We’re extremely proud of Auro – we think it’s easily one of the best single-player non-puzzle games ever. It’s extremely innovative, deep, and just seriously fun to play. At Dinofarm, Auro is our most-played game, and we have playtesters who have already been playing the game for years. Auro has serious replay value.
With that said, one of the challenges has been at the “entry” level. While Auro is a relatively simple and intuitive game, sort of inherently – it’s ultimately about bumping, moving around on the grid, and killing monsters – you do have to be taught the things that monsters do and the things that spells do. Because we wanted the game to be deep, there’s a bit of nuance to some of these rules that simply has to be learned. If we could just zap the information into every player’s brain, that would be awesome – but we can’t.
Our First Attempt
Our initial attempt at teaching the game was to have an online manual coupled with a Story Mode. Story Mode also included two traditional “tap here now” type tutorial levels. These levels were completely canned and idiot-proof.
The problem with this approach is that it’s a nightmare to interact with. Literally no one enjoys it. It’s actually less fun than reading the manual, and a lot of players just mash the screen to get through it, not really picking up on the lessons. While the game does remember if you went through it before, God help you if you should have to reinstall the game and want to do Story mode again. That would mean you’d have to mash through that tutorial all over again.
Further, because the tutorial was so hand-holdey, we actually didn’t have the sheer labor required to teach all of the lessons the game needs you to learn. You wouldn’t believe the amount of work the two existing tutorials were to get totally idiot-proof, and yet they only taught the player about three of the skills and four monsters.
So this first approach just really wasn’t working for us.
Our Second Attempt
Some early comments we were getting were further convincing us of the shaky job we had done so far in teaching people to play the game. In response, late last year, Blake spent about a month or so putting together this excellent video tutorial. If you haven’t watched it, definitely check it out. It’s really well put together and we think it alone will go a long way towards giving players just one more route for learning our game.
In addition to Blake’s excellent video, I started changing up Story Mode a bit, by turning some of the levels into little “singular mission” levels. Our “first level”, in the current build (1.22), for example, is just a level surrounded by flame, with a single rat on it. I added an “Objectives” window that pops up over gameplay telling you exactly what you should do. However, you need to figure out just how to do it. In this way, I think this level teaches the player much better about how Auro is actually played.
We created a couple of these, and the plan was to make more and more of the Story Mode missions into levels like that as we go. While I do think this is an improvement, there are still problems with this approach.
Tutorial, Mark III
One problem with Story Mode also being the Tutorial is the fact that, even though it’s pretty easy, it’s definitely possible to die in story mode. What this would mean is that you are forced to go back and re-do missions you feel like you already mastered.
Further, Story Mode has been serving several masters. Is it really trying to teach the game? Is it trying to express something about the lore? Or is it trying to be actually fun to play? These are three really different missions, and I’m not sure it does any of them that well as it stands. I think this is probably because Play Mode is the “real” way to play Auro, and so we kinda crammed all “supporting material” into the “other mode”.
So here’s the new approach: we’re taking all of the tutorial stuff out of Story Mode. Story Mode will now be a fun, replayable, maybe longer “campaign” of sorts. For now, we’re just going to take the tutorial stuff out and make it a bit harder, but we’ll be looking for some neat ways to make Story Mode more unique in the future (let us know your ideas on the forums!).
Sorry, Auro-Tutorial-Levels-fans, but your beloved hand-holdey tutorial levels are now gone, never to return. The good news is, you also don’t exist, so you and these forced hand holdey tutorials can rejoice in your non-existence together! Hooray!
Instead, we’re going to add a new “game mode” accessible from the title screen. Tapping this will bring you to the Tutorial Select screen, which will be a grid of super-short “missions” (quite like our Records-screen’s “view all notes” feature). Each of these missions will give you one specific skill and a specific task – kind of like our current Level 1 – but a little bit more play-ey than that, even. They’re not super hand-holdey, so it’s actually easy to make a lot of them. I have a list of about 27 of them planned and I don’t think it will take me more than a couple of weeks to actually implement and test them all.
What’s kind of frustrating is, this is sort of the obvious, tried and true go-to method for modern games, especially modern iOS games. It’s annoying that we haven’t thought of it sooner.
I actually expect these missions to not only do a better job of explaining all of the rules you need to know to play the game, but I also expect them to be kinda fun! You can beat those you’ve done before, and perhaps at some point we’ll put in a “stars” system or something similar. If you die in one, you don’t have to “go back to the beginning” of anything – just try it again! Players can use a quick trial-and-error process to learn how abilities work.
I’m working on this now. I don’t have much news on the iOS front other than “we’re working on it” (i.e. the coders who aren’t me). We’re still looking for someone to help with that, so if you know anyone who might know a thing or two about Flash games on iOS, please email me.
While Auro is already a fantastic game at intermediate and high levels of play, we’re excited about improving it at the lower levels too. See you at the next patch!