December 21, 2014

What Makes a Great Tutorial

Greetings Star Commanders!

Star Command Galaxies Alpha 1 is out! You should check out our brand new website and join in if you haven't already.

One of the biggest questions we have received so far about the alpha is "What Do I Do?" It's almost like we forgot the tutorial. To be clear, we did not. So we want to talk about great tutorials and our approach to teaching the mechanics and strategies of Star Command Galaxies.

The Original Tutorial
Let's start by talking about one of the greatest game tutorials: Super Mario Brothers for the NES. This is been covered many times by many people and probably much better than us, but we will rehash some of the principal concepts.

Basically, the very first area in Mario teaches you all the mechanics of the game. It was designed to teach a new player that getting mushrooms was good, blocks could be hit, and jumping on gumbas wouldn't hurt you, by making these actions almost impossible to avoid. It's elegant, it's simple and most importantly it uses no text.

Super Mario Brothers designed by today's standards

Mario isn't the only game to have an awesome non-tutorial tutorial. We look at Sim City 4 quite often.

Sim City 4
Sim City 4 never told you "You have to build a power plant." You would get that message by zoning a neighborhood and watching it not grow. Eventually you would get a "No Power" icon. The same was true of water, garbage, employment and other game concepts. Yes, there were advisors to help you along the way, but primarily the game showed you that there were certain things that needed to be done before you could continue on. The system, by its nature, enabled you to explore and try new things through experimentation.

The Sims thinking thoughts
The Sims is also a big inspiration for us. Again, the game never says "This Guy Needs To Sleep" - it shows you icons, body language and other hints of what you need to do to keep your character alive and happy - how succeed at the game. This means that ANYONE can pick up the game - kids that can't read yet, people that don't speak english or even new gamers who aren't familiar with common gaming tutorials. It's elegant, it's simple and it's universal.

That is one tired crew
In Galaxies we have similar goals. At this point its very early and, frankly, not working at all but the overall goal is to let the game tell you how to play itself. Early you can't travel because you have no engine. You may build objects but they have no power. There is a sequence and we don't have to tell you "Build an Engine First" - it enables exploration and creative thinking. There is no "right" way to play the game, just some minimum requirements for you to continue on.

We want anyone to be able to pick up Galaxies. I personally have a 4 year old son and one of the more frustrating things I have experienced is his inability to play Star Command on mobile. It wasn't for a lack of trying. The game simply had too many unintuitive concepts that had to be explained through text - something he couldn't read. He didn't know why he had to assign crew, what the enemies were trying to do or what his goals were. All of these elements were delivered through text in hails and popups - not very elegant.

That's not to say we won't have any text. It's still very important to world building and finding out more information on a particular object or character. But with Galaxies it doesn't start with "read this to figure out what your supposed to do" - instead it is "play this and if you want to learn more you can."

Right now this is not working - we will freely concede that. But we won't bandaid it with a bunch of popups that would work but not really fix the core problem. Instead we will diagnose why players aren't understanding certain concepts and help the game explain those better. 

A great example is refrigerators. Right now it simply isn't intuitive to go pick up food pellets, put them in the fridge and then go the kitchen to eat. Telling you to do this wouldn't fix to core problem.

So please bear with us while we try to make the game intuitive instead of putting in temporary or just bad fixes.

Tell us what you find to be unintuitive or what you would improve on that's already in game. Or point us to great tutorials you have used in the past. We read every comment, forum post, tweet and facebook post you send - so join in the conversation!

Next: Food, Energy, Social, Stress!