Author Topic: Brainstorming How To Introduce EP and Missions to new (or existing) players.  (Read 5132 times)

Offline x4000

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So, the game isn't even out of beta yet, and we already have a fragmented playerbase.  We have many players who "know how to play," but haven't played in the last couple of months and so find that their knowledge of the game is worse than out of date -- it's downright wrong, making things more confusing and difficult than if they had never played the game at all.

And then there's the issue of introducing the larger game to new players in general, too.  The intro mission is great for getting the base mechanics down, but I don't think that we should be trying to introduce strategic concepts like EP or tiers or missions in the intro mission.  For a couple of reasons: first, it wouldn't help existing players coming back to the game; secondly, people can skip the intro mission and if they're competent at Metroidvania games they can probably figure most stuff out; third, doing that sort of info dump on players out of context (they wouldn't be able to use that knowledge about EP and missions for a while, in other words) tends to cause mental exhaustion and frustration.

But not explaining it at all leads to things like this: http://www.arcengames.com/mantisbt/view.php?id=5543

So!  Before we can move into beta phase 3 for this game, we really need to solve this issue or we're going to wind up shooting ourselves in the foot in a big way.

The concepts that I think need to be gotten across are really simple:

Quote
1. Enemy Progress (EP) going up is bad: the tier of enemies goes up, making them much harder, and the continent gets closer to destruction.

2. Completing missions increases EP, so be careful with that.

3. To make yourself more powerful, you'll need crafting materials that you can get from free-roaming exploration and from completing missions.

4. If you want to craft something that you don't have the resources for, consult the reference info window to learn where to find that material.

5. If you let the enemy tier get to 2 or higher when you only have tier 1 spells, you're going to be in for a world of pain.  So plan ahead!

6. Oh yeah, I guess we should also mention that new materials, spells, enemies, and other objects can be unlocked by completing various objectives.

This is something I'm only starting to think about, but to some extent Keith and I are a bit close to the problem -- making training materials for something you know intimately is always a challenge, though doable.  So I'd definitely appreciate any thoughts that folks have on the matter -- not really for more tutorials, but for ways that the game itself could introduce these concepts.



One idea: Perhaps after completing a mission, there's a popup that explains about EP.  And perhaps it keeps reminding you about that sort of thing every time you complete a mission until you unlock some number of tier 2 spells on your first continent.  That would be mildly annoying for a while, but also a good thing to keep reminding people and quick to click through if need be.

Another idea: Perhaps there needs to be some sort of brief "your most pressing objectives are currently summarized as" that shows up whenever you bring up the escape menu.  It could show to the right of the player portrait, and we could have a settings option for experienced players to turn that off if they find it getting in the way of their normal visibility of the chunk when in that menu.  This idea has a certain amount of appeal to me, because it's something that players would naturally encounter as they are saving the game or exiting or doing any number of other things.  It would be a way of providing needed direction and guidance for some players (either because of their personality, or because they are new to the current state of it), while at the same time not requiring any style of play.

Thoughts?
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Offline zebramatt

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I'm thinking things like your EP creeping up should be normally indicated by the relevant display on your GUI flashing red, pulsing a bit, giving off a +x floaty number or some other affectation which is both eye-catching and unobtrusive. For current objectives, I think you pretty much nailed it in your suggestion above.

As for the rest, it seems to me the norm here would be to have some sort of NPC - an Ilari, one would assume - in your starting settlement who stopped you on your way out and explained, very briefly, what the hell you were expected to do next. Real basic stuff, at that point: just a line or two, covering some of the bits in 3, 4 and 6. The window displayed when conversing with this Ilari should be distinctive in some way: a fancy portrait, fancy edges or something.

Then, add pop-ups of that very same window for just the first occasions on which more salient information might be given: you've just completed a mission, so it pops up to tell you about 1 and 2, very briefly; you've just unlocked a new spell, so it pops up to remind you about how to craft it; you try to craft something for which you don't have resources, so it pops up to tell you about 4 again; everything's about to go up to tier 2, so it pops up to warn you what that might mean; you've gone up a tier, so a brief message about that to remind you; etc.

