The Importance of Video Game Tutorials: How Uncharted 4 Got It Right
Alex Babich looks at video game tutorials in games and why Uncharted 4 might just be the perfect one
Tutorials are a staple in most video games. They’re a place for the developer to teach the player how to interact with their game. The more numerous and complicated the mechanics, the longer and more depth is needed in the tutorial’s explanation. They are a necessary part of the game because, without them, the game becomes ambiguous and obtuse, alienating players.
But with games focusing more and more on story development, and lore, how does a tutorial fit in without interrupting the overall pacing of the story? How can a developer seamlessly interweave it into the game so it doesn’t even feel like you’re playing a tutorial? Let’s take a look at Uncharted 4, and how it uses its opening moments to both set up the story, and teach you how to play without you even noticing.
Right off the cuff, Uncharted 4 starts you on a high-speed boat chase in the middle of the ocean. Nathan is with his brother, getting shot at, and trying to navigate a terrible sea storm. And at this moment only one prompt appears. A symbol of the R2 button and the word “DRIVE” right next to the boat. The rest is intuitive. It is in this moment, you’re only given one task to focus on, driving the boat.
And this is how Naughty Dog introduces each mechanic of the game over the course of the first hour. They only show you a single button prompt, with a single verb and only throw one mechanic at a time to you, without combining it with too many other mechanics. They give you time to get the feel of how the player moves, shoots, climbs and takes cover. All in safe environments without having to worry about secondary mechanics and battle large swaths of enemies quite yet.
It does this while also firmly, and successfully establishing the characters of the story. These opening tutorial segments don’t take away from the drama of each moment. They fit it in perfectly within the premise of the story. Each moment building the relationships between the characters, their motives, wants, and desires. How they come inline with each other and how they conflict with each other.
It’s all rather brilliant. In the Catholic orphanage scene later in the game, Nate and Sam’s relationship is established while introducing us to climbing and sneaking mechanics as we sneak out of the orphanage. In the prison sequences we are introduced to melee combat, and cover mechanics while we get to know Rafe (our main antagonist for the game), and what happened to Sam to cause his absence for all these years. Then, when we fast forward to present day where we see a domesticated Nate, who really isn’t truly happy being retired from his life of adventuring. We’re treated to a rather sad moment when he is reliving his past by shooting targets with a toy gun in the attic. Showing us – the player – that Nate still feels the call to adventure, while also teaching us how the shooting and cover mechanics work without the threat of enemies.
Naughty Dog did a wonderful job of combining story and tutorial so that we barely notice we’re even playing tutorial missions. They give simple prompts and a safe place for the player to get a grasp of each mechanic, while also using those moments to build into the characters. And for a game that is driven heavily by its narrative, it’s a perfect example of how to do the opening tutorial right.
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