Editorial: Tutorials Suck

Well, they do!

By Robert Marrujo:: Tekken producer Kastuhiro Harada recently revealed to PCGamesN that the bulk of players of fighting games don't utilize the tutorial feature found in many titles. Here's what he told the site:

“We can tell with most of our games which modes players are spending time in,” says Harada. “We have that data in our company. You hear a lot of people say this game is great because it has a tutorial but when we look at the data, not many people play these tutorial modes. This is the same when you buy something new, you take it home and you don’t read the manual. It’s a positive for your product if you can say you have a tutorial but when you take a closer look you notice that people aren’t really playing it.“

Harada tells us that Tekken 7’s “story mode was envisioned on teaching the player with baby steps whilst playing the game.” This direction came out of Tekken Tag Tournament 2’s fight lab mode, where players learned the game while playing.

“As you’re playing through the story mode,” says Harada, “you naturally learn things like, ‘oh, this can be side stepped’ or ‘this character has this powerful special move if I learn how to use it properly.’ In the story mode, you can perform these with a simplified command so once you know about it, you can practice to perform this with the normal command.”

I personally love just about every genre of video game in existence, but I have a definite deficiency when it comes to fighting games. For the most part, fighters are incredibly technical. Whether it be the intrinsic mechanics or just the actual input of moves, mastering a fighting game requires a level of skill that not everyone is capable of. I adore Street Fighter, but I could never imagine being so proficient that I could ever even sniff at playing the game competitively.

One thing that developers have attempted to do over the years to attempt to alleviate this dilemma is layer in a variety of tutorials to teach players the basic tenets of their games so that they can begin playing with some semblance of competency. Yet, for all the different times that I've labored to follow instructions in these tutorials, tapping whichever combination of buttons and inputting the correct degree of twist on the analogue stick asked of me, I tend to walk away more perplexed than enlightened at the end.

Which is frustrating. On the outside looking in, fighters should be a no-brainer proposition for newbie players. There's you, there's your opponent, and whoever depletes the other's health meter is the winner. For players like me, however, tutorials attempt to bridge the gap so that we can go from simple punches to elaborate combos, but there's something in the way that these tutorials are framed that proves almost impossible to grasp. I might be able to pull of three of a certain move in a row, but when an actual fight erupts all of that training flies out of the window.

Perhaps part of the problem is that tutorials sort of fly in the face of fun. RPGs fall victim to much the same problem of having to go so in depth teaching the player how the game works to the point that it stops being recreational and instead devolves into homework. Menus and submenus, triggers and supers, and on and on. The tutorial creates a break in playtime and replaces it with study time, ultimately robbing the experience of the enjoyment that its supposed to impart.

I'm hesitant to call this bad game design. A game isn't poorly made if, by default, the average user can't simply leap into the fray and begin playing. Street Fighter isn't a bad fighter just because I don't know how to make Guile do his Flask Kick right out of the gates. In this age of instant gratification, that a video game has the temerity to ask its players to (gasp!) take some time to learn its ins and outs, to grow with it, is really rather commendable.

At the same time, there's something to be said about shattering a sense of immersion when the first few hours with a title are spent reading what's tantamount to the manual that comes with IKEA furniture telling customers how to put their bookshelf together. Games like Super Mario Bros., which came out decades ago, set the standard for how to teach players the basics of gameplay without the need to foist a tutorial upon the player. The act of playing the game level by level taught gamers how Mario controlled, what could hurt and what could harm, and by the end ramped the difficulty up to give the skills they'd developed a real test.

Granted, that's easier said than done when you compare a game like Sonic the Hedgehog, which can be played with one button, to a title like Mortal Kombat that requires many more. At the end of the day, while I can understand and appreciate the need for tutorials, I generally can't stand the plodding, boring pace of them and wish developers could find a way to impart the critical skills they provide without coming across as a GE class in college.

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