Importance of Instructions

How important do you think tutorials or instruction manuals are? I guess it would really depend on the genre/game. Case by case basis and all.

Nobody reads instruction manuals anymore, and instruction manuals suck these days. The MGS3 instruction manual had a goddamn comic book in it.

Anyway. They’re really important, come on. The more you have to teach people, the more important they become. If you don’t teach people anything and your game requires them to know things to play it, then what the fuck are they gonna do?

Yeah, it does scale by genre/game, because some have more obvious characteristics and less complicated/more intuitive controls, so you don’t have to teach as much directly, but if something isn’t reasonable to intuit, then you gotta teach it.

Fighting games are in a big way brought down because they don’t have good tutorials/single player modes.

Smash Bros has a better single player mode than 99% of other fighting games. The Skullgirls tutorials are kind of fun in their own way because they set up some mildly tricky tasks and have clear completion markers for all of them. Combo trials in other games end up being way too difficult/invariant to represent a solid single player mode for most people. Guilty Gear Xrd has some interesting trials that are similar, and a good grading system on them too, grading for consistency, and their missions mode was cool in AC+R.

Give that a bit more structure, maybe some branching paths between mission unlocks, a bit of story perhaps, and you approach something like the Soul Calibur campaigns in terms of polish. Figure out how AI can be geared to teach players specific fighting game fundamentals (like the blockstring bot in skullgirls), and it will help introduce players to the multiplayer mode, and give them a framework for understanding how the fuck things work.

re: instruction manuals/tutorials. I don’t think those things are important per se. I can only speak for myself, but outside of basic controls, I rarely ever read instructions or watch tutorials. Skullgirls has a great tutorial section, but it’s not like my gameplay is entirely based on it. It’s a decent primer, but what I really prefer is simply having a training room where I can test and figure things out on my own. The character tutorials, for example, are waste on me. Like, it’s nice to see what roles or central strategies the different characters and their abilities/moves might lend themselves too, but actually applying it in battle? Training room + actual matches are far more useful. I mentioned it earlier concerning TEW, but the definition of exploration in games shouldn’t be limited to scouring every nook and cranny in a massive environment. Systems can be explored too.

It’s just that it’s really time consuming for me to teach people how to play these games. I’ve sat in matches with people and acted like one of juicebox’s training dummies before just to help people learn how to play.

There are better ways to teach this stuff, and I really want to see some evolution in that area.

For instruction books and tutorials generally, it depends on the game and how hard it is to figure out all the functions of the game by pressing random buttons and seeing what they do. I watch a TON of tutorials for smash bros and other fighting games personally, and for stylish action games and all sorts of others.

When I say tutorial, I also don’t only mean explicit tutorials, silent ones like in all the valve games are included too. If you don’t do this sort of stuff, then more subtle concepts are likely to escape player notice, and you want that sort of thing to be played with.

The skullgirls tutorials themselves note a lot of things that aren’t immediately obvious, like squiggly’s one inch punch being strike invincible, Robo Fortune’s spin attacks being throw invincible, Eliza’s Osirus Spiral doing a ton of block damage, Big Band’s sound stun effect on certain moves, etc.

You know this better than anyone. People complained that games like RE6, practically the entirety of TW101, or even D. Souls don’t explain anything, which is true, but it makes that “eureka!” moment when you figure something out after experimenting and exploring the systems all the more satisfying.

Yeah. Though there are some things that should have been explained that they didn’t, and some things that are best left up to player experimentation.

Those games still have tutorials in them. I’m not going to suggest that games should totally throw out tutorials, and I think that Dark Souls for one could certainly have a better tutorial than it does, and make the connection more clear for a few things, like the key to the lower undead burg, or location of the entrance to the lower undead burg. That one really stands out to me as the weak link in communication for dark souls. That and I’ve seen a ton of LPs where people have no idea how to kick or when they do figure it out, what kicking is good for. Even intelligent ones like Geop’s LP.

For kicking, should we explain on the tutorial note that you gotta press forward and R1 at the same time? Yeah. Should we stick an enemy with its shield up immediately after the kick message? Yeah. Do you need to explain that kicking breaks enemy’s guards from there? Not really.

Those types of criticisms seem to be predicated on ‘fun’, that having to figure things out and fail in the process is ‘not fun’. And these aren’t necessarily bad players. It seems many appreciate challenges provided they know beforehand each and every rule, and they have no problem failing dozens of times as long as they know the exact manner in which they can manipulate the mechanics to finally reach point B. But god forbid having to experiment and figure things out. There’s obviously a difference between exploration/experimentation and something legitimately obtuse or ambiguous, like a context-sensitive action with no clear instruction. But I don’t think you need each exact action spelled out for you in tutorials or manuals. Just give me a safe area, an open space where I can freely press buttons and try things out before I go ahead and engage in combat.

