Monday, September 21, 2009


How the hell do you make a multiplayer tutorial? I have been pondering this for a few weeks now, because I think that it is indicative of the delicate balance required for all the elements of a multiplayer game. I am working on a Team Fortress 2 map, and I'm finding myself continually reworking the level, knowing that the spacial layout is key. But I was also playing the game a bit and I really took notice of how different the learning curve is between single- and multi-player.

In a solo linear game, even in a nonlinear game, you can introduce players to each concept, slowly ramping up the difficulty and complexity of the scenarios/levels/missions. In a multiplayer game you are introducing a player to the game, explaining the basic concepts and then throwing them out to the wolves. Play Team Fortress 2, Call of Duty 4, or, heaven help you, the venerable Starcraft, and the multiplayer games will hand your ass to you several times over before you give up in frustration or finally catch on to a trick somewhere and then slowly climb the tree of experience.

Multiplayer has never been for the weak of heart, but often hardcore games do try and ease you into the challenge over time through different methods.

Firstly, many games have a singleplayer mode. Starcraft you can train by playing through the campaign. I faced as tough a time at the end of Brood War that I faced online. Then again I never surmounted either Brood War or multiplayer SC; instead I conceded defeat against such brutal opposition. With Call of Duty there is also singleplayer, and many major games place just as much importance on the woven yarn as the multiplayer arenas.

Other games have excellent Bot modes. Unreal Tournament and its sequels have always been favorites of mine because they have excellent bots that you can play through the game as if you were playing an online match, but instead you play against whatever skill level you wish.

And finally, other games simply have tutorials, videos, or text and images to tell you what you should do when you're thrown out onto the field of battle. But these are the least helpful, frankly. Team Fortress 2 works with such simple tutorials because every element of the game is so plainly presented in the game. When you are a pyro, you immediately know you're a frontline soldier, intended to torch the enemy, and that's all you really need to do. You can see a giant glowing enemy signal, go to it. Play the doctor and you know right away what to do because as soon as you enter the game someone is yelling for a doctor and an arrow is pointing toward them.

The more complicated the game, the more complex the introduction, the more effort is put into singleplayer. Indeed, as I ponder, I am realizing that a game like Counter-Strike can throw you right in, because there is a simple goal and a simple mechanic to CS, it is the balance, the delicate interplay of all the little pieces, that make CS such a joy to master. People play CS for the challenge and if someone does not like CS, they will know it right away.

Likewise, when someone does find a mechanic they enjoy, they will stick with it. It just has to get easier. A player has to get better at a game. They have to feel progress. That is the joy of learning a game: the growth of the player.

Therefore, a multiplayer tutorial needs to reveal a game's central mechanic and hint at the strategies untold. A tutorial merely needs to explain the central tenet of the game, and if you cannot do that in a sentence or two and a couple images, then perhaps it's not the tutorial that needs fixing. The player needs a revelation merely by grasping the main game rule. And once they say, "Ahh, that's a clever concept," or, "Yes, I want to experience that," then the game must have the depth waiting on the other side.

So now it's the other side of the column for me, so thanks for reading. Next up: I have absolutely no idea.

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