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Thoughts on Tutorials

Posted on 24th Sep 2011 at 11:16 by Iain Farquhar with 26 comments

Iain Farquhar
When I was offered the chance to review the upcoming game Men of War: Vietnam, I initially leapt at the chance, but with the disc came a warning:

These games are bloody hard,' Harry said loudly, repeatedly, while looming behind me and staring at my laptop screen. 'Probably the closest thing to digital masochism I’ve ever seen.’

But I was determined to impress the office with my analytical skill and unbiased opinions and, besides, I had never come across a game that I couldn't bend to my will after a few hours. With anticipation in full flow, I started the game and prepared to give my best.

Three hours later, I still hadn’t completed the first mission. The first mission. I tried lowering the difficulty settings. I tried different approaches. With a mounting sense of failure and humiliation, I considered downloading the demo of the original Men of War so I could practice at home before a second attempt. And it was at that point I realised something...

Men of War: Vietnam has no tutorial. The closest thing it has are loading screen hints, which I admittedly saw a lot of as my squad was wiped out again and again by merciless machine-gun fire, or by the seemingly omnipotent Huey gunships.

Thoughts on Tutorials

Game developers have the difficult task of trying to make the beginning of games approachable without being patronising and, in most cases, I think that they make the sensible step of erring on the side of caution. Men of War: Vietnam doesn't and, as such, I've been unable to review it. Without a starting place to being climbing the learning curve, I've been unable to plumb its depths deeply enough to comment.

It's only fair at this point that I admit that I'm not a hardcore RTS fan and, having never played any games in the series before, I'm probably not the intended audience. Still, I can't help thinking that even the hardest game should be able to accommodate new players, and that developers shouldn't be so dependent on existing players. Enticing new sales is the point of any release, right?

On the other hand, I know the frustration of returning to an old favourite and being forced to tread the baby steps intended for new players. When I was playing Red Alert 3, for example, all I wanted to do was jump straight to the later missions and use the advanced units, but instead I had to wait until I was well into the campaign before I was allowed to play with the shiniest toys.

As a series becomes more popular (as we've seen with Battlefield or Total War), there must be a temptation to just skip over the tutorial segments of the game and give your existing customers the experience they want straight away. The developers wouldn't be human if they weren’t tempted. But as I found out yesterday, some form of tutorial is vital to help new players to get up to speed with the rest of the community.

How hard would it be to give players an optional tutorial, which seasoned players could skip, but new players could use to get to grips with the game? Without this, I might be forced to play nothing but Red Alert games when it comes to the RTS genre, and that's not a pleasant thought.

26 Comments

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TFSakon 24th September 2011, 12:36 Quote
See while I take you point of any game being able to facilitate new players, I not sure that it would be so easy while keeping the . Granted the actual action of creating a tutorial would not be ludicrously hard, but viewing the entire game creation as a whole it may disrupt the essence of the game, and so it will feel like a chore, undesirable. A comparison would be forcing all artists to write a short introductory monologue to the style of art, technically it would be easy but it would remove some of the flare that the artist had.
Cei 24th September 2011, 13:25 Quote
Pro tip for downing the Hueys:

1) Sneak around the East side of the base, use silenced weapons to pick off the guards round the Hueys and then RPG them on the ground. If the pilots hear noises, they'll take off.

2) Sneak all the way round to the back end of the base and there's an unmanned machine gun tower. Takes Hueys down really easily.


Men of War is one of those games that aims for a hardcore audience, and I think that's reflected in the lack of tutorial. Even the earlier games in the series had hardly any 'teaching' - you're relying on prior knowledge of RTS games. It also has so much depth that a tutorial would last weeks...

My biggest gripe with Vietnam is that it deals solely with small units, whereas Assault Squad allowed much larger control over what would essentially be a full-size company. Micro-managing 4-6 units can get tedious.
S1W1 24th September 2011, 13:28 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by TFSakon
Granted the actual action of creating a tutorial would not be ludicrously hard, but viewing the entire game creation as a whole it may disrupt the essence of the game, and so it will feel like a chore, undesirable.

I still don't see why they couldn't include an optional tutorial though.
Take Arma 2 for example- it's a pretty harcore mil sim and it can take a long time to get the hang of the controls. However there's pretty much no tutorial in the actual campaign, instead the tutorials (which are broken down into seperate, independantly playble categories such as basic controls, commanding, aircraft, tanks etc.) are available from the beggining as optional missions, completely seperate from the campaign.

By doing something like this a game can offer the best of both worlds,- pleasing old fans who can get straight on with the campaign but giving new players an optional access point into the gameplay.
Ayrto 24th September 2011, 14:18 Quote
The problems probably arise from dev mentality after a long development cycle. Most devs have literally put thousands of hours of gameplay time in by the time of title release and thus everything becomes so intuitive and second nature to them - in a word 'easy'.

Everyone knows how competent they become after a 8 or 9 hour single player campaign , compared to how they were when they started a new game. So we can only imagine what it's like as a dev, if you've played thousands of hours, including perfecting the actual gameplay mechanics themselves. They lose the ability to empathise with beginners.
mucgoo 24th September 2011, 14:21 Quote
What tutorial do you want from men of war?
An interface explanation? Finding out how to get unit to execute you tactics/strategy?
Despite men of wars complexity any computer gamer will work it out within 10 minutes + those kinds of tutorials are always, always horribly condescending and dull.

