Tutorial Planning

We’re screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-19-53-09 in the process of working on the game’s tutorial.

We’re starting a bit earlier than we did with King of Dragon Pass (since the game is not done), and we’re also taking a somewhat different approach.

King of Dragon Pass had a scripted tutorial, which tried to take you on a tour of the important elements of the game. But it was too easy to get off the rails and either miss things, or confuse the tutorial. (And as a side note, it was actually not the best first play experience since you raided during planting season — we wanted the tutorial to mention this, but if you then continued the game, you were in a small hole.)

Six Ages will take a more reactive approach. Instead of telling you to switch to the Map screen, and then describing exploration, it will wait until you switch on your own, and then describe exploration. It will also (for example) mention the size of a reasonable sacrifice the first time you’re asked to sacrifice. So you’ll get the information when it actually matters.

One thing I’d like to do is ask King of Dragon Pass players what confuses you about the game. For example, we once got a bug report that clan magic went negative. That’s actually by design, but if it confused someone, we can pop up a tutorial card when it happens. I expect we’ll have a manual too, but if something seems wrong, you’re not going to go look it up.

So please let us know what confused you or you think needs better explanation, here in the comments (or to @SixAges on Twitter).

Author: David

Creator of Six Ages and King of Dragon Pass

27 thoughts on “Tutorial Planning”

  1. The manual for KoDP said it’s always best to have a mix of crops, but if your ancestors in Sacred Time say something is or isn’t going to do well this year, THAT’S NOT TRUE. If they say “This will be a bad year for wheat” and you plant as little as 10% wheat (so you still have a mix, but it’s mostly not wheat), your ancestors will be disappointed you “didn’t listen to them” (despite the fact that you did, since usually it’s more like 35/35/30 on crops; you reduced your wheat based on their suggestion – you just didn’t reduce it to 0, since the manual said to always have a mix).

    1. Sorry if that bit you (sounds more like a bug actually), but it hasn’t been part of KoDP since 2011 when we released version 2.0…

  2. The distinction between trade routes, which generate income continually, and trading missions, could perhaps be made a bit clearer. I don’t believe you actually did any trading in the KoDP tutorial, I know you call in a favor at one point.

    Hard to figure where the boundary is between something for a manual and something a tutorial can cover.

  3. Does the “tap it” description mean you are designing the UI first and foremost for tablets/phones?

    I owned KoDP for a long time and bought it on Steam again a while ago. I refunded the Steam version however, because I absolutely hated the UI from the deepest depths of my soul. It was literally painful to play.
    I hope you are not basing Six Ages’ UI on the mobile KoDP one.

    Have fun.

  4. Attack the quackies for a short game!

    First of, thanks for KoDP.
    Information about what the defence buildings give in stats, also how much a person consumes in food pr cycle. and how much food livestock produces, what the land acres gives in boons (i never dared tuch the stuff). Regarding to raiding perhaps if possible elaborate abit more about the diffrenet tactices + sacrafices etc..
    Those are the things that comes to mind with regarding to more information.
    Hope Six Ages is going well.

    1. I agree, my biggest challenge is always not really knowing how much food/livestock/etc I’d need or use throughout the year. I basically just try to horde as much as possible, and it feels kind of random each year whether my people will be fine or starving

      …although maybe that’s the kind of thing you want players to slowly learn, rather than have explained by a tutorial 🙂

      Either way, this is a good switch to make. In addition to the problems you mentioned (especially how things can get wonky if the player goes “off rails!”), we’ve found that big directed information dumps like in old school style tutorials just aren’t that useful! Most players either mash through the info, or at best just skim it. They want to play, not learn. A few dedicated players will actually read each word, but with so much info being dropped so rapidly it’s hard to remember the important stuff.

      Whereas a reactive tutorial lets info pop up at the user’s own pace, when it’s directly relevant to what they want to do. A much better system!

      Something we’ve also had success with is “hiding” the tutorial among the challenges/goal tasks the player is given. (For example, if an endless runner, “Break 10 trashcans in a single run” is a standard kind of challenge. But at the beginning the challenges would just be “Start a run”, “Break 1 trash can”, “Use your secret power”, etc etc) This gets players invested and engaged in the tutorial without even realizing that they’re being taught the game basics. You’ll notice this tactic in a lot of AAA games too, especially those by Rockstar where basically the first third of the game’s missions are actually there to teach you about a specific mechanic! Although in a game like KODP/6A, so open ended and with so much info to convey, “hidden tutorials” probably wouldn’t be that effective anyway 😀

      …ack this turned into a bit of a rambling, sorry!

