(“Yaaahh, look at that one – he ain’t no driver! Prob’ly thinks a stick shift is adjusting his fly!”, etc), and once the player is clear of that initial tease, they can do whatever they want.

    Put if the player is bad at the game(By which I mean unable to do what the designers think they should be doing in order to “win”), then in-game commentary starts needling the player, dynamically pointing out that if they went “back to school”, they’d not be so crap. Then, if the player wants to, they’re motivated.

  24. The First Door says:

    Yeah, no I’m going to continue hating on tutorials, at least on bad ones. I think the most telling thing here is the “When we see pretty late that there’s a problem, you end up having to do quick fixes”, and that’s most often the issue I think. Tutorials are, understandably, left late quite often because you can’t design the full tutorial without the gameplay mechanics in place, and as such they are not given the time they often need. So, I can understand why it happens and it won’t kill a game for me, but I’m still going to hate on them! Especially, ESPECIALLY, ones with unskippable cutscenes and camera pans and the like. They can bugger right off.

  25. Yglorba says:

    I think a good way of looking at it is like this (this was how the makers of MTG described it, but I think it works for videogames, too):

    Complexity is a resource. Even the most hardcore players have a point where excessive complexity will make them throw up their hands and lose interest; so you have to view game design as “spending” potential complexity to add depth and interesting mechanics. And part of that means taking out or smoothing over any “wasted” complexity so you can save it for areas where it really matters. Tutorials are part of this.

  26. unraveler says:

    >Ctrl-F
    >”Blood Dragon”

    Only two results? people really need to play it just for the tutorial!

  27. Bleh says:

    It’s quite interesting to see someone working on Paragon about tutorial and how to retain players. I have a question for you: Do you really think the first thing is not to make a game fun instead of cloning everyone but too much years later?

  28. ansionnach says:

    I don’t hate on tutorials, I hate them. That and poor preposition choice…

  29. Caiman says:

    I don’t mind “Press Y to crouch” because I do, in fact, want to know what the button for crouch is. It’s also much easier to remember that function if you’re asked to perform it in context, compared with looking at a page of controls in the options screen.

    The best implementation of this I’ve seen is games that leave you to your own devices, and only put up contextual hints (in the opening minutes) if you’re having trouble getting past something. Contextual hints that can be turned off in the options, of course.

  30. bill says:

    For FPS type games I think tutorials are generally pretty lightweight and unobtrusive these days. Just a few onscreen prompts at the beginning.

    Two things I think could improve those types of tutorial though:
    – If I’ve already moved, jumped, ducked then you can probably skip telling me about how to do those things.
    – Conversely, please add all the onscreen tutorial prompts to a log or something, so if i do miss something I still have a chance to find out what it says.

    For more complex strategy type games, it’s a much trickier problem (though the 2 things listed about would also help there too).
    The thing they tend to fail on for me is giving the reason/background for your choice.

    Eg: I think Crusader Kings 2 starts with a simple “Now choose a wife” and gives you a list… but it gives you no information to base that choice on. What should I be looking for? What are the factors that will influence my decision? What should I avoid? What impact will it have? etc…

  31. Jazzhole says:

    Dark Souls absolutely does not teaches you the rules. There is so much things obfuscated for no good reason. The tutorial bits can mostly be learnt just by looking at the controls menu.

  32. lobotomy42 says:

    There used to be these things called “instruction manuals” that came with games. They were great. While my brother was playing the actual game, I could read the instruction manual and discover new information that I could then apply during my turn at the game. I take it that such advanced activities as “reading” are considered “unusable” these days?

    Relatedly, do people stuck in games not understand Google? It seems to me that every game has about a million entries in GameFAQs describing literally every single keypress needed to find every obscure little secret. Like, does it not occur to some players to ask the internet for help? Or a friend?

    I guess I’m just unconvinced of the need for “usability” in something that is fundamentally recreational. Someone who is so lost in a game as to require the game to explain itself to them…I mean, is being lectured to really that fun? This whole concept reaks of marketing-speak for “Don’t lose the player! If they are frustrated for even a moment they might conclude that their recreational time would better be spent on a competitor’s product and we would lose money!” But, frankly, if the competitor’s product has a simpler control scheme and less learning curve, maybe the consumer would actually be better served by that other product? In short, is there anyone out there who really finds tutorial sections an engaging and useful part of the experience?