Why are in-game tutorials important to some and not to other video games?

These are some of the questions about in-game tutorials that have always nagged me: Why are in-game tutorials important to some and not to other video games? How can in-game tutorials be made seamless to avoid breaking the player’s suspension of disbelief in a video game? When does a game need an in-game tutorial? Should the player learn the game by failing? What kinds of players will put up with the frustration of not being tutored? Which games can do without tutorials? What different types of in-game tutorials are there? How can in-game tutorials be made interesting and seem like an integrated part of the game?

In a way, there are three types of video games: the illogical, the intuitive, and those with in-game tutorials. The illogical game probably has the hardest time settling with the players. The intuitive game is a bit better off once the player knows what to do and where to go. Those with in-game tutorials give the player a head start in complex concepts. However, there is a fine balance to keep: do not underestimate and patronize your players. I have an opinion on some of the strengths and weaknesses that should be considered when talking about in-game tutorials.

Each of the types, illogical, intuitive, and with _in-game tutorial _are of course mixed and graduated in reality, but for the sake of the discussion, I’ve taken them to the extreme.

The Illogical Games

In these types of games, the controls are often hard to learn and the objectives in the game often don’t make sense unless the player knows about the game world. The controls and objectives doesn’t necessarily make sense even when they are learned. The games must be interesting for players before they learn the controls and objectives.

Games with illogical controls or objectives often have a steep learning curve. Some may categorize these as hardcore games. I remember sitting in front of my brother’s Amiga 500 immersed in a variety of games with great enthusiasm, but often after having been frustrated by having to figure out the controls by trial and error.

Practically no games were translated to our mother tongue and if they were, we wouldn’t waste precious gaming time reading the tome that came with the game. That meant that a hard judgement fell on the illogical games: discarded! (i.e. because the games simply fell outside of our zone) So, what made us grant the games our attention back then, was most likely the scarcity of videogames in general.

If games was as ubiquitous as they are today, I think that we’d been more demanding and the most illogical would not be granted a second.

The Intuitive Games

Intuitive game controls and objectives are easy to learn may not need to be taught to the player. Controls and objectives make sense the first time you’re learning them. The games does not rely on being overly interesting for players to learn to play. Intuitive games have a gradual learning curve. Some may categorize them as casual games. Some controls are so obvious and easy to learn that it does not really require much effort from the designer nor the user. Just play the game. However, varying complexity in games are often reflected in the controls and how the objectives of the games are given to the player.

Consider a player that has never played a first person shooter. To him, Doom is something that awaits and not one of the founding fathers of what evolved into a standard control scheme in subsequent 3d shooters.
This player need an incentive to play the game and learn the controls. Back in the day, it was fancy photorealism in VGA and the compelling story about… killing monsters. And that was more than enough for most of us. Frankly, I do not recall if the controls were taught in-game or only in the manual – some of the controls wasn’t event in the manual.

The point is that to the player that never played with these controls, they would not be illogical after some time getting used to them, perhaps even intuitive if using the wasd/mouse configuration that is pretty much standard these days.

The Games with In-Game Tutorials

Even though I named this the third type of game, it serves more like a transcendent category: In-game tutorials are both used in illogical and intuitive games because both may benefit from in-game tutorials or in some cases in-game tutorials are a disadvantage for the intentions of a game. First of all, in-game tutorials lets the players learn the controls and objectives fast and really get into the intended game play sooner. The downside is that there is a risk of patronizing the player if the controls are super intuitive  and still spelled out, so I guess there is a fine balance to keep depending on the players:

  1. Continuous throughout the game,
  2. once per game session, or
  3. once per player (stored in a user profile or the like).

In the end, remember that videogames are mostly entertainment and if the player ends up frustrated, the game fails its purpose.

Rolling box control scheme – The Floor is Lava!

The Floor is Lava / rolling box control scheme
Click the image to try the game.
I prototyped this simple physics based rolling box control scheme using Unity, in only a few hours.
To move the box, you add torque to roll it by pressing the arrow keys or swiping the screen (so far only android devices).
Try to keep the box on the floats and get to the safe platform. If you hit the floor, you’ll lose life.
It feels a bit heavy at first, but it might grow on you with a few other interesting game design dimensions.
Like the controls in Edge, I like the constraints to the three dimensions that it has – not to mention the bonus you’ll get for balancing the box on the edges.
Try out the rolling box control scheme and give me some feedback on it.

Simple Game Design by Polish, Appeal and Measures

The cycles to achieve simple game design
The cycles to achieve simple game design

If you would like to read my master thesis, go ahead and get it here. Otherwise, read on and get an overview of my thoughts behind Simple Game Design through Polish, Appeal & Measures.

With a vantage point in the term Game Polish, I have proposed a simple method for designing games independently from any specific production methodologies.

The study was made in the spring of 2009 through correspondences with members of the International IGDA Game Design SIG and other forums dedicated to game development.

The main cornerstones of the study is Polish, Appeal, and Measures – all elaborated in the report.

Simple Game Design through Polish, Appeal & Measures. This method proposed in my master thesis, explain how to make a game or on what to focus designing it.

An Idea in a Master Thesis

In this thesis the reader will be presented with a definition of the nebulous term Polish used in relation to computer games, mainly derived from literary sources. The term has been processed from different perspectives and split into three overall topics: Polish, Appeal, and Measures.

The topic of Polish relate to the elements used to add Appeal to a computer game. The topic of Measures relate to how the intentions of the game’s Appeal are being verified through the pre–production and the production phases in the making of a computer game. These three topics will form the cornerstones of this master thesis.

