Tutorial Game within game - a suggestion/discussion.

Hi there!

I’ve tried to see how begginer friendly my first game was becoming with my wife (who had never played IF or any adventure game before) by just sitting her and telling “Go ahead, try to play, I won’t tell you anything” - and the results were not good. I tried other games and she started to get the hang of things the more she played, but she would have quited long before if I hadn’t… err… forced her to try for a bit longer.

One thing striked me as curious: she never typed HELP or ABOUT in any of the games I gave her. When I suggested her to do it (to read the “New to IF?” kind of pages in the HELP/ABOUT menus, with example actions and all), she read it diagonaly and told me that it was all too confusing and boring.

I started to think that a tutorial mode, as in Blue Lacuna, in which the parser gives hints along the ride (Try to type EXAMINE SOMETHING to examine an object --> that sort of hints), was probably a good idea; but then I thought that what I wanted for my game would be somehow lost If I “tutorialized” the intro any more than I was already doing. I also thought that many games would “loose” something If they had a tutorial mode in them for the first turns of the game.

So, the two issues are:

  1. A new to IF player may find the texts in HELP/ABOUT menus, with small explanations and lists of regular verbs, to be boring and confusing;
  2. A tutorial mode in the beggining of the game may not always be a good idea, since, for several reasons, it may damage the mood/ambience/challenge/etc that the author is trying to achieve.

This morning I found myself thinking about this and bumped into an idea. I decided to put some work into it and tell you about it. I don’t know if this has been done or discussed before, so forgive me If I’m presenting an old something as a new something.

The idea:
A game (any game) starts and, before the player is in the first room, an instruction would arise:

[If you never played Interactive Fiction before, please try the TUTORIAL GAME first: type TUTORIAL and press ENTER]

Then the player would begin a short game (3 min to 5 min), completely unrelated to the main game, that would teach the player the main instructions common to many IF work. After the player completes the small task, he could explore the tutorial world a bit further or just go and play the main game.

What would this accomplish:
About issue 1: the player learns by playing, so it diminishes the chances that he would get bored and confused.
About issue 2: it allows the author to begin a game as he wishes, without having to think of a tutorial intro.

What would be great:

  1. that such a tutorial game would be the work of the community;
  2. that it would be written so that the source code could be inserted into any game with small chances of conflit with the source of the main game;
  3. that it exists in all IF language (TADS, I7, etc)

I’ve written a short game (Hotel Tutorial) that ilustrates what I have in mind:

So, in this game I’ve tried to:
– create a simple, short plot with a simple task.
– guide the player ALL the way, covering some of the more basic commands.
– use names for things and rooms that would be difficult to conflict with any game - I’ve called everything the tutorial thing (tutorial room, tutorial key, etc).
– leave room to create more explorable things, rooms and puzzles.

What would follow:
– to make it so the game could fit into any game (I don’t know how to do this other than just copying the code to another game).
– to make the Hotel Tutorial more explorable after the Hallway (community driven content).
– to discuss what guidance is the best possible and what guided actions are the best options.
– to port the idea to another language (I only know I7 and I’m just learning it!).
– to clean the code (I imagine, beeing a newbie, that this same game is possible with much more elegant code).

So for now I would love to know what you think of the idea.

Hugs and kisses,

I just tried the tutorial game, and my opinion is that this is an excellent idea!

Before I was half-done reading the post, it struck me that many MUDs do something very similar. Many MUDs have a tutorial area, where the player learns about the peculiarities of the game world and game mechanics before entering the MUD proper. This is achieved by guiding the player through a series of tasks with scripted messages, sometimes starting with teacher her how to use the text parser. Often, different rooms in the tutorial will teach different things. One room might have the player experiment with emoting and using social commands, and another might demonstrate the MUD’s combat system by having the PC attack a low-stat NPC. Usually, the player will be told about the rules of the game, and advised on how to behave in the MUD. If the MUD is focused on roleplaying, one part of the tutorial will probably show off the background of the game world, with example NPCs of various races or factions, and information about the traditions of various cities and kingdoms, etc. Often, this MUD tutorial is completely optional, and the player has the option to skip it after character generation. Other times, the tutorial goes hand-in-hand with character generation, so the player actually writes the description of her PC, and chooses the PC’s race/gender/home city while working through the tutorial. Usually, the tutorial can be aborted at any time by the player with a command, if the player feels confident enough and wants to start the MUD right away. Usually, the tutorial area can never be accessed again by the same character once it has been finished or otherwise left. Often, players are rewarded for completing the whole tutorial by gaining levels/experience or receiving gold or equipment.

