Dev Blog 2: The Art of Tutorials

Howdy, strangers!
If someone were to tell us that one of the hardest things we’d be tackling in our game-building process was “developing a functional tutorial”, we would’ve probably laughed our asses off. Making the combat feel exciting? Sure, hard. Designing and implementing Bosses? Yeah, we’ll probably mess that one up.

But here we are, months into developing, with arguably a fun combat system and interesting bosses (I might be slightly biased about that one), and at our 3rd attempt of a Tutorial area.

Where did it all go wrong, you might ask? Let me tell you…

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For our 1st Tutorial, we decided to go through the “Dark Souls” route. No hand-holding, no prompts. The player would find various “tutorial stones” around the beginning of the game, and he could interact with them to read about the commands and mechanics. We’re a Souls-Like game after all, right? That ought to be the way!

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Turns out, it is not. Although we definitely do share similarities with Dark Souls, our game also gives the player slightly more abilities than Dark Souls does at the beginning. Besides the basic movements, dodges, and attacks, the player would also get a “Rage Buff” mechanic, a “Discharge” attack that interacts with the said mechanic, and a charge-up move that builds as you deal damage.  We would’ve never guessed, but it turns out that giving a new player that many buttons and mechanics, and then say “Good luck!” turns into a pretty abysmal experience. On top of that, our initial area was very open, with no clear sense of direction.

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Many players would be totally lost, and after finally finding their way into the 1st Boss, they would get pretty much smashed, since they didn’t grasp the basic mechanics of the game, either because they ignored the Tutorial Stones, or they rode them quickly and then forgotten all about it in their attempt to find their way forward.

We brought a demo with the said tutorial to a convention in Italy (Svilupparty).

We had a great turn-out, having our demo being played pretty much 9 hours straight by players, some new, some returning trying to finally defeat that pesky boss.

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It was a great experience but having to constantly “remind” the players about the mechanics and seeing maybe 3% of the total being able to defeat the 1st Boss was quite a shock.

That experience really, really opened our eyes to how a proper tutorial was KEY for our players to get into the game and be able to tackle the tough challenges ahead.

Once returned home, and resumed working, my good friend and Co-Founder Francesco told me his plan. He wanted to make a new, exciting tutorial. He wanted a quick, thrilling encounter that’d keep the player engaged while teaching the mechanics. We came up with this “Dark Crystal”, engraved on a gate, that would create “darkness-like” tentacles, and the player would learn the mechanics as he fought it off, trying to progress.

I was somewhat skeptical, mostly because the tutorial experience was really compressed, teaching all the mechanics in a row, and having the player repeating them only once. But as I looked into his eyes, I saw pure, burning determination. Is it at that point that I knew he would not only be able to make it. It is at that point that I knew, without a doubt, that not only he’d succeed, he’d triumph.

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Alas, it was a total flop.

For a lack of time, and maybe planning, we ended up with a very bare-bones concept of the 2nd tutorial. It basically ended up being a short encounter, filled with quick-time events, and, shamefully, a couple of bugs.

Not only did players still struggle to learn the mechanics, but, to our complete horror, many would quit right after completing it, not even reaching the 1st boss. We ended up making the tutorial way “Over the top”, with constant action, new prompts, and quick-time events (that, funny enough, are nowhere else in the game). We think the tutorial was so intense that some players thought “well, that’s the game, I guess” and just stopped playing after completing it.

Returning from the convention, the whole Team felt pretty down, dreading the idea of having to re-design the tutorial once more. But this time, we truly felt we had enough experience to come out on top.

We decided to solve the issues we had in the previous tutorial iterations with two changes:

> We make the initial tutorial area much, much longer. We added sections in which the player would be forced to learn and utilize the mechanics of the game to progress, while re-designing the aesthetics of area to make it more interesting and, hopefully, keep the player hooked.

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> We also scrapped the Crystal idea and designed a whole new Boss, conceived to consolidate the skills the player has learned so far while keeping the player engaged with an exciting fight.

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Our hopes are that this new experience will have new players come out of it with a good grasp on the game mechanics, while craving more challenging Boss fights.

Will it work? Will it flop? We’ll figure that out at our next Event.

Speaking of which, this seems like the perfect time to announce that we had the pleasure of being invited to showcase our game at the Milan Games Week later in September, and then EGX in Birmingham right after that!

We’re extremely pleased to be in such big events, and we cannot wait to showcase our next Demo.

That pretty much wraps it, folks. We’ll probably send out more information about those events and where you can find us there in the following days.

Till next time!

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