1 (edited by Cheeseness 2012-01-31 00:59:12)

Topic: In-game Tutorial Level(s)!

Sorry in advance, this is probably going to be wordy big_smile

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 forwards

  • Stopping

  • Turning corners

  • Moving in circles

  • Freeform deflection practice

  • Deflection along an angled path

  • Basic jumping

  • Jumping over an obstacle

  • Jumping over a gap

  • Coins

  • Power ups

  • Teleporters

  • Switches

  • Timed Switches and elevators

  • Ramps

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.

Any thoughts?

Post's attachments

screen00002.png 339.66 kb, 51 downloads since 2012-01-29 

screen00004.png 381.88 kb, 62 downloads since 2012-01-29 

screen00005.png 347.3 kb, 50 downloads since 2012-01-29 

tutorial_test.map 281.76 kb, 105 downloads since 2012-01-29 

tutorial_test.sol 377.69 kb, 88 downloads since 2012-01-29 

Cheese
==========
cheesetalks.net

2

Re: In-game Tutorial Level(s)!

Glad to see you're getting the ball rolling (ha ha).

Some scattered thoughts. I don't have IRC logs from when we discussed this a while back, so I may contradict myself here.

First and foremost, I do strongly believe that our easy levels don't do a good job of carrying across what is expected of players. There's some misguided hand-holding and some lack of focus. What I'd like to see instead is quick, early introduction of the basic concepts that players will be dealing with. For this we obviously should figure out the basic concepts and the format of introduction.

Format-wise I'm actually not very fond of having a designated tutorial, i.e., where the player has everything laid out in front of him and is asked to perform a series of essentially meaningless actions. Instead I prefer an introduction that is a discovery process, explaining something only when it is non-obvious. This is not far from how rlk did it originally.

So rather than pop up a message saying "use the mouse to move forward" and then ask the player to move forward, and then test to confirm that they have... we would instead have an obvious destination in the level, maybe pop up a message saying "get to the destination" as a courtesy, and let them figure out the rest. But then, the destination could be the goal entity, and suddenly the player knows how to move around and what their typical destination looks like.

(As far as implementation, I think we discussed revisiting the warp goal idea. In this case the goal might, for example, warp to a different spawn point in the same level, instead of popping up the usual score screen.)

After that, every concept to be learned can be turned into an obstacle in the player's way to the destination (for the sake of stating the obvious). The vast majority of these will not need to be explained. Successfully reaching the goal is all the feedback that is needed.

As far as concepts, I'd like to see practical skills and elements covered, like basic movement, speed control (stopping, balancing, etc), items, triggers, etc. I won't attempt to list them here since I haven't really attempted to identify all of them.

BTW, a few things that you have listed are oddly specific, that I guess I don't see as needing explanation or being an identifiable concept, like:

"turning corners", "moving in circles" - moving around obstacles is basic movement, and moving in circles doesn't seem like a particularly useful skill to master.
"jumping" - all three kinds of jumping are the same, and don't actually require any skill aside from moving forward. Might be interesting to see bouncing covered separately, though.
"elevators", "ramps" are not really worth covering separately, since they're all just moving platforms (which is worth covering as a concept) and non-moving platforms (which is totally self-explanatory).

3

Re: In-game Tutorial Level(s)!

I forgot to explain what I meant by "misguided hand-holding".

The easy levels religiously attempt to prevent the player from falling out by putting up protective barriers around the playing field. There's only a handful of levels scattered throughout the set where falling out is even an option. But what these barriers actually do is prevent the player from learning to move properly, avoiding obstacles (such as the barriers themselves), and learning the most common failure condition in the game.

So there. That's my new motto. Fall-out early, fall-out often.

4

Re: In-game Tutorial Level(s)!

parasti wrote:

Format-wise I'm actually not very fond of having a designated tutorial, i.e., where the player has everything laid out in front of him and is asked to perform a series of essentially meaningless actions. Instead I prefer an introduction that is a discovery process, explaining something only when it is non-obvious. This is not far from how rlk did it originally.

I agree that that's the best thing to aim for. That said, I think starting with a very defined and directed approach to identify the skills that need to be covered and then deconstructing that into a more freeform experience is a good approach.

So rather than pop up a message saying "use the mouse to move forward" and then ask the player to move forward, and then test to confirm that they have... we would instead have an obvious destination in the level, maybe pop up a message saying "get to the destination" as a courtesy, and let them figure out the rest. But then, the destination could be the goal entity, and suddenly the player knows how to move around and what their typical destination looks like.

(As far as implementation, I think we discussed revisiting the warp goal idea. In this case the goal might, for example, warp to a different spawn point in the same level, instead of popping up the usual score screen.)

After that, every concept to be learned can be turned into an obstacle in the player's way to the destination (for the sake of stating the obvious). The vast majority of these will not need to be explained. Successfully reaching the goal is all the feedback that is needed.