  5. To be honest, I thought KoDP’s tutorial (the original release) was pretty horrendous. So there’s a lot of room for improvement. Try to make the basic functions very clear to the player – how to gain more tribe members, how much food each cow produces per season, how does having followers of different deities in your clan ring affect your clan’s magic etc. Maybe you could explain a bit more clearly how the size of your tribe’s land affects the gameplay – I always thought this wasn’t very clearly explained in KoDP. Also, the role of sheep & pigs was very unclear in KoDP – more than once I ended up sacrificing all my sheep only to notice that all my temples ceased to operate because I had no sheep and no way of acquiring more. Although I think the “Slaughter” option was removed from the newer releases, no?

    However please don’t give clear instructions on how every single mechanism works in Six Ages – part of what made KoDP so mysterious and unique was the fact that the game mechanisms were not spelled out to you and you had to experiment to find out the best approach. There’s no need to give numeric descriptions of all game mechanisms – for instance you don’t need to show the player how combat results are calculated or how greatly blessings or skills enhance your hero’s / tribes chances during events. That would only encourage minmaxing, which is not good for the player’s immersion. However you could spell out how different combat maneuvers work against other ones.

  6. I found the google version tutorial very annoying since I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. So regardless of what style you go for make sure it’s obvious how to get rid of it.

  7. I’m glad to see you making this game a better experience.

    My worst problem was inability to understand how much food I need to prevent my people from starvation. The harvest was bad and we needed to wait until better times, but before that I had to slaughter some stock. I had no idea how much meat I need to make it through the year, I didn’t knew how big is the difference between bushels and people.
    It was so sore to see my clan members dying that I needed to reload dozens of times in order to find proper number of sheep/pigs to slaughter.

    Also the battle tactics. Only Wikia made me realise how to use Skirmish/Maneuver/Charge/Evade. As Pekka Anttonen said, it would be better to hide some information (especially numerical values), but I’d like to see some clever way to help player master this tactics. For example, by listening to talented advisor who is very good in martial (no more than 1 advise per battle), or by some event (learning from old warlord).

  8. King of Dragon Pass gets it very, very right. You are never told *exactly* how things work, but because of this the magic never dissipates. Common sense will get you through the game. This is infinitely preferable to games that force unskippable tutorials that treat you like a retard. Even great games can be a chore to pick up because of their tutorials, and if you’ve already played it, the bar to starting a new game is that much higher.

    Drop the player into the action from the get-go, let every bit of the tutorial be easy to skip, deliver all the necessary information as quickly and densely as possible, no ‘Greetings adventurer! The icon in the middle of the screen is your cursor. Why don’t you try moving it around?’ Make the tutorial a checkbox in options, so it’s presented to players by default first time they play the game, but easy to disable if you know how to play or want to figure it out on your own – even if you just reinstalled the game.


    1. I get where you’re coming from, as I’ve seen the strategy game genre as a whole get dumbed down, but in this case the game would benefit from a thorough tutorial, albeit a skippable one. Yes the game is best learned by simply playing and failing your way through, but some of the intricacies need to be outlined clearly. There needs to be mystery, chance, and suspense but the actual mechanics need to be clear in how they work. I think the devs can find success if stay true to complexity and difficulty of KoDP but make the learning curve accessible. We don’t need blaring signals in game to point out the best decision, we just need a decent way to learn how to make that decision.

  9. Crops, hides, pastures, pastureland, forest. Same things were called differently. It really confused me on managing crop/pasture ratio.

  10. I’ve been playing KODP for a few years now but I still have trouble determining how much to trade or gift in a lot of circumstances. I know treasures are worth about 50 cows (and can get down to 40 with a good trader) and sacrifices to gods need to be a multiple of 7, plus any time I’m told the exact value (like weregild or when my trader says to offer X cows), but most of the time I’m blindly guessing. For example, when Yinkin’s followers show up offering to increase my forests’ bounty, I think I started offering them 20 cows when I started and worked my way down to 10. I also never really have a clue how much I should gift when forming a tribe, especially at the moot. I have a similar problem with sending warriors – I usually send 14 on caravans and to explore, but this number doesn’t work for some random events.

    Also do multiples of seven always help, and are nobles included in that count?

    1. This sort of raises the question: is information better presented in a tutorial, or by advisors? (Frex, a decent trader should be mentioning the value of a treasure, when you trade. And this is better in some ways because it’s easier for them to be aware of the context, like a less-valuable treasure.)

      1. I forgot to clarify that I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, except in the tribe-forming instance. If I have a heroic trader and have exhausted most to all of my other options, but still don’t know what the clan I’m courting wants, then I’m kind of frustrated. This is rather tangental, but how many cows would it take to bribe a totally neutral clan without any concessions given?

