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.
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.
- 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.