Teaching Gameplay: Effective Player Instruction

One of the design challenges Particulars is currently facing centres around effectively instructing players on its many goals, mechanics and systems. After testing with you guys it was clear that some levels were not doing this effectively enough, leaving players unsure of what they were supposed to be doing. Instructing players is a challenge for any game, as every player interprets instruction differently and methods of instruction differ from game to game. There’s a fine line between instructing the player and holding the player’s hand.

Instruction methods I personally find most effective in games function more as hints than direct instructions. These hints may draw upon the player’s previously learnt knowledge of the game’s workings and explain the action in terms of the game’s context. In Particulars, for instance, the forming of a Neutron is explained as the combination of two down quarks and one up quark. The properties and functions of down and up quarks are identified in earlier levels, as are the fundamental inputs required to execute the combining process.

You might already see where I’m going with this, but notice how instructions are not usually repeated, but built upon: funnelling through from instructing the most fundamental keyboard/mouse inputs to instructing more complex mechanics, systems and goals. This process of procedural instruction empowers players to draw upon their previously learnt knowledge in a way that makes the win more satisfying. Just like the feeling you get from acing an end-of-term test.

Of course if a player is continuously unsuccessful, testing should determine those precise points in the game where refined or extra instruction is necessary.

Players should also, to some extent, be able to control the level of instruction they receive. The Examination Mode in Particulars presents a form of this. The extra information available in this easily activated/deactivated mode may help some reinforce or jog the memory of previous instruction.

What is your opinion on instruction mechanisms in games today? Do you feel games instruct players too much, just enough, or that they need to instruct more?

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