        ANYWAY to attempt to answer your question, tutorials should introduce concepts (war) and large problems (how does the clan not starve?), plus one or two ways of dealing with them (raiding for both). Ring members are perfect for minutae and pertinent adivce, and they’re probably one of my favorite game mechanics of all time for it.

  11. I found the heroquests to be the most confusing part of KoDP. I didn’t know what learning more secrets about a heroquest did, or whether there was always one right answer. I had really awesome characters die all the time and it felt very random and confusing because I didn’t know whether I was just making the wrong choices in-quest or whether my character wasn’t strong enough, or how to find out what the correct choices were.

    Everything else seemed to have a very good learning curve, and I am so incredibly excited for Six Ages to come out!

    1. From what I can tell, the first version of the myth is just people guessing at what the gods did, and if you do that you MIGHT get out but probably won’t. The secret version reveals what the gods actually did and offers a much higher chance of success.

  12. The enormity of the game(s) demands more game length options. The ‘Short Game’ was still an immense and time consuming experience for me and as I fumbled my way through, I felt I was increasingly wasting my time, whilst making some terrible ill governed and irreversible decisions. The sense of not understanding made it painfully drawn out at times and I remember losing interest. (Thankfully picked it up again after a break and now totally adore it).

    Surely the only way is to make mini games based on each theme of tutorial? Farmer; warrior; explorer; shamen; trader etc. If that’s not an option then simply do what you did with the latest Kodp with the on/off tutorial option as that was a huge improvement to earlier iOS editions. There really aren’t any other alternatives. Most people struggle to retain any more than three bits of information in one sitting. Good luck and thanks!

  13. Bit of a long post: First, thanks for KoDP. I found it later in life but it became the high water mark for me in so many areas.

    On how to present tutorial information:

    Always keep it “in advisor” if you can. That was part of the magic of KoDP is that it so rarely broke form for gameplay purposes. It didn’t drop window on you with “the game” telling you how it works. As someone said above, KoDP always knew not to give too much away and to keep what was given away flavorful and in character. Not to boil things down to optimal numbers except where strictly necessary. You eventually sussed out that balance anyways.

    (I for example learned that giving less than 10 of Cows or Goods was a dumb idea. 10/10 was always the best baseline gift or sacrifice. Maybe I was sacrificing way too much or being too generous but hey, that played into the narrative of how I ran my clan!)

    The pastureland/farming land/crop balance screen was about as close to “helping you find the optimal balance” as the game came. Combat is one place where, while it didn’t give you any help in figuring out the optimal balance, did reduce things down to hard numbers by the end. (You need good casualty reports so you can play the game effectively. In that way you learned what strategies netted what average results.)

    The problem for me is that I have to weigh my constant desire for better information as a player, against my desire for mystery and mystique as a player. Known outcomes and repetition are where, for me, a game starts the countdown clock to me no longer playing it. Every game has its limits but KoDP kept me chasing the Dragon a lot longer than most because there was always something new around the corner. A new threat, opportunity or development. Where most games would boil that down to “Support your ally: Relationship +10, Resources +5. New Enemy: Purple Cow Clan” and show it to the player, KoDP kept that stuff hidden. Your allies’ reply implied but might have happened, the following event from an angry Purple Cow Clan leader might seal your belief in what just happened behind the scenes….but it never spelled it out for you. And it kept what it was doing flavorful and in character, so your decisions felt less motivated by mechanics and more motivated by actual roleplaying. Even when I KNOW what’s going on mechanically in the background, a game that lets me continue to dream what’s actually going on keeps getting played.

    To that point: Hero Quests. It’s the same story here. There were lots of spin off events coming off of success and failure that Hero Quests seemed to have a lot going on. Even savescumming the results I could never be too sure what was going on. I have plenty of clan magic, allies helping, a God-aligned hero with seemingly the right stats….why is this particular step of the Hero Quest so prone to failure? Why did this other one seemingly skip a couple steps? Why did this other one produce a different result than I’ve seen before, maybe even a failure, but it’s counted as a success? Why did I sudden get booted into the Underworld?

    Stuff like that is great. Sometimes frustrating as a player, but as a gamer its the stuff that nourishes the soul. Not just because of the mystery but also because whatever is going on is supported by character, flavor, an internal logic to how things work that matches what’s going on in the game.

