Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Blips: Show Me the Way

Source: The Cult of the Peacock
Author: Brendan Vance
Site: BrendanVance.com

Don't you hate in-game tutorials? I do, or at least the forced fit-this-training-sequence-into-the-context-of-the-game ones or the stop-the-action-every-5-seconds-to-read-this-instruction ones. It seems like I'm not the only one, and designer Brendan Vance shares an interesting perspective on the subject. He sees a downward trend where design thinking is replacing artistic vision in the service of ever-lowering the barrier to entry for games. Vance misses the days where video games came with manuals. Instruction manuals offloaded all of that contrived, pedantic in-game instruction into a small booklet that could be referenced at will. While it's simple enough as a player to prefer one learning method over another, Vance argues that the obsession with accessibility as part of a game's design takes a disproportionate amount of development effort for what the payoff begets.

To cycle back, players hate these tutorials scenes (note: I'm not talking about training modes here) and often skip over them without even absorbing the information. I see this happen all the time watching videos of people learning to play new games. They button through as fast as they can because they've gotten bored with the instructions, or perhaps they're feeling impatient after sitting through a loading screen, only to find themselves in control and without a clue what they're supposed to do or how to do it. Then it's a matter of searching through menus of logs to try and find what was just said, assuming those logs exist. A manual would solve this problem and designers wouldn't have spent over half of their time attempting to make the tutorial sections to "user-friendly."

To reverse this trend would take some unlearning. As much as I'd welcome a return to manuals, there is a large portion of the gaming population that has never read one, and is not likely to. However, Vance ends his essay with a call for writers to try and pen their own manual for a game they enjoy, as a kind of "close-reading" exercise. I love this idea, and would be interested to see if anyone takes up the charge. As for me, hmm, Proteus would be a fun manual I think...

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