I’m not proposing games explain everything, but you need a certain amount of knowledge to make informed decisions, to play some games on a basic level. Some types of information are difficult to determine about moves just by doing them, and that information can be really critical sometimes.

If someone doesn’t know how to do special moves with a charge character (or any character for that matter) they’re not going to have a lot of fun at street fighter. On some level, you need to tutorialize, because if you don’t then some players will completely miss out. Letting players experiment with moves and find out new low affordance tricks is a cool thing. I’m not suggesting that players be told from the get-go in dark souls all the different paths open to them from firelink, because that ruins the experience of trying the different paths for themselves, though I would say that they should be pushed a bit more towards the burg because it’s so easy to go the wrong way there.

Being set up to fail because you didn’t know something critical to success isn’t very fun. It’s alright to not tell players everything, but sometimes you just gotta hand them a move list. It’s dependent on the type of information and how easy it is to intuit. You can set up challenges to encourage players to test things to figure them out and that is valid, but if it’s something like pressing the button all the way down while holding an enemy in CQC will make you slit their throat, then that’s something you’re gonna have to explain somewhere, because who the hell is going to recognize that this one game is actually using the pressure sensitive buttons in the controller?

A lot of these criticisms are off point. A lot of them are stupid. There is still a time and a place for tutorials and concepts that should ideally be explained through tutorials. Teaching the player the non-obvious elements of how to play the game are still necessary. And I have had a friend that immediately on starting the demon’s souls tutorial ate all his grass after I shouted at him to stop doing that. I have seen this multiple times. I think I even accidentally ate grass when I didn’t mean to myself because I was expecting a different function there back when I was new.

re: tutorials. I don’t know why you’d ever want to ‘train’ another person in a fighting game. Like, what’s the point? What exactly are you going to teach them that they wouldn’t be able to learn from a basic online guide or playing around in a training room? More nuanced and technical elements can’t really be learned via instant memorization, they’re things that have to be learned organically and are ingrained into your mental knowledge base over time. In other words, you need to practice by playing the game in a natural setting, e.g. against other players. When I first got into Melee, I wondered why players didn’t use this or that move more often. But I only realized why once I played against AI and other players. Not in a controlled setting, however. Sure I lost, but I had a better understanding of what works and why, and I could build upon and use that info for future matches.

I want them to be able to get into fighting games without needing to sit down with an actual human being carefully teaching them concepts for hours in order to understand things. That and if they are taught these things hands on in a setting that is interactive, they will probably learn it better than if they simply read about it without applying it. Practicing things like whiff punishing in the training room is difficult to set up for a beginner. Practicing things like footsies in general is difficult to set up for a beginner who is not familiar with the training room tools or how they can be used.

I have sent people copious tutorials in the past to teach them fighting games, and they do not read these tutorials because they’re fucking long. Skullgirls tutorials? Easy. Blazblue tutorials, easy. Even my little brother who does not really play fighting games was able to complete the persona 4 arena tutorials.

This is why I propose interactive tutorials for fighting games with visual cues like glints that allow players to simulate the act of getting the read on their opponent, with AI crafted to pick between specific options to emphasize how those things work. Skullgirls has you learn what hitconfirming is, how to block high/low mixups, how to defend against tick throws as well as perform them. These are concepts that can be expanded to envelop more of the fighting game experience, including things like frametraps, and footsie scenarios. You can teach players about how to figure out what types of moves are good for what types of things and common move archetypes to watch out for, like dragon punches, pokes, anti-air, crossup, moves with frame advantage, moves that are unsafe on block. When I started out, I thought unsafe on block was a mystical property of some moves, I didn’t understand it was related to frame advantage, which was why I was confused when someone answered that nothing is de facto unsafe on block, it’s a matter of how unsafe it can be. I didn’t know about the relationship between the range of moves versus their startup times and frame advantage (or disadvantage), which is typically imposed as a point of design. Then damage and pushback are other factors on top of that.

Beginners don’t know what to look for, so they won’t be able to identify whether an aerial is a good air to ground, air to air, crossup, or fulfills several of these roles. These are things that can be included into the games themselves. Being so advanced in these games, having had so much time to study and practice we might think these things are intuitive, but they are not. We can intuit them because we have experience in those areas. At minimum we can have interactive overlays on the screen, much like the custom assist selection menu in skullgirls, pointing out which notches they need to hit in which order and what the system reads their current input as.

This isn’t a matter of teaching the more nuanced and technical elements, this is a matter of establishing basic literacy. Most of the information on how fighting games work is scattered to the 4 winds. If we stick this stuff directly in the game, and make it a challenge to be overcome, then we’re a step closer to allowing anyone who picks up a copy of street fighter being able to actually play the game on a basic level without having to consult 9 different websites and extensive google searching.

