Flammable Penguins

Claire Blackshaw's Forest of Fun

Do Tutorials suppress Play?

Art Game Design Play Tutorial
Do Tutorials suppress Play?
So I was listening to Another Castle interview the extremly interesting Eric Zimmerman. They were talking about the subverssive nature of play when my brain started drifting to tutorials, thinking about Limbo. Then I realised that not once on Glo did we ask, do we need tutorials?

Now I know the indie and art games scene has been promoting this concept of subversive play for a long time but I ask you how many developers question the need for a tutorial?

Too many paths

Back in the NES days we had a d-pad and two buttons. The exploration space was tiny and welcoming, the modern game-pad or keyboard offer too many options of exploration. Think of giving a child a set of water-colours, oil paints and pencils along with a blank piece of paper. Often the huge scope scares them and if it doesn't bore them the resulting mess is epic. Think then of a child with a small set of crayons and a colouring book with rough outlines. They are much more keen, the results are better and often they will totally subvert the original drawing.

The rise of the touch interface, a very natural playful interaction and hopefully Kinetic give us a much better understandable scope of play.

Meta Rules vs Mechanical Rules

We made Petanque for the Wii in which we implemented the strict meta-rules of Petanque. Now these rules are very conceptual, like don't step out of the circle or don't throw the ball out of the white lines. There is no real feedback for breaking these rules so there is no way of learning them through play. If you give kids a football they will learn to kick, run and pass through play. It is only months or years later that they are introduced to the stuffy artificial rules we make for the game.

Now imagine instead of white lines we had a massive cliff going into lava, and instead of a circle we had a massive ball and chain. Mechanical rules and feedback, which we could implement in the game space. Now the rules of the game can be learnt much more easily through play.

But I'm confused

I suggest that tutorials are often compensating for overly complex rule sets which are not consistent or evident. For instance in Glo many people struggled with the Frogs. By the end of the project the art and behaviours of the frog were much more clear, and the levels better at exposing them. Though when we first hit the problem the obvious solution was to make sure the tutorial was better and clearer.

I now think we could have removed all the tutorials in Glo, provided a help section if people got truly stuck and removed the post level feedback screen. It would have resulted in a much stronger experience. One in which you can play and explore the game freely.

But the publisher

As Braid pointed out they had a nightmare getting their menu system accepted because it subverted accepted established systems. Mircosoft's stance is understandable, even praise worthy in its goal to keep a consistent experience but ultimately Braid was better for its exploratory nature.

Publisher's will often request non-expertianal things like stats screen, known mechanics, and tutorials. This is not because they are evil but because they wish to reduce risk. It is a games designer job not only to convince the development team of these new ideas and methods of subversive play but also the publisher.

What do you think?

This has all exploded in my brain today, coalescing from many different sources and I still haven't finished processing it. I would love to hear your thoughts on it.