A Simple Game Design Method

The overall methodology of the study consist of two parts. The first part being a series of correspondences with game designers via e–mail and online discussion forums dedicated to game design issues. The second phase of the methodology has been to verify the responses through a series of interviews with professional game developers working at different levels in the game industry.

The results are presented according to the cornerstones, Polish, Appeal and Measures reflecting the respondents’ opinions on how the elements of Polish are being evaluated in pre–production and production of computer games. It is clear that players are not included in pre–productions as much as in productions. The elements of Polish should not be treated as those with functional and pleasing purposes separately, as there are rarely added any elements of Polish that does not have a distinct function in the game.

Several aspects of game design are being discussed, however an effort is made towards making the proposed methodology independent of the established definition of staged software development. In relation to this there is being proposed a more fluid way to describe the process of game development through the terms Concept, Design, and Content.

The conclusion of the thesis proposes a simple methodology of designing games that is independent of software production methodologies.

Audio and game programmer at DADIU’s Exodroid

While doing my MSc in Medialogy, I took part in two productions at DADIU (Danish Academy for Digital Interactive Entertainment).

My second production was Exodroid and was made in Unity using C#. This production took place in March 2009 while I was writing my master thesis, so these projects are highly interconnected.

As game programmer on this project, I gained experience using C# with Unity. Furthermore, I took an active part in developing the design and the production itself.

I participated in the project while writing my master thesis, therefore much of the discussion and conclusion is somewhat related to this project.

Dusk of Ninja and Brush

nice graphics, eh :-)In January 2009 I attended Global Game Jam with the game Dusk of Ninja and Brush.

The game was made in Unity3D using C#. My contribution was a little programming, part in the game design and virtually most of the sound design and implementation.

Go check out the game at the Global Game Jam website. There are tons of other experimental games there as well.

Check out Computerworld’s report on Global Game Jam (in Danish).

See you next year!

Casual game, -gaming, -playing, -gamer, -game player…

Well, ain”t that a rant…

I”m writing this post because I recently read a paper seeking to define the term casual in relation to video games (check the presentation slides that comes with it). Then I found a post on indiegamer.com discussing this very question.

My approach is grounded in the academia but moving towards the real deal, the practical implementation, or you might say, the geeky know-a-lot-but-haven”t-really-tried-it-properly-yet approach. That is except for my experimenting in my spare time and at the university not to mention my recent internship in a game company called Titoonic in Copenhagen.

In short the paper categorizes terms of “casual” in relation to games into the following:

  • Casual Games:
    The games that are casual or designed to belong to a subset of games, meant to be played casually. Mostly defined as having “generally appealing content, simple controls, easy-to-learn gameplay, fast rewards, or support short play sessions” [Kuitinen et al.].
  • Casual Game Player:
    A person that plays games labeled or designed to be Casual Games. The stay-at-home wife 35+.
  • Casual Gamer:
    A person who play ANY games casually (notice the difference from above).
  • Casual Gaming:
    The general attitude or approach towards gaming. (Hardcore gamers do not play for leisure).
  • Casual Playing:
    Describes the way a casual gamer would play a game. “… in small time bursts or in a low cognitive state” [Kuitinen et al.]. Playing without effort.

In my humble oppinion it is nice to have a clear definition eventhough some people think it is waste of time and goes “no speak – make game”. I wonder where the cultural and technical evolution would be if everyone thought like that when they discovered the wheel.

Anyway… I want to give my support to the guys in Tampere that like to explain the buzz. Kudos!

Using Game Design Patterns in Casual Online Game Productions

9th Semester/Internship

Spending time in “the real world” was a great lesson for me. Besides the academic work, described below, I gained first hand experience in what it takes to deliver production quality flash games. Through this I tried using game design patterns in casual online game productions.

Games should be fun and plenty. If game developers should make plenty of fun games they need efficient tools to design them. Game designers today use existing games as references when discussing game design. Pattern languages may offer a common reference frame and Game Design Patterns may help game developers design more efficiently.

This case study was made to find what it would be like using game design patterns in casual online game productions in a small casual game company. Among the findings was a positive attitude towards the methods, however if a company is to benefit from them there has to be taken measures towards educating staff and redesigning production models.

Whether Game Design Patterns are in fact useful remains uncertain. This study offer suggestions to what is necessary to succeed in implementation of Game Design Patterns based on Björk’s and Holopainen’s research.

Jul i Sonofonhuset

This was a project where I took part as game design and programming intern in Titoonic a/s in late 2008. The production time was one month. My main tasks on the project was game design, sound design, and sound programming (where the sound engine was added to the company’s codebase).

The sound manager class which is an adaptation of Matt Przybylski’s code found here.

Physically Modelled Sound and Immersion in Computer Games

(8th Semester)

In the early days of computer games the sound was created using simple synthesis techniques, but as the development of better processors and larger storage media, the development lead towards the use of wave-table synthesis, which has become the most used technique in current computer games. Since the introduction of the wave-table synthesis the development in audio creation and playback in games has stagnated.

One of the latest fields within sound synthesis is physically modelled, which holds great potential, within games and interactive environments, because of its more dynamic nature. An area in which very sparse research has been done is measuring the impact of physically modelled sound in computer game environments. This has lead to the following problem statement to be formulated: To which degree does physically modelled sound enhance physical immersion in first person computer games?

This project has analysed theories proposed by several authors within the fields: immersion, narrative and gameplay in computer games, audio in computer games. These fields and their different theories have formed an ontology for the project, upon which an application has been build. The application consists of a Half Life 2 modification, which makes use of the Nintendo Wii controllers, together with a modal sound synthesis.

Continue reading Physically Modelled Sound and Immersion in Computer Games