Welcome to the Tutorial!
The moment has come. Youre finally, finally given control of your all-powerful game character, ready to tear the enemies of the virtual world a new one. But wait--before you can go out and exercise your godlike powers, youll need to go through a quick training simulation that explains the functions of every button on the controller in fine detail.
Sound familiar? If youre reading this, its about 900% likely youve encountered some such annoyance at the beginning of a game. Like virtually all other forms of entertainment, game intros have long relied on old clichs to open their ambitious beginnings with a bang. Clich, of course, isnt synonymous with bad, but an overuse of ideas often makes for some goofy moments in otherwise great beginnings. Here are 10 we see a little too often--as well as examples of who got it right.
Push the left stick away from you to look up
The concept of a tutorial is completely understandable. If people are going to play the game, its necessary for them to understand its basic mechanics. Too often, however, games find a weird (and sometimes insulting) place between teaching new players the rules and treating them like their first impulse with a controller is to put it in their mouth.
Who did it right: An awareness of this is what made Far Cry 3: Blood Dragons tutorial so great. Like a majority of players, the games main character Rex is fully aware of the basics of moving around and killing, yet hes forced to complete a rookie training simulation in order to move forward. Yes, simple tasks must be completed in order to progress, but Rexs constant complaints and the games generous winks and nods of self-awareness keeps everyone in on the joke and makes it almost bearable.
Good morning, Sunshine
Where am I? Whats going on?
Ever heard these? Sure you have. One of the most clichd ways to open a game is to have a character wake up from a mysterious sleep and be completely unaware of their surroundings. Its a creative layup used to make a player surrogate, allowing both the player and main character to exist in the same mind space. Typically, the Rip Van Winkle opening is joined by its best friend, amnesia, often in cases severe enough to have you wondering Shouldnt this dude be in the hospital?. This is a fantasy, however, so its totally fine for people with severe amnesia to roam around the world in an effort to save it. Right?
Who did it right: After its bombastic opening in which Shepard died, the clich of waking up (with some degree of amnesia) was actually used to great effect in Mass Effect 2. This worked mainly because it was framed so well within the games narrative; Shepard died and was Frankensteined back to life two years later. To wake up from death and not know where you are and whats going? Thats just science.
Now press X to jump!
This is where we enter the gaming Twilight Zone. Ever played a tutorial where another character in the game started telling you which buttons to press on a controller? Typically, this happens when the game treats the main character as nothing more than a soulless husk controlled by a player. Sometimes this is even overlooked, and suspension of disbelief is tested on a very weird level when voiced characters with personalities are told to hit specific buttons on a non-existent controller. If a character knows about double jumps and speed boosts, are they also aware that theyre in a video game?
Who did it right: This cliche is at its best when the game openly acknowledges how silly it is through some well-timed fourth wall-breaking. When learning from the esteemed Bestovius how to flip between 2D and 3D in Super Paper Mario, Mario expresses that hes confused about this A button Bestovius keeps mentioning. In response, Bestovius assures Mario: If we are being watched from another dimension, those beings will understand. Well played, Nintendo.
Read it and weep
Its happened to all of us. Youre dropped into the world, begin moving around, and then bam!--a box full of text bursts onto the screen. From the very first time you see this, its obvious that itll be followed by several more walls of text finely detailing every system in the game. Its understandable to want to educate players of said systems, but that doesnt take away from the fact that endless text can be exhausting. Eyes should bleed from playing hours of a game, not from spending hours reading about it.
Who did it right: Dark Souls took the entire text box idea and turned it on its head by allowing many of the instructional boxes to be handled by players issuing warnings and tips to all who would follow. Its the fact that theyre often deceptive and cryptic that makes them great. Should you jump off that cliff? Is there really a monster to be wary of? Making this clich untrustworthy is part of the good-natured trolling that often makes Dark Souls multiplayer so great.
They see me rollin
Youre seated on a helicopter with your squad mates overlooking the battlefield from a helicopter. Or, maybe youre discussing life sentences with other prisoners in a horse-drawn cart. Heck, you might even be rowing a boat up to a mysterious lighthouse in the dark of night. Considering the number of games that start with you riding in some sort of vehicle, its likely all of us have bought a ticket to ride on just about any mode of transportation. Typically, this is followed with some sort of set piece that involves explosions, deaths, or all hell breaking loose. You can rest assured, though, that youll soon be given your official quest and sent on your merry way.
