Tutorials – Confidence / Competence

I was watching someone play the early stages of Rogue Galaxy.  In that game, the tutorials were contextual. So, for example, you could get a reward from an enemy, and a tutorial would explain how to use that reward to upgrade your equipment.  You find an item shop, and a tutorial points it out, and suggests you stock up on items.

However, when I played the game, I assumed I would be too powerful for the boss, and hurried through the early areas.  I never got the tutorial about upgrading weapons, and died as soon as I met the first mini boss.  Thanks to my warnings, my friend had much better luck.  I did find the tutorials in that game to be interesting.  After all, there were plenty of tutorials, and the entire area was linear.  Between the masses of cutscenes, the tutorials, and the linear area, it could be seen as kind of annoying to plow ahead to the boss and if you replayed the area, you would have to grind a while to handle the boss (unless if you exploited some AI.)

On the other hand, you basically have a complete battle and upgrade system to play with very early in the game.  You get more complex options as you play, of course, but it’s definitely a lot more “complex” than, say, the start of Dragon Quest VII.  In Dragon Quest VII, you basically get introduced to characters, a simple quest (requiring some exploration of your hometown,) and then some puzzles and world map exploration.  It’s an extreme example, since it takes about an hour for the average player to rush to get to the first battle.  It takes much longer to unlock the ability to change your job.

I suppose tutorials kind of fall under competency and confidence for me.  Any game where you can build your character tends to make me feel very unprepared to actually play the game.  Take, for example, a D&D style pen and paper game, or something like a MMO where you could buy skills.  Part of this is that it’s very hard for me to feel like I know how I should build a character.  On the other hand, if I have a build, I can simply follow it as much as I think it’s good for my playstyle.  In a badly made game, you may end up being utterly useless until your best skills kick in.  In some complex systems, tutorials can actually give you bad advice (since they may not understand the system) or there’s not enough information to make an educated guess.

So long as I understand how they work, I feel a lot more confident with job change systems.  This means puzzles forcing specific jobs can be annoying.  Take Final Fantasy III DS.  To maximize your stats, you need to get to certain job levels in certain jobs.  At a certain point in the game, all your party members have to be mages.  These classes are basically pointless.  There’s better versions of these jobs which give better stats later in the game.  The only reason why you’re forced to use these earlier jobs is purely due to the fact that you are forced to be a mage in the area.  You don’t learn anything about changing jobs, since there’s really only one correct job to use.  It’s not much of a puzzle, since the alternative is dying.

So why do I find this sort of tutorial annoying?  It is showing you the strengths of the job class.  However, the scholar job class, in particular, is really only useful for the section where they force you to use it.  The low level mage classes are more useful, but they’re only required for the sections where the game forces you to use it.  I’m not making educated choices about how I want to play the game (confidence or competence, so to speak.)  At the end of the game, there’s basically one really good set of classes to use, so experimenting with other classes is utterly pointless in the end.

In Rogue Galaxy, the tutorials give me confidence by pointing out how to use things that the player has at their fingertips.  It’s also assuming competency, since there’s minimal simplistic tutorials about how to fight or walk.  On the other hand, Final Fantasy III withheld options from the player by locking out job classes until the final dungeon area.  I lacked confidence in how to build my character, since levelling up the jobs are done by an invisible point system.  By forcing job classes for all the characters, the game made me feel like it didn’t think I was competent with my job class choices.

In Dragon Quest VII, you are stuck with the base classes and the basic moves for a good amount of the early game, and learning new job classes is pretty slow.  While the game offers dramatic plots, and powerful storylines, the slow pacing and the long tutorial like areas of the game makes it feel like the game assumes I’m amazed at anything it can offer me.  I can’t get confidence about building up my characters, since the statistically best option is to rush until you can use the job class system.  The game forces you to do each dungeon twice and takes a long time before you’re allowed to fight anything. This can feel patronizing.

How could a tutorial help avoid these problems?  For me, allowing experimentation helps give me the feeling of confidence.  This means unlocking multiple options in some manner and enough information to get a feeling for how they work.  A tutorial that makes me feel competent explains things well but doesn’t take too long, or get too patronizing.  Obviously younger audiences need different amounts of information.  However, the pacing, the phrasing, and the ability to skip tutorials can make even a game for pre-teens not too bad to play.

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