Once you've seen them all once, many of those things might have other indicators in the GUI but would never show you the pop-ups again.

Then you could add a button in the settings which resets the tutorial messages so that they come up at the relevant triggers once more, in case you've been a way a while and want a reminder.

Also, integrate it a little with the lore - so an Ilari isn't telling you about missions, it's intimating why it might need you to help repopulate; and EP isn't just an arbitrary number, it's the Ilari's way of monitoring the stability of reality; stuff like that. It'll make the tutorial text far more interesting to read, and far less like a tutorial at all.
« Last Edit: January 31, 2012, 07:34:48 PM by zebramatt »

Offline x4000

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I think those are all really solid ideas -- thanks for that!
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Offline eRe4s3r

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So i guess i am alone when i suggest that you make a tutorial companion "thing" that follows us and mentions these things as they are important and relevant and then how zebramatt detailed...

You could make it something like a portable ilari construct with an attitude or whatever ;)

AS i am one of those with "totally wrong idea about the game" right now i would prefer the "catching up with mechanics" was part of the gameplay (after the tutorial mission)

This also has another importance, with showing you can do companion characters you can "spoiler" that companions are possible which will be all the better when they are then implemented ;P

As side-effect, you could also use the "training dog" as a sort of message and info delivery without breaking 4th wall all the time, which is what tutorial boxes are.

The best tutorials are those you enjoy playing.

This isn't just about missions and EP obviously, for just these 2 things you can always just assume we know it (and mention it in the intro mission)
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Offline BobTheJanitor

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I don't have any great suggestions off the top of my head, but a few things to mention about tutorials that may (not) help. In general, infodumps are pretty bad. I don't foresee that happening, so no worries there. Probably the worst sort of tutorial is one that just asks you read pages of instructions and then lets you loose to be totally confused when you run up against those things in the game world an hour or so later. (And with no easy access to the tutorial at that point to figure out what the heck is going on) Far too many games do this, and it drives me crazy.

On the other end of the scale, what I like best is an in-game tutorial that introduces a concept slowly, lets you play around and get comfortable with it in an environment that's similar to a real in-game environment and then moves on to layer new concepts on top of that. The best of the best are those that don't even introduce a UI element until you need it. You just get led along learning one thing and then another at your own pace, until you realize that you're looking at a screen that may be chock full of intricate details and you're comprehending it all like an expert without even noticing what was happening. And then someone comes by and looks over your shoulder and boggles at how you can have any idea what's going on. I know I've played games like this before, although I can't think of an example right now.

But as for games that introduce concepts slowly, one of the best examples is the original Portal. You hardly notice it, but almost all of that game is a tutorial. You get introduced to a concept, then there's a sort of easy test to verify that you really learned it, and then later you have to recall and use it with little or no prompting. You never realize that this is happening, but if you go back and play through with this in mind you'll see it clearly. World of Warcraft did it pretty well too, actually. Start a new mage and you have attack options of either hitting things with a stick, or shooting a fireball. Then you level up a time or two and now you have one more spell, and so on. The leveling curve and the slow addition of new skills ensure that by the time you reach top level you're easily able to utilize 50+ different abilities that all interact in different ways without ever feeling overwhelmed.

Now as for how all this could actually be implemented in this particular situation... I'm not so sure. Perhaps you could stretch the tutorial to sort-of cover the entire first continent. Once you get past the initial tutorial area, offer suggestions about what to do next, then allow free roaming and only pop up pertinent information when the player stumbles across it. And then once you actually beat your first overlord you'll know pretty much all you need to know. Of course, I have no idea if this is easily implemented or if I'm asking for some kind of massive effort. :D

Offline x4000

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Well, I don't want to implement Navi The Fairy, and having a companion when you're supposed to be out Lone Adventuring is kind of beside the point.

When it comes to introducing game mechanics gradually through gameplay, that's something that in my non-professional games I've created (notably Alden Ridge, but also a few others I've done) I've always focused a lot on.  Those were also all non-procedural, though.  The problem is choice: Portal is linear and there are only a couple of solutions to any given problem (if even more than one).  Consequently, they could focus all their talents into that space, and make the game amazing -- for mostly one playthrough.

