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Three Moves Ahead Episode 65: Tutorials and Training

May 18th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 8 Comments · Design, Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


Tom Chick returns after a month away from the podcast to join Troy and Rob in a discussion about designing tutorials for strategy games. Is the failure of tutorial design a root of the decline in strategy gaming? Can you really integrate a tutorial into a story based campaign? What are the responsibilities of the gamer to learn what he/she is doing on a battlefield?

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Dave Perkins’s tutorials for Solium Infernum


8 Comments so far ↓

  • SomeGuy

    Great episode! Nice to hear Tom ask for requests for digital coffee again as well.

    I agree that the non-interactive slideshow/video tutorials are the worst and that the Civ games had the best way to introduce the game’s concepts as you play with Sid’s tooltips and little tips by the building/research recommendations that make it clear that the military or economy was going to be affected by that choice even if it wasn’t immediately apparent.

    Replaying MoO 2, I notice that the lowest difficulty level isn’t named something cute like “peasant” or novice, but “Tutorial.” Clearly the designers intended for you to play through the game and learn as you go along by consulting the manual or the in-game right-click help. You can even right-click any dialog button including “cancel or accept” and get a detailed description of them…how n00b friendly is that?

    I thought Rise of Nations’ tutorial was excellent. It was kind of a mini-campaign of the history of Britain starting with Boudica and gradually introducing core concepts as the campaign progressed through the ages ending with WWII where you used diplomacy to trade resources and introducing you to air units.

    Looking forward to the Distant Worlds re-visit.

  • Otagan

    Rise of Nations came to mind immediately as a reasonably good RTS tutorial. The mini-campaign approach let you get a very solid idea of what the whole game looks like (letting you experience most of the ages), while simultaneously allowing you to skip all the tedious basics if you so chose, with most of the unique features to the game being covered in the last few missions.

    Worst tutorial offenders that immediately jumped to my attention were Hearts of Iron 3 and Victoria, the former for the obvious reasons you already covered in the podcast, and the latter by virtue of lacking a tutorial despite being the one Paradox game that needed it the most. Easily one of the most foolish decisions in Paradox history, right up there with releasing HoI3 in the state that they did, but that’s another topic for another day/podcast.

  • Punning Pundit

    As far as I could tell, there was no tutorial for Hearts of Iron 3: there was a button for it, but every time I clicked it, the game crashed. I don’t know why they included a “crash the game” button, but I sure would have liked a tutorial!

    The Empire:TW tutorial was about 10hrs, and didn’t begin to prepare me for the depths of options the game had. I gave up 5 turns into my first game after the tutorial– I had no idea what to do.

    Maybe Tom wants me to just keep clicking away and hoping to learn something. But life it too short to waste feeling overwhelmed and confused. Especially when I could be playing a game that’s more rewarding…

  • Dirk

    I think Rob was closest to correct on how tutorials in strategy games need to function, and Tom definitely is an “old fogey” in terms of his romantic notion of users relying on the manual to learn how to play strategy games. If there is any aspiration for strategy games to be more than a niche genre with aging demographics, designers need to go above and beyond in creating playable, approachable games and/or having thorough tutorials.

    It is telling that in the strategy board game world there is increasing intolerance for opaque rules and monster games: people want systems they can quickly acclimate themselves to and have some mastery over. This is borne out by everything from sales figures, to the rise and decline of board game companies, to the annual award winners trending more toward lighter games. I am certainly representative of this, as 15 years ago I would opt for something like World in Flames whereas today I am much happier to choose a game like Maria.

    The tutorial needs to teach the game; the manual needs to be a reference source. Anything less and the game in question, and even this genre that many of us love, will go the way of winding watches, or heating up leftovers on the stove as opposed to in the microwave: quaint remnants of a time gone by.

  • Darren

    Hi guys,

    I thought you’d given up the podcast because the Three Moves Ahead page isn’t updated when the casts come out. Luckily I went to the Flash of Steel page and found the missing shows there. :)

    Is this by design or is someone being lazy. ;)

    Keep up the good work with the podcasts. :)

  • Troy

    Thanks for the reminder, Darren. I always forget to edit that.

    We will be doing these weekly and won’t stop without some notice. RSS, my Twitter feed, iTunes…easier to rely on than my editing skills.

  • Chris S.

    I’m a bit behind on my listening so I just finished with this episode. What I would really like to see in strategy games is a programmed approach similar to that used in a lot of tabletop wargames. In a WWII game for instance, the rules for basic infantry combat are the first section, you read that section and then play the two included scenarios that use only infantry and basic terrain. Nothing is disabled in the scenarios, it is simply that they only use the rules that have been read so far. Next you read the section on crew served weapons and perhaps some more interesting terrain. Play the next scenarios, etc.

    I think Tom was right in that most strategy gamers aren’t going to have a problem with reading the manual, but it could be a lot nicer if there was a path to learn things in sequence and use that knowledge in the actual, non-crippled, game.

    For some good examples in board wargames I would suggest looking at the rules for Conflict of Heroes (academy-games.com).

  • Gary Grigsby’s War in the East Review « Fog of Wargames

    […] the time it just isn’t worth the trouble. This problem arises in several ways, including bad UIs, poor or non-existent tutorials, and inadequate manuals or poorly defined […]