Apparently just telling someone a bunch of information is a bad way to teach them a skill.

Apparently just telling someone a bunch of information is a bad way to teach them a skill.

Anchorage Adrift isn't the simplest game to learn, but in it's complexity lies depth. It has three unique positions, each with its own nuances, but the way they interact isn't always clear. For example, if the tactician wants to track the position of multiple ships, she needs to request more resources from the engineer. Sounds easy, but the engineer needs to know a number of things. He needs to know what affects ship tracking, where the correct sensor is, how to perform that action, and how to balance that request with the rest of the ship resources.

It became clear that we needed a way to convey all of this information in a way that's accessible to new players. We started with a quick write up of the commands in a little "controls" tab on the left side. We knew it wasn't the best solution, but we were in the middle of the Indie MEGABOOTH submission for PAX East 2014 and were pressed for time. After the submission we had a few of my friends sit down and try to figure out how engineering worked based on just what we had written. Not a single one figured it out. Not one.

From there, we attempted a video tutorial with a narrator describing what everything is and how to use it. We thought the script was pretty funny, but it ended up just getting in the way of actually teaching the position. It was apparent that we had to either remove the fluff and make a really boring video, or buckle down and build an in-game tutorial. It was apparent to the whole team that the later option was the better choice.

Hello, fellow space travelers, and welcome to the Anchorage Adrift Engineering Tutorial. As a member of the galaxy’s elite order of ‘space engineers’ you’ll need to put out fires and send people to their deaths. Quite frankly, you and everyone you know will perish horribly if you’re bad at putting out fires. If I’m being honest, I don’t even know why we call you guys engineers.
— Dave Thompson

We did some research on good tutorials and concluded that a classic interactive tutorial was our best option. This required a decent amount of code, art, and design overhead but we felt it was the best way to move forward and get people engaged. The interactive method was guided by the idea of introducing new UI elements as they are needed. If the player doesn't know how to command the crew, then there are no crew on screen. At every step, we reveal a mechanic, give the player an objective, and the show the related UI elements. This nicely removes clutter from the initial screen and makes the  

The engineering tutorial, as it stands, works fairly well. I've run it across people who love video games but also people who claim to be scared of them. One thing I recently learned while watching people go through the tutorial: if there isn't an objective to move forward, the player won't read anything you have to say. Remember that if you ever write one of these. My only remaining reservation is that the last few steps are still too crowded. We're almost done ironing out the details for engineering, but we've still got two more tutorials to write and implement before opening up the alpha.