    So anyways, here’s things that I think tutorials should take a little time to explain what they mean if not what they do:

    -Combat options and what they represent. Anyone well read in fantasy and war could make assumptions but some examples of how or why to use those tactics might be helpful.
    -Various things affecting the success of a heroquest.
    -Exploration giving you a better sense of how long someone *should* be gone. In KoDP (PC version) it was either “instant” in your Tula or ?????? for a couple pixels outside of it.
    -Travel times in general. The game makes a lot of assumptions on how many seasons thing take to do but this is never explained to the player.
    -Trade and output in each year always felt poorly explained. Mostly I think because it all took place in that one paragraph on the Sacred Time screen. That’s one place a chart and columns is in order I think. But maybe that takes away from the “oral tradition” nature of the game.
    -The impact of Special Crafting Resources on trade, other than the events tied to them, always felt poorly explained. Great, I make high-end gem-based goods. What exactly does that translate to?
    -People being elevated to Clan Member status. I never knew when to expect new faces to replace people in the Clan Ring.

    Think that’s it. Really excited for Six Ages, it’s some of the most exciting gaming news I’ve had in years. I’d have thrown money at this in a crowd funding project.

  14. I am just so happy to hear that a sequel to KODP will be out. I was walking down memory lane on old games and searched for KODP. I had forgotten the name, but remembered a line on a quest: “Why did you do that?”

    So excited. Hope Six Ages will be just as great! I want to relive KODP from 15 years ago ^_^

  15. Thanks for the update, and I’m also looking forward to Six Ages with great anticipation! 🙂

    Like most others I’m relatively agnostic on a tutorial, as long as it’s a fairly basic intro that’s kept strictly optional and skippable. If needed, more in-depth explanatory text could be added to an in-game pedia or manual similar to the “Lore” or journal pages in KoDP. I *loved* the way most information was filtered through the clan ring advisors in KoDP – this really made the game come alive, especially since you had to consider each member’s skills, relationships and background in judging how each piece of advice could be biased (is he really skilled enough to interpret these omens accurately? is she favoring X partly because of her religion? and those Tricksters are the worst..)

    I don’t know if it’s too late to implement, but in general it would be great for replayability if you can find ways to tweak things so the best solution to a given scenario isn’t always the same in every playthrough. For example, if players find that a certain scene with feuding families always ends up with the matriarch of family A being incorrigible and causing trouble, if Thadart is always a virtuous clan member and never a treacherous Tusk Raider spy, (or if in another situation a gift of precisely 7 cows is always exactly the right answer), this is the kind of thing they will memorize or write down in walkthroughs so in future games they don’t need to think through the situation or weigh perspectives from their advisors.

    If for at least some scenarios you can add some ambiguity and find ways for the impact of choices to be different between playthroughs, this will really add to replayability and further enhance the immersion by engaging players to explore a largely unknown world through the perspective of other clan members.

  16. Couple of things:

    I just didn’t get the basic game flow. Maybe this was the game, maybe this was me, but I didn’t know what kind of game I was playing for a long time. If I’m playing a platformer, I immediately know how to manipulate the basics so I can discover what is unique about the game.

    I didn’t know what I was and was no supposed to know. The manual was HUGE – figuring out what I was expected to have gleaned from the manual, and what I was supposed to discover on my own often left me thinking I was confused even when I wasn’t.

    Everything about heroquests. I’m still not 100% sure I get them, and I’ve won the long game multiple times.

    I will second not being sure how the combat tactics work.

    I generally didn’t know if I was doing well or poorly until I lost.

  17. * Land management was confusing, especially
    ** clearing and regrowing forest
    ** the military aspect of land use
    ** how to plan for having an efficient balance of farmers, cows, and land
    * What’s the deal with someone’s day job if you assign them to an away mission, how many people with a certain job are currently active if some of them are away, etc.
    * Some things about trade routes, such as does it matter who and where the trade partners are

  18. I was never sure when disasters were my fault and when they were a bad roll. Sometimes my cattle would be tainted by Chaos just because and others because I kept a terrible object from a magician. Children overpopulation was also pretty confusing mostly because there was no easy way to undo the spiral and a warning would have been nice. Also, things like pasture/crops, inner patrol/outer patrol, jobs changing without input from the player took me a while to figure out, even if I think most of those were explained.

  19. Well I read through this page and was instantly lured into replaying KoDP, so thought I’d add a few comments on the comments! 🙂

    “Children overpopulation was also pretty confusing mostly because there was no easy way to undo the spiral and a warning would have been nice.. more than once I ended up sacrificing all my sheep only to notice that all my temples ceased to operate because I had no sheep and no way of acquiring more.”
    For any situations like this where there can be a self-reinforcing spiral, a great way to handle it is to trigger an event that calls attention to the problem and offers several possible solutions (an awesome example of this was the KoDP event where losing too many men led to choices to adopt men from other clans or sponsor a “marriage contest”, etc 🙂 To avoid players taking advantage, either make each choice have a drawback or make it clear that the “rescue” event won’t keep saving you forever if the problem recurs..

