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  • Reflections On Tutorial Design In Puzzledorf

    [09.30.21]
    - Stuart Burfield

  • Guiding the Player

    So how to teach the player through design? The idea was this:

    "Present them with experiential learning - experiences that teach the rules of the game by demonstration, not explanation."

    I figured the simplest solution was to design introductory puzzles that demonstrated the rules of the game, taught early puzzle solving techniques, and were impossible to fail (or at least nearly impossible).

    My solution was to create a guided path that the player must follow. Since there is only one way to go, they are forced to push the block to continue forwards. It's basically impossible to fail.

    In Tutorial 1, the player is forced to push the red block onto the red cross. There is nowhere else to go.

    Then, the only other place to go is down, where the blue block is. To finish the level, they have to push the blue block around a corner. Without realising it, I am teaching an important technique: how to push blocks around corners.

    Pushing blocks around corners may sound simple, but play testing showed just how many people struggle to see more than one move ahead at the start. Coming at blocks from different angles is the most important aspect of the game, and by teaching it in a small way in the tutorial, this ensures that a wider audience is capable of learning the game. This one technique branches out into all others, and is the first step in teaching people to see more than one move ahead.

    In the tutorial, there's no way to accidentally go the wrong way unless the player goes backwards. Furthermore, they are learning one of Puzzledorf's other unique elements: that different coloured blocks need to go to different places.

    Tutorial 2 (above) follows the same premise as Tutorial 1, offering only one way to go. It introduces a new element - the white boulder. These are unique elements to Puzzledorf - obstacles that have no specific destination, you just have to push them out of the way. Tutorial 2 then teaches the player a few things:

    • You can't push two blocks at the same time (if you try and go up, you can't)
    • You have to walk around the white boulder to push it, reinforcing about coming at blocks from different angles
    • The only way forward is to push the white block out of the way, and since it goes into a corner, it helps drive home the idea that all you have to do is move it, not put it somewhere special
    • Then you can push the red block on the red cross, solving the puzzle, which again reinforces that white boulders are just obstacles

    I use positive reinforcement to further drive home all of these concepts, which I'll discuss further down.

    It's also worth noting that both Tutorial 1 and 2 require just a tiny bit of thought effort - you have to realise to walk around the blue block and white boulder, to push from another angle. It's a small thing, and quite simple, but the fact that people have to stop and think for a second helps stop the tutorial from being boring and makes people pay attention.

    Next I want to quickly look at level 1. It's not strictly part of the tutorial, but it leads on from the tutorial and shows the progression of teaching through experiential play. Teaching through design doesn't stop with the tutorials - I gradually make things harder by slowly introducing new types of problems and new puzzle solving techniques. I try and help nudge the player with thoughtful design, to help them grow in their skills, making sure they have learned one technique before I introduce another.

    Level 1 is the first level with a fail state. If you push the white block all the way up to the top, you "fail" the level and have to either restart or undo. Most people figure the solution out pretty quickly, and it reinforces the concepts from the tutorials.

    • The white boulder doesn't need to go anywhere, but it's in your way
    • If you push the white boulder against a wall or in a corner, you can't pull it, you have to undo
    • You have to move the white boulder and walk around the level to get to the other side of the purple block to push it

    That last point is important. The whole game requires players thinking about the right direction to approach each block from, which often involves pushing one block this way, and then another block a different way.

    By having a simple fail state in level one, and reinforcing some of those earlier concepts, players continue to learn through experience, rather than me telling them what to do, and I see players learn very quickly this way.

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