Tutorial Design in VR
The people who play our games aren’t mind-readers (though that would certainly make things easier), so it’s important to let them in on the rules and controls for whatever adventure they’re about to embark on. In the olden days, games were simple enough that “how to play” could be printed in the instruction manual, but these days, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Game worlds are so packed with interactions that while it’s simple to tell a player how to throw a batarang, it’s more difficult to describe when and how a batarang should be used. 3D action games can often get away with context-sensitive prompts that pop up and tell you, “hey, throw your batarang into that thug’s face,” whenever you approach your first enemy.
For certain games, a well-designed tutorial can be a better option than command prompts or tooltip windows for showing players the ropes. It gets all the basics out of the way, then lets the player get down to building their city or crushing their foes beneath the feet of their armies. If they’d rather figure out how to do it on the fly, that’s usually on them.
However, these approaches don't work for every game, and they certainly don't work for Virtual Reality, where immersion can be popped on the sharp edges of a text box. Tutorial design for VR needs to take player immersion into account, at every turn, and in every decision.
Although presence is one of the most important facets of VR, it is often easily broken by instructions that are too direct or “unrealistic.” Even tutorials can fall into this trap if they aren’t made to be part of the game world. Because of the fragility of immersion and the clunkiness of tooltip pop-up windows, tutorials need to be designed appropriately for communicating how VR games are to be played.
In the real world, there are no context-sensitive prompts. Instructions are most often communicated either through signage or through verbal tutelage. VR should emulate this - if you want your player to remain immersed in the game world, it won’t do to have hovering messages telling them that they can use batarangs to retrieve distant snacks. A better option would be signs or instructional images that feel as if they are a “natural” part of the game world.
While signage is effective in communicating basic actions, a tutor is a better option when it comes to describing exactly how to interact with the world. In Another Reigny Day, the Cow King serves as your instructor, telling you everything from the placement of defensive turrets to how to retrieve an arrow from your quiver. Through his sultry voice, he reveals helpful information like how players can find their hand axes at their hips.
Once everything is said and done, the player should be primed for the main event. They can be let loose with the skills they learned and can jump into the game without worrying about support characters screaming their “Hey! Listens!” at them or hovering text boxes letting them know they can press A to take a bite of their sandwich. They’ll be free to bring peace to the kingdom in… peace.