Intuitive, Tutorials and the new player experience

#1

There’s been quite the talk and concern from the developers in trying to make Infinity: Battlescape accessible to as broad of an audience as possible.
Especially as many new gameplay systems get added the concern of not being able to show new players how these systems work or the influence of trying to nudge these systems in a more “intuitive” direction shows up more and more in discussions about the gameplay systems.

I want to discuss this in general, what works and what does not work and how the goal can be achieved as well as potential conflicts and compromises with other incentives in the system design of the game.


Essentially what the difference is between a player that does know how to play a game, any game really, doesn’t have to be a computer game, and one that does not is following:

  • The person knows on what rules the gameworld works.
  • The person knows what tools he has on his disposal.
  • The person knows how these tools works and with what limitations.
  • The person knows how to use these tools.

As you might think, one does not have to have complete knowledge of these points to be able to play the game or part of a game. Still, in order to be able to play all of a game or play a game competitively one has to have most of this knowledge.
Lets call this knowledge game rules knowledge,

Additionally there is things a player can learn beyond the game rules knowledge. This includes things like how to use the rules to once advantage. Things like tactic, strategy, trick-moves. Some games do teach some of this after teaching the game rule knowledge to the players. I’ll ignore this for now as the critical thing to have someone enjoy a game initially is game rules knowledge in my oppinion.


Traditionally, most classical games teach their rules trough text, rulebooks or teachers. Many of these games require someone or the players themselves to constantly check if the rules are followed and if not can intervene and teach and answer questions about game rules.
In Computergames the game itself does assume the role of the rule enforcer. The game itself is interactive.

So what ways are there to teach someone a game?

I can think of the following four main groups:

  • Description (Rule Books/Manuals/Texts, FAQs)
  • Lecture (Tutorials, Courses)
  • Feedback (Trial and Error, Experimentation, rule enforcer intervention)
  • Imitation (Observation, Copy and Adjust)

As you can see this still applies to all types of games, with Lecture and Feedback more and more being done by the game itself in the case of computer games trough scripted tutorials and rule enforcement or game world simulation.


I think that Feedback and Imitation are naturally the most intuitive learning methods. Even before a person can effectively be lectured or be described something, they already are able to learn most of the rules of our real life world trough these two methods. And the real life world rules aren’t often designed in a way to optimize new player experience. :wink:


Looking at Infinity: Battlescape in its current state it already uses some of the mentioned methods. I would guess that it’s currently split 10/40/50 between tutorial (Quick Start), description (Key Mappings) and feedback (game world simulation).

Imitation does not work that well for computer games as our imitation learning skills as humans are more geared towards practical human body motions. Maybe higher advanced knowledge like tactic and strategy can be conveyed using this method but for game rules knowledge, I don’t see a praticall way.

Feedback on the other hand does work really well in my opinion, even in the state the game is now currently.
What is feedback practically in Infinity: Battlescape? Easy things like: “These buttons make my ship do this” or it’s things like: “Warp under Cooldown”, “Hit Detection Sound”, “Differing Opacity in reticule for currently firing weapon”.

There are a couple things that need to be taken into consideration when trying to design towards feedback.

  • There needs to be a noticable feedback for things happening.
  • It needs to be clear what action corresponds to which reaction. The player needs to be able to connect the two before the feedback disapears.
  • It needs to be clear what action has a positive reaction and which action has a negative reaction in correspondence to what the player tries to achieve.
  • Experimentation and Trial and Error should be encouraged. Delays between trial and error steps should be kept as low as possible and feedback “duration” as long as possible.

On discord @TheCoach brought up the idea of changing the hard binary “emergency warp exit” to a softer transition.
Instead of having a feedback of “Everything is in order” to to “You fucked up”. It would be a more gradual change similar to “Emergency Slowdown” like I proposed last week.
The player is notified “Emergency Air Speed Slowdown” and can instantly try increasing his speed again. He would notice that he is taking damage and thus learn that there is a maximum speed he is allowed to travel inside atmosphere. Trough flying inside the atmosphere he notices that the emergency speed changes and that it corresponds with a marker on his speed indicator. The marker could blink/light up when the warning is active/appear to help that realization.

Another example is Autowarp. In order to provide feedback that autowarp exist and how it works following can happen.
Once the main condition for autowarp is met a big, noticable message is displayed: “Automatic Warp Engaging”.
All needed conditions are notified to the player trough blinking or texts.
For instance:

  • The speedbar has a marker or area that lights up and changes from red to green once condition is met.
  • A prominent “Alignment” Symbol or sound effect is show that points towards the right direction. Arrow or increasing sound effect.
  • The empty area of the energy bar is blinking with an arrow in the fill direction. And changes from red to green once the condition is met.

