02 November 2012

The State of Games: Tutorials

Virtually every game has them, they've become such a part of gaming culture that tutorials are things we simply must grin and bear - even if they are ultimately unnecessary - but the question is, why?

Anyone who picked up Pokemon Black 2 or White 2 played through the early stages which will be familiar to anyone who has ever played a Pokemon title. I selected my starter (the water Pokemon Oshawatt if you're interested) and received my Pokedex, all well and good.

But then the tutorials set in. You're asked if you know how to use the running shoes, you respond with an affirmative and you're talked through it anyway, this feature has never changed in a Pokemon game, all you have to do is press B in the direction you want to go. One wonders why gamers are given an option at all if you're going to be talked through the process anyway.

This was followed by another tutorial showing you how to catch Pokemon, which cannot be skipped. This too is an element of the series which has never changed, lower your Pokemon's health as far as possible, throw a Pokeball and hope it goes in. If GameFreak ever choose to change how this process works then yes, there should be a tutorial even for veteran series' players but until that point in time you shouldn't be made to sit through it and you do have to sit through it.

By that I mean you don't even have control during the tutorial, an NPC shows you how it's done and then advises that you follow her lead in future. You're not even given the opportunity to try it for yourself in a practice environment if you're a novice player.

I am not alone in pondering the state of tutorials in games today.

Last year former Epic producer Cliff Bleszinski  tweeted: "In a world of YouTube, wikis, and forums one can't help but wonder if this connected generation even needs tutorials in their games."

I think he's wrong about this. Some aspects of a game can be tough to grasp from reading about it on a wiki or even from seeing it done on YouTube. There is something to be said too for discovering how to play a game on your own. I have been compelled to use these services to help play many games but the fact is sometimes there isn't any help available or what assistance is out there just isn't enough. Sometimes you'll play a game before people have been able to make guides.

Some of you no doubt remember the controversy last August over what Gearbox developers internally referred as 'Girlfriend Mode' in Borderlands 2. It was a poor choice of words, inferring that women were inherently inferior gamers, which is by no means the case, however the core concept of the mode - essentially a version of the game for new players or noobs - was sound, there is even an argument to be made that a similar option should be available in far more titles.

While Girlfriend Mode wasn't the actual name of this feature, the Mechromancer skill tree, the concept of somewhat leveling the playing field should be welcomed as a potential means of enticing non-gamers into the fold. If you've never held a controller before it can undoubtedly be a daunting prospect to try to master.

Should there be tutorials? Yes, of course, but if, fundamentally the mechanics haven't changed as in Pokemon or even Assassin's Creed free running sections they should at least be optional. A possibility to consider is the Uncharted series' feature whereby at certain points of the game you can choose to push the right stick to highlight something important.

You don't have to do it and the camera is only taken off your hands if you choose to do so and returned immediately once you drop the right stick. If this same mechanic could be applied to tutorials than many of the problems that exist within this gaming staple would surely no longer be problems. Alternatively developers could endeavour for that rarest of tutorials, one where it's not clear you're playing a tutorial at all.

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