Redesigning Auro’s Tutorial

Untitled-1Since Auro‘s release earlier this month, we’ve gotten a ton of great, helpful feedback. Firstly, almost all of the reviews are 5-star reviews. Lots of people – most everyone who wrote a review – seems to love the game. So that’s the good news!

On the other hand, some of our other 5-star reviews sound a bit like this:

“You know, I tried Auro out at first and I was kinda just confused and overwhelmed. I mean, 31 tutorial missions?! Jeez Louise! Luckily, I decided to give it one last shot and just dive into Play Mode. And wowow, I am happy I did, because I really love the game now!”

That’s not a real review, but I promise we’ve read a bunch of reviews/forum posts/comments that sound a lot like that. So that’s great for that guy, but it begs the question: how many people didn’t give Auro a second shot? How many people got overwhelmed and just stepped away because of the sheer number of tutorials? We have no way of knowing, but even if it was only a handful of people, we’d love them to be able to enjoy the game, too.

Auro isn’t a hard game to learn, but it’s also not Flappy Bird. While it does have a pretty intuitive core mechanism (bop monsters into the water), it also has a lot of special abilities and rule combinations that you do need to know in order to play.

I have no doubt in my mind that once people know how to play Auro, they’ll love it. The question is: how do we get people there?


The Current Auro Tutorial

Here’s a little secret about Auro‘s Tutorial mode: I coded it and designed it all within about two weeks of release! Some of you, especially our Android players, know that until the first iOS version, Auro actually had another mode called “Story Mode“. This was what it sounded like: cutscenes, a bunch of very easy gameplay and some crammed in, hand-holdey tutorials. Overall, it was a nightmare for everyone, and when we removed it, we did not receive even ONE complaint! Imagine that – the removal of a huge feature, and zero complaints! Yikes.

Story Mode did a terrible job at actually teaching anything about the game, because it was trying to do that *and* set up some story stuff about the lore and world *and* be a kind of fun replayable mode. It chased all three rabbits, and caught none of them.

So I slammed in this new Tutorial Mode. My thinking was that this mode was actually kind of fun to play, being that it wasn’t like our old hand-holdey tutorial. In this one, there is still random generation and some “play” to it. Further, since our old tutorial taught about 20% of what you needed to know to play the game, I thought it’d be a good idea to have our new tutorial teach you… basically 100% of the rules of the game.

I actually went into it thinking “man, people are going to like that there’s all these missions you can do!” Maybe it’ll be like a traditional “videogamey-unlocky” fun kind of thing! I thought having 31 of the missions was a selling point!

It did not occur to me that seeing 31 tutorials would feel “overwhelming” to people, which, now that people have told me so, seems like an obvious problem. Another thing that didn’t occur to me is that even though players can stop doing the tutorials any time they want to and hop into Play Mode (including after having done ZERO tutorials). I kinda expected a lot of players to play maybe 5-10 tutorials and then go check out Play Mode, and then come back maybe later, or whatever.

In reality, people felt really overwhelmed by the prospect of 31 tutorials, and they felt like they had to complete them all before they got into Play Mode. One guy emailed me saying that he was a huge 100 Rogues fan, but that he couldn’t get into Auro because there are so many rules. For those who haven’t played 100 Rogues, it has about 10-20 times as many rules as Auro does!

Ultimately, the story of Auro‘s tutorial is one of us doing way too little originally (with Story Mode), and then doing way too much with the launch version.


Auro Tutorial 2.0

Was chatting with the powerful game design wizard DanC the other day, and he said something that resonated with me:

“Players will say they are confused and dislike your game when you throw them into the deep end, even though they’ll end up retaining better.”

The general idea with these changes are, let’s give the player some basics, but do not allow him to bore himself with the nitty-gritty details. Force him to dive into Play Mode much, much sooner.

So here’s what we’ve done for the next version of the Auro Tutorial. These changes will be included in the massive upcoming 1.19 patch (which improves on everything from high level gameplay, to feedback, and even the HUD has gotten a complete makeover).

First of all, we compressed the total number of tutorials from 31 down to 20. We did this by combining some lessons together, but also by just deleting a few lessons outright.

TricksterAn example of one lesson we deleted outright was the tutorial that teaches about the Trickster. The Trickster, for those who don’t know, does just one thing: swaps places with the player. They’re not directly offensive or dangerous to the player, and there’s only ever one of them on a given stage. We feel that this kind of a rule is the sort of thing that we can “omit” from the direct tutorial, and allow players to figure out while they play.

An example of “combined lessons” were the old Tutorial 1 and Tutorial 2, which taught about “movement” and “bumping” (knocking a monster backwards; your basic “attack”), respectively. The thing is, moving is so intuitive and easy to figure out that it really doesn’t need its own tutorial. The Bumping tutorial – the new Lesson 1 – now just makes a brief mention of how you tap the screen to move, which we figure is enough.

Not only have we reduced the number of tutorials from 31 to 20, but we also hide the last 10 until players reach Rank 4 in Play Mode. When players first start up a game and go into the tutorial screen, this is what they’ll see:


10 tutorials!

Hopefully, this is a *lot* less intimidating. Once you reach the 10th tutorial, at the bottom there little Quillsh says “Go play Play mode, come back when you’re rank 4!”

Once you do reach Rank 4, if you come back you unlock the other 10:

20 tutorials! Still not too bad!

20 tutorials! Still not too bad!

Hopefully these changes will make the prospect of “getting into Auro” way less intimidating for people. We’re also making a bunch of other smaller changes, like improving our text-feed (the top of the screen that has text) to make it easier to read and review messages if you miss one.

