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Wraith

Sonic and "Player Conditioning"

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I can see that the disconnection between a newcomer and the game implicitly being the cause of all the "Classic games sucks too" talk and I guess that's an inherent flaw for people who won't normally just get it from the get go, I think @Roger_van_der_weide's analysis on SEGA and Nintendo makes a clear point on how different their idea of game design is. Nintendo is more clear and levels are carefully designed around a character's movesets while SEGA is more free and chaotic, the "figure it out on your own" method, games like The Last Guardian does that in parts from what I've seen, and while it might not be the most user-friendly of game design ideologies, I'd say it's a still a reasonable design to use. I mean, it is true that Unleashed had a lot of trial and error in its game design (HELLOOOOOO EGGMANLAND AND THE TORNADO SECTIONS!) but some gamers, me included, kind of like that because it gives a challenge to be better at the game; it gives me a reason to get invested with the game more if that makes any sense.

I guess it's really on how the player wants to play the game, for casual play and have fun or being masterful and be a boss.

I don't think there is a right or wrong way to do it, personally. Or maybe I'm just as half-assing it as well?

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Now, how would one implement a tutorial system without beating a player over the head with text blurbs and Omochao? It shouldn't be a terribly difficult quandary to address -

I actually like the Red Roller badniks in Sonic Mania's Mirage Saloon Zone, as they have the drop-dash as their main weapon, so maybe a rolling badnik that speeds up downhill and breaks some rocks along the way?

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3 minutes ago, Indigo Rush said:

Now, how would one implement a tutorial system without beating a player over the head with text blurbs and Omochao? It shouldn't be a terribly difficult quandary to address

The answer to that is what I'd call establishing gameplay coherence--or to put it another way, teaching the player on how things within the game works without resorting to just spoonfeeding it to them. Which I feel goes hand-in-hand with player conditioning, or what I'd like to call conveyance.

One example that goes too far in one direction, and makes things blatantly obvious, are bottomless pit signs:

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/sonic/images/8/8e/Bottomless_Pit_warning_in_Sonic_Generations.png/revision/latest?cb=20130513212414

If there's a pit, it should be obvious there's a pit, and thus something you won't jump down to. Moreover, the level design structure and the level setting should collectively act as the lesson that teaches the player whether or not to take caution around pits in the first place. Adding a sign that spells out loud "yes, there is a pit here" just robs any intuition the player may have made for themselves, and just warn the player of death without the learning experience. This goes beyond making the game easier-- this is insulting people's intelligence and acting like they never played a platformer, let alone a videogame, before. 

An example of going too far in the other direction, and makes things blatantly not-obvious, is  Sonic 3's notorious barrel in Carnival Night:

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/sonic/images/f/f3/Rage_of_you_childhood.png/revision/latest?cb=20151120144017

Granted, there are some players that are/were able to (eventually) figure it out by themselves, but for most people, the game needed to have pointing out something that indicated how the barrel works prior. It goes without saying that a player when at a seemingly dead-end will try everything possible when they get stuck, but a player can't try something unlikely if it doesn't even cross their mind first. Up until this point, the game had never demonstrated that that vertical inputs can affect gimmicks, nor does it ever demand such a mechanic to be used to progress anywhere else in the game.

Example I'd say that hit the sweet spot are the introduction of the spin dash in Sonic 2, as well as Sonic 3's shields and Tails flying. They exist as additional mechanics, and in some cases are even alluded to within the game itself, but not once are they explicitly demanded throughout the game to progress. Knuckles' climbing and gliding also apply too, but not always, as Knuckles' alternate routes sometimes require some areas obvious climbing up to higher areas.

---

To try and get back closer to Wraith's OP, while I don't disagree with his complaints about Sonic 1 and 2 concerning conveyance, I do think a big part of why those games are designed as such are because the developers were still figuring out their footing with the game's formula and because it was a different time period in regards to how game development and conveyance was approached, so naturally things in those games are going to come off as rough compared to games with a more refined formula or games made in contemporary times.

Concerning my first point, note how Sonic 2 is much more streamlined in its level design (with a higher focus on speed and the series' trademark slopes) compared to Sonic 1, and how Sonic 3 in turn is less prone to throwing the player into stuff they can't see ahead of them compared to Sonic 2 (this is where Wraith's comments about ramps being used to transition players from speedy segments to platforming segments comes in).

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9 hours ago, Indigo Rush said:

I actually like the Red Roller badniks in Sonic Mania's Mirage Saloon Zone, as they have the drop-dash as their main weapon, so maybe a rolling badnik that speeds up downhill and breaks some rocks along the way?

