Abyssal Pixels: The Value Of Tutorials
Move your eyes from left to right in order to read this sentence. Did you know that you can go to the comment section and call this author an idiot? Do not press the power button while reading this column, some progress may be lost. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about tutorials. They are in nearly every game out there except those artsy fartsy games that “don’t need them”. Even Dark Souls has a tutorial and that game is the king of no hand holding. It’s ingrained into our gaming lifestyles by now and it’s just something that happens automatically now. But are they valuable? Are they even necessary anymore?
I’m an egotistical prick, so I will start off with some bragging. I’m pretty good at games. I can pick up a game and at least be on an intermediate skill level instantly (except sport games, but who cares about that). The main reason for this is simply that I have played so many games in my life that I just know how to do things instantly without any assistance. I astound some people when they show me a game I haven’t played and I play it perfectly and sometimes even better than they do. It’s just how I am as a gamer. And to link this all to the topic of tutorials is easy. I don’t really need them anymore.
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Give me a twitch style shooter and I’ll be playing it instantly. I might need a quick glance at the controls just to see where everything is, but that would be it. But then I have to sit through the entire damn tutorial where I have to crouch underneath some boards and jump over a damn fence for the millionth time. It’s basically a waste of my life at this point. I dread the first minutes of a game now because I have to do dumb stuff that I’ve done so many times already before I can get into the whole “game” part of a game.
I’ve really noticed how tedious and stupid tutorials can get when I watched some of Jim Sterling’s Let’s Plays on his YouTube channel. He plays games off of Steam for the first time in most of his videos and in all of them there’s like 5-10 minutes of solid tutorials. Most of it is just worthless dribble like “click on the inventory tab to access your inventory” and so on and it genuinely frustrates me. Tutorials are supposed to help you get to know the game’s mechanics that aren’t present in other games, not highlight painfully obvious things.
Then you get games that push it way too far with their tutorials. Assassin’s Creed 3 is probably the most famous example I can give. The first 2-3 hours of the game is basically one massive tutorial disguised as story progression. What you then get is a tedious process of doing obvious stuff until you are allowed to do things on your own. That’s a little too much. The other is GTA IV. When you’re 20 hours into the game, it will still give tutorials on how to do stuff which is just ludicrous. By that time, you’ve either already figured it out for yourself or just know how to do it already.
But. And this is a Kardashian level but. Tutorials are still needed, whether we like them or not. I played Knack a short while ago and I set it to normal difficulty. Little did I know that all tutorial messages only appeared on easy. I was genuinely lost. Sure, I knew how to hit stuff and jump, but I did not know the more detailed attacks and strategies. I only found out later that I could do a dash attack for instance. And this is just a platformer game. Imagine if Dark Souls didn’t give you any knowledge whatsoever. You will be lost into oblivion.
Tutorials are useful for getting to know a game, but here is where the catch lies. A tutorial is supposed to explain the nuances of a game rather than things that are already interwoven within the gaming culture. We all know where the jump button is, you don’t have to explain that, but you might need to explain that raising your shield reduces your stamina and so on. This is where developers get it wrong most of the time. They think that explaining the obvious actions constitutes a tutorial. We don’t need that anymore. We already know. We need to know what else we need to know on top of the traditional actions. The obvious stuff we can find in the controller layout already.
Tutorials need to be streamlined more. When you play a new game, you don’t want some dialogue box popping up every 5 seconds explaining where you can find the map and how to properly hide behind a wall. It breaks the flow of a game. Maybe put a short, non-intrusive notification somewhere. It saves time and makes everything simpler. You don’t want your player to feel disconnected within the first few minutes.
That’s how I feel tutorials need to be done. Quick, simple and it doesn’t distract you from the game. Not a 30 minute long snooze-fest where you just want to skip it and be done with it. Maybe you feel different about tutorials. Let me know if you do.