Since the concept of a completely separate tutorial works so well in MUDs, why can’t it work in IF? I don’t know that it has never been done in IF, but now that I think about it, I’m almost surprised that it’s not more common.

Good thinking!

The Sleeping Princess has an optional tutorial section which is completely unrelated to the main game.

My instinct is that this kind of tutorial won’t work very well. Sleeping Princess’s tutorial area is pretty boring, and since it’s optional, most people will skip it even if they’re new to IF. If someone wants to play an IF, they generally want to jump straight into the game, not fiddle about in an unrelated mini-game. Even when the tutorial is part of the main game, if it’s optional, players might not bother with it.

The idea of having a standard tutorial level as an extension that authors can just drop into their game is also problematic. Your Hotel Tutorial does a good job of teaching a few basic IF commands, but it’s focused on simple physical interactions - open, get, unlock. What about IF that’s more about conversation, for instance? Players will expect the tutorial level to reflect the main kind of gameplay in the game.

That said, a standard tutorial level might be sufficient for many games, since most IF uses roughly the same set of commands. Making it somewhat modular might help, so that the author has some way of tailoring it to the specific game - for instance, including the travel and ask/tell conversation sections, but not the unlocking tutorial. I think the main problem is convincing the player to use the tutorial - in my experience, new players don’t bother with optional tutorials any more than they bother to type HELP or ABOUT.

I think the best option is a tutorial designed specifically for (and as part of) the game it’s in, and turned on by default. (There could be a default command to turn off the tutorial, so experienced players would know how to turn off the tutorial messages.) Obviously, this is more work for the author, but it means the tutorial can teach the precise skills that the particular game needs, the player is already getting into the story while learning to play, and players who need the help are unlikely to skip the tutorial.

What I think would be particularly helpful is an extension which gives the author a framework for a tutorial, so that it’s easier for the author to build a tutorial that’s specific to his/her game. It would include the ability to give a tutorial script - first teach this action; when that’s done, teach that action - and perhaps the ability to change the script on the fly - if the player uses this action before it’s taught, skip that step (or simplify the explanation); if the player already knows this abbreviation, don’t bother mentioning it. The ability to add explanatory text to error messages would also be helpful - for instance, if the player uses a word that the game doesn’t recognise, explain the OOPS command. And if you wanted to, you could build on the framework to create a standard tutorial level that authors could include in their IF.

I don’t know much about MUDs, but they wouldn’t be completely separate, would they? They’d still be set in the same world as the rest of the MUD, and have the same sort of feel to them, writing style and so on - and the same PC, of course, your new character.

All that said…

It’s true that some IF wouldn’t work so well if it were redesigned to have a tutorial at the beginning. My initial reaction was that maybe these are just better for experienced IF players, but that limits the audience unnecessarily, and would discourage people who might otherwise enjoy the game in question. Maybe a separate-but-built-in tutorial level would be a good idea for these games. In any case, don’t let my negativity discourage you!

I think this is the best idea, but in general I’m not convinced that most IF works need a tutorial per se. The analogy with muds is tough because muds are designed for many hours of gameplay; a discrete tutorial makes sense for that, but not for an IF game which may take a couple of hours or less. I guess you could say that playing many IF games is like playing one mud, but I think the analogy gets stretched a little there.

A bigger issue might be that while many IF works don’t integrate all the standard verbs into their main story and gameplay, the verbs are still available. I don’t know if it’s a good general solution simply to limit the verbs, though that seems to work well for many games with a strong central theme and/or mechanic.

That’s true; a lot of IF is so short that a full tutorial would be nearly as long as the game.

What do you think of Jon Ingold’s approach in Dead Cities, a very short game? Rather than explaining how to play, it suggests a few possible commands every turn; the player can use a suggested command or type in something else entirely. It gives an idea of what kind of commands are possible without explicitly directing the player, and it can also offer a nudge in the right direction if the player isn’t sure what to do.

