Over the last couple of months I’ve been working on my individual subject treatment on the topic of designing tutorial levels. Now that I’ve completed my research and wrote the paper, I feel like a tutorial expert! 💪 💪 💪
Here’s a quick summary of what I learned:
Goals of a Tutorial
The first goal of a tutorial is obvious: teaching the player how to play the game – but there are a couple of other less obvious goals as well. The tutorial should sell the gameplay to the player, get them excited about the game and into the mindset of how to play the game in an enjoyable way. The tutorial should be a solid and entertaining first experience of the game. This is likely the first part of the game they will play, so the tutorial should be engaging for players and make a good first impression. When designing a tutorial, it is important to make design decisions not only to teach the player but to entertain them as well.
Design Strategies & Methods
- Utilize a separate tutorial space
- Break gameplay into lessons
- Teach gradually through experience
- Organize lessons into a narrative
- Drive the lessons home
What to Avoid
- Interrupting gameplay – pop ups, walls of text, etc.
- Controller schemes
- Giving incorrect control prompts
- Taking mechanics away
With this knowledge under my belt, it was time to design the tutorial level for Disco Is Dead!
Breaking Gameplay into Lessons
First, I broke the fundamental gameplay mechanics into teachable lessons. Core concepts that the players should be familiar with before finishing the tutorial level:
- Basic enemies and directions (down, left and right) – how to defeat enemies
- Health – where the health bar is and its purpose, what happens when it reaches 0
- Range – where the range to slap enemies is
- Stamina/Burnout – where the stamina indicator is, what it means, what happens when it’s empty
- Shield enemy – how to defeat it, which direction to slap in
- Buddy bar and buddy mode – how to fill the bar, how to activate buddy mode, how gameplay changes during buddy mode and why it is useful
Teach Gradually Through Experience
Next, I sequenced the lessons gradually throughout the level, so the player could learn gradually through experience:
- Incoming slow basic enemy for Player 1. The announcer will draw attention to it.
- When the thug reaches the slap range, the announcer instructs the player that it can be defeated in this range by slapping in the direction indicated by the icon atop the enemy’s head.
- Now let Player 2 try by spawning the same slow, basic enemy down their lane.
- Each player gets an opportunity to test all 3 directions with staggered, slow enemies.
- Announcer draws attention to the health & stamina bars.
- Practice with basic enemies.
- Teach players the new shield enemy and icon – it can be defeated by slapping in any direction with a certain number of hits.
- Practice against basic and shield enemies.
- Introduce buddy bar. The announcer tells players to fill it up to unleash their special move!
- Practice against more basic and shield enemies to fill up buddy bar.
- A large horde of enemies slowly approaches! The game pauses and instructions to activate buddy mode appear.
- Players must activate buddy mode.
- Finish off the level in buddy mode, easily clearing large sequences of enemies.
Organizing Lessons into a Narrative
The lessons are organized to form a narrative with a context relevant to the buddy cop genre. The tutorial is set in an abandoned warehouse where the buddy cops discover an illegal drug operation to bust. They must defeat enemy thugs and reach the kingpin to bring their operation to the ground!
Driving the Lessons Home
Finally, to drive the lessons home, players skills are put to the test throughout the level. Players should demonstrate mastery of skills through practicing the following:
- Defeating basic, big and shield enemies – sequences will get faster, include more enemies presenting a greater challenge as the level progresses
- Repetition of enemy sequences – sequences will repeat for players to practice
- Activating buddy mode – players cannot finish the tutorial until buddy mode is activated
Implementing these concepts into the level required creating a separate system that darkens the screen and slows down the gameplay. I wanted to avoid using pop-ups that interrupt gameplay, and instead slow down gameplay so the players can learn without feeling like they are in danger. Our narrative designer did an excellent job creating dialogue for our announcer to teach the players and enhance immersion in the arcade experience.
Currently, our tutorial is still in its early stages and there’s always room for improvement. I’m still planning on making some changes to how the player is being taught in the upcoming final weeks of development.