What’s the cancel rule for normals into specials in street fighter 2, 3rd strike, and skullgirls? In SF2, you can cancel any normal that has 5 or less frames of startup, either during hitfreeze, or during the startup period. In Third Strike, you can cancel any normal into a special on the first frame of the normal, and during hitfreeze if that move is labeled as being special cancelable, regardless of startup time (though this is typically reserved for faster startup moves as a point of design). In Skullgirls you can cancel a normal into special at any time except when it’s active and recovery, unless it hits, then any time.

How do combos actually work? When I first got into fighters I was perplexed by this. I didn’t understand in SF4 that I needed to move the stick simultaneously to the normal attack that was going on so that I could press the button activating the special attack right when the normal connected. I only found out because a video from Eventhubs happened to show the inputs onscreen and explain it the right way.

How do charge moves work? The listings for them show one arrow going back, then another arrow going forward, so I press back forward, and I don’t do the special move. What’s up with that? I eventually learned that you have to hold it back before pressing forward in order to do the charge move. I had to explain this to someone in text that wanted to play as big band in skullgirls recently. He had a bit of difficulty doing it. I once tried to have a girl do it in person and she was genuinely incapable of timing it correctly. She would always hold back, then press forward followed by punch rather than forward and punch simultaneously, as if it had to be in steps. She couldn’t perform fireballs with Ryu either (tried that first, figured charge moves might be easier but they weren’t.)

A lot of people’s problems with performing these are they do not have a clear mental picture of what is going on inside the game system. Many beginners, rather than learn what their characters can actually do, or how to perform moves, just mash until they find a method that produces a special move with reasonable consistency, even if they do not know what the actual input is, or can explain it in any way decipherable to other people, they will repeat this method. I have one friend who told me if he wanted to do shoryuken, he just did 2 QCFs.

I beat King of Fighters 98, Guilty Gear AC’s story mode, and a bunch of other KoF games before I really learned anything about fighting games. I only owned the games because KoF had the most beautiful sprites I had ever seen, and Guilty Gear is fucking awesome (no idea how I came to own it or what drew me to buy it).

AI opponents don’t act like human opponents do, they behave truly randomly and unpredictably. This is a good thing if all their actions are capable of being reacted to, but fighting games and other multiplayer games are built on the basis that it is impossible to react to many actions, so that players can act simultaneously and must predict each other. Additionally, AI opponents don’t behave adaptively.

Against a skilled real life opponent, if you mash, they can simply perform a move that requires a specific counter and repeat it until you die. This is probably why beginners complain so much about fireball spam. If you try to spam, they will continually execute the counter to that spam. The Brood War AI competitions are currently dominated by AI that do not behave adaptively in any way, simply executing strategies that require extremely specific timing pushes to beat to a high level of perfection, then sending units at each corner of the map in order.

In short, if you play an AI, you’ll usually pick up bad habits, they’re only really good for specific types of practice, like doing combos under pressure rather than just in the training room.

However AI can be tuned to provide more a more controlled and limited experience so as to learn a specific aspect of fundamental play, much like the parry basketball trial in third strike, or the tutorials in skullgirls I keep fucking mentioning (sorry, there’s really nothing else like them besides juicebox’s very carefully set up training room recordings).

And a lot of games, including the ones I mentioned before (RE6, TW101, D. Souls) can be played and completed without learning the ins and outs, through sheer brute-forcing. I mean, anyone can bungle their way through these games, gorging healing items and playing in the least efficient way possible , but the great thing is that you don’t have to play the game like a little monkey. You can learn various tactics and experiment with your moveset in order to make the game a much more thrilling or enjoyable experience. Comaplaining that all of that isn’t outlined in a manual is nonsense. Sure, SMB had practically every detail illustrated in the manual, even stuff like infinite 1-ups, but that’s a different story. That was probably because home consoles were relatively new and they wanted to make sure people understood this new technology that were banking on becoming a household product.

And all of those games are a lot more simple than fighting games. They have less moves with less complexity, and require less of the inter-move tactics that fighting games do. Things like block strings and frame traps with tick throws? Forget it! Just hit them with the biggest combo you know and be done with it.

Playing against a live human player is a totally different experience, and establishing basic enough literacy in fighting games to actually play them competently is a lot more complicated. It’s like trying to play Go without a concept of what a living shape is, or what can potentially become a living shape, and having someone who actually knows their shit kill 6-point eye shapes (I painfully had this happen to me once, thinking, “oh, I know 6 point eye shapes are unconditionally alive, so anything he plays I’ll just flush it out,” leading to it becoming a different eye shape that wasn’t unconditionally alive, I think bulky 5, and I had the entire thing completely captured because of my carelessness or at least lost territory).

