Recently I had the pleasure of playing through a friend’s game, Aigo Capture, and offering tips on how to make it easier for players to understand the game and make it through the tutorial into regular matches. I’ve included my suggestions to him below.
Aigo Capture: Player Onboarding Feedback
My initial impression of Aigo Capture was that it was a complicated and unintuitive game. I didn’t get the sense that I would want to play it repeatedly. But, I stuck with it and now I’m actually a little bit addicted to it! Aigo Capture is great fun to play once you understand how it works but getting to that point (a point of understanding) is incredibly difficult. Fortunately, it is much easier to revise a game’s onboarding system than it is to completely overhaul its mechanics and strategy.
This is what the Aigo Capture battle screen looks like.
Based on a lifetime of playing games and my experience in the games industry I’ve come to understand that the best way to have a player learn how to play a game is to simply encourage them to dive right into and begin interacting with the systems. Although this sounds astonishingly easy to do it actually requires a great deal of careful thought for it to be executed correctly. Having players learn a game simply by playing it is somewhat akin to designing a product so that someone who has never seen or heard of it can pick it up and immediately start using it. It’s the ultimate design goal and, as with many things worth pursuing, an elegant and simple illustration of a complex system is not easily obtained. Fortunately, we have a number of fantastic examples that we can draw inspiration from and a solid base of a game to work with. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
The current tutorial system front-loads the entirety of the game’s mechanics and UI flow with a series of text boxes highlighting different portions of the game’s systems and attempting to communicate how the game works across these twenty or so tidbits of information. At first glance, you might assume that this is perfectly fine. The purpose of a tutorial is to teach, and what better way to teach than to provide a detailed explanation of a game’s mechanics and then set the player free?
Unfortunately, humans are not reasonable. They are impatient and get confused easily. Which means that even if you describe in detail how every part of the game functions they are most likely going to turn away due to boredom (not wanting to read through all the various text boxes), confusion (reading through all of the different text boxes but not being able to understand all the mechanics or losing track of what’s important), or being overwhelmed (making part of their way through the tutorial but not being able to cope with learning all of the game at once). So, to avoid losing players for reasons other than them just simply not liking the kind of game that you’ve chosen to create we want to design a tutorial that eases players into the depth and complexity of Aigo Capture and makes it abundantly clear how cool the game is.
I have two primary suggestions for Aigo Capture.
1. Instead of many text boxes explaining each component of the game start with one text box providing a summary of the game mechanics and let the player move on from there on their own.
2. Follow the design template of a game like Super Mario Brothers and let the player learn by playing.
Summary of Mechanics
For folks who are unfamiliar with games it can take them a bit of time to acclimatize to a new genre or rule set that they hadn’t interacted with before. We can expedite this acclimatization period by providing the player with a brief description of how the game functions and what its about. Some games do this in their Steam description, or with a brief tutorial video or interperse it with narrative or bypass this process entirely and rely heavily on arrows and visual cues to try and guide the player through understanding what the game is about.
For some games like Aigo Capture, a note from the creator about the game and how it works adds character to the game and makes players feel welcome while giving them a framework for understanding how the game functions. Here’s an example of a user flow and summary of the game that could help new players get to having a ton of fun a lot sooner!
Once a new player has signed up push them immediately into the game play scene and present them with a brief summary of how the game functions before moving them through the tutorial missions where they’ll be learning the specifics of how to succeed at the game. The summary could be as follows
Aigo Capture is a game about capturing units on the board. Based on the cards available in your hand you can capture cards on the board, try and prevent your opponent from making a match or clearing the board or even clear the entire board yourself. It’ll seem simple at first but prepare to be surprised by the depths to which your opponents will go to to try and outwit you. Lastly, remember to watch out for Mega Captures! Good luck!
Learn by Playing
By designing a game to teach players how to play as they move through the game we can avoid many of the pitfalls of complex, discouraging tutorials and ramp the player up with bite-sized pieces of the game’s mechanics that come together seamlessly and leave them with an in-depth understanding of how the game functions without having to go through the unpleasant exercise of reading a bunch of text and trying to memorize rules and mechanics. Basically, we’re leveraging the medium of a game to disguise learning as playing. Interestingly, the learning that the player goes through as they get better at a game is part of what makes playing games in the first place so engaging as that sense of skill, ownership and knowledge increases.
My specific suggestion for Aigo Capture would be to break down teaching new players into a few separate tutorial missions.
1. Basic rules of play
a. Must play card every turn (unless you use the skip a turn power, but introduce this later)
b. If the card you play matches a card on the board, or matches a sum of some or all of the cards on the board, you will capture those cards.
c. If you clear the entire board you get a Mega Capture and earn bonus points for each time you can do that!
d. The round continues until both players have used all of their cards at which points are tallied.
2. Various point rules (illustrate each of these with a separate round where the player is prioritizing earning each type of point & then demonstrate at end with score screen why this is important)
a. Cards captured
b. Power earned (cards captured & power earned is important because of the balancing between lower numbered costs with higher power values and higher numbered cards having lower power values)
c. Elites captured
d. Gold card captured
e. Mega Captures
3. Powers and when to use them (create three different scenarios where it would be most advantageous to use either of the powers)
4. Dark Matter and calling for backup
a. Why is Dark Matter important
b. Why is calling for backup better than putting one of your own cards out there (for the most part)
5. Introduce the user to the other parts of the system (this you can do quickly with your text box prompts)
a. Quick Match System
Aigo Capture’s Main Menu
It’s clear that players who have made it through the tutorial and understand the mechanics of the game do really enjoy it. As is evidenced by my newly minted account being challenged by a veteran player eager to assess my competency in the ways of Aigo Capture.
Although this type of game won’t likely end up being a mainstream juggernaut (too much strategy and not enough action for the average player) I do see it having a vibrant community with a constantly evolving meta and perhaps a fledging tournament scene. Keep up the great work Matthias!