On episode 4 of the podcast, I posed my philosophy on how to teach the player the mechanics of the game. I find that I am much better at conveying information via the written/typed word so I figured I would clarify and supplement what I said on that show.
In-game tutorials are very much the norm now. Manuals that tell you the controls, give you back story and other little details about the things in the game are more or less dead. The game itself is now completely self-contained generally speaking, with that back story and other details sectioned off as hidden things to find or buried in sub-menus or something like that. The integration of the tutorial into the game itself does come with benefits, what a button or joystick does is immediately apparent and is learned within the context of that game world. As an example, a manual will tell you that pressing the right shoulder button fires the gun, but the in-game tutorial will give you that and let you learn exactly how that feels, what it looks like and how that action affects the world.
The downside however is the way in which they are executed. The way they are normally done — at least in the early days of polygon graphics – is to section off the first level as the tutorial level, the story is usually contorted or contrived to put the player in a position where they have nothing and slowly they are walked through the process of acquiring a weapon, needing to run and learning the games primary mechanics. This can feel very dumb especially in sequels where the main character must learn all of the things he/she learned in the first game again for some nonsensical reason.
This is most of the reason why I dislike the integration of the tutorial into the story, too often you see the narrative suffer in order to teach game-play. I’m not saying it can’t work this way, the original Halo I think worked quite well in this regard with the Master Chief being woken up and the crew needing to test whether he was combat ready by checking his ability to look and walk. The problem, even when the story lines up well with the need for a tutorial is on replaying the game or if you already know what standard FPS controls are. This level is now a slog, and all the time you spend in it is wishing that you could skip to the part where you are already on the Halo or the “real game”.
My solution is to separate this out entirely. Have the tutorial happen in the game but not be part of the story at all. Have it right at the start, after they chose to start a new game but just before you show them anything. Bayonetta 2 is the perfect example of this happening, now Bayonetta 2 is pretty much designed perfectly in almost every respect but that’s a story for another time.
In Bayonetta 2 The tutorial takes place right before you see the opening cutscene and because of this, it teaches you the basic mechanics of the game without any story contrivances. It’s just a screen where the player can control Bayonetta with an enemy in front of her. The player is prompted to press X to punch, A to kick and then they move onto dodging and learning how witch-time is activated. The tutorial tells the player what buttons do what and they immediately understand the effects of the button presses and the context in which the game expects them. All of this happens in less than 5 minutes(Or however long it takes the player to feel comfortable), doesn’t impact the story and as a side bonus can be completely skipped by players who have played the original Bayonetta or those on the replay.
I would probably use this kind of tutorial in all the games, just because if you think about it, it is essentially the same thing as a manual but it’s just accessible in game. Best of both worlds, but yeah, can you imagine if Bayonetta 2’s first level was Bayonetta having to re-learn how to be an Umbra witch?… Yeah… I’ll take the immediately fighting angels on top of a jet level thanks.