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Instructions?

Instructions?
« on: August 22, 2011, 10:41:57 am »

Since we don't considering achieving goals to be very important in our games, in favour of experiencing the atmosphere, we tend to not give players a lot of instructions. We feel that playing around with the game and finding things out -or even making things up- is much more fun than just doing what the designer tells you to do.

But we may be losing players this way. People who don't understand the game and simply shut it down because they don't (reminds me of my own behaviour when I encounter a jump that I can't make or puzzle that I can't solve).

This is from the post in the forum of The Path that triggered this concern:
Quote from: Animarchy
i bought this game almost a year ago. started it up couldn't figure out wtf i was supposed to do.
(...)
a couple of days ago i was bored and had to new games to play so i thought i'd give The Path another shot. same story. this time however i got pissed.
(...)
so i looked online at a walkthrough (...) and finally learned how to play the game. i really wish i would have done that sooner because The Path is one of my favorite games now
(...)
for players to enjoy this game tale of tales should have put a better tutorial in there that explains HOW TO PLAY the game instead of just teaching you the basic controls.
(...)
because this game is so different there is a learning curve and throwing people in blind is going to make a lot of people say "fuck it.

Ideally, I'd almost want to remove any sort of gameplay that would require instruction. But I guess even this would require all players to be more or less the same. Which is not what I want anyway. I want to cater to as diverse an audience as possible.

So how do we help people enjoy our games?
What's your approach?
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Re: Instructions?
« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2011, 12:08:22 pm »

I think the best thing we did was to have a "Do not try and win" note at the start of the game. That should make most player change their attitude.

We also rely on very common FPS controls and I think doing that when possible is a good move (of course for people who have never played games, it is probably worse!). We are very tutorial-like in the basic controls and have goals that are, again, a bit gamey or at least closely related to games (get out of the room, etc). I bet it would be much harder to get across if the goals where more open ended or obscure (eg, "just play around until something happens").
 
So our tips are probably not very good for anyone who wants to stray far from what is normal in games.

What I think is important is to always allow the players to progress (by which I simply mean not being stuck at repeating the exact thing over and over) and to give them some feedback that they are in fact progressing. In films and books, the audience always know that they are progressing their experience. For example they are never stuck reading the same page over and over, until some conditions are met.

However video games lack a generic language for this kinda stuff, so there needs to be some mechanic in the game that makes this obvious to the player.

For instance, one thing I would change in The Path is that the player would bump into a new location of interest if they just kept walking, no matter in what direction they moved. So players would end up meeting the wolf after a certain time (or walk distance) no matter what path they had taken. If long walk distance / time were required to progress there should be constant feedback that they were on the right track, a howling getting louder, etc, which would be the videogame equivalent of "time passes" (for movies) or "page turned" (for books).
« Last Edit: August 22, 2011, 04:29:25 pm by Thomas »
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Re: Instructions?
« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2011, 03:13:58 pm »

The looser (or complete lack of) the gameplay, the more important the UI and interface mechanics should be. Gamey games rely on mechanics - they reinforce the UI in sort of a feedback loop. Notgames don't have this. Notgames are still built on rules though. The rules of the worlds they create. How you interacte with that world and learn about those rules are critical. And I like the Amnesia note that Thomas mentioned. That really helps the player get the right mindset.

For example, as lovely as Ceromony of Innocence was, I found the lack of any obvious feedback and the constantly disappearing cursor frustrating. It's hard to tell if it's doing something or if it crashed. It would be a bit like reading a book and then finding half of the pages were stuck together with bubblegum. It doesn't matter how much you like the book, you're probably going to give up reading it. This isn't a good thing and works against the experience. I also think Thomas is right, the language of (not)games isn't developed. This is going to take time and thought and experimentation.
« Last Edit: August 22, 2011, 06:20:54 pm by ghostwheel »
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Re: Instructions?
« Reply #3 on: August 22, 2011, 04:28:28 pm »

Could this perhaps be a big reason why Casual games got a larger and more diverse audience? Simply because if it so much easier to understand if you are making progress or not.
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Re: Instructions?
« Reply #4 on: August 22, 2011, 06:18:41 pm »

Well, it's kind of logical that easy means larger audience.
There is however a special joy in not understanding, in surprise, in wonder. And judging from the quote above, some people capable of/interested in this still require instructions. They need help to get the the point where they enjoy the mystery.
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Re: Instructions?
« Reply #5 on: August 22, 2011, 07:00:43 pm »

Did not necessarily meant understanding of anything related to the experience, but simply the knowledge that the experience was not stuck.
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Re: Instructions?
« Reply #6 on: August 22, 2011, 08:10:31 pm »

Make seduction, not instruction!
Kiss

No seriously this is a great question. I'm still struggling with the description of The Lake on my website. After possibly one hundred versions I settled with an instruction but one that sounds more like a personal message.

