New Tutorial Introduction
The folks at the Chronicles of Spellborn have posted a dev blog introducing players to the new tutorial which was recently added to the game.
Perhaps the biggest challenge we have to overcome as developers is that of assumptions. People assume they will play Spellborn in a way similar to how they played through their previous romp.
Back in 2007, The Chronicles of Spellborn was in Closed Beta phase and was a much harder game to play. The bears in Hawksmouth had an appetite for new recruits and managing to kill one of these furry creatures was the stuff of legends. Although it was demanding, it did show people that Spellborn was very unlike ’Click & Forget’ MMOs where you are mostly clicking icons, then moving to the next target and then clicking icons again. I know that is a gross generalization but playing Spellborn like a ‘traditional’ MMO will for the most get you killed. That did serve a purpose though: it taught people, in the harshest way possible, how to play. It taught them the need to dodge. It taught them they needed to move while fighting. Yet the bears’ difficulty also scared people off as the game quickly became a death-by-bear simulation.
I remember having a conversation with one of our Open Beta testers (near the end of 2008) on the Zone Chat channel. He was going on about how the combat was nothing like the fast-paced action spectacle that he had been promised. It sparked a very passionate response from the ‘old’ Beta crowd, who promptly became his tutors. We soon realized that the person who found the game “lacking some things” was playing Spellborn like a traditional MMO:
1. Stand and fight 2. Walk to a road 3. Heal 4. Walk to next target 5. Stand and fight 6. Walk to a road 7. Heal 8. Stand and fight 9. An opponent respawns right on top of him 10. Fighting two opponents now 11. Player dead…
This was of course not exactly how we intended the game to be played; we ourselves could outmanoeuvre two to three enemies and still hardly get hit. Getting killed by a bear over and over again had made us better at avoiding their small 360 degree attack radius and their long frontal 90 degree claw attack. Death and perseverance taught us that a bear should be attacked at a certain range and that a dodo needs another tactic again. We had been taught such things because failing to follow those ‘rules’ would get us killed.
Since then we have made the game easier and as a result people playing the game like a traditional MMO would no longer get killed. Although they would loose a lot of health, a one-on-one encounter could be won even if the player did not move at all. It made Spellborn more accessible and even more fun to play (if you already knew how to fight ‘properly’). But, it also let people get away with playing the game like a traditional MMO.
The aforementioned player from the zone chat for instance was using his mouse to click the icons (Skills) on the Combat Bar. We knew this because he was expressing his not-so-pleasant feelings about the Combat Bar constantly rotating away when he tried to click on a Skill. As a result he was probably not using his mouse simultaneously to evade enemies and thus he was not using all the mechanics available. It was like giving someone a sports car and hearing complaints about it not being very fast; only to realize the clutch to switch gears had never been used. It seems self-explanatory, but in fact we had made a large assumption about the combat mechanics being easy to learn without any help. The person on the Zone Chat did eventually get there; he even had fun using his mouse and keyboard appropriately. Yet, for us it was a reality check: it became clear that the game and its combat system needed more explanation.
Our idea to give people choice, was in fact too big of a piece to chew on. There were too many choices and almost no directions.
Yet, reviews and feedback (from higher level) players were rather positive: the game is fun, it is atmospheric and it does offer something different to play. Players apparently had a good time playing Spellborn. For them, we did things right.
So how come not everyone could overcome the hurdle?
The problem had been addressed once before by making the game easier to play, but that had an adverse effect. With so much energy spent on creating the game, we forgot to introduce its core mechanics properly to newcomers. We have seen players who did not aim at enemies and players who stood still while hitting and getting hit by an enemy. They both found the game rather uninteresting and slow paced. They cannot deal with multiple enemies at once and have to regenerate after every single fight. We did not explain how to survive multiple encounters without getting hit. We figured this would be clear, but unless you had a preference for first-person shooters it was anything but.
All this explains why we are revamping the starting portion of the game.
Currently we are in the process of finishing a new opening sequence-slash-tutorial which explains, step-by-step, how Spellborn is meant to be played. This also means we are removing the first few quests which currently demand that players find a target which resides outside their view. It seems simple, but from statistics we see that a large group of players have a lot of trouble finding something on their own. What we want to do is to slowly show them how to do their own thinking and to ease them into the game.
In the next post I will go into a bit more detail about the changes, ideas and thinking behind this new and upcoming tutorial setup.
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