Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Tutorial and help rewrite

I have two big areas of gsb to fix. Challenges (adding features) and tutorial stuff. My straw poll of friends suggests that the initial mission and tutorial are what needs more urgent work. I was going to scribble this in my default ‘working.txt’ file, which is where I cache my brain, but I thought what the hell, why not just do it in public via the blog?

Current problems with the tutorial/learning stuff

  • Nobody notices the manual, or reads it
  • The timed ‘helpful’ popup windows are annoying and interrupt the game
  • The tutorial windows are often ignored or deleted, and cannot be recalled once skipped
  • The tutorial stuff breaks immersion, and interrupts what should be fun
  • The game is initially overwhelming for some players, and they have no idea what to do or how to do it

I don’t want to spend weeks fiddling with this right now, but it’s clear this needs fixing. I think the first item is a lost cause, it’s a PDF manual so not easily integrated into the game, especially as I’m too stupid to have integrated a built-in web browser for stuff like that (which would be ideal). The only possible tweak would be to have the manual mentioned by a hint when the game is first run, or maybe in a loading-screen tip?

I think just ditching this silly idea of popping up windows when I notice someone hasn’t used a certain feature might be the best idea. Ideally I’ll come up with a less intrusive way to deliver that information. Maybe an easily ignored little scrolling message at the bottom of the screen? The problem is that ship design mode uses 100% of the screen on minimum res…

Maybe the tutorial windows could be a little flashing question mark window that you can click to get help, which the first time player could ignore? (until they realise they need it). That might work much better.

One of the major things I need to do is flatten out the learning curve right at the start. Possibly give the player some starting ships which *can* actually win the first battle, write off the first battle as a tutorial (or add a new ‘trainer’ mission with just one level of difficulty). I could disable  the ‘new ship design’ button at the start, and let the player just learn the basics of the deployment screen for the first battle. Battle #2 could come with a different tutorial window which pointed you at the ‘new ship’ button. If I wanted it REALLY basic, I could also grey out all of the ship orders here too…

In fact I wonder if that is 90% of the learning curve sorted? I guess that people got overwhelmed with setting up orders and designing ships? My idea is that people learn the game like this:

1) learn how to add ships to a fleet and position them (could be mission #1)

2) learn how to use orders to control ship behavior. (could be mission #2)

3) learn how to design new ships (this could be unlocked after mission #2 with extensive popup and tooltip help for that screen)

I think I’ll address the tutorial stuff with this plan in mind. For now, I’ll go through the current system and remove everything that doesn’t fit this ‘new model’.

14 thoughts on Tutorial and help rewrite

  1. When i first played I couldn’t beat the first fight no matter how much I tinkered for a few days but didn’t really worry about it as I was enjoying tinkering with the ship designs and just messing about with it. I reckon having a set up that automatically wins the first level (unless it’s drastically tinkered with) so players get the idea by just watching it would be a good plan.

  2. I suggest you reduce the number of items the player has access to in the beginning. Having to read through all the weapon and item stats could scare people off.
    Make the first level so that it can be beat with only basic weapons, maybe giving the player a choice between 3-4 items per category.
    Also an idea might be to provide no initial setup at all, and maybe pop-up the ship design automatically for the first mission. It wouldn’t be too complex because there would only be a few items to chose from.

  3. Don’t underestimate your audience for this game. I’m guessing 9/10’s will be hardcore, primary PC gamers. I think anyone who gets into GSB is just going to have to screw around for an 1 or 2 to figure things out.

    But of course a tutorial would be great.

    Going off of Zpin’s comments, I’d say, start off: first level , fighters only. Maybe the opponent is just 2 fighter squads.

    Possible idea: those ‘tool tip boxes’ that you have now — instead of putting them in succession, put a layer of those over the deployment screen. The player can choose to go to ‘ok’ and close them whenever he wants. But he can also keep those tool tip boxes open, and maybe move them around the screen, while still interacting with deployment buttons. (Instead having to click ‘OK’ on each box and not being able to interact with the screen while they are open.)

    As you have probably already planned, the ship design screen which just become easier to use, and easier to figure out at first glance, with just a bit more organization — such as all beam weapons grouped together, all missiles — keep the component tabs the same, but group stuff together a bit better.

    For the complexity of the game though, personally I didn’t have TOO much trouble picking it up. Your game is so new and different no one is going to understand it right away, I think.

  4. I didn’t mind the popup windows in general, but it was jarring to have the fight pause and go blue to just have it suggest that I fiddle with the map. Perhaps in some cases leave the game running, just add it in the corner, maybe autodismissing in a minute or so?

    Some game I don’t remember the name of, possibly Dungeon Keeper, had an elegant news system: an icon would slide down from the top of the screen, forming a little stack of icons. You could click on them to open them to see the full message and dismiss them. There might have been an “X” also to dismiss without looking, I don’t remember. Perhaps something similar, maybe with short titles? I might see “Zooming” and “Mini-map movement” sitting in the corner and open or ignore them as I saw fit.

    I found deployment very straightforward, and the popup help seemed appropriate (although again, it would be nice if the rest of the interface remained active instead of disabling). It was the ship building that got me. 15 or so hulls across 3 categorie, 30 or so module options. The only way to learn the details of a given hull or module is to select it. Lots of complex interactions. it was too much all at once. I eventually worked my way through it enough to build the fleet I had in my head. It died horribly several times, and I had so many new variables that I had a hard time figuring out which part was wrong.