Moves in these games are a lot more clear in what they do to the uninitiated, because they are a lot simpler in design, or because the reasoning (opponents are over here, lets hit them with something going that way) is simpler. Moves in Melee are a lot simpler to understand compared to fighting game moves in terms of their neutral function, because they all basically just hit in a direction, and everything is unsafe on block if it isn’t spaced properly, barring a few frametraps.

In Devil May Cry 3, you have stinger to close gaps, 2 basic slash combos, one hits an area around dante, one is faster. You have a dive attack in the air, and can shoot guns to keep people in the air or deal damage from afar.

In Street Fighter, you have to learn to not jump, you have to learn how to anti-air people. You need to learn the differences between normal anti-air and special anti-air moves in relation to reaction time on them. You need to learn the difference in function between at least c.LP, all the versions of MK, c.HP, Hadouken, dragon punch, and throw. You need to know that blocks beat attacks, throws beat blocks, attacks generally beat throws.

Even if you know all that stuff, I can simply go up to you and sweep you to death because you still don’t know how to block or the concept of the okizeme game, where I essentially get to throw any attack I want against you and your only option to retaliate is an extremely tight window, assuming your character has an invincible startup move at all.

Chances are even if you do know how to block I can still beat you that way, because I’ve done it to tons of beginners who should know better and instead start mashing as if that will really do anything.

Fighting games have much harsher setbacks on the path to literacy than other genres. I can tell someone who has never played Quake 3 before to hop into a match and we can get something going. If I tell someone to play me in SF Alpha 2, then it becomes a lesson. Many people I know actively avoid fighting games, say it isn’t their thing. I was one of those people until I actually worked to understand them. However I have an atypical personality, I’m very research oriented with a lot of games, and I was that way before getting into fighters. I’m slowly becoming the framedata guy who can just list off however many frames anything important is, as noted by a recent conversation where someone needed to know how fast the startup on something or another was, or maybe some character’s jumpsquat frames and I happened to know offhand and they were all, “of course you’d know that.” Not everyone is willing to scour the web for basic-ass information on how to play fighting games. This is all information that could be reintegrated into the product itself, and “gamified” (to temporarily ignore the negative connotations of that term), in order to help people get an understanding for how the game should be played at all.

To talk about other games with advanced techniques for a second, I’m not complaining that not everything is listed in the manual for every game, however lets be honest, a lot of us find out about these advanced mechanics from instructional guides that other people made outside the game. We’re not discovering everything for ourselves. I’ll admit there’s a certain appealing aesthetic to putting to use things that are “secret knowledge.” Being someone who is as research oriented as I am, I certainly enjoy finding out hidden information on games and being able to apply it. (shoutouts to HM04, who I told about a trick I found where Marth could repeat his side B to lock ROB in the air, but it didn’t work in the current patch, then I was able to pull it off for real on his Mewtwo in tournament bracket recently, also Seagull Joe who I locked in that trick for real back when it still worked, seriously confusing him until he realized he had to airdodge out). It’s cool to find out something that isn’t well known about your favorite game, it’s cool to find things through experimentation instead of being explicitly told about it, which can feel rather patronizing. However if there is a trick like this that seriously augments the enjoyability of the game, it should be something offered up to those who aren’t totally willing or able to experiment, to those who it doesn’t occur to.

I’m not proposing that every consequence of every mechanic be laid out, however sometimes you have concepts that are central to your game that cannot be expressed without simply explaining them (or players willing to stick with it & understand the scientific method on some level).

If simple unobtrusive steps can be taken to ensure people “get” the product, that don’t limit or annoy experienced users, then that is probably something we should do. I mean, I shout every time I see anyone play Mirror’s Edge because they aren’t using the side boost or wall boost and are actually engaging the enemies and they’re going the wrong fucking way.

I’m kind of surprised the mario manual would explain infinite 1ups, that’s one I’d leave in the realm of urban legend. BM canceling I’d have someone mention in a codec call (“try activating blade mode during long moves, sometimes it lets you get out of them sooner, experiment with different moves and timings”).

Or in Ori and the Blind Forest, you kind of need to explain that the super jump from wall can only be done from a wall run/climb, not wall slide. How’s anyone supposed to figure out the triple jump in mario bros if it’s not explained? I figured out the slide flip on my own, and I think the spin jump in sunshine, but the triple jump I’ve never been very good at. I’m glad Quake Live had a bunnyhop tutorial, and rocket jump tutorial.

Yes it’s a concession, but some concessions may be necessary to help people get into the game. The majority of consumers are not very observant, and placing a totally optional tutorial prompt for some things isn’t a serious UX issue for experienced users.

That and seriously, I’d like to get more people into fighting games and they’re not going to learn it from just CPUs, random online play, and training mode. They need a tutor, a tutorial, or to read a huge wall of text, and that last option isn’t very appealing to most people.

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