Opinion – Welcome to the Jungle

Introductions are in order.

Fallout 4 doesn’t care if you know how to play it.  Really, it’s just not interested in telling you what’s going on.  Sure, there are half-hearted attempts to give some information, but they aren’t serious.  Like the uncaring fast food cashier who vaguely recalls the item you’re ordering “might have peanuts in it”, Fallout 4 only puts up a semblance of a tutorial because it kinda feels like it has to.  Joining the Food Court of the Unhelpful are several games I’ve recently played including Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void, Sonic: Lost World, and Bloodborne.  What gives?

For one thing, tutorials suck.  They are the antithesis of gaming and practically impossible to pull off well.  The whole purpose of a tutorial is to tell the player how to play the game that they want to already be playing while they’re being told.  At their best, tutorial’s take advantage of gaming’s inherent learning capacity to work in concepts organically.  They present challenges that are overcome by previously taught skills which are combined in new ways or joined by a similar, but new, skill.  Sadly, these kinds of tutorial are rare.  More common are their unwanted brethren that throttle the player’s abilities and then explain all the wonderful game mechanics while the frustrated player watches the game play itself.  Too many games spend their opening hour by telling the player how to play rather than letting them actually do it.  In an all too often occurrence, games will completely forget about interactivity and literally type out what needs to be done.  For the impatient player who booted up a game with the hopes of actually playing it, they are unlikely to expend the necessary time and focus to grok the giant wall of text in front of them.  They are far more likely to click through and get stumped.

Let’s compare and contrast.  Consider the first level in Super Mario Brothers.  The player is present with Mario, a floor, a controller, and a pipe.  The game gives the player plenty of time to press buttons to discover that Mario moves and can jump over pipes.  After they surmount the pipe, the player meets enemies which are defeated by the previously taught jump mechanic.  The player’s skill set builds from there.  Super Mario Brothers is a classic example of a game teaching the player through playing the game.  The player jumps (teehee) right into the action and probably never realizes that they’re in Shigeru Miyamoto’s classroom.

If Super Mario Brothers is an example of a good tutorial, Bloodborne is the opposite.  The player starts off in a room.  They’re quickly massacred and sent to a hub world where all the instructions are written in ghostly images on the floor.  The instructions don’t appear to have any particular order and they’re often snippets of larger explanations.  In short, the developers decided to replace the written manual with an in game version that lacked cohesion or a table of contents.  To use the tutorial, the player must voluntarily stop playing to approach each instruction which won’t make any sense without understanding the game.  If they player decides they want to go back to an instruction, they must test each one until they find the information they’re looking for.  Gud jorbs!

Bloodborne and the other games mentioned above get away with terrible or non-existent tutorials because they are games that don’t care about new players. Each has a longstanding fan base that are expected to know how to play the game and therefore require little additional assistance.  The lack of a solid tutorial is still a shame.  Early game instruction provides new players with an entry point and reminds older players of mechanics.  Tutorials also help introduce new game concepts, something that Fallout 4 fails completely at.  The difficulty of crafting quality tutorials does not mean the developer should ignore them, rather, that they should focus more on them.  Otherwise, it’s the players that must fill in the gap.

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