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Game Design Deep Dive: How Rogue Legacy handles tutorials without being boring

Game Design Deep Dive: How  Rogue Legacy  handles tutorials without being boring
October 22, 2014 | By Teddy Lee

October 22, 2014 | By Teddy Lee
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More: Console/PC, Indie, Design, Deep Dive



Game Design Deep Dive is a new series from Gamasutra, with the goal of shedding light on specific design features or mechanics within a video game, in order to show how seemingly simple, fundamental design decisions aren't really that simple at all.

Our most recent installment explores the weapon upgrade system in
Mercenary Kings. We've also looked at Crypt of the NecroDancer's rhythm roguelike mechanics.

Also, don't miss these developer-minded looks at the Shovel Knight's shopkeeper Chester and the digging mechanic in
SteamWorld Dig.

Don't miss our ever-growing archive of Deep Dives.

Who: Teddy Lee, Game Designer for Rogue Legacy

Hey-o, my name's Teddy and if you've never played the game before this article isn't going to make a lot of sense, so check out our trailer, since it explains the game better than I ever could.

Rogue Legacy was always made to be easy to pick up and play. But it's also a pretty complex game with a unique death system, which merges the concept of permadeath with permanent progress. In order for us to keep the upscale tempo of our game, we had to design a unique tutorial sequence which mirrored how we wanted players to play it.

What: The Tutorial Sequence in Rogue Legacy

When I talk about the tutorial for Rogue Legacy, I'm only focusing on the first 3-5 minutes of gameplay. Because our game is quasi non-linear, we use a lot of "tips" like hints during the death screen in order to give players insights in how to play.


The Death Screen

We're a very game-mechanic focused team, so when we first envisioned Rogue Legacy, we pictured a fair, hyper sped up rogue-like game with permanency. This led to the creation of our lineage screen to depict the concept of permanency through transient characters. To help make this concept easier to digest, we wrapped up the entire thing with a lineage thematic.

"People love learning about things, but nobody actually likes to be taught."

Your thematic is your strongest tutorial tool. People love learning about things, but nobody actually likes to be taught. So, the best way in our eyes to teach people how to play your game, is to make the game seem self-explanatory, and a lot of that is done by obfuscating the learning process.

We string this medieval thematic for as long as possible. Our gold fee is incurred by Charon, a Greek mythological ferryman. Our "death tips" are masked as parting words. Our castle zones (tower, forest, and dungeon) were chosen to be relevant to their position in the castle. Almost all of these game rules are implied to the player purely through the context of our game's theme.

Don't make the tutorial separate from the game. There were two important things we needed to cover in the tutorial for Rogue Legacy - basic and macro mechanics.

Basic mechanics covers how to play the game, such as jumping, attacking, and down-striking, etc. We wanted this done quickly but we also wanted to make sure that players weren't bored going through these motions. There's no bigger buzzkill then when you first boot up a game and are forced to go through "tutorial zone number 1 of 10."

So instead of creating a standalone tutorial sequence, we went a few extra steps, and tweaked the tutorial so that it was baked into the story line. Everybody wins this way; players get to see exposition, and we get to cover the basics.


The tutorial/story sequence.

We took it even further and made our tutorial the "pop" sequence. When you first play Rogue Legacy a custom introduction puts you straight into the story/tutorial sequence instead of starting you at the title screen. This "pop" was taken wholesale from God of War III, so kudos to them.

"This took a fraction of the cost and time compared to if we designed and built three separate sequences instead."

By doing this, we got all our exposition out of the way within a minute of start-up. This took a fraction of the cost and time compared to if we designed and built three separate sequences instead.

Making the tutorial longer than the "tutorial." Most players assume the tutorial ends there, but it doesn't. We purposefully enforced this division so that players would assume they were playing the "full" game in order to make the tutorial feel shorter than it was.

In reality, our tutorial is actually three lives long, with the last two lives teaching the user the macro-mechanics of our game.

First Life - Basic Tutorial

Game flow:
Tutorial Sequence -> Title Screen


First life. Basic mechanics are taught.