Or do you need some kind of tactic/strategy primer to understand how to actually use your unit to win the mission?
In that case its either a case of poor level design e.g. you wren't sure why the hueys were suddenly appearing or its the kind of thing which is more suited to a on-line walk-through.
SMIFFYDUDE 24th September 2011, 14:24 Quote
Why do FPS still have the pointless tutorial first level? Who doesn't know how to fire a gun, run, jump, crouch and swap weapon? All you need to do is look at the control settings if you do need help.
Hovis 24th September 2011, 14:39 Quote
The big problem is that Men of War: Vietnam is actually a pile of crap. I didn't see it at first because the MoW pedigree is such a good one, I thought I had to be missing something. But no, it's just awful. A top-down strategy game set in canopy jungle is never a good idea, and it feels like a huge step back from Assault Squad.
Ayrto 24th September 2011, 14:43 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mucgoo
What tutorial do you want from men of war?
An interface explanation? Finding out how to get unit to execute you tactics/strategy?
Despite men of wars complexity any computer gamer will work it out within 10 minutes + those kinds of tutorials are always, always horribly condescending and dull.

Or do you need some kind of tactic/strategy primer to understand how to actually use your unit to win the mission?
In that case its either a case of poor level design e.g. you wren't sure why the hueys were suddenly appearing or its the kind of thing which is more suited to a on-line walk-through.

Better to condescend than to discourage from continuing.

Ok, some stuff may seem obvious, but many people don't want to have to pick things up by trial and error online, not when a separate tutorial could've covered them. Classic example for me is helicopters in BF :BC2 - having a playable spoken ( think Company of Heroes) tutorial that's kept separate from an actual campaign wouldn't have hurt. It'd just prepare people better and it'd use in game assets anyway.
Grimloon 24th September 2011, 15:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ayrto
The problems probably arise from dev mentality after a long development cycle. Most devs have literally put thousands of hours of gameplay time in by the time of title release and thus everything becomes so intuitive and second nature to them - in a word 'easy'

QFT. The opposite is also true - you end up adding every single little detail to make sure that you aren't assuming anything and end up going too far the other way.
supermonkey 24th September 2011, 17:36 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by SMIFFYDUDE
Why do FPS still have the pointless tutorial first level? Who doesn't know how to fire a gun, run, jump, crouch and swap weapon? All you need to do is look at the control settings if you do need help.
While a lot of games share generic keyboard setups, not all FPS games have identical features. Some games include crouching, some have inventories of items, some feature alt-fire options for weapons, and some include all of the above. I find that a very brief rundown - often using the skills to get out of the first room - is nice because it lets me get quickly acquainted with any features specific to that game.
thehippoz 24th September 2011, 19:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by supermonkey
Some games include crouching

and squatting
Yemerich 24th September 2011, 19:40 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by SMIFFYDUDE
Why do FPS still have the pointless tutorial first level? Who doesn't know how to fire a gun, run, jump, crouch and swap weapon? All you need to do is look at the control settings if you do need help.

Obviously you didn't played MoW. Forget all others you ever played. MoW is a unique RTS and it is, imho, the best of them all.
The american campaign in the first one that was kinda stealth is the best one in a RTS title.
thil 24th September 2011, 20:37 Quote
Once again, Deus Ex had it right: a completely separate tutorial level (I know, it's not the only one.)
Fizzban 24th September 2011, 23:30 Quote
I'm not a much of a fan of tutorials. It's ok if they are optional, but I cringe when you are forced to go through some crappy assault course to learn the buttons/moves.
Blazza181 25th September 2011, 00:20 Quote
I don't mind tutorials as long as they're optional and essentially a normal level with instructions. RTSes always should have a tutorial.
rogerrabbits 25th September 2011, 05:17 Quote
It annoys the hell out of me. We've got 95% of games now are just totally dumb, simplified, streamlined to the point where you can basically just close your eyes and press the same few buttons and win. And then you've got another 5% like this which are not always necessarily difficult, they are just completely user-unfriendly.

The one that bugs me the most if the X series of games (the space games). At first they are totally intimidating and everything is a chore to do and the UI is completely unhelpful. But once you overcome that you realise that the game is actually so easy, it's perhaps even too easy. You can fly everywhere on autopilot, you can even engage in combat using autopilot, and shooting at bad guys is EZ mode now too. A red dot predicts where they will be and tells you exactly where to shoot.

I just think game developers are just lazy and cheap *******s these days. They either, assume that their game needs to be totally dumb to have mass appeal, or they make a game with depth but don't bother to ease the player in to it.

I remember seeing a video on The Escapist which talked about all this and explained that they don't need to keep dumbing down games, they just need to ease players in to the game and give them a chance to get a grasp of the complexities and challenges. In the good ole days, a lot of games did this. Nowdays they seem to not care and prefer to just rip everything out of the game until there is no complexity or challenge at all.
XXAOSICXX 25th September 2011, 11:40 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by rogerrabbits
They either, assume that their game needs to be totally dumb to have mass appeal, or they make a game with depth but don't bother to ease the player in to it.

