As a gamer, you know how difficult it can be to find your feet. Not literally, of course; I’d hope that if you’re able to read these words you’d have figured out where your feet are by now. No, I’m talking about learning the ins and outs of the intricate rules, mechanics and systems that go into games. It’s daunting. There’s no doubt it’s the reason online entertainment providers like Betfair offer risk-free allowances with their Betfair Promos, and it’s also the reason videogames have tutorials.
They may be necessary, but tutorials aren’t generally that exciting, are they? Most players have ploughed their way through a fair number of them in their time, and it doesn’t take too long to notice the similarities between each one. Sure, every game has its own control scheme and mechanics, but there are only so many times a game can tell you to “press A to jump” before it begins to get slightly tedious. That’s why it’s so important that gaming tutorials offer genuine entertainment value. The alternative, dispassionately listing off mechanics and controls like an uninspired schoolteacher, is bound to make even the most enthusiastic player sour on a game.
A good tutorial, then, effortlessly blends into the context of the game’s introduction; it instantly immerses the player in the world and softens the blow of any patronising but necessary lessons (most players, after all, know how to jump). Wheatley’s assumption that Chell is brain-damaged in Portal 2 is a superb example of this: it establishes the game’s sense of humour, teaches the very basic principles of controlling the character and avoids boring players who are already familiar with its control scheme. If a player can already jump, pick up objects and open doors, then the whole sequence just serves as an enjoyable comedic bit. Done poorly, however, it could have just as easily been a 30 to 40-minute long interactive loading screen preceding the actual start of the game. In many games, that’s exactly what the tutorial is.
The adage “show, don’t tell” is wheeled out so often that those wheels are beginning to squeak. Still, there’s a good reason for that: it’s almost always true. Gaming tutorials which manage to teach the player without using text pop-ups or literal in-game signs are almost always more effective, less obtrusive and better received than those that resort to signs. For example, while Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario World are both outstanding platformers, only the former’s tutorial is looked back upon with fondness. Why? It doesn’t have any noticeable tutorial at all. All of the game’s teaching is integrated into the level design; it teaches players a relatively huge amount of information without ever explicitly teaching anything at all. Conversely, Super Mario World, despite top-notch level design, employs the use of signs to convey controls and game mechanics. Granted, there are more mechanics to teach in Super Mario World, but that doesn’t change the fact that it has a less effective tutorial.
Which gaming tutorials have stood out as exceptionally effective (or ineffective) to you? Let us know in the comments!