What should a good video game tutorial have to be useful

Tutorials are an integral part of all video games; but, at times, they may not do their job satisfactorily. In this text we are going to explore what is a tutorial in a video game and what are some of the characteristics common to those that we consider to be good examples in our world.

Let’s start by making things clear: no gamer likes tutorials . The video game is an interactive medium in which the fun of those who play it comes from the interaction between an individual and a game space. This relationship is usually established in an uninterrupted way, forming what we call the rhythm of the game. Anything that breaks or damages this rhythm makes it less fun until you pick it up again, and tutorials often have a mania of constantly interrupting it. Not to mention that they usually suggest directly how the interaction between the player and the video game should be, influencing those initial bars of the game, which as I already told you that first hour in a video game is the most important .


The use of pop-ups or kilometric texts is common in current games, especially in large productions, where we hope that the treatment of concepts as fundamental as a tutorial is more worked. However, what we usually find is far from this refined work. Elements such as pop-up text, control schemes before each action, or so-called “text walls” are common in current productions, and they cause what we call information intoxication on game elements; that is, the tutorial does not fulfill its purpose of providing relevant information for the player, being generally ignored by the player.


However, tutorials are necessary. Video games are built on systems, relationships and mechanics, and understanding them is a key factor in having fun with a title. Otherwise, we will be blindsided in an environment alien to our reality, something that bores tremendously quickly since confusion is not usually a natural source of fun. By now, many of our readers are probably mentally exploring tutorials that don’t match this pessimistic description. And the fact is that developers are aware of the tedium that tutorials represent, and they have managed over the years to present them in more enjoyable ways, on many occasions successfully. But to understand how they have achieved it, we must first understand what a tutorial is and talk about what we like to find in them.


What is a tutorial in a video game?

A poorly planned tutorial will generate an intoxication of information about the mechanics of a gameA tutorial in the context of the video game is an informative piece arranged to reveal abstract elements of a work for which the players are not able to make a direct association, such as the mechanics or the inputs of a video game. For example, a person does not have to know that in Super Mario Bros jumping on a discovered enemy hurts them, that they must move with the crosshead and to the right, or that we can hit blocks to obtain rewards. The tutorial is in charge of transmitting this information. The tutorials have the peculiarity of being part of the game itself. In this way, we would not say that an instruction book is a tutorial, but we would call the control scheme that typically appears on the loading screens a tutorial, as well as the tips, help texts and various pop-ups that can tell us how the game works.

Curiously, the scenarios and game areas prepared with the aim of teaching the player any of the aforementioned elements are also often called a tutorial. Returning to the example of Super Mario Bros, the famous level 1-1 is a master class that shows all the basics of the game without the need to include text on the screen, it is, for all intents and purposes, a tutorial on how the world of the plumber works .


Because they are informative, the tutorials are usually raised at a late stage of development , often leaving their space to post-production moments. This adds to the sophistication of modern video game mechanics, and makes tutorials receive much less favorable treatment than other essential parts of a title during development, despite the importance of these tutorials. This type of practice often leads to the “bad tutorials” that we referred to in the previous paragraph, a practice so widespread that it seems to have become the norm.


When are tutorials necessary?

Until now, we have assumed that tutorials are an indispensable part of each title but that the complexity of the game mechanics and development times have made it difficult to create good tutorials . While the latter is entirely true, the first statement requires a slight nuance. And it is that the tutorials are the only tool that a title has to teach its mechanics and inputs, but they are not always necessary to understand how a game works.

When we have defined the concept of tutorial, we have said very specifically that its intention is for the player to be able to make abstract associations , but a player can have a previous association: knowing that we must jump “by pressing A” in a platform title or shoot with the right trigger in a shooter are two simple examples if we talk about controls, but these associations can go further. For example, it is common for RPG players to know that random encounters are common in a classic JRPG, or that battles take place in turns. These types of associations and preconceptions are often referred to as ” Offerings “, which is the term that in industrial design is used to name the stimuli that an individual has to carry out a specific action, as well as the possible results after it. In order not to get especially technical, the Offerings in the video game are those ideas that the players already have associated , either by their own experience or by convention within a genre or title, and they are very interesting because they make many tutorials dispensable.


