Monday, 15 March 2010

Tedious Tutorials

I guess you could say I’m not the most patient person when it comes to game tutorials. When I’ve gotten a new game I’m pretty excited and I just want to dig straight into it; so my frustrations tend to foster when I’m greeted by a long monotonous explanation of how to play it. I wouldn’t mind so much if I was just led through the elements that stood the game out from the others; system intricacies and all that, but how many times must I be told how to walk and move the camera.

I had decided to start playing Final Fantasy 12 last week, where I had to bear witness to a guy being told how to look around and move his feet using the analogue sticks. Imagine that in real life, if a person came up to you and said, “now try to move over and pick up your lunch by moving each leg and using your hands.” – See, it’s unrealistic, makes no sense and you’d probably tell them to stop insulting your intelligence. How is it any different in a game when these are the standards you’ve learnt to grow up with in the same way that you’ll never forget how to walk and talk? I doubt even if you hadn’t ever played a game before, it would take you that long to figure it out; it could either be the analogue sticks or the D-Pad; anything else and the game probably deserves to be destroyed.

There are different types of tutorials you will come across. Some are cut off from the main part of the game like Croft Manor in old Tomb Raider games, or the rather lengthy battle lecture in Star Ocean. These are good in that you can choose to ignore them, but first time through you’ll feel the need to take a look and there tends to be a lot of stuff to sift through. (Croft Manor was always fun though, and getting pistols at the end for which you could shoot the butler with were an enjoyable reward for all the effort. I’m sure most of us have all tried to trap him in the fridge as well.)

The other type of tutorial (my personal preference) is built into the game itself, so you can get straight into the story-line and game-play, like Final Fantasy 12. Sometimes they merely come up as small text hints either in loading screens or during game-play and are fairly unobtrusive, but when done badly they will keep repeating and continuing on for the entirety of the game - which is pretty annoying. Others require you to talk to certain characters for the information or you may be presented with – irritatingly unskippable – videos like in Final Fantasy 7. The more obtrusive method actually forces you to perform certain actions for characters within the opening sections of the game. A downside to this kind of tutorial is that some aren’t possible to skip, which means you have to see them every time you want to re-play the game. It also frustrates me when you’re told, for example, to look around, and it will refuse to continue outright until you’ve twiddled the stick violently several times just to prove you won’t forget it.

I’ve always thought it’s a design feature worth thinking about, as in almost every game the tutorial will be the very first thing you see, (which also happens to be where your first impressions are made.) I don’t have so much of a problem with the unobtrusive methods, or if something more intricate must be explained; but I often find that I’m being told about all the simple stuff and then the more complicated things are being left for me to figure out by myself. There are just some things that should either be left in the manual or be left to the player to work out; either by using that brain thingy and the powers of deduction, or if all else fails there’s always the button mashing approach.

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