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Getting Left Behind by RTS Tutorials

September 4th, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

I finally spent some time with Rapture-iffic Left Behind: Eternal Forces. Not quite knowing what to expect, I jumped to the tutorial to make sure that I wouldn’t miss out on knowing how to cast plagues on my opponents. (It doesn’t look like there will be many plagues.) The tutorial served as a painful reminder that there aren’t many new ways to do a RTS tutorial.

Granted, part of the market for LB is people who’ve never played real time strategy games. They may not know how to left select/right move a unit. And, like just about every single RTS under the sun, this piece of information is conveyed to you by a boring voiceover, a huge text box and blinking objects.

Tutorials are making manuals superfluous in many ways, and I’m all for that. Anything that cuts down the costs of production but doesn’t interfere with my ability to play are cool in my book. (Yeah, I’ll miss the “cool” manuals that had extra stuff, but how many of those do we get a year, anyway?) But the tedium of the tutorial has to go. I can’t imagine any adult novice starting the game tutorial and deciding that this is the game they want to play. If something isn’t blowing up in the first five minutes, I’m not sure it’s an RTS at all.

Singularly unhelpful in the Left Behind game is the zoom level. It’s amazing. You can zoom almost to the moon and get a great look at a drab city. But the minimap is too small to track all your units and you can’t see them very well zoomed out. But, when you zoom in, you can’t find your mission objective five blocks away. This proved frustrating to a vet like me, so I wonder how the expected army of newbies for Christ will deal.

Increasingly, tutorial levels are being made part of the story-based campaign of RTS games. I think I first noticed this in Age of Mythology, though I am certain it predates that great game by a year or two. This is a double edged sword. Though it usually arranges the lessons in a less boring way, it also sticks the player in a story that many will regret finishing. Rise of Legends‘ campaign isn’t very interesting, story wise, and most people will tune out half-way through the Alin section. So you tell players to start a story, but give them no real incentive to finish. In a game like AoM or RoL there is the further hazard that the player doesn’t get to touch half of the factions – which play very differently – unless they follow the story to near completion.

Luckily for Left Behind players, both factions seem to play the same (only the Tribulation Forces are available in the demo) so there is no need to worry about players learning only one way to play.

I know that tutorials are very important and that assuming people know anything is a danger. And any ingame tutorial beats the “read the manual and follow along” format. Is there a way to integrate the tutorial with the skirmish game? Rome: Total War has options for high/medium/low advice – maybe you could have advice pop-up if the player is idle for ten seconds? (“Are you having trouble?” “What do you want to do?” “I see your Timonium is low. Do you want to know how to make more?”) You could disable this, of course, but no decent RTS player stalls for five seconds, let alone ten.

More thoughts on Left Behind to come. It’s arrival shines a light on all the usual RTS conventions because it is so slavish in mimicking them. I’m not sure I want to give these guys my money, but I want to play this thing through. It is fascinating in a Mystery Science Theater kind of way.


One Comment so far ↓

  • Scott Lewis

    The biggest problem with “smart” tutorials, that sense when a player and provide appropriate direction and feedback, is that it’s nearly impossible to discern what the player is intending to do.

    That’s one of the things we’re hitting in Railroads tutorial is determining how telling the player “hey, you can sell stock and get some extra money!” Outside a goose-stepping tutorial, do you wait until they try to build something they can’t afford? Are not making any money? From my experience, it’s clear that the player needs help sometimes, but determining how to detect they’re having a problem is where the difficulty lies.