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The Designer's Notebook: Eight Ways To Make a Bad Tutorial
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The Designer's Notebook: Eight Ways To Make a Bad Tutorial

June 14, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Describe buttons and menu items badly. You can make your tutorial mode even more irritating by including references to a button without identifying it clearly. For example, say "Press the Sell button in the upper left of the screen" when there are five different buttons up there and none of them labeled Sell. Similarly, tell them to choose menu item X when no menu item X is visible. Put the actual menu item X down a level or two in the menu tree with no instructions about where to find it.

Buttons with icons on them take up less screen real estate than text does, and they don't have to be localized as much, so they're generally a good idea. However, the player needs to learn what the icons mean and what the buttons do, and the tutorial should teach this.

When your text refers to a button, highlight the button on the screen at the same time – put a golden glow around it or something, and make it pulse or flash.

If you refer to something down in the menu tree, be sure to indicate the whole path. Don't say, "You can find it on the Graphics tab of the customization menu," say "Select Help > Preferences > Customize and choose the Graphics tab." This might seem obvious, but you would be surprised how few games do it!

Leave steps out. Get partway through a step-by-step tutorial and then suddenly stop giving the player instructions. Leave her on a game screen full of buttons and menus with no idea what she's supposed to do next. After she has hesitantly tried something, suddenly start giving instructions again without any reference to what she just did.

Some tutorials need to be more thorough than others. The more unusual your game, or unfamiliar its subject matter, the more you need to explain things. I'm not objecting to limited tutorials here, but to a tutorial that starts out with a detailed explanation and then suddenly disappears. Whatever level of detail you choose, maintain it throughout.

Punish the player's inexperience. When the player makes a simple mistake, go back a long way and explain everything again in excessive detail -- or make the player go back a long way. You can drive his frustration level up by punishing small errors with long delays.

When I'm trying to learn how to jump in a game, one of the things I hate most is falling down a long chasm that takes me two minutes to climb out of before I can try the jump again. This is bad enough in normal gameplay, but it's inexcusable in a tutorial mode. When a player fails at a jump, or any other physical challenge, she should be able to try it again immediately.

One of the games I played for the Innovation Awards had a tutorial in which you actually lose the game! It wasn't very clear about what I was trying to achieve, but I tried to do what it told me to, and at the end, it said I had lost. I can hardly think of a more discouraging start to a game. Completing the tutorial should have give the player positive emotional rewards. If the player fails at the tutorial, then clearly the tutorial itself has failed.

Patronize or humiliate your player. Tell the player "Very good!" in an overly chirpy voice when he has successfully managed to find and press the Enter key. Do it every time he does this. Praise him as you would a four-year-old who has just learned to button his own shirt.

Alternatively, humiliate your player when things go wrong. Tell him what a loser he is. New players love being harshly criticized for not knowing the very things that the tutorial is there to teach them.

This doesn't require much explanation. The emotional tone of a tutorial should be positive and encouraging without being condescending. As in the rest of life, constructive criticism is useful, but abuse is not.

Force the player to complete the whole tutorial. It's possible that partway through your tutorial, the player will feel that she's got the picture and is ready to go ahead and start the game. Oh, no. Not a chance. You put a lot of effort into that tutorial and she is going to have to finish it whether she likes it or not. After all, it's your game, not her game.

If you have a separate tutorial level, let the player quit it and move on. If your tutorial is built into your ordinary level progression, let the player turn off the tutorial elements.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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