Topic: In-game Tutorial Level(s)!
Sorry in advance, this is probably going to be wordy
I've watched a lot of new players play the first two or three levels of the "easy" set and think they've mastered the game. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if the rails on the first few levels didn't encourage/support uncontrollable bouncing - a technique which is more or less useless beyond the first half of the "easy" set.
The reviews and comments we've gotten on Desura seem to suggest that new players are generally jumping straight into the harder levels without learning proper ball control skills, leading them to have negative experiences and discount the game as being too difficult.
I'd had discussions with parasti (and maybe a few others?) on IRC about some of this stuff and we started thinking that an in-game skill building level with some kind of instructional prompt or popup might help new players come to terms with key skills like stopping and tight turns (this is also what sparked some of the recent UI enhancements parasti has been working on).
In the interests of helping round out these ideas, I put together a proof-of-concept level that is divided up into 'sections' that cover the following things (this list is in the same order as the level):
Moving in circles
Freeform deflection practice
Deflection along an angled path
Jumping over an obstacle
Jumping over a gap
Timed Switches and elevators
Currently there is nothing to address goals or control whilst falling.
So the aim of this level thing that I've made is not to be the tutorial level, but work out what kind of feature requirements a tutorial level might have. Here are the things that I could see being useful:
Instructional prompts (which might look something like this)
Respawn without fallout prompts (to help keep the flow going and make sure that falling out whilst learning isn't as much of a negative experience)
Some kind of smooth transition/teleport between segments when objectives have been completed (and a way of triggering that)
Some way of detecting when a player has 'stopped' the ball (this would be key to confirming that the player was mastering control of the ball - for example, coming to a stop after doing the downhill ramp section would prove that they had come down in a controlled manner)
Sequential 'checkpoint' style triggers to detect when a player has performed a specific movement (eg: to be able to detect when the player has moved a full clockwise circle rather than arriving at points along the circle in a non-circular fashion
Dynamically changeable decals to help give feedback to players about whether they are doing the right thing or the wrong thing (eg: a square decal could get a tick in it when the player has performed an action, or a cross that fades away if they've done something else)
Some of this stuff may already be doable (this is my first attempt at a Neverball map, and I definitely don't know everything). The map also has inconsistent caulking, no background, no music, and there are no 'end of segment' goals/teleporters, since I feel that a final tutorial level wouldn't be using normal goals/teleporters to handle the end of a segment. No need to give feedback on that sort of stuff >_<
I've attached a copy of the map (and the sol for anybody who doesn't want to compile it - I've only tested it with a recent SVN build though, so ymmv) as well as a couple of screenshots.