On a gut level, I mostly agree with you. This does not have to be the fault of it being a tutorial, though. Recent mainstream titles have managed (the words “recent” and “mainstream” being relative) to create fairly unobtrusive tutorial levels that contribute to the story and are fun in their own right. For those familiar with the Hitman series of 3d games, the last installation (Blood Money) had a very well done introduction level - the hints were not particularly intrusive, the pacing was good, and the location (an abandoned amusement park occupied by gangbangers) memorable.

To hit the sweet spot, in other words, the IF tutorial section can’t be allowed to postpone the player’s enjoyment and/or immersion. The solution could be to shape the first area around clean, logical puzzles, and then add a very simple hint system on top of that (a system that only works in this area, and can be disabled by commands such as “hints off”). If the first things the player can see suggests a particular course of action, then the player won’t feel cheated if you tell her exactly how to perform it. After the first successful commands, a context will start to emerge, and at that point the instructions could gradually grow more general. But there would be no reason not to couch what we’re doing in terms of the story from the get-go.

At any rate, I think a tutorial level in IFs is a great idea. It’s obvious that they can be made to detract from the enjoyment, but also, I think, that they don’t have to. After all, there’s a reason why so many games begin in an enclosed area with as little ambiguity as possible, and why the prologue often concludes by taking us out into the game world proper. I consider pacing of that kind to be a kind of tutorial in itself. It teaches the ropes of the game and only afterwards adds layers of confusion. I like it because it doesn’t just build trust in the game engine (or parser), but also establishes the internal consistency of the game itself.

That way, even if we turn off the newbie hints, the sequence’s still going to be something that contributes to the game.

You encorage me just by replying :wink:

I agree with most of what has been said, and I would like to adress some of it:

Yes, but that’s part of the reason I made it a Hotel: it has rooms. Those rooms could have other gameplay aspects explored. I thought of adding a janitor to the hallway to guide the player through some of the character interaction possibilities, but I don’t know how to code NPCs yet, and I just wanted to code a short example to get the idea across and then see if anybody else would like to jump onboard.

Every player - beeing an experienced one or not - will have to work his way through a new kind of gameplay, so I don’t think this kind of tutorial is pointing at that. If an author wants to create a game with different mechanics, he will expect the player to be lost at first and he will have to guide him - unless, of course, figuring out the mechanics IS part of the game.

But the idea for the proposed tutorial is only to give a feel of how the game world interacts with the player in regular IF games. What I got from watching my wife play was that when she got to the “>” thing, she had no idea what to do - AT ALL!

Let me give you a better example:
If I go and play Hitman I expect the arrow keys to move the player, the mouse to make it look around, the click of the mouse to do something, etc. I may not know that I can run in a given way, or jump, or jump and hold, or aim with the crosshair, etc. The tutorial will teach me that, but it expects from me, at least, the knowledge of holding the mouse and move it around.

Well, these basic concepts won’t come so easly in IF - hence the tutorial idea.

I agree, but that has the problem I’ve already adressed and that you ended up refering:

As for this:

I’m afraid of this also. A tutorial could be a boring thing to do when what the player wants is to play the game itself - mainly if it’s non related to it.

So, let’s sumarize this:

  1. big games, or any games that develop slowly, can (should?) have a tutorial level that is built into the game’s setting. Thosed wouldn’t need a side-tutorial.

  2. games with very specific mechanics will have to teach any player anyway - not just non-IF-regular ones. Those wouldn’t also need a side tutorial.

  3. small games or games that want to achieve a given effect from the first action, but that rely on basic IF mechanisms, can benefit from a side tutorial.

  4. writting a good tutorial is hard and it could be non-rewarding, since many players may skip it the same way they skip the HELP/ABOUT menus. Possible solutions?

Well, I’ve enjoyed the discussion so far. Shall we keep this going? :slight_smile:

Good summary, that. Question 4 made me wonder, though: is it actually the case that many people “skip” either HELP or ABOUT menus? I’d argue that it isn’t - most IF I’ve seen tend to throw you into the fray, and then you’re sometimes told (as a side note) that there exists HELP or ABOUT menus. As a beginner player, I sometimes ventured to type “help”, but that was the real choice - i.e. admitting you needed to be rescued. The tutorial as a default or honourable choice is something I associate with graphical adventures.

Maybe that could be dismissed as quibbling over syntax, but I’d argue it’s significant. To make players use the tutorial, it has to be attractive. If we show the player that the tutorial isn’t just a tutorial, nor a sign of weakness on the player’s part, and make it a fun part of the experience, then people will play the tutorials.