Sounds good (I didn't put goal entities in my map as it's all one single map and that would have gotten confusing).

One problem with goals though is that they don't require a controlled stop (slamming into goals at high speed is fine when you're playing the game, but not really a suitable way of identifying whether players are learning good ball control). Sharp corners with obvious fallouts might be a way to help force players to stop/slow down?

I'd be keen to see a more direct control prompt (eg: "Moving the mouse will tilt the world in that direction. Move the mouse forward to make the ball roll towards the goal.") perhaps after a time delay or a set number of fallouts in case players aren't understanding the mechanics for whatever controller they're using.

As far as concepts, I'd like to see practical skills and elements covered, like basic movement, speed control (stopping, balancing, etc), items, triggers, etc. I won't attempt to list them here since I haven't really attempted to identify all of them.

That's what I was trying to identify when I put this stuff together ^_^

"turning corners", "moving in circles" - moving around obstacles is basic movement, and moving in circles doesn't seem like a particularly useful skill to master.

Being able to turn around in a tight circle is a pretty important skill and a part of avoiding obstacles and fallouts IMO. They're definitely part of 'basic movement', but I can see value in introducing wide turns and tight turns separately from each other.

"jumping" - all three kinds of jumping are the same, and don't actually require any skill aside from moving forward. Might be interesting to see bouncing covered separately, though.

Yeah, bouncing probably fits under "controlled falling" which I'd mentioned that I hadn't tried to address.
With regards to the jump stuff, I'm a fan of presenting concepts with increasing degrees of risk. In the first jump example, there's no penalty for not performing the jump. In the second one, the wall prevents players from being able to move forward until they've come off the ramp properly, and in the third one, the penalty is a fallout. This type of progression is a good way to reinforce concepts IMO.

"elevators", "ramps" are not really worth covering separately, since they're all just moving platforms (which is worth covering as a concept) and non-moving platforms (which is totally self-explanatory).

Ramps aren't moving platforms, they're slopes (visible off to the right of screen00005.png).

I think you're saying that horizontally and vertically moving platforms aren't worth covering separately. The type of control needed to stay on an upwards moving platform is very different from what's needed to stay on a horizontally moving platform, IMO.

Cheese
==========
cheesetalks.net

5

Re: In-game Tutorial Level(s)!

I think that all of the ideas mentioned here are good but also believe that people basically prefer to start playing the game immediately rather than going through a tutorial feature first - so I'd recommend to put the focus on improving or let me call it "properly balancing" the learning curve.
The first bunch of levels really COULD MAKE THE DIFFERENCE whether a newbie decides to stick with the game; one very important step here could really be - as parasti already said - to get rid of all the barriers in the easy levels. It should be only natural from the beginning that "falling out" is an essential part of the game; barriers are just completely atypical for what is to come in the later levels.

6

Re: In-game Tutorial Level(s)!

I think we're of the opinion that the tutorial type stuff that we're talking about would become the first bunch of levels (or at least that they wouldn't be called a "tutorial" in-game).

Cheese
==========
cheesetalks.net

7

Re: In-game Tutorial Level(s)!

parasti wrote:

...moving around obstacles is basic movement, and moving in circles doesn't seem like a particularly useful skill to master.

Agree with that, I can think of only one level (TDF V) where circular movement really is required

8

Re: In-game Tutorial Level(s)!

dtb wrote:
parasti wrote:

...moving around obstacles is basic movement, and moving in circles doesn't seem like a particularly useful skill to master.

Agree with that, I can think of only one level (TDF V) where circular movement really is required

To clarify, it's more turning around  than going in circles that I was talking about - an important part of avoiding walls and picking up coins that are close together.

Cheese
==========
cheesetalks.net

9

Re: In-game Tutorial Level(s)!

Cheeseness wrote:

One problem with goals though is that they don't require a controlled stop (slamming into goals at high speed is fine when you're playing the game, but not really a suitable way of identifying whether players are learning good ball control). Sharp corners with obvious fallouts might be a way to help force players to stop/slow down?

That's what I mean. It's a level design problem, rather than a programming problem.

I'd be keen to see a more direct control prompt (eg: "Moving the mouse will tilt the world in that direction. Move the mouse forward to make the ball roll towards the goal.") perhaps after a time delay or a set number of fallouts in case players aren't understanding the mechanics for whatever controller they're using.

If player is moving at all, successive fall-outs are more likely to mean that he's struggling to complete a challenge rather than struggling to figure out the controls. Showing a hint at that time wouldn't be appreciated, I don't think. I'd be more inclined to just show it at the beginning, if at all.

With regards to the jump stuff, I'm a fan of presenting concepts with increasing degrees of risk. In the first jump example, there's no penalty for not performing the jump. In the second one, the wall prevents players from being able to move forward until they've come off the ramp properly, and in the third one, the penalty is a fallout. This type of progression is a good way to reinforce concepts IMO.

