Teaching the Player

- Game Design

Being able to teach your player how your game works without the use of dialogue or big chunks of text is a great skill to master as a designer.

The Witness apple In The Witness (2016) the main mechanic is to draw lines on boards and environment, this mechanic is explored in more than 650 puzzles


This Game Maker’s Toolkit video suggested channel if you’re interested in Game Design) shows how Koichi Hayashida designed the levels for Super Mario 3D World in a way that new mechanics are introduced without the need of text. There’s a method that Koichi uses that’s called Kishōtenketsu, and it goes like this:

  1. Introduction: The mechanic is introduced in a simple manner in a safe environment, this way you can explore and understand the mechanic without risk of losing
  2. Development: The mechanic is explored, introducing a variety of possible outcomes and situations.
  3. Twist: The mechanic is twisted in an interesting and challenging way.
  4. Conclusion: The mechanic is used as a means to reach a conclusion of the level.

Players like to have the control most of the time they’re playing, they do not want to be interrupted by a pop-up with text that steals the control from the player. One of the games that is great in this sense is Half-Life 2, for most of the cutscenes in Half-Life 2, the player keeps the freedom of movement.

Anticipation v. Unpredictability

When teaching the player visually, anticipation is a really useful tool, it’s one of the twelve principles of animation, yet here it’s not only applied to animation, but also to Level Design.

You can compose your level in such a way that the player is safe on a starting position, while at the same time the player can see (anticipate) what’s going on in the level and how things will play out depending on what actions the player takes.

A great and simple example of anticipation is this clip from Inside, there’s a periodic shockwave, you’re forced to push a box in to the shockwave range, and the shockwave destroys the box, this way it’s clear that you should not get in the way of the shockwave, it’s explained quickly, in a simple manner, without text.

Contrary to anticipation, you can use unpredictability, which is most likely going to cause a sensation of unfairness to the player, yet games have become 'famous' mostly because of the abuse of this unpredictability, as an example, the “hardest games ever” like “I Wanna Be The Guy.”

Associative Learning

We learn by imitation, repetition and association, let’s a talk a little bit about association, and if you’re interested you can do more research on your own, here’s a nice start.

Skinner Box A Skinner Box

Association happens when the player links two or more events, this is how we relate events and we keep those associations in our mind to get rewards or avoid penalizations.

If I wall down the platform, I lose one life, I should not fall from platforms.

If I get 100 coins, I gain one life, I should try getting as many coins as possible.

If the enemy turns red, it’s going to shoot me, I should cover when the enemy turns red.

If I treat the blacksmith well, I could get a discount, I should treat the blacksmith well.

As you can see, it starts with an initial behavior, you get a response to that behavior, you associate the two, and then you reach a conclusion, or in the compact form: “if x, then y, therefore z.” In the blacksmith example, the response to the behavior is a “could happen”, and not necessarily “will happen.”

Pavlov's Dog Pavlov's Dog experiment

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