One other interesting thing: at least one person seemed to find the game more daunting because Quillsh makes mention of the fact that we provide a game manual. This player said something along the lines of “there’s a freaking manual? Holy crap this game is complicated!” So apparently people associate “manuals” with “high levels of complexity” these days (even though toasters come with manuals!). That’s something to keep in mind, and we’ve now removed mention of the manual from Quillsh’s dialogue. It’s still accessible from the title screen’s “How To Play” button, though.

Overall, we’re sorry we weren’t able to make this happen for launch, but we think Auro will have a very long life, and so ultimately, one month of bad tutorial won’t be too costly. We’re looking for more ways to help teach the game in the future. If you have ideas, please let us know!

1.29auroGame Designmanualpatchtutorial

keithburgun • 02/28/2015

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  1. Tom 03/01/2015 - 2:24 pm Reply

    Nice! Glad to hear about all these changes.

    I completed the whole tutorial before going into Play mode, but it was a bit tedious. I also felt overwhelmed by the number of rules it introduced. Part of the problem was that the icons and visual effects of the moves are too similar. For a while I couldn’t predict what any of the spells did until I casted them. So spent a lot of time casting fire instead of jumping, dashing instead of throwing snowballs, etc. I ate quite a few skulls before I realized they were depleting my barrier. You may be able to cut even more of the tutorial if you make the look and behavior of the spells more obvious.

    BTW, I got excited when the ostrich told me that there was a manual. It implied that there was meaningful strategy for me to discover.

  2. Blake 03/01/2015 - 3:16 pm Reply

    Hey Tom,
    Thanks for playing, and yes, there is bottomless strategy to behold.

    While we are always implementing new feedback effects(I’m working on some today actually), remember to read the text field on the top of the screen. During play mode, if you click on a spell orb, it will tell you what the spell does in the text field before you confirm casting it.

    Also, there are lots of funny little gags and dialogue to look out for too.

    Keep on bumpin’!

  3. Rob Seater 03/01/2015 - 10:28 pm Reply

    The issues I had with the tutorial (having started with the IOS version) were a little different from what you describe, but similar in spirit.

    (1) Difficulty. As a beginner, the tutorial levels were HARD; much harder than the early levels of the actual game. But I felt like I shouldn’t play the regular game until finishing the tutorial. When I actually did the placement test and started ranked play, I suddenly realized that the game was not nearly as overwhelming or punishing as the tutorials made it appear.

    Actually, removing the placement test and forcing players to start with easy levels might negate the need for so much tutorial. As you point out, many monsters, like the trickster, are obvious one you encounter them once. Others, like the Lich, continue to confuse me in how they behave in corner case situations.

    (2) In-Game Access. I really wanted to access the tutorial in the middle of a game, as a help pop-up (or some sort of interactive sandbox simulation that would let me play with the unit before facing it in ranked play) where I could figure out the weird creature that just appeared. More than a tutorial, I wanted interactive help until I learned all the creatures. It was frustrating losing because I didn’t know what would happen in a given situation, and that’s worse when I know it’s probably buried in the tutorial somewhere. On the fly, I want to know things like “Will spell X move a heavy?” and “In what order will these the monsters resolve their moves?”.

    (3) Titles. I occasionally considered going back to the tutorial after a game, but without titles or icons for the chapters, it would take a lot of time to find the right one. In-game links to the tutorial or something similar would have made it more appealing to me, as a strategy gamer. I don’t want to learn everything by trial and error — I want to start reasoning to solutions right away, not ‘grinding’ to memorize the behaviors.

    (4) Preview. An ambitious and perhaps crazy thing to consider is adding a near-term preview option to the game (or at least to some training mode of the game). Just let me pop-up what will happen in one turn step if I take a given single action. That will remove some of the mystery of complex interactions and new enemies, and put the emphasis on trade-offs and setting up bigger combos, rather than memorizing and training to predict the details. In general, in a game I want to do the things humans are good at (strategic trade-offs and heuristics) not the things computers are good at (working out details and memorizing rules). Auro definitely allows for interesting trade-offs, and I see them all over the place now that I know the game — but it took a while to get there, and it was pretty annoying along the way.

    • keithburgun 03/01/2015 - 11:55 pm Reply

      Great feedback, Rob. Thanks! Good to hear from you, also!

      On another note: I’m really glad you got through the learning and figured it all out. I do think that Auro currently kinda sucks at teaching the game, but once you know how to play I think it’s incredibly good, and I hope others agree.

  4. JC 03/05/2015 - 12:46 am Reply

    Hi, I love the game. Insta-buy & 5-stars. I personally think it would be helpful if there were a quick way to recall the info per monster. Currently, you can tap one of your available abilities and its description will pop up: super useful! I wish the same could be done for monsters (you’d have to search through the tutorials to see their descriptions again). I encountered a palette-swap of Foxie which I don’t recall encountering in the entire 31-level tutorial, so up to now I don’t know what makes her different. A sort of “Almanac” in the pause menu for both spells and monsters would be greatly helpful. Point is: a quick-reference would be awesome so we don’t have to memorize everything in the tutorial (which I think is one of the learning-barriers, memorization), it’d even help others dive straight into Play mode. And lastly, and this is just a personal preference, could there at least be some sort of offline intro? A couple of panels of images and text? Just something to give context? Again, just a personal preference. Still an awesome game. Thanks for working so hard at it!

    • keithburgun 03/05/2015 - 10:18 am Reply

      Pretty much all of that is planned! We’re doing everything we can with the resources we have. Thanks for the advice, JC!

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