In the beginning it sounded more poetic, in the sense of trying to hint at thoughts behind the whole thing, it was actually better. But I found I had to calm down people, give them some ground to stand on first. But I'm still not happy with it.
« Last Edit: August 23, 2011, 10:33:18 am by Patrick Juchli »
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Re: Instructions?
« Reply #7 on: August 26, 2011, 09:59:20 am »

I admit that while redesigning the gameplay of our Cncntrc prototype, I'm acutely aware of how I'm choosing the metaphors precisely so that I can have words to instruct people how to play. The problem of explaining people how to play is leading design choices.

This sounds like a bad thing. But maybe it isn't. After all seduction is a very codified from of behaviour. You use certain gestures not so much to express how you feel but because you hope the other person will respond to them in a certain way. We just need to be careful that the seduction doesn't lead the player to a place we didn't want to go.
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Re: Instructions?
« Reply #8 on: August 26, 2011, 10:05:50 am »

I think the most successful instructions we ever gave in a game of ours, are those in The Graveyard:
Quote
You walk with her to the bench, in front of the chapel. You turn her around and let her sit down. She looks backwards to the bench when she is ready to sit. She sits.
When you are done, you walk with her back to the gate. And you both leave the graveyard to quit the game.

This is an exact description of the entire game, a walkthrough. And the reason why this works, and why it didn't spoil the game, is that the actions are mundane but you only get the emotional payoff when you actually perform them.
(Maybe this could be a benchmark for interactive experiences: to aim for a emotional effect that comes directly out of the playing and that cannot be spoiled by any description.)
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Re: Instructions?
« Reply #9 on: August 26, 2011, 03:19:42 pm »

You walk with her to the bench, in front of the chapel. You turn her around and let her sit down. She looks backwards to the bench when she is ready to sit. She sits.
When you are done, you walk with her back to the gate. And you both leave the graveyard to quit the game.
[/quote]

Oh, that is really interesting! That might actually be a pretty good bench mark, that you should be able to "spoil" the whole experience through words, and yet not decrease, but perhaps increase, the enjoyment/engagement/etc in the interactive experience. Perhaps some types of videogames are not fitting at all for it, but still might be a good test.
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Re: Instructions?
« Reply #10 on: August 29, 2011, 03:16:50 pm »

I think that in the instructions must be written only technical information. Any other information about the plot and purpose of the game must be independently identifiable from the game by the player.
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Re: Instructions?
« Reply #11 on: August 31, 2011, 08:45:00 am »

I think that in the instructions must be written only technical information. Any other information about the plot and purpose of the game must be independently identifiable from the game by the player.

Why?
From my experience (and as quoted above) you lose players who might be very interested if you don't help them a bit. What's wrong with helping them?
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Re: Instructions?
« Reply #12 on: August 31, 2011, 01:50:21 pm »

Quote
I think that in the instructions must be written only technical information.

Sooner or later you need to have at least one sentence about the content or core of the work you do. Or someone else does. Problem is, what will this sentence be.

Quote
You walk with her to the bench, in front of the chapel. You turn her around and let her sit down. She looks backwards to the bench when she is ready to sit. She sits.
When you are done, you walk with her back to the gate. And you both leave the graveyard to quit the game.

This also works because it's simply well written. The tone is direct, calm, modest yet precise and leaves space for me as a reader. It doesn't tell me what to think, it just tells me what happens. It isn't afraid of false understanding. Maybe the old lady wrote it. It tastes like the game.

I think that's the ideal. The Lake tries a similar description, but is it enough? People just don't expect something of this kind on an iPhone, let alone in an interactive medium ("but it's not changing!") and what follows is that I start interpreting my own work to make it easier to understand.

That's what the original question was about right? That a description for something new might need instruction, a how-to-read-correctly. Which turns the whole thing into education. But then I would destroy the joy of self-discovery, the user's own interpretation of it, it would become a mere illustration of what I'd write, it would die.
« Last Edit: August 31, 2011, 07:38:28 pm by Patrick Juchli »
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Re: Instructions?
« Reply #13 on: August 31, 2011, 05:55:17 pm »

But people just don't expect something of this kind on an iPhone

Maybe my view of the iOS platforms is a little rose-colored since I don't own one, but I totally expect stuff like that. That and the PC are the two places I expect those kinds of things.

Heck even Android has interactive toy-like backgrounds you can install. Play with abstract reactive geometry, meditatively feed coy in a pond, etc.
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