    “I also never really have a clue how much I should gift when forming a tribe, especially at the moot. I have a similar problem with sending warriors – I usually send 14 on caravans and to explore, but this number doesn’t work for some random events..” “There’s no need to give numeric descriptions of all game mechanisms – for instance you don’t need to show the player how combat results are calculated or how greatly blessings or skills enhance your hero’s / tribes chances during events. That would only encourage minmaxing, which is not good for the player’s immersion..”
    For decisions involving specific numbers, I suppose players would like a general sense of what an appropriate average or median value is, and a directional sense about the consequences of exceeding or falling below that number, while still not breaking immersion with a cut-and-dried formula. In general, a good way to handle this is to avoid having a single “absolutely correct” answer for most numbers, and instead have a “typical” answer with certain tradeoffs for being significantly higher or lower.
    For example, during negotiation a skilled trade advisor could say “The Bag of Winds is worth around 40 cows at current market rates. The Blue Spruce clan is desperate, I think I can convince them to go as low as 20, but they won’t be happy..”
    Your Custom advisor could add “Even if they accept it, offering much below 30 cows would give us a reputation for niggardliness among neighboring clans.”
    A domestic advisor could add “The harvest has been poor, we need more bulls to plow the fields. Giving away much more than 35 cows would shame us in the eyes of the carls.”

    Then, any offer above 20 could be accepted, with offers below 40 slightly worsening your relationship with the Blue Spruce and above 40 slightly increasing it (depending on how far away from 40 you are). Offers above 35 would become increasingly detrimental to carls’ morale, with accepted offers below 35 slightly increasing it. Offers below 30 would also subtract from a “generous reputation” counter. The skill of each advisor affects how accurate their “goal posts” are as well as how much info they give you on the consequences of being higher or lower. This is pretty close to what KoDP often did that seemed to work the best in these situations (I think sending more warriors increased survivability during a cattle raid, but also the chance of getting caught..)
    The more you can avoid a single “right” number and include various tradeoffs for being much higher or lower than certain approximate goalposts, the better this will be for immersion.

    “I was never sure when disasters were my fault and when they were a bad roll”
    It sounds like players want to be occasionally reminded when and how they’ve impacted events, while avoiding immersion-breaking stat popups like “+5 relationship with Boar Clan”. For this snide or self-congratulatory comments or “I told you so”s from clan members tend to work perfectly, whether referencing a stat or value that contributed or a particular past decision that was made.

    “I just didn’t get the basic game flow.. I generally didn’t know if I was doing well or poorly until I lost.”
    Since the clan advice typically focuses on the specific screen or event you are viewing, I suppose it’s sometimes hard to get a more general picture of how the clan is doing overall, and which are the few pieces of advice that are viewed as most important to prioritize. Perhaps if there was a “council” screen you could go to for general advice on what members think are the most pressing issues at the time. Of course, their sage wisdom should also be biased by their skills, relationships and hidden agendas! 🙂

    “Heroquests were confusing… I loved that Heroquests were confusing…”
    Agreed, but as was also mentioned they absolutely should be! 🙂 I loved it when several times the quest seemed to take an unexpected diversion from the single “correct” answer you’d find in the myth summary or in walkthroughs, and this was presented as an expected quirk of the mythical universe. As long as players are kept on notice to expect the unexpected and mysterious, this is a great place to mix things up a little (maybe clan members commenting on omens before the quest can be a way to foreshadow various twists and turns from the standard narrative?)

    However, it is true that when the outcome felt like a truly random roll of the dice, I would be driven to save/reload scumming due to the high stakes involved, then felt bad about this cop-out lol. For letting things seem random yet retain a mysterious logic while avoiding save/reload scums, one interesting option can be to set a random number seed for heroquests, which only changes once a quest is completed. This way you’re almost “fated” to experience a certain outcome until you pass through it.

    “People being elevated to Clan Member status. I never knew when to expect new faces to replace people in the Clan Ring”
    True, and this also reminds me one of my favorite events was getting to affect the upbringing of Kallyr, who (if you make the right choices) you get to see on the clan ring later as an adult. It would be great to add a generic event or two re upbringing of clan children where you can encourage or punish a certain skill, religious choice or personality trait, and have this influence the traits of a clan member who you can see years later as an adult.

    Wow that was a long post – well thanks for listening and guess I’ll go back and finish my short game of KoDP. It still holds up after all these years, I bet we’ll still be playing some Six Ages 16 years from now! 🙂

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