The vast majority of all games out there requires at least some form of knowledge in order to play them. Some games, like the popular indie title Canabalt (http://www NULL.adamatomic NULL.com/canabalt/), require only a single line of instructions. Other games might not be adequately explained with over a thousand. Even games that are only slightly complex face the problem of having to educate new players — at least if they care about faring well with the casual crowd.
There are several ways of doing this. Back in the days, it was usually done by a physical manual that came with the game. That way, any in-game explanations could be omitted to save time. Many games even went so far as to expel the entire story to the manual. This approach is no longer viable. Especially for digital distribution, requiring players to refer to a separate manual (even if it’s a PDF) is madness. It simply won’t happen. Thus comes the need for in-game education.
A classic approach to this is tutorials. In their rawest form, these are the things that demand such ridiculous things as moving the camera or scrolling in order to progress. When done horribly wrong, they are an unskippable part of the actual game. Some tutorials are well-made, teaching things in a sensible order, and allowing the player to skip through parts. True to most tutorials, however, is that people simply won’t go through them!
I often find myself pondering on whether or not I need to go through the tutorial before playing a game. Usually, I actually decide to go through the tutorial, but that ship usually sinks about the time when they ask me to move the camera around. This is quite unfortunate, because even experienced gamers are likely to need some guidance in most games. I know I do, but going through excessively banal tutorials is simply impossible for me.
Another way of teaching the ropes is to disguise the tutorial as part of the actual game. When done right, this technique is really good. Batman: Arkham Asylum (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Batman_Arkham_Asylum) is a good example of how to weave tutorials into your game without giving much of an impact at all. Today, I think most games that bother with tutorials are integrating them like this, with varying results. In some cases, instead of cleverly tricking the player into doing your tutorial, game makers ruin the early parts of their game by dumbing it down for too long!
In Dwarfs, we’re trying to go for a slightly different approach: The Codex. It’s not a new concept, but we’re attempting to kick it up a notch. Our vision for it is a single place where you go if the tooltips are not enough. Instead of just having some text about random things in the game, as many such in-game encyclopedias, we’ve integrated short video tutorials on many entries. For a demonstration of both basic and advanced techniques, the player can click on the thumbnail to start a narrated video demonstration. Genius! We’re certain to receive at least one Nobel prize for this one!
As is apparent from the screenshot, the Codex is not yet complete, but the foundations are all there — including a couple of diggers dancing as a wide-screen feature! We think this will work great, as it will be a breeze to look up anything that might have slipped your mind, as well as learning new concepts and game mechanics. We’re really thrilled to see how it turns out, and if it works as well as we hope!
Of course, everything is loaded from an XML-file, in order to facilitate the inevitable translation into all languages in the world!
Until next time, folks!