Badniks have been used pretty effectively to that end over the course of the series history.

Those vaunted chains of Bubbles in Sonic 4 and the Spinners and Gun Beetles in Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 were natural tutorials to the mechanics of the homing attack and how it could be used to cross gaps and reach higher places. If you think back to Emerald Coast, City Escape or Metal Harbor, there were quite a few Gun Beetles / Spinners hovering over several pits. No one really had to tell you that you could use them to cross gaps. You just kind of figured it out by being forced to use the games mechanics.

The Aero-Egg Pawns from Unleashed were more of the same. They taught you to keep your finger down on the boost button, while actively scanning the road ahead for potential dangers and ways to retaliate. It taught you to boost to win. Remaining focused and handling all that insane speed. Teaching you what Sonic could and couldn't tank through. By putting a small set of training wheels on you for a min or so, it showed you that you had the reaction time necessary to tackle a stage at that insane speed. The Interceptor too taught you to take in multiple stimuli and react. It showed you that the Boost was the single most important weapon in your arsenal and you should be doing well to abuse it.

Even Motobugs get in on this. Quick-Stepping was a bit more important to Colors, due to the stiffer controls, and the Starlight Carnival stage where you race along side a squadron of Motobugs is a fantastic way to getting to know how you can flat out abuse the quickstep. As you bash left and right into the poor little buggers, your actively learning a new way of maneuvering Sonic at high speeds.

Even the designs of some badniks are extremely cleaver shots at passive learning. You only need to take a quick look at the Crawl, the Bumper shield wielding badnik of Casino Night, and you know what he's all about. That is your first experience with that kind of bumper, but a few failed frontal and aerial attacks passively teach you that you can utilize standalone bumpers later in the stage to your platforming advantage. The spring shield brandishing Egg Knights work much the same way. It helps reinforce the idea of tackling foes another way, even in the face of the almighty boost.

A lot of the Bosses do it too. Zavok comes to mind as a great example. He spends the first half of his last boss battle ground pounding blocks to fall on your head - which is the only way you can in turn harm his second phase. The game shows you how to beat him, but doesn't hold your hand to do so.

 

Using Badniks as the built in tutorial has always been a staple of the series in my eyes. Some of them have creative implementation that really goes a long way to kind of showing you what you are capable of. Sometimes they go back to the well a few times too often *cough*homingattackchain*couch* but you get the idea.

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Regarding a lot of players not knowing how to roll in past games:

Obviously this was due to everything being in the manual in those days.  THESE DAYS, I think there's a certain snobbiness towards on-screen control prompts but I don't see the issue with them as long as they are done away with once the player has proven they know how to do them.  The question the developer has to ask is simply "is the puzzle being working out you CAN do the thing, or working out what you can do WITH the thing?"  I would imagine, in the case of rolling, it is the latter, and thus it is not somehow handing it to the player to bring up an impassable breakable wall, a slope before it, and a little d-pad down prompt to appear on screen as you run down said hill.  On the other side of the wall, place an enemy the player has already encountered that doesn't damage them from the sides.

Boom, the player now knows how to roll and that rolling deals damage like a spin jump.

A little later in the level, present them with a quarter-pipe for them to run up.  Follow this with another breakable wall puzzle.  Immediately after the breakable wall, place another quarter-pipe so the player can directly see they flew further off it when rolling.

Boom, the player now knows that rolling down hills increases speed.

With two simple set-pieces, the player knows everything they need to know about rolling - how they use it is up to them.

 

Well, if you wanted to be really thorough, you could have two more mandatory moments that teaches that rolling can be done on both flat surfaces and when running UPhill by putting breakable walls after these things too, but yeah.  Of course in the latter case, you'd need the act of rolling back down the hill (to teach the player that rolling uphill is less effective) to reveal the true solution via an alternate path or whatever.

 

Some clever programming that monitors how often players perform rolling-related actions in subsequent stages could be used to determine whether button prompt reminders need to be continued to be shown at areas where rolling is recommended or mandatory.

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On 12/11/2016 at 0:18 PM, Gabe said:

The answer to that is what I'd call establishing gameplay coherence--or to put it another way, teaching the player on how things within the game works without resorting to just spoonfeeding it to them. Which I feel goes hand-in-hand with player conditioning, or what I'd like to call conveyance.