Hell, look at Portal. That whole game is a tutorial, an almost picture-perfect example of learning by doing. That doesn’t stop it from being both insanely addictive and eminently quotable.

Why not just have a tutorial extension. You write the tutorial once, and it’s the same tutorial for all your IF games. Part of an INTRO exnension where you can include your abouts and tutorial game and whatnot.

Seems like generally a good idea. People might skip it, but people might skip all the little side things you put in the game. Suveh Nux was half game and half little side things you can do, which most players will probably miss.

On the other hand, how many new IF players are there? The format is archaic, most people play and write because they played the genre when they were younger, right? Or were introduced by someone, in which case they were already given a game to play.

On the third hand (the possession of which may be a reason people on the street look at me strangely), how many new IF players were there - potentially? How many of those actually wanted to continue? I know all of my friends have tried. None, apart from myself, stuck with it, for various reasons. Their common opinion was that IF was just too hard to get into; it was too user-unfriendly.

Plus, as was mentioned above, there are tutorials and then there are tutorials. Teaching basic commands like examine and look is only part of it; teaching smooth use of the mechanics found in the particular game may also need it.

Continuing the example of Portal, that game does teach WASD, jumping, and manipulating objects. Simultaneously, it also teaches the elements unique to Portal - first how portals work, then using portals to travel, then the use of portals to achieve higher velocity, and so on. It does not separate the common commands from the game-specific ones, because everything is supposed to blend.

Therefore, while I do support a tutorial extension in any language out there, I’d advise against making it static. A tutorial that teaches things that won’t lead anywhere in the game can actually be detrimental to play, IMO.

raises hand I thought I might comment on this, since I’m a new IF player who didn’t play the genre when younger and wasn’t introduced to it by someone. Not sure how many other people are out there like me, but we do exist, and we do appreciate authors thinking about this stuff. :slight_smile:

Some things that have helped me as I learn the ropes are:

  1. A question at the beginning of the game asking whether the person has played IF before. If you answer “yes” you get an explanation of the basic mechanics involved in most IF, as well as some things more specific to the particular game. If you say “no” you get a brief comment that HELP or ABOUT will bring up hints, actions specific to the game, etc. Not ideal, perhaps, and not a tutorial, but I’d venture that even the “no” response indicates that typing HELP is an “honourable choice,” and not simply giving up and asking for help. The basic actions outlined in the “yes” response also give a beginner a starting point, and an insight into how to phrase possible actions not included.

I can’t think of the games that actually used this, since a lot have merged together in the past month or so, but I think some by Emily Short do.

  1. A tutorial mode (not a separate section at the beginning, unrelated to the story), like that in “The Dreamhold.” Something that explains what is going on, suggesting actions as you progress through the story. Able to be turned off for experienced players, but default so that beginners can get a handle on things.

  2. A good hints system. When you first start playing a game, it’s not just actions that don’t occur to you (such as trying EAT BREAD), it’s using them all together to solve a puzzle. Progressive hints (when the player asks for them) can go a long way in teaching the types of actions you can do and the puzzles you can solve.

Basically, I agree that the key is keeping things interesting-- a tutorial part that is tacked on to the beginning, and not specific to the game (which, correct me if I’m wrong, is what tggdan3 is suggesting, an extension that is the same for each game) probably won’t hold a new player’s interest, no matter how much they need to use it. It will either get skipped, or the game abandoned completely. On the other hand, tutorial modes or well-written ABOUT pages (such as the one for “Violet,” in which Violet explains the game to you in character) make things even more enjoyable for those of us just starting out. :slight_smile:

Well, I’ll have to raise my hand two times:

  1. I wasn’t an IF player when I was young and now I’m trying to write an IF game :slight_smile: So, the genre has present potential.

  2. I also loved the ABOUTs in Violet! I think that if the menus are more like that, players will read them. After all, everything in the ABOUT menu was, actually, part of the game! Amazing.

Finally: I’m actually starting to dislike my own idea of a side tutorial (main game unrelated) as I read your opinions :slight_smile:

Several people have mentioned wanting a generic tutorial extension. Emily Short has written Tutorial Mode, which is useful for this type of thing. I’m using it in my WIP (albeit in a pretty hacked-up mode) and it works well.