As said. A checklist would work too but only for binary conditions. Correct alignment is too vague for a new player to understand what to do.


Nevertheless above example change to the warp system would be … a change to the warp system. This change could have implications and conflict with other motives.
If for instance the devs want a maximum speed that should in no case be possible to break in atmosphere above change would violate that design goal.
The problem wit the current implementation is that it vialates following:

  • There needs to be a noticable feedback for things happening.
  • It needs to be clear what action corresponds to which reaction. The player needs to be able to connect the two before the feedback disappears.

Often there is not sufficient time for the player to realize that he has triggered emergency warp exit by flying too fast or turning too hard or not breaking fast enough. There is not sufficient warning to be able to realize this in the first few tries.
Even worse is that further experimentation always has a >10 second delay and thus does not allow for fast trial and error in order to test out the limits of the rules or the current ship.

A compromise is to extend the feedback time or feedback precision so the player knows if and how he can interact with this rule/limit.
A two second slowdown period with blinking max speed meter or a prominent “Unable to slow down. Emergency warp exit.” would show that one did not slow down sufficiently before entering an atmosphere. It would still have the >10 second delay and disincentive to experimentation but it would be a compromise.

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#2

I think an important observation here is that the systems that the player has to learn must be as simple as is humanly possible. It is the use of those systems in interaction with other players that creates the gameplay. Go is the illustrating example, of course. The “system” is placing stones, one at a time, onto intersections of a 19x19 board. It is only when two players alternate moves using that system that things get interesting.

Single player games provide their entertainment by inviting the player to learn and use their inherently-complex systems. The systems themselves are the lion’s share of the game’s entertainment. If that’s repeated in a multiplayer game, then players will be discouraged as they experience a barrier to interacting with other players. Just the act of moving from point A to point B requires effort, so they lose interest.

There’s also the converse, where the more interesting the systems are, the less players are interested in interacting with other players. In fact, other players become a burden, interrupting them while they try to play solo with the systems.

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#3

Let me disagree with you on this: the player’s interaction must be as simple as possible, not the system. The system is the globality of the player’s interactions, both with the players and non-players, not the other way around. Or to put it even simpler, a gameplay / system is set on rules, and the simplicity of rules does not determine the complexity of the gamplay / system.

As you said yourself, GO rules are rather simple, yet the strategy and tactics (or system) that it generates are incredibly deep.
Same for chess, which I know far better: there is little more than a dozen total rules, including pieces movement. Yet the system is incredibly complex as well.

And that’s probably the hardest part: keeping the rules and interactions simple, while allowing complex strategies from it.

Depends what is to be learned. For simple rules, those are both great: you can learn chess’ rules simply by observing players or toying around a chess simulator, which is the rule enforcer.
As for learning the proper chess strategy, although imitation might work at first, you’ll have to get lectures (either self-teaching or courses) if you want to understand and progress faster than only through trial-and-errors.

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#4

That’s a really long OP addressing a lot of issues.

Regarding the warp situation, I would much more prefer a really ‘soft warp’, the player shouldn’t even know he is in warp, no large red sign, no button to press, no velocity requirement, no alignment requirement. The engine is perfectly capable of doing this, it’s a huge strength for IBS against all other space games there. Make warp completely seamless, as velocity increases, increase the acceleration rates, don’t even notify the player until he wishes to do something that is not allowed in ‘warp’, like fire weapons, at that point display a gentle ‘high velocity’ warning and play a dud sound.

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#5

I like the idea of seamlessness, but

  1. Gameplay isn’t seamless, and players need to know about that seam. When outside of viable combat speeds, my weapons should be deactivated.

  2. If speed changes are manual, then approaches to moons and stations will be tedious, with plenty of players either cratering their destinations or simply badly overshooting them.

I’m still waiting for INS to converge on the proximity warp system. I can’t understand why it isn’t being used. We talked about that system for years and nobody could shoot holes in it other than the stuff about small ships intercepting large ones. Solving that shortcoming is a Nice To Have. The basic system is a Must Have. It doesn’t even have to use warp frequencies for ship interceptions. Just implement disruption by moons and stations and such.

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#6

what is this?

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#7

You may find more information there:

#8

The current warp mechanics have a proximity system already. It hasn’t been correctly tuned yet. It’s supposed to limit the warp velocity around stations / planets / moons, so that you don’t constantly overshoot.

#9

Okay, so you’re headed in that direction. I’ll wait to see what you come up with.

