Monday, 23 January 2012

Learning To Fly

Tutorials. Don't you just hate them? Okay, okay! Leading question. I withdraw.

I do purely loathe tutorials though. There's no way round it, I just can't stand 'em. I appreciate that even though everyone in global chat is banging on about how every one of the dozens of MMOs they already played was way better than this current POS they just made the cardinal error of downloading, still every MMO must have at least one person playing who just started today and who never played an MMO before. I appreciate that though most MMOs look and play exactly like most other MMOs they are are all in fact utterly different and hardly like each other at all when you really think about it. Let alone when you don't think about it and let's face it, who really thinks when they play an MMO?

Moreover, I recognize that MMOs are ferociously over-complicated compared to almost any other form of popular entertainment. If you intend to make sense of the tottering stack of stats and skills, functions and commands in even the supposedly dumbedest-down (dumbed-downest?) MMO, the potential learning curve is a sheer cliff face looming over you. And up at the top of the cliff the hardcore seagulls circle, taking aim right at your eye.

Have Flares, Will Travel
Yes, I appreciate and recognize all of that. It's still no excuse for the existence of tutorials.

Wait, let me clarify. It's no excuse for the existence of tutorial zones. Separate instances where all the new players can ride around the play-park on their tricycles with the stabilizers down, caroming off the softened, rounded corners of the scenery, batting at the de-clawed, de-fanged herbivores in the petting zoo with their spongebats, while Captain Nanny of the Toytown Guard trails along behind reading out the rules from The Big Book of How To Play.

We're all endlessly arguing about sandboxes versus theme-parks here in MMO Blogland. It's always been something of a false dichotomy or at least a more granulated scale than the bipolar argument would have it and my position has always been that the sandbox is largely in your head and that just because your park has a theme doesn't mean you have hum along. Well, none of that applies to to tutorial zones.

Tutorial zones are the MMO boot camps where your individuality gets beaten out of you. Oh, its a nice, polite, gentle beating. No name-calling, no shouting, no having your bed turned upside down in the middle of the night, but that individuality has just got to go. You're not leaving the tutorial until you learn to be just like everybody else.

I remember when it was all buildings around here
There's a trick novelists use called in media res. Happens in movies too. Dumping you into the middle of the action and letting you figure things out for yourself. It runs the risk of alienating the audience but when it works it's dynamite because it makes you feel respected, trusted, intelligent. Like when your dad drops you in the deep end of the pool and calls it your first swimming lesson, only with less yelling when you come home and tell your mother and no one has to sleep in the spare room for a week.

And really no-one is going to drown because they couldn't figure out some gameplay mechanic in an MMO. Alright, if they fall off the raft from Halas to Everfrost and don't know about pushing the mouse forward while holding down the left mouse button and W on the keyboard simultaneously then yes someone might drown. Bad example. But it would only be a virtual drowning, and a barbarian to boot so, hey, no harm done, right?

It was a long trip Ma, but we made it! Me and Rocky outside Sanctum!
People that play MMOs are generally not complete idiots (go with me...). They had to be able to download and install the game and register an account. They have to be literate, since most of the instructions and communication in-game will be written down. (And with all due respect to TOR, having every quest voice-acted is not going to be the way of the future, for cost reasons if for no other). It seems to me that people who are able to do all that can be trusted to work out how to play the blasted game by playing it.

Hints, mouseover tips, introductory quests, helpful NPCs or companions, all fine. Adds to the gaiety of nations. Just put them in the same virtual space, virtual time-frame and if you possibly can manage it the same centre of population where everyone who started two hours before you has already arrived. Not in an exploding spaceship, not in a pocket dimension, not 20 years in the future or the past, not in an underground prison or on an island you'll never see again.
Is this Pay-and-Display or On Exit?

Just let us start as we mean to go on. And what brought all this on out of the blue, you may well be asking. I downloaded Star Trek Online and played through the tutorial yesterday, that's what. And it's not even a bad tutorial!



5 comments:

  1. I like them (tutorials)! But you made me laugh - and it was out loud too - thanks

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  2. "really thinks when they play an MMO?"

    The only time I'm not over-thinking everything in my existence is during sleep. I guess the subconscious takes over then. That might be just me though.

    But yeah tutorials are annoying.

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  3. Oh, that seagull line was nice too.

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  4. I'm not a big fan of tutorial zones either. In fact, I've written about the phenomenon of "starter isles" (ever noticed how many of them are islands in one way or another?) before [1]. I especially dislike the ones where you are seemingly thrown into an all-important battle as the hero that turns the tides. Just like the 20 other people around you. By killing some rats or doing other hero-stuff like flipping a lever. Just like the 20 other people around you.

    These "we're under siege! Do something, now!" scenarios are annoying. When I start out in a new world, I'd rather take my time to look around, take a stroll, breathe the fresh air, then get back to quest giver number 1 who will tell me "alright, pup, I guess you better make yourself useful. You don't look like much, so I better get something easy for you so you don't die on your first day here."

    [1] http://randomwaypoint.fajs.de/2011/09/why-do-so-many-games-have-starter-isles/

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  5. I wouldn't mind islands if you could go back to them. The Isle of Dawn in Vanguard is great and the old Isle of Refuge in EQ2 was nice enough in its homespun way, but making the trip to the mainland a one-way, one-time deal just makes the whole thing claustrophobic. It would be make the training much more significant if you could decide to leave, then realize you'd gotten in over your head and come back to get yourself sorted out.

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