Now that we’ve decided upon a control scheme, it’s time to help the player learn that control scheme. In this second part of the Implementing Controls series, we’ll be going over the various ways you can teach a player your game’s controls.
Show Controls at a Loading Screen
Although most, if not all, of a game is loaded in the preloader, players don’t know that. A good way to teach players your game’s control scheme is to fake a loading screen before it starts. Since players are already used to seeing loading screens at the beginning of their favorite console games, it isn’t going to upset them to see a short one in your flash game.
In your loading screen, you can teach the players how to play or even show an ad to earn some extra revenue. It’s the tactic I used in my game Whack-a-Mole Revenge since initial beta tests were showing that players didn’t understand the controls.
Show Controls in the Background
Another good way to show players your game’s controls is to put them right into the game’s scenery. Since the player is within the actual gameplay, they will be paying more attention to things on the screen. You could put up signs or billboards telling players what certain controls will do. Or maybe have controls etched onto a tree or make them graffiti on the side of a building.
Cater to Learning Styles
I’m sure you’ve heard it before: some people are visual learners while others learn through interaction.
For interactive learners, you can set up obstacles that can only be beaten when the player uses the specific control you have taught them. Thus, the player will remember the control and at what times it can be useful to them. Some games choose to do this through a tutorial level that explains all controls, while others choose to teach players controls as the game goes along. Either way works.
For visual learners, consider showing a short movie clip above each key showing what will happen when the key is pressed. This helps associate the action with a key, thus teaching the player what will occur when a key is pressed.
Keep Instructions Brief
The longer and more complex your instructions are, the more likely you will confuse and bore the player. Keep your instructions short and to the point.
A good tactic to use is to mix and match methods to suit your game. Some methods will work better for certain game types than others. Try combining a couple methods so that if the player misses one, there will still be others there to teach them how to play.
Instructions Screen as a Last Resort
You’ll notice I saved the instructions screen for last. I did this because no player is going to spend the time to go read your instructions screen. It’s the last thing on their mind when they start playing a game.
If the player does end up going to your instructions screen, you have failed as a game designer. It means that the player is now probably frustrated enough from dying that they will finally go through your menus to find the instructions screen. It leaves a bad impression in the player’s mind, and isn’t going to help your reputation or ratings.