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They Bleed Pixels teaches without a classroom


They Bleed Pixels has a fine tutorial.

The core mechanics are taught to the player through video demonstrations and guided trials. Moves are performed by the AI, and the player must repeat the AI's performance to prove they understand the lecture. For those unsure of the controls, button prompts guide their input. The tutorial teaches gameplay basics and does so in a short, inoffensive period of time.

But It's also completely superfluous.

Nowadays, tutorials are an expected aspect of a game's introduction. Modern shooters send players through training courses, Assassin's Creed spends hours developing its setting, and other games dedicate entire levels to gameplay education. Some people, including myself, feel these tutorials are simply walls between them and the experience they're after. It's like being stuck in a classroom when we want to be exploring the world around us.

But games still have to teach the player how to play their game, somehow. Thatís where They Bleed Pixels comes in. In addition to it's tutorial, the design adheres to a somewhat forgotten gaming standard: Teaching the player through their own actions. Don't tell someone the effects of a skill; show them. Make them the professor of their own lesson when introducing a new mechanic.

The first level of the game is a light example of this idea. Even after going through the tutorial, the prologue still displays common commands on the level's walls. Nearly everything in the tutorial -- from basic attacks to wall-jumping -- is re-taught to the player through gameplay and scenery. This seems unnecessary, especially when the latter technique is seemingly more affective. The on-screen prompts allow experimentation without wrestling away control. Even if the level is linear, it's similar enough to real levels that it feels like less of a chore. Players have not exited the game to enter the classroom, so to speak.

But that's only the beginning.

Let's take a look at a piece of the prologue. For this scenario, we have a switch, an enemy on a platform, and a saw blade. Earlier in the level, we learned that the best way to dispatch enemies is through use of the environment. We also have experience with these switches and know they control platforms much like the ones the bomb-enemy is standing on. The resulting conclusion, then, is to drop the enemy into the saw blade for the most points and bragging rights. No hard feelings, bomb-guy.

When we do that, the bomb doesn't explode immediately, as we might expect. It falls through the saw blade and lands at our feet, in-tact but flashing. We've toyed with enough Bob-ombs in our day to know where this is going. Run away!

Once the blast occurs, the switch deactivates. Bombs can affect switches. Now we know that, and we know it because we experienced it. The platform our bomb friend was standing on now blocks our path, so we have to hit the switch again to proceed. The extra step of hitting the switch a second time helps us remember what caused it to flip in the first place.

Bomb explosions affecting switches is a concept used later in the game, such as the two puzzles pictured above. The left puzzle re-teaches the mechanic in case we missed it earlier. A little redundancy doesn't hurt as long as the game's pace doesn't suffer as a result.

Let's walk through another scenario: Learning the slide technique. We arrive at an overpass too low to walk under. The walls prompt us to run and duck to pass this obstacle. Simple enough. On the other side waits two low-level enemies that, unlikely other enemies of this type, won't react until we pass the obstacle. Maybe they're lost and confused; we're not really sure. Whatever the explanation, they're in our way.

When we run and duck as the wall instructs, we head into a slide that let's us squeak under the overpass and bump the two enemies into the air before stopping. Not only is the slide useful for passing through tight corridors, it can be used as an attack. Again, this lesson was taught without stopping the gameplay and through the use of simple environment text. We don't need a line of dialog explaining the slides offensive capabilities, we witnessed it first-hand.

As games become more complex and further break into the mainstream, the current ideas of a 'tutorial' should be rethought. The days of pausing gameplay to learn new skills and dedicated tutorial zones may be behind us. They Bleed Pixels is just one of many games that dabbles in teaching the player in ways that don't use these stale tropes. The inclusion of a full-blown tutorial, though, implies a lack of faith in its own design. I think that's a shame. The gaming world would be better off treating games more like games, and less like classrooms.
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ninjapresident   1



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About mystakinone of us since 4:01 PM on 05.23.2012

I'm a recent graduate of Penn State University with a love of games that dates back to early childhood. In college, I majored in Media Studies and Media Effects to better understand how gaming affects people emotionally and psychologically. Fives years and one degree later, all the answers are at my disposal! Not really, but I like to pretend they are.

I host and produce the Rhythm Authors Podcast, a podcast about Rock Band Network and the RBN authoring company I work for. I'm also the editorial director of PMS Clan and a freelance writer.
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