One example that goes too far in one direction, and makes things blatantly obvious, are bottomless pit signs:

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/sonic/images/8/8e/Bottomless_Pit_warning_in_Sonic_Generations.png/revision/latest?cb=20130513212414

If there's a pit, it should be obvious there's a pit, and thus something you won't jump down to. Moreover, the level design structure and the level setting should collectively act as the lesson that teaches the player whether or not to take caution around pits in the first place. Adding a sign that spells out loud "yes, there is a pit here" just robs any intuition the player may have made for themselves, and just warn the player of death without the learning experience. This goes beyond making the game easier-- this is insulting people's intelligence and acting like they never played a platformer, let alone a videogame, before. 

Hmm, I have to disagree with you on this one. Sonic's levels are quite vertical- usually having 2-3 levels minimum, particularly in 2D games. If a player is presented with a gap that might lead to an item or some other path through the level, and a bottomless pit, there is no way of knowing

- unless otherwise marked - 

that the pit will kill you ahead of time instead of lead toward treasure.

I'm OK with the signs because they make it obvious where a hazard is. A similar technique is used in another game I'm playing right now- Shantae Risky's Revenge where the pits emit little skulls and crossbones if they will kill you. I think this kind of thing is better than having the hole be unlabeled. How would you suggest communicating intuitively, on a 2D plane where you can't see the bottom of something a death pit without some kind of signage? 

Quote

An example of going too far in the other direction, and makes things blatantly not-obvious, is  Sonic 3's notorious barrel in Carnival Night:

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/sonic/images/f/f3/Rage_of_you_childhood.png/revision/latest?cb=20151120144017

Granted, there are some players that are/were able to (eventually) figure it out by themselves, but for most people, the game needed to have pointing out something that indicated how the barrel works prior. It goes without saying that a player when at a seemingly dead-end will try everything possible when they get stuck, but a player can't try something unlikely if it doesn't even cross their mind first. Up until this point, the game had never demonstrated that that vertical inputs can affect gimmicks, nor does it ever demand such a mechanic to be used to progress anywhere else in the game.

The barrel is pretty bad. I think what they should have done is had knuckles run through first and visibly crouch to move the barrel so the player would know how it's done. 

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25 minutes ago, Remy said:

Hmm, I have to disagree with you on this one. Sonic's levels are quite vertical- usually having 2-3 levels minimum, particularly in 2D games. If a player is presented with a gap that might lead to an item or some other path through the level, and a bottomless pit, there is no way of knowing, unless

- unless otherwise marked - 

that the pit will kill you ahead of time instead of lead toward treasure.

While Sonic levels are more vertical than other platformers (especially the Genesis-era games), personally speaking, I recall bottomless pits in most cases are usually reserved for paths that are the lower route of the level, and from what I recall usually aren't used in tandem with secret areas in those cases. Maybe this is a concern that's more valid with the later 2D games by Dimps or Sonic Team's levels starting with Unleashed (I was admittedly focusing more on the levels from the Genesis games, and their closest derivatives, where bottomless pits are uncommon), upon which you probably have a point. But I digress.

25 minutes ago, Remy said:

I'm OK with the signs because they make it obvious where a hazard is. A similar technique is used in another game I'm playing right now- Shantae Risky's Revenge where the pits emit little skulls and crossbones if they will kill you. I think this kind of thing is better than having the hole be unlabeled. How would you suggest communicating intuitively, on a 2D plane where you can't see the bottom of something a death pit without some kind of signage?

This was what I was alluding to when I mentioned in my previous post about using the level structure and level setting to teach the player when they should be careful around pits. They're part of what I'd describe as level coherence--the stage itself has to be constructed in a way that can be considered rational, in both its formation as well as its contextual worlds. To further elaborate:

When I specify level structure, I mean that to say that the level's overall arrangement allows the player to recognize when they are and aren't in an area where falling into a pit likely means instant death. The above response in which I mentioned that --from my viewpoint-- bottomless pits in Sonic levels were usually reserved for the lowest-routes on the levels plays into this--shaping the level in this manner is an indirect way of telling the player that the likeliness of falling into a pit blindsiding them is based on their elevation in the level. If you're in a mid-tier or high-tier area of the level? You're likely going to be fine. You're in the lowest-area? Better take precaution. An example of this is how with Chemical Plant in Sonic 2, the only areas where it's possible to fall into a bottomless pit is where the purple-water is located. Which also happens to be the lowest area of the level. A similar situation can be seen with Flying Battery, with the platforming sections with the hanging cylinder wire and floating platforms. Which also happens to be the only area of the level where you (can) go outside underneath the airship. I also feel this can also be seen when a level's paths visibly converge or split--it's a notification that heading on out, on whether a level route is or isn't going to be a linear affair, and whether there will be anything visible routes "above" or "below" the route (unless the designer wants to throw a surprise curveball).