The challenge with a sandbox game is that players want to get to the parts that grant them freedom as soon as they can.  That's part of why there are some branching elements of the intro mission -- to give the sense of choice right from the start, even when there really isn't terribly much meaningful choice in that tutorial itself.  But as soon as players are done with the tutorial, they're going to want to be able to jump into the game itself right away, and actually get to playing -- but have any new elements that are introduced (such as EP and missions, most notably) either be something they can figure out on their own or that they are told about at the time.

The problem is when you get into "Megaman, Megaman!" territory, as this video so eloquently (and profanely) puts it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FpigqfcvlM

That's been my main gripe with Skyward Sword, for instance -- they could have cut about half the dialogue, and the entire character of whatever-the-master-sword-robot-woman's-name-is, and it would have been a stronger game.  As it was, they constantly had her coming in to tell you stuff they'd just told you, but in slightly different words (or not even that).  And the amount of hand-holding seems higher than I recall from OoT, but I could be wrong.

I guess my challenge is that I have to do a certain amount of "Megaman, Megaman!" because in a procedural sense (or most sort of strategy/simulation game in general) there's just no way around it.  And, hell, that "Megaman, Megaman!" design pattern is epidemic in modern games, and doesn't seem to bother most people that much (though it sure as heck bothers me).  So doing that just a little bit, and doing it sparingly, is probably all that's needed.

I actually feel like zebramatt pretty much nailed it with his suggestion; there may be a few other things to layer on after that, or some alternate things that could be tried if someone has a better idea for some parts of it, but overall that's really just what's unavoidable, I think.
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Offline BobTheJanitor

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Thanks for that video, had not seen it before. I like seeing game concepts dissected for examination (with or without copious swearing).

There's a pretty big gap between tossing up hints to introduce new concepts when they can't be expressed clearly through gameplay, and having the modern game curse of filling the screen with annoying pop-up tips all over the screen. Shoot this guy. Avoid this thing. Shoot this weak point. Press this button to win. Arkham Asylum was pretty terrible about this. The constant pop ups there drove me crazy. It seemed like the screen was always full of button combos being called out for what you needed to do in order to complete whatever you were doing right at the moment. On the other hand, Valve does this same sort of thing pretty well in the Left 4 Dead games. It has pop-up tutorials for you the first few times you do something, but then once the game has seen that you know how to do it once or twice, those pop-ups go away. So the first few ammo piles you come across will be called out with an on screen note and an arrow pointing to them, then once you've used a few and shown that you know what they look like and how they work, you never see those tips again.

Give me the olden days of gaming when figuring out what to do was a big part of the game. I know I have these tools, and I know they do these things, so what if I use this on that... hey it works! That eureka moment of solving the problem is enjoyable, and I hate that new games take it away from you almost completely. Trying something clever and seeing that the developer was clever enough to account for it and that you actually solved the puzzle that way is great. And you hardly find that any more. The only thing that comes to mind from modern AAA titles that does this right is, again, Valve with Portal 1 and 2. If those were made by another company it seems likely they would have had constant pop ups telling you where to shoot each portal and where to get a box and where to put it on the button. It completely robs the player of that great feeling of being the genius who figured out the puzzle.

Anyway, wandering off topic a bit here. I'm sure there are good ways to present specific useful information without being intrusive but while keeping it readily available when needed and then allowing the player to dig into the references for the full writeup if they want. So just like you said, sparingly.

Offline zebramatt

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We're definitely all on the same page about gently introducing the thrust of core game concepts to the player but avoiding constant steering and hand-holding.

