Sunday, September 4, 2016

No Man's Sky and the Tutorial Problem

No Man's Sky.  I had seen complaints about how the developers lied, and how many people felt like they were sold a different game.  When I heard them describe the game as Minecraft with a space ship, that sounded just like the game I thought it was.

Then I tried it.

Yeah, it is actually similar to what I thought it would be years ago when they first announced it.  That wasn't what I had a problem with.

It was the lack of any kind of effective tutorial.

You might be one of the people that says something like, "But Jon!  Back in the day, games didn't hold your hand and tell you what to do, you had to figure it out.  Games were so much better back then, kids these days are idiots since they get crumb trails leading them to their goal without any hard work."

Ok.  First off, yes, some games were better back then.  Some were worse.  Kids these days are also dumb, but I'd blame that on other things before hand holding in games.  The point about old games not telling you what to do does have two big problems with it.  Before I get to those, I will state that I do not want games to tell me everything, but I do want basics, or even help when I obviously am not understanding what to do.  Figuring things out is great mental exercise, but it does have limits.

Now back to the two big problems with that argument.  There are a lot of games released nowadays, way more than back in the golden era of SNES and the other one.  With so many choices, having a game alienate you in the first 10 minutes can kill it.  People will know, and that should hurt your sales.  While you could look up tips online easily nowadays, that doesn't help with pre-release games or just released ones.  Plus, you seriously should not have to look outside of the game for basic help with the game.  That's ludicrous.  I've said the same thing about Monster Hunter if you think I'm just picking on a game I might not like.

Secondly, older games were much less complicated.  You could probably move two whole directions, left and right, and had either 2 or 6 buttons to worry about.  Now you have systems inside systems, context-sensitive buttons and a three-dimensional world to worry about.  Just try to have fun playing something like WWE 2K15 without a tutorial.  It would be awful.  As games have become more complicated, tutorials explaining the basics are a must.  All the intricacies can be figured out by the player, or looked up later.  The game itself should give you enough information to start the game without wanting to shut the game off and go away.  Well, it can if you don't want it to sell, I guess.

Anyway, back to the game.  It eventually dumps you on some random planet in the gigantic universe that the developers created and just lets you go.  Great, how about telling me anything?  Maybe some of the buttons?  If you walk up to something you can harvest without mining it, the necessary button is shown, so at least they do that.  The corner of the screen does have some pop ups to help you along, but they have some problems.  One, they don't call attention to them and two, they disappear quickly.  There are a lot of things to learn and meters to understand, and they do a flat-out crappy job of communicating to players.

It really wouldn't take much to make this better, so here's my idea.

First, I would start out in a small, instanced area.  Make it a crater on some moon, who cares where.  Just a small tutorial area to let players learn what the heck is going on and what they need to do.  Start next to your ship, and it is out of power/gas/whatever it uses for fuel.  They tell you basic stuff, like how to mine, what to look for, how to craft, how to refuel/recharge things, stuff like that.  Just a small area with a few things to mine, gather and something to scan.  Make them craft something, refuel the ship, then they can fly away.  At this point, you could have a wormhole appear and send them to whatever random planet they would normally start on.

Bam, problem solved.  They spend 5-10 minutes to learn basic stuff, then you abandon them on a remote planet in the middle of nowhere to start their journey.  But this time, they have some starting knowledge to effectively play the beginning of the game instead of throwing up their hands in frustration.

I wanted to like the game, and still might.  I haven't played enough to form an overall opinion, just point out how the beginning of the game is terrible, and needs to be improved.  I might have stopped playing at that point, but from my previous experience in games like this, once you learn what to do, they become fun.  Too bad most of them have really terrible or non-existent tutorials.

Oh, and one last thing that isn't related, but is a separate terrible decision: sprinting and scanning.  What kind of dunce puts sprinting, something associated with moving, mapped to the look stick, and then puts scanning, something associated with looking, mapped to the move stick?  It's backwards and I couldn't find a way to fix it.  Stupid decision, Phil Okinawa.

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