Speaking of Flying Battery, that leads me to my second specifying point: level setting. In other words, the location of the level should also communicate to the player when they have to take special precautions. Flying Battery in Sonic 3&K takes place on top of an airborne ship--in a setting like this, it makes sense in the above scenario to watch your step, though since most of the level takes places in the airship, this is not too much of an issue. A better airship example would be with Wing Fortress in Sonic 2, as most of the platforms take place above and outside the ship itself. A different example from the same game would be Hill Top, which features mountains surrounded by clouds as its backdrop, and when you start the level, has the bridge suspended over the bottomless pit you have to cross.

Going back to Sonic 3&K, contrast Flying Battery with the next level that comes after it--Sandopolis, which doesn't exactly conjure images of bottomless pits with its hot, sandy Egyptian-like locales. (It does feature quicksand pits that the player can sink below...which is generally associated with areas that feature sand; and the game does foreshadow this the moment you get into the zone, as the player falls into a non-lethal sandpit). This also applies to Mushroom Hill, which comes before Flying Battery; a forest-based green level that features no bottomless pits are in that zone at all (despite being a relatively vertical level itself).

As for your comments about Shantae (which I have to clarify, I'm not entirely familiar with that series, I've only played the first game as of far), using signs for bottomless pits is likely appropriate for the style of gameplay / game genre it stands in (Metroidvania games, especially on the basis of backtracking), and I won't hold any contention against its use in that series. But for a series like Sonic, I don't think they are really necessary. In hindsight, I probably could had taken some care to highlight this in my previous post. Moreover, on a broader note, your example does bring to light that other platforming series arguably aren't too fussed by the context/level structure settings I mentioned, or at least, not too focused on it in the way I feel Sonic is with its levels (or the Genesis games, anyway, if the specifications are necessary).

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I've also thought a lot about how the spindash and rolling in the classic games was never really taught to the player, and for a long time I really had no idea on how it could be taught without on-screen instructions which is really lazy and immersion breaking imo. Recently though I thought of something that could potentially do that. This wouldn't really work in Sonic 1 cause it would require Tails, so I still have no idea if you can teach it there any more than just with the S-tubes, which shows you that rolling exists but doesn't tell you the input, but this has been discussed already.

Lets say you started up Sonic 2 and entered Emerald Hill Zone. You've never played a Sonic game before and you're just going though the level by going right like any other platformer. Eventually while you're heading right you run into this rock that would stop a first time player in their tracks, and past the rock is this huge ramp that you can't possibly run up.

tumblr_oi3epyNdhO1u0ti7oo1_400.png 

Once you get here a scripted sequence occurs. Tails automatically jumps over the rock on to the bottom part of the ramp.

tumblr_oi3epyNdhO1u0ti7oo2_400.png

Then you see him in a crouching position for a second or two. At this point a new player has no idea why he's doing this but doesn't have to wait long to see what happens.

tumblr_oi3epyNdhO1u0ti7oo3_400.png

Eventually, Tails starts charging a spindash for let's say about 3 or 4 seconds.

tumblr_oi3epyNdhO1u0ti7oo4_400.png

After that, Tails releases it and rolls up the hill making it over. 

Now the player knows two things as to how to get up there. 1: they need enough speed to do it, and 2: The action they need to preform requires them crouching first. I'll be pretty easy for them to interpret what to do to crouch. Obviously that position indicates going downwards so pressing down on the D-pad should be a no-brainer. As for activating and charging the spindash, the player will probably put together that since crouching doesn't really do anything by itself aside from lowering the camera after a while, they'll probably have to use another input. Seeing how all 3 buttons on The controller preform the same action there's no chance of them messing up or not knowing what to do. Then when the release their thumb from down on the D-pad, they'll start rolling up the ramp with a lot of speed and bam! They've gotten across and learned about the spindash.

Additionally, when Tails goes up the ramp there could be a Buzzer badnik flying by and stopping in the air right when Tails launches off of the ramp destroying it. This would show the player that as long all you're in a ball you can attack enemies in any direction, and you don't just have to destroy them by jumping on top of them. 

tumblr_oi3epyNdhO1u0ti7oo5_r1_400.pngtumblr_oi3epyNdhO1u0ti7oo6_r1_400.png

All of this should clue the player in on how to roll, but if not, after the ramp there could maybe be like a small downward slope with a badnik at the bottom. Tails would then roll down it (not from a spindash), gaining speed and destroying the enemy. The player will probably get a clue as to what to do, as they should have a connection in their head after learning about the spindash that holding down on the D-pad equates to rolling. After this all the Tails scripted sequences would end.