I'm reminded of Metroid. Metroid, Metroid II and Super Metroid just dropped you on a planet with little or no background at all, and expected you to get on with it. By giving you a limited skill set which only expanded once you'd employed it to search the available terrain, locate a boss or hidden special item room and upgrade your stuff, it gradually introduced increasing complexity to you, without any need for explicit exposition at all. Often times your new weapon would first be wielded by the enemies you encountered in that area, or just by the boss you just fought, meaning you had an understanding of what it was for by the time you got it yourself - again, with no need to hold the player's hand. You might get the odd, "Hold B to charge a shot" or whatever, but that's it. And in Super Metroid, the master stroke was that certain abilities - most notably the wall jump - were always available to you but so genuinely tricky to pull off that you were unlikely to have done so up until the point in the game when it becomes necessary and, by way of demonstration, you happen to notice a native alien creature performing the manoeuvre to escape.

The sense of working it all out for yourself was remarkable and truly rewarding. You really felt you were a skilled bounty hunter left all alone on a desolate alien world.

Metroid Fusion changed that and for me it was a big mistake. Suddenly you're being led about the place by some chatty adviser. Every ugrade is explained as you acquire it. The next objective is marked on the map. You're literally led by the hand. And it was a mistake which was repeated in Metroid: Other M, and to a lesser extent Metroid Zero. I still love those games but they feature at the bottom of my list of favourite Metroidvanias.

Now, of course, much of that doesn't - and can't - directly correlate to Valley, where everything's a lot more fluid. And the complexity is simply higher, which is a good thing here for sure. But the lessons from the Super/Fusion debacle are well learnt nonetheless. You always want to give the player just enough for them to find their feet, and never any more (unless, perhaps, they ask for it). And when you do tell them things you want it to be just like plot exposition - give a little away, keep much a mystery - to maintain the intrigue and sense of discovery. There's a definite sweet spot in there; it's just about finding it.

But as I say, I'm sure we're all on the same page here anyway!

Offline Terraziel

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The issue with comparing teaching something in AVWW to Metroid or Megaman, is that the concepts AVWW needs to teach us are unrelated to the character, no amount of pressing buttons will allow me to figure these things out, especially when it comes to unlocks.

As I see it, by far the most effective way of teaching, by which I mean the way to do it so that the majority of players will understand, numbers 2,3,5 and 6 of the concepts is with a tutorial Mission, you use it as the very first unlock, hiding something basic and prevalent (say one of the skelebot types), such that players will notice what has happened and investigate other unlocks of their own accord, you also include a couple of tier 2 enemies to demonstrate the difference in tiers. 

1 and 4 are more complex.

1, I would argue, is not true from a player perspective, bugs having screwed me over aside, most of the time I want the tier to increase so that I can get new materials. so you need to decide what point you actually want to get over, because the gameplay says I want it to increase even if the lore says I shouldn't.

4, I think is more a case of making the reference info window more accessible, for example linking it all together, for example on the spellgem workbench both "new spells" and "new materials" should be hyperlinks, then when I get to the individual spells, they should have links to the entries for the materials required, which would in turn have links to the required unlocks.

Offline keith.lamothe

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A couple things:

1) Having a "Mission Completed!" or "Mission Failed!" central-screen-message like the "Crafted" and "Equipped" messages would be a good thing to tack on "+X Enemy Progress!" or something like that to remind/clue-in folks that something else is going on.  I've already implemented the logic for telling it to display those messages on mission conclusion, there's just something causing it to not actually draw right now, but I should be able to fix that when I have a moment.

2) Having the mission listing in the region-detail-window (right clicking on a region on the world map) be thoroughly tooltip'd will probably help.  I've got it doing mouseover for each of the additional rewards and can add it for the main reward for rare commodity towers.  We can also have it list how much +EP will come from the mission and provide a mouseover for that too.  Of course this all relies on the player having the habit of "if I want more info on something on the screen, I mouseover and/or right click it", which may not be a reasonable hope for new players even if we do include some text on the windows saying "mouseover for info" and lines in the tooltips saying "right-click for more info" (which could open a reference page, potentially).
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Offline x4000

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Will respond more to others later.  However:

A couple things:

1) Having a "Mission Completed!" or "Mission Failed!" central-screen-message like the "Crafted" and "Equipped" messages would be a good thing to tack on "+X Enemy Progress!" or something like that to remind/clue-in folks that something else is going on.  I've already implemented the logic for telling it to display those messages on mission conclusion, there's just something causing it to not actually draw right now, but I should be able to fix that when I have a moment.

