As you may or may not know, Shigeru Miyamoto and his team are thinking hard about how to make the Legend of Zelda series more fun again. No wait, they’re thinking about how to make it so the player reaches the entertaining part of the game more quickly and how to teach them to play in a way that doesn’t feel like a dry, boring tutorial or add more and more obstacles in the way of the game’s content.
But I don’t think they get it. The problem with the Legend of Zelda series now is a simple one, there is too much pointless fluff present before you actually get to the core of the game. Ocarina of Time introduced what was in essence a tutorial (Kokiri Forest), but it was fairly simple and over with quite quickly, with full freedom granted to Link right when he entered the Deku Tree. But every Zelda game since then seems to be putting up more and more barriers and more and more pointless chores in front of the actual game.
Majora’s Mask had you mess around doing various errands for the first three days, The Wind Waker had you do various things on Outset Island before heading off on the adventure (and the forced stealth section at Forsaken Fortress was a pretty bad idea too, maybe it should have been the second or third dungeon instead), Twilight Princess had Link doing various farm/village related tasks and learning all those basic controls and Skyward Sword had quite the intro/tutorial on Skyloft and the whole bird racing/ceremony thing that took up a fair amount of time. But what if there was a way to avoid all this?
How about if Nintendo took a leaf out of Donkey Kong Country Returns’ book and had small Wii mote icons or things pop up in the first level? They were unintrusive, they didn’t pose an obstacle between the start of the game and the first level and they were never seen again afterwards.
Or how Wario Land 4 had neat little animated pictures on the back wall with the necessary controls and a picture of Mr Game and Watch doing the required action. That was fairly low key as well, at least compared to ‘lets do a bunch of sword training with the old guy in the village’.
But why even go that far? You could just do what Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island did and have message boxes you use to get small tidbits of advice littered throughout the early levels. Seems quite easy to build that into Zelda, just make it so you get advice by reading the signs or talking to NPCs. It’d at least be less annoying and intrusive than having Fi jump out and give advice every four seconds or that owl from Ocarina of Time give a monologue about your next location.
And if you’re really, really ‘smart’ about it, you could pack in a tutorial DVD and have no tutorial in game whatsoever. Maybe label it ‘How to play Zelda for the complete moron’.
^Or like that parody
But for a video game, there’s a much simpler way to make a tutorial. Instead of acting like the game’s reading an on screen instruction manual and assuming your players are complete idiots, you design the levels so they encourage the player to figure out how to play the game themselves. For example, do you ever wonder why the start of Super Mario Bros 1 looks like this?
It’s because the level is meant to be a sort of tutorial in itself. Not a blatantly obvious one that forces itself down your throat because some executive thinks players are complete morons
Above: The problem with modern video games and tutorials in a nut shell, they assume people have the attention span of your average fictional goldfish.
But a subtle one that teaches you without you really realising it. Mario faces right, the screen only scrolls right, all encouragement to get the player to go right. The Goomba encourages Mario to avoid it, at which point he’ll probably either land smack on the Goomba’s head (realising you can jump on enemies to defeat them) or hit the ? block (realising you can do this to get items) Even the Mushroom has been placed so it automatically comes towards Mario and so the player often gets it and realises that getting items is beneficial.
That’s how quite a lot of Super Mario Bros 1 works. Heck, that’s how Nintendo’s NES era games as a whole work, they teach people how to play in a way which is all but invisible to te end user. Pity they seem to forgotten this recently, complete with the giant arrow sign added in New Super Mario Bros:
Ideally, something similar would be how The Legend of Zelda 3DS/Wii U would have a tutorial work. Instead of having a huge part of the game devoted to running around the starting area/village and doing various menial tasks with assistance from NPCs (hey Japan, we don’t like playing as kids and boring everymen with no interesting abiities!), you’d just start off in the field somewhere and have the exploration be designed in just the right way that you’d figure out how to play the game as you went. Not sure how this could be achieved, 3D games are always a bit trickier to make good tutorials/first levels for and the increasing complex combat only makes things even harder in this respect, but I think maybe either a small outside area or a first dungeon could be a great place to introduce a sort of ‘invisible’ tutorial.
So in conclusion, the answer to Miyamoto’s questions is simple, make the game’s ‘level design’ teach the player rather than including a dull, lengthy intro and tutorial to start the game off.