I’ll add that I spent only a few minutes with the latest version because of the movement system. The prior version I tried had manual warp and that was clear enough. I didn’t care for it, but I could get around. In the new stuff I started on a moon surface base and wanted to get to a space station. So I stood the ship on its tail and went straight up as fast as possible. I wanted to leave the moon and get going. Well, the automated warp kept trying to kick in, but it kept failing. I didn’t know why, and it was frustrating and distracting to keep going through that process. So I closed the software. Movement is fundamental to gameplay, and if movement is that annoying, it’s not the game for me.

All this is to just underscore @cybercritic’s observation about seamlessness. Movement should be simple. Leave the complexity to the meatier gameplay systems.

As an example, if atmospheres are to supposed to be a deterrent to ships flying in too fast, do stuff to the ship to penalize the pilots of overspeed ships - but don’t destroy those ships. Players need to learn, and destruction is a crappy way to learn about a movement system. Overheat the ship. Take systems offline. Increase the ship’s sensor signature. Do what you like, but don’t compromise the ship’s ability to move. Let ships come in like a meteor - but with every system offline for the next 5 minutes. Or whatever.

I would extend this right up to taking out any reduction in control while in atmospheric flight. If anything, make atmospheric flight easier than space flight, but with the heating problem. You can go fast, but you’re going to overheat your systems and stand out like a meteor on other people’s screens. There should absolutely not be any reduction in control.

Separately, if the forum software allows it, when we type an @ sign and start typing a name, don’t leave out the names of people who have posted to the current thread. Put all names in there. I don’t want to split between navigating a menu of choices (if the person has made a post) and typing out a name (if they haven’t). That’s just awful UI design.

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#10

Weird… The speed threshold for auto warp is so high I have never activated it after my first test. I can only see one reason to abort warp: when the warp speed (set during warmup or remembered from last warp) is below the conventional speed (that should be fixed BTW, just bump initial warp speed to 1.5 times current speed or something). Very frustrating indeed.

I like your signature penalty idea. I would be ok with just a shield and/or energy drain too.

#11

I had the same problem with the auto-warp engagement, it kept engaging then dropping out and I was in space at the time, there seemed to be no way out of the cycle. My guess is I pressed space and disabled auto-assist, which broke the warp velocity vector while the velocity trigger kept firing.

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#12

What problem is auto-warp trying to solve? The only thing I can think of is catching new players who don’t realise the warp exists who just hold W. :man_facepalming: This doesn’t teach the player how to engage warp for themselves and doesn’t even give them an indication of why this thing has suddenly happened.

It’s (sometimes) worth trying things out and in this case I think it should be reverted.

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#13

For a ‘casual’ player the hard warp is too difficult, we had a streamer that played during the previous Alpha weekend and they couldn’t figure out how to engage warp, it was a really awkward situation. There are way too many barriers for a casual player with a million different key-bindings and menu items atm.

And TBH holding W to set velocity seems like a much better idea than the current setup with 10 different keys being used, it would free 1-0 keys for something that’s usually mapped to those keys, like weapons and equipment slots.

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#14

I don’t think pressing a key is too hard to learn for casuals. The reason why some had problems is because there are no hints or explainations inside the game currently except the keybindings screen which they didn’t bother to read apparantly.
Also some people didn’t know how to fire missiles recently and asked how to do it. Is this a reason to make missiles automatic, I don’t think so.

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#15

The game should make it easy to do these things, the worst thing you can do is blame the player for ‘not getting it’. It’s a slippery slope, because everyone becomes an idiot at some point with that mentality.

#16

You can already do that right now, just remap the IncrTargetSpeed / DecrTargetSpeed events to W / S and remove the keys 1-0.

If the consensus is that it’s better than the current default mapping, I can do the change. However after testing it, I find it a lot less intuitive than the current scheme, especially in close areas where you’ll bump into walls all the time. But if you test it and find it to be an improvement, please let me know.

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#17

What is the increment? I would be ok to use that if it is exponential like with the number keys. Or map it to the mouse wheel instead, I rarely need the precision it gives.

#18

The 0-9 being used for setting speeds is a little excessive, but I like the strafing controls the way they are. Could we instead keep those, and have a “Select next preset speed” button? E.g. press ] to cycle through 100… 250… 500… Etc. And [ to cycle back. Mouse wheel could still control it more analogue-y, and it frees up the numeric keys for weapon-related stuff (which is perhaps more familiar to people).

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Weekly Update #103
#19

Absolutely; however which keys would you use to increase / decrease to the next speed level ? If you use 1-2 ( where it’s closest to the hand on the keyboard ), that leaves 3-0 for weapons or other functionalities… but these keys being very close and starting at 3 ( while 1-2 is for target speed ) might confuse new players.

#20

Allright, the target speed cycling has been implemented and will be available in the upcoming patch ( in a few hours ). Event names are “NextTargetSpeed” and “PrevTargetSpeed”. I’ll bind them to F5/F6 for now.

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Weekly Update #103