    My preference would be an optional series of tutorial missions in which I’m vastly limited in my options. “Let’s build a fleet of simple gunships. That went well, didn’t it? Let’s try your fleet against the next mission? Oops, crushed by missiles, let’s try adding ECM.” I’m thinking very simple missions, perhaps a few ships on each side, to encourage moving through quickly in small steps, but you might do something bigger and try teaching more details in one shot.

    Relatedly, having a summary of the all of the modules would really help with the shopping part of the game. My eyes glazed over as I browsed the available weapons trying to understand tradeoffs. I realize I should have been comparing different classes of weapons but the work to do so was too high. This lead to my trying a strategy that may have been fundamentally flawed (Frigates with long range guns, Cruisers with all defensive systems in front). I still don’t know if the long range Frigate weapons had any hope of destroying the opposing cruiser(s?).

    Happily, after my long email to you last night, I realized that your data files are sweet, sweet, east-to-parse text, so I’ll have my giant table of doom soon enough. Cliff, do you mind if I make said table (just the module and hull names and combat relevant numbers) public, or would you prefer that I keep it to myself? Obviously I’d need to update it or remove it as you patch it.

    On a related note: I like autopatching, but I also like the ability to say, “no” (with the attendant being locked out of the online matchmaking). Since this is a beta, I understand making it mandatory, but I hope that the final game will give me options. My dream options: Autoupdate; Auto download updates, but show me the release notes and ask before updating; Show me the release notes and ask before downloading and updating.

  5. You might want to break down the ‘Other’ tab in ship design as well. I think it would be better to have a separate tab for say, Power Generators and Shields. They are important enough modules that they would necessitate their own tab.

  6. Just had a great idea hehe : Cliff you should arrange the modules in the components screen vertically, instead of horizontally. Give each line the image, and the name of the module. Maybe even better: an inch bar with the module picture, then the name; below that the stats. This system would be much superior to the layout currently, of just each icon arranged in horizontal lines.

  7. As some of my forum posts hinted, I had a really hard time with starting out. Nothing I was doing was getting me anywhere past the first battle. The problem I was experiencing was twofold. First, I had no idea how the stats on the different ship modules benefited me. Yes, I know what range and shield penetration mean and can tell when one weapon is better than the other in this category, but it wasn’t clear to me how to combine components on a ship.

    I also had a bit of problem with the orders in that it wasn’t completely clear as to what behavior the ships took on when combined with other orders.

    Also, instead of tutorial popups, why not have a ? button that I could click, change the cursor into question mark and than click on an area of the screen and get more help on it, for instance, provide a more in depth description or explanation?

  8. I think a few tutorial missions before that 1st battle would be a very good idea. Start small, eg limit the types of weaponry (lasers only) and types of ship (fighters only) and move upwards from there.

    The problem I had with the 1st battle was the sheer amount of variables I had in front of me. It would be a lot easier to learn each side of things in a separate, smaller tutorial battle: formations/orders vs weapon types & capabilities vs ship types

  9. One idea with the tutorial would be to provide ‘extreme’ encounters to show people the basics. For example, a cruiser with heavy armour getting pounded first by a frigate with low-power lasers, and then by another cruiser with torpedos.

    Once the basics are built in, a few missions which slowly build up a basic fleet could then be run through?

  10. I think the battles themselves should be teaching you the game. As mentioned above being given everything in one go provides too many variables. You should gradually introduce everything. The tutorial missions should be very basic. The first real mission imo should only allow you to tweak orders, the next tweak orders plus change the ship layout and so on.

  11. Being one of the people who enjoy GSB from the very 1.0, I dont really agree to that way of thinking you mentioned, cliffski:
    1) learn how to add ships to a fleet and position them (could be mission #1)
    2) learn how to use orders to control ship behavior. (could be mission #2)
    3) learn how to design new ships (this could be unlocked after mission #2 with extensive popup and tooltip help for that screen)

    From my point of view, it was more like:
    1) set up some ships – ANY ships – screw detailed positioning – basic initialization setup would suffice
    2) lose the battle – yes, you need to make the starting ships capable of winning the first round…
    3) mess with the designs (basics) – we could really use in game tutorial what we can expect of each type of weaponry, etc (for example I started using ECM shockers just after I lost a challenge which incorporated them – now i think they are way overpowered…)
    4) win the first battle
    5) mess with the orders (actually, I am sure that I can win all scenarios, on all difficulty levels without a single order excluding 3 basic attack commands) – for me the orders could have more impact on the battle.
    6) go hardcore with designing.

    So basically, the learning curve was different for me, I am curious how was it with all other people…

  12. I’m the kind of gamer who prefers to figure stuff out on there own. So I just explored the game randomly, and it took me about an hour or two to really get a hold of. I hardly read the tutorial tip boxes myself. I’m probably in the minority; but perhaps any tutorial should be optional, with the choice offered instead of just going straight to the first real mission.

  13. I’d be interested in helping with the manual. I have some experience with that sort of thing.

    Roger Foss

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