Where’s the Jump Button?
One of my favorite moments when starting a brand new video game is the second I take control; when the cutscenes are over, my mission is set, and I am left to my untold adventures. I set out on my quest, to vanquish foes and conquer the opposition, and as I take those glorious first steps…STOP! “Press X to Jump.” Video game tutorials are an important piece of any game. They teach you how to control your character, chain combos and maneuver the landscape. Yet plenty of games can’t seem to get this important component of video games right. For every game that seamlessly teaches you its mechanics, there are two others that disrupt your experience or simply don’t teach you at all. Games like these can jar a player from his/her experience, taking away from something that should be simple and fun.
Tutorials can be handled in a number of ways. Some games utilize complicated control schemes that require methodical, yet impactful handholding while others seek to educate the player whilst progressing the game’s plot. A good game can properly execute in one of these ways. A great game can execute in both. Think of complicated game you’ve played that quickly acclimated you thanks to its tutorial. Now really think about that tutorial. What about it was enjoyable? If you share my opinion, it’s probably because you were having fun learning those controls. You felt like the game took the right amount of time to show you its nuance, hold your hand, and then cut you loose. If a tutorial is good, you probably don’t even notice it.
So what kind of games have tutorials like this and what can we learn from them? Portal immediately comes to mind. This game was popular when it released for so many reasons but the reason it resonated with me so much was how it introduced me to its story and mechanics. It begins with the infamous GLaDOS detailing your insignificant purpose to “test.” I was mere minutes into the game and all I wanted to do was get my hands on what needed testing: the portal gun. I HAD to have it, yet, before I could start blasting portals from wall to wall, I first had to complete some simple tests at GLaDOS’ request. Jump here, hold this, step there, shoot that, the game introduced me to its mechanics, story, and controls in an extremely simple yet clever way, and it was enthralling every step of the way. There are a number of other titles that have achieved this as well; Uncharted, Dark Souls, God of War all educated players with timely and engaging tutorials. But most importantly, I didn’t feel like I was “learning” by traditional means when playing any of these titles.
Yet, there are still a number of video games that feel as if they have to lead you by the nose through every single aspect of their nuanced game. Nothing irritates me more than having my hype dwindle as I slog through a tutorial with NO action, NO story, and NO progression. Time after time I’ve given up on games because I did not have the patience for an hour long lesson. Still, some games opt for the other extreme and give you little to no tutorial whatsoever. Although this can work for games like Inside and Little Nightmares, this is not good practice for games that can quickly overwhelm. The freedom to learn on your own is thoughtful and great but too much of it can frustrate players. The last thing gamers want to do is set down the controller because the game they were playing gave them no direction.
Nothing irritates me more than having my hype dwindle as I slog through a tutorial with NO action, NO story, and NO progression.
The first few hours of any new game are crucial. They are a collection of make or break moments and one misstep could be enough to push us gamers away. If the plot doesn’t hook us, if the music isn’t right, if the tutorial is not helpful or engaging, any one of these could be the reason we don’t stick around. But a good tutorial for any game should always be ready to stand at my side and guide me into the experience. Teaching me controls but not restricting me in how I learn them, introducing the plot and characters while not overwhelming me with an abundance of either, and transitioning these elements in and out of gameplay to where I feel confident and in control the whole time. That’s the perfect tutorial. As for you Peppy, tell me to do a barrel roll one more time and I’m going to shoot your ship into the sun…jerk.
Portal really did do a brilliant job with their tutorial. I loved how it was part of the world. Everything does a great job too, they slowly introduce things so that it gives you time to explore so maybe you’ll discover a new mechanic on your own.