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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Simple steps

I’ve just started playing the monster RTS that is AI war for a future feature. Well when I say ‘started playing’ I mean completed the first hour of the tutorial. Readers familiar with Strategy games will appreciate the difference in complexness there can be between certain games. For instance, you may be brilliant at SupCom2 but can you understand hotkey frantic games like the original Homeworld?
The trouble with starting a new RTS or even a TBS for that matter is the first few hours. How well do the developers manage to ease you in to a certain level of familiarity with the controls that you feel comfortable with before chucking you in at the deep end? To teach gameplay mechanics and controls to someone can be incredibly difficult and sometimes awkward so a well-scripted tutorial is always a must-have. So after spending 60-odd minutes learning the basic features of the HUD, I started pondering about what makes a good tutorial.
One of my favourites has to be the original Tomb Raider. It featured an assault course that as you progressively work through, teaches you the controls and situations to use them in extremely well. I have fond memories of doing the tutorial several times trying to beat my own time. The third-person shooter stealth game Splinter Cell also features a similar training room. These types of tutorial work really well when merged as part of the story: for example, Half-Life uses a fantastic holographic assistant who talks you through the Black Mesa hazard course using text-prompts as well as voice-guidance.
Text-prompts don’t always work however and can detract from the experience and ruin the immersion. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is one of my favourite puzzle games this year but it has an awful tutorial comprising of text-prompts that pause the game whilst you click through them hurriedly trying to block that creatures spear which is paused a few pixels away from your sprite. Assassins Creed is an example of developers using text-prompts effectively. The very nature of its Matrix-style storyline enables the player to learn the physics and mechanics in an environment specifically made for training.
Hopefully, developers will learn from past successes and failures to create not only an immersive tutorial but also an informative one and change the fact that great tutorials are exceptions rather than the norm.   

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