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  • Reflections On Tutorial Design In Puzzledorf

    - Stuart Burfield
  • This article was originally posted here on my blog.


    Tutorial design is something that varies across many games. Some games handle it better than others, and the requirements themselves are going to vary depending on the genre, complexity and intended audience of the game.

    For Puzzledorf, I wanted it to be as accessible to as wide an audience as possible. To achieve this, I used a lot of non-gamers for a base line in my play testing, but then also balanced it with more experienced gamers, both fans of the puzzle genre and those who never play puzzle games. The end result was that the game was fun to a broad range of people, both gamers and non-gamers, puzzle fans and non-puzzle fans, which to be honest really surprised me.

    Strictly speaking, as far as marketing is concerned, my primary target audience is Puzzle and Sokoban players. But since play testing showed it has the potential to have a wide secondary audience, that a lot of non-puzzle gamers enjoyed it, I felt it was super important to get the on-boarding process right, meaning the tutorials and how I introduce new players to the rules of the game. My goals:

    • Make sure anyone can easily learn the rules and controls of the game
    • Don't alienate new players
    • Don't bore experienced players with a long and drawn out tutorial full of unnecessary information
    • Make sure players learn the rules properly, but quickly

    I am going to reflect upon how I attempted to solve this.

    Before continuing, I realise you could make tutorials optional, and that may work for some games. However, I opted against this, since I wanted to reach the widest possible audience. Play testing showed it was necessary to have tutorials.

    Bear in mind the game also has colour blind options.

    Play Testing

    Throughout the process, constant play testing was necessary to make sure the tutorials were effective. My method was:

    • Put someone in front of the game
    • Make them play from the start
    • See how long it takes them to learn the rules of the game
    • If they ask for help, refuse, because I won't be there to help customers later
    • Test with a variety of player types as discussed in the intro

    Through using this process, I was able to refine which methodologies were working, and which weren't. But first, a trip back to the past.

    Past Experiences

    I've made puzzle games before. I made a bunch of small experimental games using Puzzle Script and one for mobile, which taught me a lot. My biggest take away was this:

    "Most people won't read text in tutorials. They will mindlessly zip through it and think they can figure it out on their own."

    The irony was, after having completed the tutorial, people would then ask me questions which were covered in the tutorial, because they didn't read it. Generally they forgot the concept of "Undo" or "Restart", which lead to comments like, "I like the game, but it would be nice if you didn't have to restart the whole puzzle each time," at which point I gently reminded them they can use "Undo" to redo one move (yes, back then I explained things, which didn't help the game).

    The mobile game tutorial was very guided, using text at specific points to explain both the controls and the rules. I don't think a single young person read the instructions. One or two older "non-gamers" did. I came to the following conclusion:

    "If I want to reach the widest possible audience, with a puzzle game, try and remove text completely from the tutorial."

    These were experiences specific to a block-pushing puzzle game. People's willingness to read tutorials for a more complex game like an RPG is probably quite different.

    The fact people got stuck confirmed I needed tutorials, but how to make them actually useful, so that players didn't just skip through and miss all the important information?

    No Text

    I decided to try and have no text - except to explain the controls. One thing I learned:

    "If players get stuck, they are more likely to read and look for help."

    Strictly speaking, the tutorial for Puzzledorf has no text. The controls are displayed as a static image in the upper left corner, but they can be hidden and shown with a key press, and are present in all levels. I have it present across all levels because it's quite common for people to blitz the first 2 or 3 levels, get stuck, then forget how to undo / restart. This was the simplest solution that saved people stumbling around pause menus. Some players also would not realize to go looking for instructions in the pause menu, so this served everyone.

    Other than that, there is no text. Instead, I opted to teach through design.


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