Tutorial: Redux

There’s been a bit of talk about tutorials so I wanted to write a bit about it and ask if anyone else has thoughts. We’re not working on it this patch. We’ve had this discussion before and there is some GDD material on it. I think I agree with the general vibe of the GDD but I’m not sure about some of the specifics so I wanted to start a fresh thread on it.

If you are interested please watch these videos about Half Life 2 and general advice.

To quote from the old thread

Now i know for a fact that the best way to teach a game to a new player is through play and exploration, not though text

I think this is a great starting point. One of the things I am most proud of in my steam game is that it has a wordless tutorial which eases the player into the game through play. You can watch someone playing it and figuring out the whole game (and complaining about the lack of sound and poor presentation lol).

The outcome of the last discussion was to make a wordy, placeholder, tutorial and while it was nice to have something I think that had an anchoring effect I would like to avoid. We knew it was not the optimal approach but once we had done it that kind of became the tutorial, this time I’d like to only work towards a really great tutorial. Thrive is a really complicated game and will need text in places.

Here is where I think we could be when we release 0.4.1 just as a natural consequence of what is already planned:

You start as a single hex of cytoplasm, there is only your species and the population is 1. Clouds of glucose, ammonia and phosphates are so abundant you can’t die.

You go to the editor and make some changes. When you return to swimming the patch is filled with members of your species as the population is now high, however there is still only 1 species.

You return to the patch / editor screen eventually and choose to split your species. This causes one of the halves to become ai controlled and from that point there is an exponentially growing number of ai species filling the patch map.

I think this is already pretty good for a smooth ramp of complexity that doesn’t need much explanation. I think when we are ready to go further a couple of ideas which I think would be good:

When you first spawn there can be a simple WASD logo on screen which flashes when you press the appropriate button, just enough for anyone who has not played games before.

When you first go to the editor you only have enough MP for one organelle and maybe only 3 choices are unlocked, that makes it very simple to constrain people into trying the system out with limited functionality.

I think once we’d got that far we could hone it with playtesting however with the tooltips which are already in I think it should be pretty close to explaining itself.

If anyone has opinions on how a tutorial should work or ideas they want to contribute please feel free.


What you described sounds good. A fluid, organic tutorial would definitely be great!

I do have some disagreements on the evolution/population things though, but I’ve already voiced most of those already and I won’t start again. However – and this relates more to the flow of the tutorial – it does seem a bit confusing to have to split your species in order to see NPC species emerge.

In my opinion, you should start to see NPC species appearing in the initial vent patch after the first few editor cycles regardless of whether or not you split; that way, the player can get accustomed to coexisting or competing with other species, and then choosing to split (which I assume means moving to another patch) comes later. If other species only show up when the player splits, you’re going to be introducing two different mechanics at the same time, which might be confusing. There’s also a chance that, if the player moves to a different patch, they won’t even see the new species at all.

Here’s my take on a WASD indicator thing:
It would rotate along with the cell to better communicate that movement is direction-relative, and fade away after the players move around a bit. (The W is white because it is being pressed)
I can understand how this might be a little too intrusive though, and players could still probably figure it out if the WASD logo was static.

Finally, I would like to mention that I have been working a little bit on a Thrive Manual, since I assume that’s something that’ll be put into the game at some point. While I’d still prefer if the tutorial organically explained important concepts, I think it’d be a nice thing to look at if you forgot something or wanted a little extra information, and it’d be nice if the tutorial alluded to the Manual’s existence to let players know it exists. (assuming it is implemented, of course)

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Yeah I agree about the point of not introducing two mechanics at once, I think that’s good. I’m not quite sure how we’re going to handle species splitting and extinction inside the patch. I agree it’s good to have ai species join you in the vent before moving on.

I like the look of that WASD indicator. Having it move with the player sounds cool.

Also the manual sounds like a nice idea. Hopefully it shouldn’t be too hard to add and it’s nice to have some reference material for the player to look at. The civiliopedia is quite nice. To get the game the player has to use the web so a web based manual is also a possibility, I’m happy with either.

That’s an interesting idea. One thing I don’t like is that on the second playthrough that might feel way too slow.
And the species splitting mechanic sounds a bit off / isn’t what I had in mind for how species would split. So suddenly “unlocking” and forcing the first split as part of the tutorial feels a bit wrong to me.

My idea for a tutorial was that when starting the game you would get a welcome message with a hint saying how to move and to collect the compound clouds you see. And an option for skipping the tutorial.

Then during gameplay there would be additional help popups with arrows pointing to different things like the compounds and the editor button once it is unlocked. These should be paced so that the player had a little bit of time to experiment between them, so it wouldn’t feel like a hand-holding kind of tutorial, rather it would explain core parts of the game to the player once they need to know about something.

I see the point about not wanting the start of the game to be slow, I think that’s important. If you pressed “skip the tutorial” where do you imagine you would go?

One option is to have “new game” start you off as a single hex of cytoplasm as the only species on the planet with tutorial features and “freebuild” let you pick any patch to start in and any amount of mutation points. That way more experienced players could jump into the stage anywhere they wanted.

I like the idea of arrows and additional help. I think we may well need that. It might make sense to iteratively add it over time to places we find people get stuck.

I think skipping the tutorial should do the following:

  • spawn a few single cytoplasm NPC species in each patch
  • unlock all organelle choices for the player right from the start (but the normal nucleus rule would of course apply)
  • and auto evo would affect the NPCs right from the first editor cycle.

With those things the player wouldn’t have to wait for the tutorial to be over before being able to play properly.

And things like selecting a starting patch would be hidden behind advanced options when configuring the new game.

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Yeah that sounds good. If the number of species is growing exponentially then putting a few in each patch would kick start things nicely.

I just read something quite clever and wanted to add it here as a note. One way of handling telling people “use WASD to move” is to have no notification and then only pop one up if they haven’t moved for some amount of time, like 3 seconds. Only those players that need the advice will see it.

I guess this works in general for a tutorial, only pop help up after a delay.


Re tutorials as a couple of people have brought it up:

I am against putting in a placeholder tutorial. We did that last time and we made a wordy, licencing, tutorial because that’s the easiest to make and imo that’s the least good kind. I think games are about the fun of discovering mechanics and interactions and you want to nurture that from the first moment someone starts playing. I posted a lot more about that in the op of this thread.

If people would like to put time into the tutorial then the question to answer is “what specific things are players not getting as they play?” This doesn’t mean what you think they will need to be helped with, nor what do they struggle with for a bit and then get after a while, it’s what do they fundamentally miss.

I imagine an example is pressing g to engulf, I would imagine it’s pretty possible to play for 30 minutes and not know this is possible as I don’t think there is any time when you have to use it and it’s not explained. That’s probably a good benchmark, anything someone doesn’t know after playing for 30 minutes needs to be clearer (and that can often mean icons or sounds rather than text).

So if anyone would like to do work in this direction what we need is to watch people who have never played the game before playing it and commentating on what they think. So maybe we can look at letsplays of new players. Another one would be to get a friend or family member to play and then not helping them at all and just watching what they are stuck on. This will let us know where the problems are.

I’m definitely in favor of avoiding unnecessary work. I don’t think we should focus on a tutorial yet.

Also on the community forums and discord there are some good questions about gameplay stuff.
For example many people have missed the fact that thykaloids are useless in lightless patches. So this would be an example of something that could be explained with having dynamically updating tooltips or something like an energy balance bar, which would greatly help new players to avoid making cells that can’t make enough ATP.

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