The first step in creating a great tutorial is asking yourself if it is strictly necessary for it to even appear on screenOf course, a developer cannot do without all the tutorials of a work because he senses that the player already knows how to navigate, mainly because he is not sure of it. If you definitely do without these tutorials, the development team would be creating an entry barrier for your title. No one who does not have the necessary concepts to play the game could do it while having fun, but being aware of these conventions and designing a tutorial around them is good practice to avoid intoxication of unnecessary game information. Wondering if the existence of a tutorial is justified and proceeding accordingly is the first step toward creating a good tutorial.


“It is better to play than to teach”

The simple consistent choice of what should have a tutorial and that does not already do an excellent job to eliminate the tedium of the self-explanatory texts that we see in many video games, a stop of rhythm in the middle of the action is disastrous, of the same so that the constant threat of a reminder or advice. But even these are harmless if they happen a limited number of times in the course of a title, and fewer of these types of tutorials make them more likely to be consumed by players.


There are situations and videogames in which the assumption of the Offerings is not enoughto supplement a tutorial, be it mechanics that need to be explained so that players know how to continue without getting unnecessarily frustrated, or peculiar controls of a title that must be learned to continue. But even in these cases a skilled developer will be able to make these tutorials a pleasant experience, or directly make these tutorials invisible. It happens as in the cinema, where the maxim of “it is better to show than to tell” permeates many of the stories of its medium, the use of the image is the most powerful resource of cinema, and in many occasions this maxim divides the notable works the mediocre ones. In video games this reality is not so dramatic, but without a doubt the best way of learning in our environment without harming the video game itself is the use of gameplay, its most powerful resource. as a learning tool. Or what is the same,use mechanics to teach new mechanics . Developers often make use of two useful tools to achieve this milestone: tutorial sections and skill walls.

The first refers to the environments controlled and integrated into the gameplay that serve as a “safe zone” for the player to assimilate a game concept before continuing; the traditional tutorial sections are often separated in special areas where the clear aim of these is to convey a concept to the player, but the current level design is more common to see them fully integrated into the gameplay and diverse duration. We have a relatively modern and very clear example in the first Portal , where the title presents the mechanics of portalsfirst without offering control to the player over its placement, showing its use thanks to the distribution of the initial cell, and shortly after giving rise to place our own portals, first monochromatic and later with total freedom. The Valve game is usually defined as a title where the tutorials are the gameplay of the game , and is that in each section we are introduced to a mechanic that twists and explodes until the player is familiar with it, at which point another is introduced , or a combination of several above, always with an initial introductory section, a tutorial area.

The second of the mentioned tools, the so-called skill walls , have always been present in video games to a greater or lesser extent, as it refers to the sections prepared for the player to overcome them using a specific mechanic, not giving rise to error and many times making use of retries or small accessibility adaptations to facilitate its design. A clear example of this we have in the fantastic Super Meat Boy , where the first levels indicate the main mechanics of the game, focusing on the properties of our meat companion’s jump, and which takes advantage of the physicality and immediacy of their movements – as well as how quickly he gets us back into action if we die – so his playersquickly assimilate the most important of the title: how our avatar behaves.

The measured and combined use of both tools allows integrating and introducing game mechanics without the need to interrupt the rhythm of the game, leaving the player to absorb knowledge naturally and taking precedence over the burden of information intoxication. This in the way we have exemplified here is not applicable to all existing genres and titles , but its principles can be applied to a greater or lesser extent. Titles that require strong knowledge on the part of the player to be enjoyed, such as strategy games, also make use of controlled environments and skill walls, although they need to support their teachings with game encyclopedias to cover their vast gameplay.


If you are more interested in this topic, we highly recommend that you take a look at the lecture given by Nicolae Berbece at the GDC 2016 , for having inspired this text, as well as the reading by Ralph Koster: “Theory of Fun for Game Design” , which has served as the basis for some of the ideas presented. Speaking now personally, I hope that this text has been as interesting as it has been fun for me to write it. I wait for you in the next Learn about Videogames!


by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

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