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A Journey Across the Main Stream: Games for My Mother-in-Law
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A Journey Across the Main Stream: Games for My Mother-in-Law

September 1, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

And Now...

What, then, to do with this knowledge? The tutorial for the second season of Sam & Max uses the same scene about the Swiss cheese, but presents itself entirely differently. It is far more explicit and friendly, holding the player's hand firmly so as to avoid some of the pitfalls described above as the player learns about the game and her role in it.

Sam now begins the tutorial by speaking directly to the screen, welcoming the player and hopefully putting her at ease. He sums up the situation at hand, noting that the first task will be to find the cheese. He goes on to describe how the player will accomplish this, explaining specifically how to use the cursor and mouse buttons to click on things and explore the room.

He also mentions what kinds of things he and Max will do in response to the player's actions, so that everyone's role for the next sixty seconds of the experience is crystal clear. "Let's get started," he instructs. "Click around the office to find a convenient hiding place for cheese."

Sam reassures the player with the first click -- "No cheese there, but keep looking," he says. We want the player to feel that she is indeed doing the right thing, to feel comfortable with further exploration, and to get used to the idea of exploration as an essential part of the game.

Sam continues to be helpful, keeping the goal of cheese-finding in the forefront, and eventually offering more specific advice about what kinds of places in the room would be good to check.

(I notice, looking at it now, that he does not ever get to the point of explicitly telling the player to click on the closet, no matter how long she looks -- neglecting this last fail-safe was probably a mistake.)

When the player finds the cheese in the closet, Sam notes that it is not Swiss cheese, and then gives strong direction about how to proceed -- he's going to walk the player through the solution of this puzzle step by step, to give her some idea of the twisted logic by which these things are accomplished in the land of Sam & Max. "Maybe something in our inventory can help us," he says, and then explains how to access the inventory and what its purpose is.

All the player has to do at this point is follow Sam's instructions to click on the little cardboard box icon, and then click on the gun, which is at this point the only object in the inventory. Sam will also be helpful if she does not do this. He gives increasing guidance, reminding the player about the inventory, saying specifically that all the cheese needs is a few holes, and ultimately flat-out saying, "Use the gun from the inventory box to make some holes in that cheese."

We could have had him say that right from the beginning, but we are also trying to get the player used to the idea that she will eventually need to think for herself.

Clicking on the gun results in some instruction about how to use it to shoot the cheese. As soon as that is done, Sam offers the following: "Max and I spend most of our time doing goofy stuff like this. And if you want to succeed in the world of the freelance police, you'll probably have to think like we do." (Max apologizes for this.)

We've explained the mechanics of how to accomplish actions in this game, but we're also letting the player know what kinds of actions will be useful, information which is of central importance to the type of game this is.

The tutorial gives the player a bit more freedom, as it goes on to show how to use inventory items other than the gun, how to conduct an interactive dialog, and how to save the game. Again, we want the player to get used to thinking for herself. But Sam continues to volunteer support in the event that things are not progressing well. If need be, he will eventually tell the player exactly how and where to place that piece of cheese so that Jimmy will get it.

By the time the tutorial ends, we have (hopefully) not only demonstrated how the controls work, but also built some confidence and answered some more basic questions in the mind of the player, along the lines of "Who am I?" "What am I doing here?" and "What's this all about?"

It's not much use to demonstrate controls if the player doesn't know what kind of experience they are getting involved with, what role they are supposed to play, or how they are supposed to think. As designers we tend to be very good at building challenges out of mechanics, at play-balancing, at careful ramping of difficulty, but sometimes we fall short on these basic facets of the interactive drama.

Our responsibilities do not end with the tutorial, of course -- the most important groundwork will be laid there, the essential understandings between player and designer established, but we must also retain the lessons learned from Subject M as we craft the rest of the game experience. And those lessons can be summed up in three words: "Assume nothing. Nothing!"

Until we do better, Subject M will remain on the opposite bank of the stream.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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