Women will be acutely aware of this phenomena but men do not follow instructions. I’d argue that this is because the male mind is hard wired to problem solve, we get a big kick out it. This means that when faced with a new toy the last thing we will ever do is read a manual.
It would be disingenuous of me to say that “Gamers” also do not follow instruction. For example there are a great deal of female gamers who in my experience will pour over the manual for a game before they even install it. Gamers are also very good at following tutorials because they are a form of interactive feedback loop.
The “How to Play” screen is the Indie games equivalent of a manual. They are incredibly important but they never get read by the majority of players.
Let’s play Geometry Wars 2 (This isn’t me playing FYI).
This is a prime example of a communication breakdown between the Designer and the Player. A How To Play screen is displayed and swiftly buttoned through without even a cursory glance. For most of the video the Player isn’t even aware that they have a gun or what they are supposed to be doing.
Lets look at the tools that the player is expected to understand but in this video clearly doesn’t.
- The player tries to collect the enemies thinking they are pick-ups. He repeats this behaviour with the Spinners because he was invulnerable when he first tried it making him believe that they didn’t hurt him.
- He discovers bombs first and believe them to be his primary weapon. No doubt this is because he is used to FPS games where the triggers are used to fire weapons.
- He doesn’t connect how many bombs he has left to the info on the HUD (I’ve long believed that putting important info like this on the edges of the screen is a terrible idea as it’s not where the players attention is).
- He is unaware of his main weapon until he starts pressing buttons at random.
- In Deadline you have infinite lives. The player in this video doesn’t notice this (In the second episode he still hasn’t and he’s been practicing quite a bit since then).
When the player doesn’t know how to use the tools at their disposal best then that can be considered a lack of skill and in time they will develop it. When they are completely unaware that they even have any tools at their disposal then that becomes a design problem.
It is worth noting though that he doesn’t get frustrated with the game and I have to take my hat off to Mr Cakebread as by putting Deadline as the only available mode when you first play the game it means the player has a 3 minute sandbox to play in where they aren’t punished with game over for being new.
Granted this is an extreme example, the player is clearly unfamiliar with the genre and doesn’t know much at all about the game he’s playing. This is something you should always consider though. If 1% of your players are completely new to the genre and you have 5000 players then 50 people are going to have a pretty rubbish time when they first play your game. That’s more than enough people to mug you in an alley so you should probably do what you can to prevent that.
Everyday Shooter has none of the problems that Geometry Wars 2 has. During the first level you are given all of the information you need to be able to play the rest of the game and you are given it in a way that is intuitive, difficult to ignore and doesn’t interrupt flow.
One of the best things about how Everyday Shooter communicates with the player is that everything it tells you is in context. It’s like each element in the game is talking to you with little speech bubbles saying “I am this and I do this!”.
It’s important to note that the game doesn’t explain the chaining mechanic at work in each level. It only ever explains the tools the player has immediate control over; the buttons they press to be able to interact with the world. This leaves something for the player to discover and learn on their own that is actually interesting while learning the basic controls is not.
So why am I looking at this stuff? Well Waves suffers from a degree of over complication in a few mechanics. While I was submitting a build for the IndieDB UDK competition I had to write some instructions for the people who were going to play it and I found myself actually dreading having to explain some elements.
When you actually dread explaining one of your more important mechanics it’s time to both re-examine the mechanic with an eye to how you will explain it within the context of the game. I am happy to say that I think I have since found a way to fix my problems and the changes should be in the public demo.
While I’m on the subject of the demo build (which I’m calling Alphawaves) the chief bottle neck is the UI which I don’t have an estimate for yet but I have some gameplay changes; mostly minor, that I want to get in as well. I’d hope to have it out before the end of the month but it’s more likely to be in February.