Thoughts on Tutorials

Written by Iain Farquhar

September 24, 2011 // 11:16 a.m.

Tags: #game-design #men-of-war #red-alert #strategy #thoughts-on #tutorials

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.
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