How to teach players how to play your Flash game

Ok, you made your game, it’s awesome, and you enjoyed a lot playing it.

Now you have to face a problem: you are the only one who knows all game mechanics. And it’s quite obvious that a player can’t enjoy your game like you did, if he doesn’t know how to play it.

A successful game designer has to manage this problem and try to solve it. You can do it with a manual, with some tutorial levels or with in-game hints. But above all you have to do it with gameplay

There are some interesting thoughts in Casual Game Design blog:

Civilization is quite a complex game, but it’s still not hard to pick it up and play, even if you only fully understand its inner workings much later

That’s right… I played Civilization on Amiga in early 90’s and I did not read any manual, but I enjoyed the game from the first minute and I was able to manage all its mechanics after a week of hard core playing. And we are talking about Civilization, not a “use arrow keys to move, space to jump” Flash game. This is the power of game design.

On the other hand, the casual browser player does not want to spend more than one minute to understand your game, and if you don’t tell you to use arrow keys to move and space to jump, he will quit your game.

So you must introduce the rules before the player hit “play”.

Just because your game has complex rules, doesn’t mean you need to dump all of them on the player at once. As long as the player can have fun in the first few minutes of play, it doesn’t matter one bit whether she already knows all the rules or not. You can always introduce the more intricate rules later on, or let the player find them out for himself, as Civilization 1 does.

This is the key. If you have two (or more) different types of enemy, or block, or bullet, or whatever, don’t introduce them all at once: you will frustrate the player and he will quit the game. And don’t force the player to read 20 screens to know about features you will introduce only from level 50.

If your game is quite simple, just introduce new features with a box between a level and another.
Should it have hard-to-find-out-on-your-own information, provide an help page but don’t make your game unplayable if the player does not read it. The player should play and easily win (and enjoy) the first levels, and when things get harder, at some point the player, intrigued by the game, will browse the help page.

Don’t provide your game with boring, senseless tutorial levels forcing the player to read tons of text and press an almost invisible “next” button to go through all information.

A Flash game must be immediate.

Outside Flash world, I want to bring you GTA Vice City: you can enjoy it from the first minute, you can steal cars, kill pedestrians, and ride through Miami yelling “born to be wild”. Then, and only then, you can start playing seriously, learning how to control motorbikes, how to paint your car, where to perform the best jumps, how to restore your starmina by night…

What do you think about? (I mean about the post, not about Vercetti restoring his stamina…)

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