2) Having the mission listing in the region-detail-window (right clicking on a region on the world map) be thoroughly tooltip'd will probably help.  I've got it doing mouseover for each of the additional rewards and can add it for the main reward for rare commodity towers.  We can also have it list how much +EP will come from the mission and provide a mouseover for that too.  Of course this all relies on the player having the habit of "if I want more info on something on the screen, I mouseover and/or right click it", which may not be a reasonable hope for new players even if we do include some text on the windows saying "mouseover for info" and lines in the tooltips saying "right-click for more info" (which could open a reference page, potentially).

Agreed on both counts.  With the missions (and regions) detail info window in general, though, I think we also need to move some of the extended text into tooltips.  Right now it is definitely a Wall Of Text, and so I (and probably most players) tend not to read any of it whatsoever.  Having less text, and then mouseovers with what essentially amounts to the flavor text explanations of what a mission type is (which you only need to read once or twice in your entire time with the game, anyway) would be a good thing for encouraging reading comprehension of the region details window, which I suspect is really low right now.
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Offline Hyfrydle

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With the unlocks maybe a chart similair to a tech tree would be good and more visual for new players. It could be made so you can clearly see at a glance the unlocks already made and the unlocks required for each new spell etc.

Maybe this could be pushed further making it so players can select a specific unlock, commodity etc and detailed info based on the current continent could provide tips on how to access that item. Perhaps a highlight of possible regions on the map would help newr players too.

A more graphical display for the spell tiers might also work quite well.

Offline x4000

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I really don't have time to majorly redo the GUI of the various screens without delaying 1.0, which is really not the kind of suggestion I was going for.  Also, most of what you're talking about is stuff that you can find in tooltips only, and so doing tooltips on tooltips (hovering over materials in the tooltip showing what you need for a spell) isn't really possible.

The overall progression is supposed to be that, when a player doesn't have outside knowledge of the game:
1. They come in not knowing what spells there even are.  So therefore the connection between materials they don't have and spells that are currently invisible to them is irrelevant.  (And if they do have outside knowledge of the game, well, that's the sort of thing a wiki could hold).

2. When there is a spell that they can see, but which has materials that they don't yet have, then they look at the reference to see where to get the material.  Then go a-questing to get said material, then unlock the spell that they wanted.

That's pretty much the entire feedback loop at the moment for someone new to the game, or that's the idea.  The issue gets confused by experienced players who come into the middle of this and want to quickly know "how do I get this spell back that I used to have but now don't."  That's using foreknowledge that a new player wouldn't have, and thus is something the game itself isn't really bound to answer the player directly.

If you take in outside knowledge of the spells in the game, the game doesn't have to tell you -- for example, in FF7 if you read somewhere about Knights of the Round, then you can also read how to get KotR.  If you don't, but you can't easily figure out how to get it in the context of the game itself, that's not really a problem -- nowhere in the game is it promised that all players will find all content without really exploring heavily or using an outside reference.  That's sort of the nature of any game with exploration elements, at least IMO.  But on the other hand, since the unlocks themselves are all listed in the game here, you can always just focus on unlocking everything and eventually you'll find a way to get everything in the game -- unlike FF7, where a wiki might need to be consulted to get everything because of the obscurity of some loot.
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Offline KDR_11k

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You already have the glyph following you, maybe the Ilari could send messages through that thing.

Currently you do want to make the EP go up since that's the only way to get access to higher tier spells which you need to fight the Overlord in the end.

Offline keith.lamothe

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Currently you do want to make the EP go up since that's the only way to get access to higher tier spells which you need to fight the Overlord in the end.
That's a good point.  Currently you can get higher-tier orbs from higher-tier missions (not all missions are the current tier) but that only goes so far up.  I don't know what tier of spell you need to take out the overlord but presumably tier 2 won't cut it :)  So it may be that there needs to be some way for over-achievers to take on a mission 2-3 tiers higher than them (secret mission, perhaps), but I fear for their safety if they try...
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