Skipping The Tutorial

A recent post on Brenda Brathwaite’s blog discusses “the frequently forced, painful and cramped narrative-on-rails that is the in-game tutorial” (Full text here). These are usually an awkward blend in media res urgency with a constant jarring reminder of what keys to press. Her example is “Grab that gun! Let’s go! They’re after us. Oh, and if you need me to give you ammo, press CTRL A.”

I like a world-building intro, whether it’s cinematic or a story, but I prefer jumping in to play. (Amanda D’adesky has an awesome post in defense of cut scenes as a storytelling mechanic.) Ideally there’s an easy setting or a slow curve, so I don’t get killed too badly while figuring out what’s going on. The ideal game would let me know about shortcuts once my basic commands become unwieldy, but once I have too many items in my inventory, too many attacks in my action bar, I’ll look up shortcut keys on my own.

And the usual tutorial feels repetitive, like my credits didn’t transfer and I’m sitting through Gaming 101 again. We don’t need to be told W walks forward and space bar jumps, and I can work out on my own how to go into the Options and reverse the mouse. (Apparently no one else likes playing that way. My only conclusion is that developers put that option in just for me. Thanks!) We really only need to be shown the controls if something’s going to be unusual, like M represents not Map but Massive Self-Destruct Button, or if there’s a special mechanic for the game.

We all know my personal preference for jumping in without reading the instructions (Stop nodding, Mom and Dad!), but what do you think about detailed tutorials? Are they essential to understanding a new game? Do you like a tutorial level, or a slow introduction of skills and abilities, or just experimenting and seeing what happens?

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0 Responses to Skipping The Tutorial

  1. Thanatos says:

    I hate game-stopping tutorials, especially non-optional ones. If a game isn’t intuitive enough to learn on-the-fly, it is poorly designed.
    But that’s my opinion as a player. As a developer, one need only reach as far as their mom and dad to see what happens WITHOUT these forced tutorials: Frustration, termination of gameplay within five minutes. Since I make a lot of games where the demo-to-sale decision is made in the first five minutes, this frustration results in a loss-of-sale. Most players don’t have the patience to figure things out on their own and don’t want to try.

    I hate developing under the banner of “users are idiots”, but my experience shows it to be true. You can’t lower your expectations enough.

  2. Meg says:

    Good points. I run into that sort of dilemma with my students. (Er, not the low expectations part) I don’t want to spell everything out for them, but I also don’t want them to be unclear about what’s expected or think it’s too hard and give up.

  3. Andrea says:

    I find the tutorials useful for games with magic involved, and just to get a sense of the overall game world, but I usually end up clicking through them pretty quickly. The best ones are the ones that either a) add backstory, b) allow you to skip the parts you already know (“Press ‘W’ to walk forward…”), or best of all c) combine a) & b).

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