Teaching players how to play is a tricky process these days. Teaching a dedicated gamer the fundamental mechanics of a game is a tricky enough, while newbies are probably left bewildered by the array of controls and options found in the typical game these days. While a lot of us taking certain game design tropes for granted, others don’t, meaning tutorials are a necessity in just about every game these days. What form they take is where things interesting, however, and there’s a real art in creating a tutorial that’s both great at teaching new players the fundamentals, while also keeping experienced gamers engrossed for the duration.
The vast majority of games sadly don’t quite this right. Just about every RTS is a bewildering array of text pop-ups that expect you to instantly memorise a stream of data. They do next to nothing at teaching you high-level tactics and often fail at even allowing the player to learn the finer points of the interface. It usually boils down to ‘click here’, ‘place building here’, ‘move the unit from here to here and right click to attack’. It’s painting by numbers, which is about as useful for learning to paint as playing Guitar Hero is for learning guitar, let alone be a military general.
One of my particular favourite tutorials to hate on was the original Driver. This forced the player to perform a complex series of driving manoeuvres, against the clock, in a multi-storey car park. It’s the sort of hair-tugging challenge reserved for post-game tests, but you need to be able to perform ridiculous hand brake turns, parallel parking and reverse cornering before you can even begin the story. Poor little 10-year-old me never even got past the tutorial. Sad but true.
How games look to get around the process is where things get interesting. Some prefer to segregate a tutorial off into its own separate menu icon, others integrate them into the campaign. Some back up the tutorial with story elements, while others just list out a series of gameplay mechanics to be completed. Some are skippable for returning players, some are essential playing for narrative reasons. Heck, some tutorials last five minutes, while others can go on for more than 20 hours - I’m looking at you, Dragon Quest. The end result being that no one can settle on what makes the perfect tutorial.
For me personally, the stand-out examples in recent times are The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Prey. The latter has disappointed me with the walls of text it jarringly pops up sometimes, but aside from this, the opening 20-30 minutes are a fantastic example of integrating story with gameplay fundamentals. It’s a strong way to familiarise the player with the basics of Prey. As for Zelda, its intro is practically peerless. It’s the sort of game that only gets worse the longer you play, however, those opening moments are sublime. Within about 30 seconds you’re let loose into a microcosm of the actual open-world, free to do what you what and just generally mess around. It’s a fantastic taste of what the actual game has in store, and it’s refreshingly light of intrusion. Learn by doing rather than being told.
So what do you think are some of the better examples? What are the greatest gaming tutorials you think of? Are they something to be savoured, or do you just skip past them as quickly as possible? Let us know!