The first time the player ever plays; they go through the tutorial area and kill the king. This is the first time the player is brought to the game's title screen, instilling the idea that the player is now playing the game "proper."

Second Life - The Fake Start

Game flow:
Title Screen -> Castle Exterior -> Gameplay -> Death Screen -> Title Screen


Second life. Set up for macro-mechanics.

For the second life, we created a custom intro by removing certain sequences:

1. We disable the lineage screen. You don't get to pick a character, so everyone starts as Sir Lee, the default knight.
2. We skip past the upgrade screen so players don't get inundated with the meta-manor building system.
3. We remove the gold loss mechanic, because that's not necessary at the moment.

This custom intro lets us do two very important things. First, it ensured that everyone started the game with a "plain" character. Some of the traits in Rogue Legacy mess with the feel of the game, which could give players a bad first impression. The worst ones would be traits like "flexible" which are extremely subtle, but have large consequences on game feel.


Sir Lee, the default character -- with no traits.

Secondly, it enforced the lineage system while also removing decision paralysis. If people purchased this game without understanding the meta-mechanics behind it, they might slave over deciding which heir to take, thinking it's a permanent decision. Because they're never given that choice, they don't have that initial slowdown that bogs down so many RPGs.

As a small aside, we also use the Castle to explain the map tool and how the random castle generator works. Above the map, we created floating text which clearly denotes how to access the map functionality. Sub-functions like this are super-important, but they aren't used as often as jump, so they need constant reminders.


The map.

The actual "map" graphic was designed in order to convey a lot of information in as little space as possible. We used dots as a way of implying zone difficulty without being too explicit. Most importantly, the map illustrates the overarching logic to the castle's construction. Without this, players would feel hopelessly lost every time the castle rearranged itself.

Third Life - The Standard Loop

Game flow:
Title Screen ->Lineage Screen ->Upgrade Screen -> Castle Exterior -> Lose Gold -> Gameplay -> Death Screen -> Title Screen


Third Life. The macro-mechanics are taught.

This is when the game actually starts, and we introduce all of the meta-mechanics the game has to offer.

Just like your first life, the player starts at the title screen. But instead of transitioning to the Castle Exterior, we bring the player to the Lineage Screen.


Character selection screen.

Since this is their second life, it automatically enforces the concept that every choice here is only temporary. This is reinforced by the display of previous heirs on the left (along with Sir Lee, the first knight everyone plays as.)

So purely through the visuals and game flow, we were able to showcase the core mechanics of Rogue Legacy to our audience in a very subtle manner.

The Upgrade Screen Tutorial

After the lineage screen, the players are finally brought to the upgrade screen. This was our final tutorial in the game, and it slowly expands the game mechanics as the players get further along in the game.


Upgrade screen.

First off, the upgrade screen is completely empty except for the blacksmith. The reason nothing can be seen is because we designed a "hidden skill tree." This was done to again remove decision paralysis from the user. Rogue Legacy is all about flow. Dying and then starting again quickly is paramount, so we wanted to make sure players were not spending too much time in the upgrade and character selection screen agonizing over their choices.

We explicitly chose the blacksmith to be the first unlock because he introduces the unlocking mechanic of blueprints and equipment. The tutorial "feel" is obfuscated here because the player was an active participant in unlocking the blacksmith -- which makes it feel more like the game is expanding, as opposed to another lesson to learn.

Why? First Impressions Matter

If you want to retain your audience you need to make sure the first 5 or so minutes of gameplay are indicative of what exactly they're getting into. Unfortunately, tutorials really bog this down, and as games get more and more complicated, tutorials get longer and longer. Games need to be clever with how they introduce their mechanics nowadays, and one solution doesn't fit all.

A few tutorials I really liked:

1. Resident Evil 4
2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

The Result

This was our first retail game, so I honestly can't say with certainty that all this work helped increase sales, but it did improve the gameplay experience, and I'm sure that didn't hurt word-of-mouth.

Enjoy this article? Don't forget to check out our ever-growing archive of Deep Dives.


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