It’s a funny old world we live in where we can throw millions at a bunch of guys in suits and get a remarkably terrible end product at the end of it. Common sense suggests that the first time this happens, the customer should cut ties with the supplier, and move on to someone who can actually produce a quality product that satisfies our expectations and treats us with a modicum of respect. While it’s true that everyone deserves a second chance, there’s only so much goodwill a human being can muster, and the ninth or tenth time someone consistently screws up, we should maybe start investigating the standards and practices of the goddamn primates we’re paying to apparently screw around on Facebook all day instead of making a quality product.
But as you and I both well know, Electronic Arts and other such triple-A titans of the gaming industry are still in business, so clearly that first paragraph was meaningless. To quote the Twelfth Doctor in one of his moments of infinite wisdom, the video game industry is like watching a clown running across a minefield.
We here at Vexoid decided that someone had to take a stand. A brave, industrious Olympian of video games, one whose pedigree of gaming knowledge and tropes was beyond question. Someone who had been training their entire lives to take up this mantle, to show developers the light. Someone who had nothing better to do on a Friday than write about the cock-ups of video game developers. And in at least one of those categories, that someone was me, because frankly I’ve ran out of adorable Square Enix products to talk about.
So here we go. Let’s start right at the beginning. Let’s talk about tutorials.
Yes, tutorials, the simplest way for you to acclimate a newcomer to your game system. The old rebuttal to anyone confused about how something works in a game, namely the eloquent ‘Read the fucking manual’, is becoming an increasingly pointless statement. The reason for that is that manuals nowadays just tell you how to set up a console, then suggest you look online for a manual instead. But I’m a busy gamer, and if I’m not going to go online for trading cards that explain the plot of the frikkin’ game, what chance does an online manual have?
But I understand, developers. It’s a fine balance to achieve. Here, let me give you my first piece of helpful advice.
If you produce a game that gives you a tutorial on how to move that follows up with a congratulatory cutscene on how you’re so goddamn fantastic for learning how to move, then you have erred, my friend, and that is terrible. Let me let you in on a secret. My first game was on the Master System. It was called Alex Kidd in Miracle World. Three-year old me had the controller placed in his hands, and he figured out, within five seconds, that if he pushed right on the controller, Alex would move to the goddamn right. There is a fine line between providing useful exposition on a mechanic and treating your consumers like a gaggle of screaming baboons, and tutorials on moving have thoroughly crossed it. Other reviewers smarter but generally less handsome than me have gone into the merits of intuitive gameplay mechanics. No one picks up Mario and is terminally confused as to what they’re supposed to be doing.
Much as I will rip into Square Enix in this article, they have the right idea on occasion. Final Fantasy Type-0 has a tutorial mission at the start during which the characters are under permanent auto-life status, meaning that they are incapable of dying. It’s a shame that, again, they stop to explain every little detail to you, but if you removed that, you have a non-threatening environment to experiment in for a while before moving on to the big boy leagues. If the game holds your hand for the extended duration, then there’s no sense of accomplishment, no achievement you can be proud of. Clearing Green Hill Zone is an achievement despite how easy the level is because the game hasn’t held your hand through every single action and told you what a super player you are for managing that really super hard task that no one else could have done!
But it’s not just learning to walk that’s a problem with tutorials. Despite my love of Square Enix, they serve as a perfect example of the next thing to avoid, namely making a tutorial that absolutely wears out its welcome. I know you’re expecting me to rip into Kingdom Hearts II for this one, but there’s another example that’s even MORE egregious than that. Sadly, it’s a game that I actually quite like, but I’m not sad enough about it to avoid ripping into Final Fantasy XIII.
Forget everything about Final Fantasy XIII‘s labyrinthine plot and how you feel about having to look up database entries in order to understand what the hell is going on. That’s not a big deal in the long run if you’re actually interested in how the universe works. No, the sin of Final Fantasy XIII is that, twenty odd hours into the plot, it is still giving you tutorials on basic or self-explanatory things. If at the 20 hour point, you’re still easing yourself into the game, maybe turn to the writer and ask him or her if they might want to examine the pacing of the game somewhat. Or slap them in the face for thinking Lightning Returns was a good idea; I don’t know, I’m just spitballing ideas here.
Finally, let’s talk about the most egregious sin that our pals in development engage in, locking abilities behind tutorials. There are far, far too many games in which an ability that the character ostensibly has at the start of the game, is unable to be used until the game explicitly provides a tutorial for it. This is maddening on the first playthrough; it is borderline insanity-inducing on the second run through. Here’s a thing ,developers, I don’t care what your narrative reasons are, if you remove basic human agency from us, we are going to complain when the game assumes we are complete goddamn idiots until it tells us otherwise. If the process is obvious to a five-year old, it’s presumably obvious to the person within the game, and pretending otherwise is a disservice to your customers.
The thing is folks, I know that developers are aware of these things I’m talking about. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon had a spoof tutorial that ripped into things like learning to walk, which is doubly hilarious because even though it’s a satire, I have played so many games that have exactly those tutorials – in 2016, for crying out loud. With rated 15 or over games!
I guess what I’m asking, developers, is that you assume we have a basic level of human intelligence. Show some respect for our ability to puzzle out simple things like press left to move left. Allow us to experiment rather than hold our hands.
And for God’s sake, if you make me go through another 20 hour tutorial, I will find you. I WILL FIND YOU.
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