Now an important thing to note about all of this is that Sonic wouldn't be locked in place. You can always move freely and if you know what to do you can just breeze by this section in no time at all. Also, I'm not a programmer so I have no idea how plausible making something like this is, especially back in 1992. This is just a little idea I had. 

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I really don't think Sonic is usually that terribly hard to figure out (from the games I've played, at least), and don't think it's bad at all to make the player invest at least a little effort into taking the initiative to find out how to go about things. At the same time, I'm not going to say it's never an issue, so making a few key aspects of the gameplay more obvious could certainly help, as long as it's not done in an over-explaining or "demeaning" way.

6 hours ago, Nightly said:

I've also thought a lot about how the spindash and rolling in the classic games was never really taught to the player, and for a long time I really had no idea on how it could be taught without on-screen instructions which is really lazy and immersion breaking imo. Recently though I thought of something that could potentially do that. This wouldn't really work in Sonic 1 cause it would require Tails, so I still have no idea if you can teach it there any more than just with the S-tubes, which shows you that rolling exists but doesn't tell you the input, but this has been discussed already.

Lets say you started up Sonic 2 and entered Emerald Hill Zone. You've never played a Sonic game before and you're just going though the level by going right like any other platformer. Eventually while you're heading right you run into this rock that would stop a first time player in their tracks, and past the rock is this huge ramp that you can't possibly run up.

tumblr_oi3epyNdhO1u0ti7oo1_400.png 

Once you get here a scripted sequence occurs. Tails automatically jumps over the rock on to the bottom part of the ramp.

tumblr_oi3epyNdhO1u0ti7oo2_400.png

Then you see him in a crouching position for a second or two. At this point a new player has no idea why he's doing this but doesn't have to wait long to see what happens.

tumblr_oi3epyNdhO1u0ti7oo3_400.png

Eventually, Tails starts charging a spindash for let's say about 3 or 4 seconds.

tumblr_oi3epyNdhO1u0ti7oo4_400.png

After that, Tails releases it and rolls up the hill making it over. 

Now the player knows two things as to how to get up there. 1: they need enough speed to do it, and 2: The action they need to preform requires them crouching first. I'll be pretty easy for them to interpret what to do to crouch. Obviously that position indicates going downwards so pressing down on the D-pad should be a no-brainer. As for activating and charging the spindash, the player will probably put together that since crouching doesn't really do anything by itself aside from lowering the camera after a while, they'll probably have to use another input. Seeing how all 3 buttons on The controller preform the same action there's no chance of them messing up or not knowing what to do. Then when the release their thumb from down on the D-pad, they'll start rolling up the ramp with a lot of speed and bam! They've gotten across and learned about the spindash.

Additionally, when Tails goes up the ramp there could be a Buzzer badnik flying by and stopping in the air right when Tails launches off of the ramp destroying it. This would show the player that as long all you're in a ball you can attack enemies in any direction, and you don't just have to destroy them by jumping on top of them. 

tumblr_oi3epyNdhO1u0ti7oo5_r1_400.pngtumblr_oi3epyNdhO1u0ti7oo6_r1_400.png

All of this should clue the player in on how to roll, but if not, after the ramp there could maybe be like a small downward slope with a badnik at the bottom. Tails would then roll down it (not from a spindash), gaining speed and destroying the enemy. The player will probably get a clue as to what to do, as they should have a connection in their head after learning about the spindash that holding down on the D-pad equates to rolling. After this all the Tails scripted sequences would end.

Now an important thing to note about all of this is that Sonic wouldn't be locked in place. You can always move freely and if you know what to do you can just breeze by this section in no time at all. Also, I'm not a programmer so I have no idea how plausible making something like this is, especially back in 1992. This is just a little idea I had. 

This just reminded me of the my very first experience with the Casino Night Zone boss. I was feeling frustrated trying to use the bumpers and whatnot to hit Eggman, with little success. Then I noticed the CPU-controlled Tails spin dashing, which taught me that spin dashing was actually a more effective way to fight the boss. I personally can't say I'm overly fond of too much hand-holding and think it often feels better for the player to figure it out on their own to some extent, so ways to teach the mechanics that are comparatively subtle, such as using Tails, seem ultra rad in my book. It's also a neat way to get more usage out of the Tails mechanic, which I love.

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