If people are using that extension, I’d be happy to hear about it – I have very little feedback from in-practice applications, so knowing whether it’s useful and/or what problems people encounter would let me refine it a bit.

Another person here who didn’t play it when i was young, here. I got started with the link to Andrew Plotkin’s games at JayIsGames, and really appreciated The Dreamhold. I remember hitting a big bump in Metamorphoses with the first time that examining something revealed another object (also with how the resizing thing worked) and another with A Flustered Duck the first time I had to use the “search” command, so those are things that might be worth putting in a tutorial, if appropriate.

One potential idea for a tutorial extension would be to have features the author could toggle on and off depending on whether they were required in the game. For example, you could set a “lookunder” flag, and if it was true the game would have you look under the bed. Or if the “search” flag was set you’d have to search the bed and find something in the covers. Etc.

Emily, when I get a bit of time (hopefully tonight, but we’ll see) I’ll write up a little bit of postmortem on the way I’m using it and the manner in which I had to change it.

I can say that although it provides a great structure for doing inline tutorials, I wanted/needed to make enough changes that I ended up effectively re-implementing it in my code (still crediting you, of course).

“Search” is a pet peeve of mine. In most cases it’s equivalent to “examine thoroughly”, and I see little reason to force the player to effectively use an adverb. Same with puzzles that require you to examine something more than once without obvious clueing (A Bear’s Night Out, I’m looking at you…)

And Emily’s extension works in much the mode you’re describing. You set up certain tutorial commands in a certain order, and the game prompts you to perform the appropriate action, then gives you immediate feedback after you’ve done it. It’s easy to change the order, change the text, add new commands, or remove commands altogether.

Strangely, I don’t remember having too much trouble learning how to play IF when I was first introduced to it. And, by the way, I was not introduced to IF by anyone. I first experienced IF in an anthology called Adventure Blaster, which was on a CD of freeware and shareware software (I think those CDs were commonly distributed back in the 90s, and I remember playing with several of them as a child). I think my introduction to IF occurred almost eight years ago, but that estimate could be about a year off.

Adventure Blaster contained ten Inform and TADS games, ranking them with a difficulty rating. A Windows front-end application would automatically launch the games with WinFrotz or WinTADS. There was extensive documentation in Windows help-file format, including an explanation of IF for beginners, and instructions for downloading and running interpreted games from the old IF Archive ftp site. I think the helpfile also included solutions and hints for all the games. (By the way, Adventure Blaster is still available on the Archive, in the “starters” directory – ifarchive.org/if-archive/starters/AB10.exe.)

Anyways, Adventure Blaster must have done something right, because I picked up the text parser pretty quickly, and I’m not a person that easily figures things out. Although a lot of the credit for getting me hooked on IF goes to the front-end and helpfiles, the games themselves, particularly the first two that I tried, were also very accomadating. Both Theatre and Wearing the Claw have built-in hints. I know that the Wearing the Claw’s hint system guided me through the entire game. I had a lot fun trying to figure out what to do, and then going back to the hints, and I loved the fantasy story. I had well and truly caught the “IF bug”, as one of the helpfiles put it.

The front-end material is pretty much irrelevant to this thread. I guess the point from my story is that a game should ensure that it has some mechanic in place – whether built-in hints, or a tutorial mode, or something else – that can fully guide the newbie while allowing him or her to really play the game and experience IF first-hand.

Interestingly enough, I’ve tried to introduce some people to IF personally, showing them how to play. And it didn’t work! I never got anyone interested in IF (although I did get one friend to play a MUD a few years ago, which he still occasionally logs onto, last I’ve heard). Oh, too know someone in real-life who also likes text-adventures! :frowning:

Bainespal, I’m curious about whether you played muds before IF?

No, actually, I discovered MUDs some time after I got hooked on IF. I don’t remember how I found out about MUDs – probably just browsing websites about text adventures.

Except… my friends in junior high introduced me to a text-based MMORPG about a year or two after I started with IF, and that game is very similar to a MUD, except it doesn’t have a text parser. The differences and similarities between MUDs, MMORPGs, and IF are interesting. Probably many of the people who play roleplaying-enforced MU*s would make good IF players. For some reason, my impression is that most IF’ers and MUD’ers know little of the other kind of game, and generally both make fun of the other. But that impression is not based on hard facts.