Who did it right: Battlefield 4s opening didnt necessarily stand as a beacon of innovation, but being trapped in a car underwater had a nice claustrophobic feel to it that actually lent some weight to the situation. Plus, it stands as the best ever use of Bonnie Tylers Total Eclipse of the Heart in a video game.
The voice in your head
You need to find an exit! a mysterious voice blares out of your recently obtained hand radio. You dont know who the person speaking is, but they seem to have a creepy awareness of who you are, what youre doing, where youre going, and what youre supposed to do. Usually holding hands with the just-woke-up clich, having a disembodied voice guide a character through the start of (and sometimes throughout) a game is nothing new. It sometimes works to great effect, but its still strange that this person youve never met is explaining everything about the world as you move around in it. When you think about it, the entire situation is kind of creepy.
Who did it right: Hands down, the Narrator from The Stanley Parable. Being that were used to blindly following orders from these voices, having a game be built around finding ways to subvert one is deviously awesome.
Ive made a simulator for you to test your powers
Many of our most beloved action video games are essentially power fantasies. Within a game, were often given godlike powers with which to vanquish evil and save the world from certain doom.Thats why training simulator tutorials are some of the biggest buzzkills to be found in a games intro. Instead of entering the world and clearing out the enemy hordes, were instead forced to practice intricate maneuvers inside testing chambers before even being allowed to so much as jump unsupervised.
Who did it right: The Assassins Creed franchise squeaks out a win here, simply because the design of the Animus VR Program was more interesting visually than so many of the other simulators taking place in sterile laboratories or inside of a computer.
Whats your name?
Ah, the old save file-naming question. Its typically not the only thing a character will ask you, often leading to inquiries ranging from your gender to the time of day. Theres an even deeper mystery behind their strange questions, however: being that it sometimes takes a while to write your fake name in, what are the other characters in the game doing while they wait for your answers? Are they standing around as you sort your name out, confused while you constantly backtrack as you conjure up increasingly ridiculous name ideas?
Who did it right: South Park: The Stick of Truths insistence on calling you Douchebag regardless of what you put in the text box is a nice satirical take on this otherwise often-used idea. It works because it exposes how silly this clich can be while also noting that a great number of people use these boxes as an opportunity to name their character all kinds of dirty words.
Let me tell you a story
Voice-over narration at the start of movies or games can dangerously border on becoming a lazy storytelling cop-out. Theres a fine line between giving a necessary amount of backstory to help ease people into the narrative and dumping a messy assortment of information on them. Narration that gives a quick overview of the world and sets up the story can help one make a smooth transition to the game, but when it traps you in your seat for an unnecessary 15-minute history lesson and tells you how you should feel about everything, its downright unbearable.
Who did it right: Bastions narrator does a great job of feeding you small amounts of information while still remaining in the moment and weaving a story out of your actions. Never are you forced to sit through dramatic and lengthy monologues or listen to the reasons why you should care about something or someone in the game. Its dynamic, its seamless, and most importantly, it doesnt tempt you to impatiently tap away at buttons in an effort to skip ahead.
You are the chosen one
Weve all heard this one: You are the chosen one, the one whose coming was foretold, the only one who can save a world in peril. In a game, using this clich makes a lot of sense; we all want to feel important to the narrative, and starting the game by telling players theyre the last bastion of hope gives them a reason to drive forward despite adversity. Butseriously? Out of the millions--nay, billions--of other people on the planet, theres only one person who has the ability to vanquish all evil from the world?
Who did it right: Skyrim is one of the best examples of being a chosen one, simply for its beautiful irony. Horrible monsters are ravaging the land, and the only person who could possibly stop them is busy placing buckets on shopkeepers heads. All the Fus Roh Dah! in the world wont save you from distracted heroes who care more for shenanigans than epic combat with dragons.
Do you want to play the Tutorial again?
Everything has to start somewhere, and crafting a solid start to a game is definitely a tricky task. Rules and mechanics have to be taught, stories have to be set up, and players have to be drawn into the world and kept wanting more in order for it to be successful. Thats why so many of these clichs (no matter how silly they might be) are often visited; theyve been proven to work before, so why not try them againand againand again? Have any other game intro clichs to add? Tell us in the comments below!
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