This is what happens when gaming is brought to the masses, and it's really not usually the devs, it's the publishers, terrified of losing sales for being a bit different, too difficult or not having instant in-your-face action.

What most people don't seem to realise is that we, the consumers, are in control of this. Spend your money on the games that don't dumb it down and don't spend your money on the ones that do. It'll take time but the message will get across eventually.

Same goes for DRM.
Kiytan 25th September 2011, 20:05 Quote
A good tutorial is very hard to do right, but it's still better to have a slightly crappy tutorial than none at all.

(also, tutorials can be great, I mean portal is about 75% tutorial)
Aragon Speed 26th September 2011, 07:26 Quote
Tutorials as free DLC? Anyone? No? :D
The_Beast 26th September 2011, 07:51 Quote
I'd like them included but optional and where I can pick what I want to learn. I don't want to be forced into learning how to run or shoot a gun for 10 minutes when all I really want to do is learn how to fly.
Xir 26th September 2011, 09:55 Quote
I agree tutorials should be included, but not forced upon you.
Good that you mention Red Alert.
It has seperate tutorials that you need not play to advance the main missions.
On the other hand, it limits your available units in the beginning of the story mode. But that's not a tutorial, that's a story decision.

I think that's quite well done.
Sutura 26th September 2011, 11:55 Quote
I think tutorials are important. I mean they are usually (not always) very borring and tedious, but they do count.
I notice the developers, usually implement them in 3-4 major ways. Like: 1. They put optional in game menu. 2. They make it obligatory as you start the single/multiplayer campaign 3. They make it as in Prince of Persia 2008, when you start the game you choose whether the tutorial to "follow" you ingame (close to the first type).

Tutorials if well made lower the barriers for new players to become a full-fledged part of the community. I remember I tried DotA a few times. I am not a fan, but getting into the community is downright s****y experience. Since if you say "What -ap is?" and you get kicked all over the place. Ok, I am gamer and I know what battle.net is I can take my time, but someone else who just decided to try the mode out....don't really think he/she will be back again. However newby it seems to all others.
tad2008 26th September 2011, 17:39 Quote
When a title is the first in the series or is a game that breaks the mold and uses keys assigned to different functions being guided in to this is certainly helpful.

When a title follows on in a series I have to say that either a quick pointer or reminder in game as the appropriate time, tip during the loading screen (tho these often tend to be insulting or inappropriately timed) or just the option to play the tutorials for the parts you specifically feel you need.

Afterall basic movement and using weapons is something easily worked out and a quick look at the controls is usually enough. Driving a car or jeep is a small step to add but going on to learn specific details about tank controls or flying a helicopter or jet fighter is something that will need practise and for those that want to try their hand at it, give them the option to undergo that training, tutorial or practise session.

Is that really all that much to ask? Perhaps this would also give developers and publishers alike a different way to be approach game and level design and improve the experience for the masses, hard core gamers and fans of the series alike.
Fizzban 26th September 2011, 17:55 Quote
See they are adding a tutorial to The Witcher 2 in version 2.0 I'm assuming because people struggled with it. I rather enjoyed the fact that you had to read the codex and work it out as you played. I think people these days are too used to having their hands held.

I agree a complicated space sim or strategy game may need a tutorial, but most games don't; yet come with them any way. Look at the original Deus Ex, sure the tutorial was optional, but it was also pointless. Unreal 2 had a tutorial section, again optional, but again pointless.
Tynecider 29th September 2011, 00:04 Quote
Sounds to me like you need to apply section battle drills.
Cover and movement.
If you have an 8 man section for example:

Fireteam Alpha: (assign key team 1)
- Section Commander
- Support Gunner (LMG)
- Assaulter (Grenades)
- Assaulter (Grenades)

Fireteam Bravo: (assign key team 2)
- Section 2IC
- Support Gunner (LMG)
- Assaulter (Grenades)
- Assaulter (Grenades)

Whenever you come into contact, get fireteam (a) laying down suppressive fire on target while you flank with the firetam (b) using smoke and terrain as cover, Once Team (b) is in place swap team roles and repeat. Cover and movements.
Once a fireteam is within spitting distance of the target, send in that fireteams assaulters to clean up with grenades (while keeping the enemy down with suppresive fire from the covering team)

You could assign further key bindings (team key 3 and 4) so the assaulters from each fireteam have thier own mini teams, handy for multiple targets.

Not played Vietnam yet, but played the first one.
Dreaming 3rd October 2011, 01:19 Quote
Played MoW and MoW vietnam, I really love the concept of the games.

Lets be fair though, the developers left a lot to be desired in the 'make it fun' department. They had a vision, they did that and did it well - an RTS with direct control that works with unparalleled realism - and we all give them credit for that.

But really they should be equally lambasted for the piss-poor campaign design and any kind of critical thought for what the player experiences.

I think on the broad scale of things most games aren't too bad, MoW in particular is a bad example because it's just a badly put together game (that's also awesome).
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