Tell Me How to Play, But Do it Quickly
Here’s the thing about video game booklets: I never read them, but if a game I buy doesn’t come with a nice, thick, colorful booklet, I feel cheated. I guess I like the comfort of it being there in the off chance the game itself failed to introduce everything I need to know. We’ve all been there, right? You’re stuck in the beginning of a game with no clue what to do, and you think to yourself, “Does this mean I actually have to read the damn booklet now?”
Of course, with the surge of downloadable games, tangible booklets are becoming a thing of the past. Going hand-in-hand with that, the need for solid tutorial modes and/or in-game help menus has multiplied. Just recently, I played an XBLIG game called Puzzle Cubicle that did without any kind of tutorial and instead had one very obtuse instruction screen. It honestly made no sense. Had I not been asked to review the game, I would have given up right then and there and never bothered to figure it out.
I know some of the fun in gaming is jumping into a fresh, new experience and discovering all of its goodies on your own. When we were younger, didn’t we do that with just about every NES and SNES game we played? But video games aren’t so simple anymore, and as I’ve gotten older, my tolerance for confusion has waned. If I wasn’t already familiar with certain game mechanics, I wonder how easily I could pick up a current generation game. Even something as straightforward as Poker Drop could theoretically be off-putting if you don’t know how Tetris and Poker work (to be fair, though, who doesn’t?).
Clearly, there has to be something in the game to tell you how to play, keeping in mind that nobody wants to read a wall of text. That’s when a good tutorial comes into play. Emphasis on the “good.” I’ve played too many games with mandatory tutorials that were an absolute chore. They had to walk you through every step, spelling out even the most obvious and mundane abilities (you can jump!) and preventing you from continuing until you’ve satisfied every demand in the proper order. The worst part about these kind of tutorials, though, is having to go through them again should you decide to give the game a second playthrough.
It’s at times like this when I appreciate being able to skip the tutorial mode. Alas, my inborn impatience means I tend to skip almost every tutorial that lets me do so. I can’t help myself! Tutorials are often babying in their approach, and I don’t feel like I’m making any progress until the game has actually started. But mere seconds later, I’m lost and confused, because I ignored all of the useful tidbits in the beginning. I should have known…
The “help” I find most valuable, then, is the contextual hint. The game doesn’t hold your hand through a pointless prologue but instead offers tips on how to proceed (and if you’ve already figured out a move, it won’t even bother bringing it up). The most recent example I can think of is Minecraft for Xbox. Yes, it has a tutorial, too, but if you go straight into the survival mode, the game still provides pop-ups as you discover new items. These don’t get in the way, though, and I still receive the information I need when I need it.