I know I have it.
This week, my goal involved overcoming it: making… A TUTORIAL!
(My phobia comes not in small part from what’s implied by some pretty insightful arguments about how effective it can be to design a game itself to teach player(s): teaching players any other way is BAD design. I’ve realized though that this depends on what the game is teaching. Design can be very effective at: unveiling story elements, introducing new mechanics, teaching new ways of using old mechanics, and/or simply showing what stuff does in reaction to other stuff; but it’s not very effective at teaching controls or multi-step cause-event chains (like what I have) — and explicit explanations aren’t so inelegant if they can be done quickly and in-obtrusively.)
This weekend I got more playtest feedback that indicated that the game itself isn’t doing enough to show players what is going on†. Even my verbal explanations weren’t helpful.
[†These were casual in-person tests done without the aid of the bullet-point list I’d created earlier, so it was just the game, and me answering questions.]
Though this can mean that the game mechanics themselves are too complicated, it can also mean that my explanations of those mechanics are insufficient. So… which one?
BAD Design or BAD Conveyance?
The way I have been pitching Floral Kombat is “a competitive pollination game,” which seems okay, since it usually elicits the response: “How does that work?”
Then stuff quickly falls apart. My explanation is… well…
“You’re all flowers, and the goal is to fill your pollen meter before your opponent(s). You get pollen from bees, which get pollen from male flowers, so you have to sort of ferry bees between male flowers to get pollen from them. Oh yeah, by the way, you’re specifically a female flower of a type of dioecious flower — those are flowers that have sex organs on separate flowers, which is why you can’t cross-pollinate with opponents or self-pollinate and…”
You get the idea.
Until this week, the game included no in-game instructions other than a “Hold FOO” label that would appear whenever you were in-range of a bee (unless you have bees).
Since many people didn’t read the “hold” part, and, since the indicator disappears once you have any bees, many players would grab bees, wander around and then… and then… not really know what to do. Those who DID figure out that holding causes the bees to give you pollen often didn’t notice that the bees ran out. Those who figured that out, often weren’t sure how to refill the bees.
Those who eventually got everything were able to play, but thought the game didn’t really pop as much as it could and weren’t enthralled by it.
Bad design or bad conveyance? You probably guessed the answer, like, just by reading that heading: BOTH.
How do I Fix This?
I’ve got a game with some design flaws, but also LOTS of conveyance flaws. I have to fix both eventually, but I decided this week to challenge myself to first fix the conveyance to help me overcome my tutorialaphobia.
My brother had said his understanding of the game would have been helped immensely by something as simple as a how-to-get-pollen graphic, so I decided to start there.
My goal was to create a graphic I could show people that would explain clearly and quickly the base information needed to play the game — not how to play it well, just how to play it.
To refresh, my previous list of “what is imporant” was:
- you’re flowers
- those things are bees
- those other things are NPC flowers
- goal = get pollen
- move with [Foo] inputs
and a suggested last item:
- pollen comes from bees when you hold down the attract button and have bees around you
Already, there’s a lot on that list that I could just cross off. The “what stuff is” stuff should be pretty clear at this point… or I should just redo the art.
I’m left with the goal, the movement inputs, and the getting-pollen input.
After more tweaking, I came up with with the following list:
- if bees are in range, PRESS [Foo] to get bees
- if you have bees, HOLD [Foo] to get pollen
- if bees run out, bring them to male flowers
An optional 0th item was added: Input [Bar] to move.
What I came up with was eventually this:
The idea is to make the tutorial be an optional setting you can apply to your character from the character selection screen, and that will be turned on by default until players have played one match (then turned off by default, but still accessible).
What’s cool about this is that any number of players who want can turn on the tutorial option in a match if they REALLY want to, and players can complete the tutorial independent of each other (Originally, I designed a group tutorial that had to be completed by everyone, but I found that confusing. Like, if someone sequence-breaks, it gets complicated to figure out who it is/who is at what step, as a player).
Ideally, veteran players will teach newbies, but I want to provide this as an option. Also, Floral Kombat‘s mechanics are… rather nontraditional. It’s a racing game, but like… yeah.
Oh yeah, you’ll also notice I tried to follow that Title, Image, Caption format that was suggested to me for graphics. I think these look good anyway.
I like that the titles all sound like objectives, and the captions don’t tell you TOO much. Personally, I really like it when a game tells me to press a button, but lets ME figure out what that button did. Like, I don’t mention “THE BEES GO AROUND YOU IN CIRCLES” because, well, you’ll SEE that when it happens.
I should also mention that, in designing tutorial graphics, I DID cheat a little and change something mechanical about the game. It’s subtle, but I changed how bee attraction works. I made bees visibly show when they’re infatuated with a flower by adding hearts above their heads. A bee with a heart above its head can’t be stolen. There USED to be a stealing cooldown time that was, well, like, you know, it would uh… when you stole from Male Flowers, they couldn’t steal back for a while, but like, other flowers could, so … and it would apply to all your bees and…
FORGET ALL THAT.
Now, bees become INFATUATED (represented by the heart) when they’re attracted to something new. When a bee is infatuated, it can’t be attracted to anything else new.
One More Thing
When I was designing tutorial graphics, I started to wonder… how simple could I make the mechanics without losing the core of the game?
I came up with Bee-Ball!
It’s a mode I may or may not add to the game in which you can’t attract, but you CAN bump into bees. Bees turn into bouncy balls that you get pollen from when you hit them, and that get pollen from male flowers when they hit those. The game turns into a giant bounce-fest.
I do want to keep attraction as the main game, if I can successfully teach it and if players like it (not in small part because I find orbiting really really pretty), but I don’t see why not to include this as a game mode, especially since it’s pretty easy to implement (or was when I tried anyway).
If players really do prefer Bee-Ball to the primary mode I’m attempting to design, I’ll consider whether or not I should just make that be the main game.
I’ll leave with just one more screen shot, because I took it, and I think it looks pretty, even though I have one here that basically already shows the same thing (the new control indicator).
Until next time,