I don't mind that at all. I just don't see the concept that's being presented in this case. Or rather, I don't see "jumping" as being that concept. To win, I just have to move my mouse forward. That's the skill I'm learning from it. (Before I saw the level, I thought that "jumping" would introduce corner jumping... which is admittedly not very high on the must-know list.)

Ramps aren't moving platforms, they're slopes (visible off to the right of screen00005.png).

I know what a ramp is. I think my overuse of parentheses confused you.

I think you're saying that horizontally and vertically moving platforms aren't worth covering separately. The type of control needed to stay on an upwards moving platform is very different from what's needed to stay on a horizontally moving platform, IMO.

Indeed. To stay on a vertically moving platform, mostly you just have to stand still, which is very different from staying on a horizontally moving platform...

10 (edited by Cheeseness 2012-02-02 00:57:04)

Re: In-game Tutorial Level(s)!

parasti wrote:
Cheeseness wrote:

One problem with goals though is that they don't require a controlled stop ... Sharp corners with obvious fallouts might be a way to help force players to stop/slow down?

That's what I mean. It's a level design problem, rather than a programming problem.

To a degree, definitely. Coming-to-a-stop triggers could still have uses in giving feedback (and potentially be an interesting addition for mappers). As you say, though, it's probably not essential for the type of tutorial stuff we're looking at.

If player is moving at all, successive fall-outs are more likely to mean that he's struggling to complete a challenge rather than struggling to figure out the controls. Showing a hint at that time wouldn't be appreciated, I don't think. I'd be more inclined to just show it at the beginning, if at all.

It's hard to know without playing and playtesting with some new players. If we're still looking towards iconifying prompts until a player moves near to their location on the map, deeper help/hints could be unobtrusive and easily ignored.

Either way, that kind of stuff isn't likely to effect implementation of a prompt/popup feature.

I don't mind that at all. I just don't see the concept that's being presented in this case. Or rather, I don't see "jumping" as being that concept. To win, I just have to move my mouse forward. That's the skill I'm learning from it. (Before I saw the level, I thought that "jumping" would introduce corner jumping... which is admittedly not very high on the must-know list.)

I think there's an element of precision (if you're not properly lined up, you can potentially miss the top of the ramp) and timing (if you're not moving fast enough, you may not clear whatever obstacle is in front of you) with jumping as well. Coming to a stop following a jump is a little more technical than coming to a stop from a roll. It also serves as a safe introduction to bouncing.

Corner jumping is kinda neat, but I agree, it's probably not used or required enough to present it to new players early on.

A jump that required the player to pass through a hoop/hole, or land in a specific place could be a good way to focus on the precision I mentioned earlier.

I know what a ramp is. I think my overuse of parentheses confused you.

Gotta work on your grammar, man big_smile
The structure of that sentence totally places elevators and ramps into a non-divisible set. You could put "respectively" on the very end, but that's a little awkward.

What is it that you're saying that ramps shouldn't be covered separately from?

Cheese
==========
cheesetalks.net

11

Re: In-game Tutorial Level(s)!

Cheeseness wrote:

I know what a ramp is. I think my overuse of parentheses confused you.

Gotta work on your grammar, man big_smile
The structure of that sentence totally places elevators and ramps into a non-divisible set. You could put "respectively" on the very end, but that's a little awkward.

It's a non-divisible set of both moving platforms and non-moving platforms! tongue

I was saying that ramps are non-moving platforms or static level geometry, there's nothing special about them that makes them introduction-worthy. I didn't realize that you're really saying to introduce slopes (of which ramps are a kind of). Slopes are cool, I agree we should cover that.

12 (edited by Cheeseness 2012-02-02 14:50:19)

Re: In-game Tutorial Level(s)!

parasti wrote:

It's a non-divisible set of both moving platforms and non-moving platforms! tongue

lol, putting it like that makes it worse big_smile

I was saying that ramps are non-moving platforms or static level geometry, there's nothing special about them that makes them introduction-worthy. I didn't realize that you're really saying to introduce slopes (of which ramps are a kind of). Slopes are cool, I agree we should cover that.

Yeah, I was surprised that you didn't think it was worthwhile (and that you didn't make the connection straight away - we're not doing well on the communication front in this thread  :doh:  ).

Ramps are probably the best style of slopes for introductions - they present the concept of non-horizontal terrain in an easily understandable context so that concept wise, it's a small(ish) step when curved ramps/rounded hills/non-linear slopes/whatever are used in proper levels. I've always gotten the impression that learning to deal with curved slopes is part of the intended challenge of levels like Easy 7 and Hard 4. Thoughts?

Cheese
==========
cheesetalks.net

13

Re: In-game Tutorial Level(s)!

I don't know why I missed this thread. Anyway, I made a demo map

Post's attachments

demo.map 119.35 kb, 87 downloads since 2012-09-04 

~DEV