Module: AG0982A - Creative Research

This blog documents my 3rd year research project at Abertay University. The focus of my research is on video game progression, tutorial design, and how to teach the player. My vision statement could be stated as such:

A game often needs to gradually introduce its mechanics and skills to the player. This needs to be done at such a pace that the player is neither anxious nor bored, and needs to be clear without sacrificing challenge. How can this balance be achieved? To investigate this, I've created a simple puzzle game, and released it to a sample of players. I can use data from their feedback to improve my game.

This issue came to my interest when I noticed that many games do a superb job of gradually teaching a player how to master a complicated system (such as Portal), while many other - often more complicated - games are lacking in comfortable and effective tutorship (such as Crusader Kings II), forcing players to resort to online wiki reading, and YouTube guides.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Presentation 3 Feedback, and Traditional vs. Ongoing Tutorials

Today I gave my final presentation on my research. This presentation summarized the issue I chose to approach, what I produced in response to it, and the data I gathered.

In my feedback, it was pointed out that the final product of my research has largely been a focus on difficulty progression (how difficulty changes throughout the game), rather than tutorials (the early stages of the game that focus on teaching the player), and it was suggested that I could change my vision statement in response to this outcome. I think this is a good point, but I'm not sure I entirely agree.

Earlier video games often kept their tutorials in carefully defined sections of the game, at the start, or when the player needs to learn a new control. Though usually effective at teaching the player, these tutorials can be notoriously boring, and subtract from the player's enjoyment/immersion. Many games - in particular those that heavily involve learning throughout the game's progression, such as Portal - take a more seamless approach. In Portal, there is no clear line between an initial tutorial, and the game that follows. Instead, each level could be said to deliver elements of a tutorial, and each level is very much some kind of puzzle. Thus, no part of Portal trades out actual gameplay in favour of tutoring the player, yet the game teaches players how to move, use portals, and solve momentum puzzles. It may seem that the game lacks a tutorial, but in fact, most of Portal is the tutorial. It approaches difficulty progression and information delivery all at once, step-by-step.

This style of ongoing tutorial isn't always possible or appropriate, but it is seeing wider use in modern games. Examples include Company of Heroes 2, Skyrim, Batman: Arkham Asylum, where elements are introduced gradually and seamlessly, without violating the player's immersion. Even after the initial 'tutorial' section is completed, new challenges are gradually handed to the player, such that the pattern of teach-test-repeat doesn't disappear for at least a few hours. Even when more obvious tutoring has ceased - where the game no longer instructs the player through explicit dialogue or suggestion - subtle learning/teaching processes are underway. Long after a player has been introduced to Skyrim's combat, exploring, and looting, the game will still place them against increasingly difficult enemies, requiring the development of new strategies which - in the best of cases - are suggested to the player through a level's design.

This is all to say that, to a degree, difficulty progression can be considered an extension of tutorial design. I've been aware of this from the start of my research, and wouldn't say that my intentions have really changes, which is why I'm hesitant to change my vision statement. Furthermore, if we're viewing tutorials solely as the process of explicitly teaching a player the basic functions of the game - controls and objectives - there doesn't seem to be much left to study. Games work best when the player is taught covertly, without breaking immersion. There are several impressive tricks in wide use to accomplish this. I'm sure there's more to learn in this particular area, but

However, it may be a worthwhile exchange of language to cease describing my chosen area of study as 'tutorial design', where 'progression design' might be more fitting.

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