I am a hobbyist game developer, with my main interests lying in game design and programming.
To practice and brush up my skills, I make simple games once in a while which I share with my friends and siblings. Earlier, I'd explain the rules to the players individually, but that isn't fun for either the developer or the player. So I started including tutorials of different types in my games. Over time, I have figured out certain tips and techniques through which I am better able to explain the game mechanics and controls to the players without boring them. So, without further ado, let's get started!
Step 1: When Should You Design the Tutorial?
Shigeru Miyamoto developed Super Mario Bros world 1-1 after designing all other mechanics and levels. That way, he knew exactly what he wanted to teach to the player. You should also save the tutorial for the last.
Step 2: Should a Tutorial Use Text?
An important point is to include no text if possible. Keep the tutorial as much interactive as possible, because you learn the best when you have practical experience. And if you absolutely must use text, follow the rules specified below:
1. Keep the amount of text as little as possible.
2. Use a legible font.
3. Keep the font size big. You should be able to read the text from across a room.
4. The text should contrast against the background, so a white color for the text would be good. If you've got multiple backgrounds with different colors, fit the text in a translucent black box.
5. Keep the text passive. You must provide the players with hints and let them understand it, not force them to press a key to progress.
Dead Space has a lot of text-based tutorials in the beginning, but they have been pulled-off correctly.
You can also refer to the guidelines stated on BBC or Netflix regarding subtitles and apply them to the text in your tutorials.
Step 3: Quantity Vs. Quality
Never provide your player with more information than they can handle.
Let's say you taught the player a special attack. Immediately after the tutorial, you snatch away that ability and inform the player that they can't unlock it until level 10. This will frustrate the player, especially if this was something really cool/powerful or hard to learn. Now, even if the players reach level 10, there's a high chance they might have forgotten all about that special attack. Don't believe me? How many times has it happened that you put down a game for a few months, and when you return, you've forgotten how to pull-off all those cool attacks? So teach the basics in the first tutorial, and leave that special attack for a later tutorial.
The tutorial should instead have a check/gate immediately after teaching something to help reinforce the concept in the player's mind. But don't stop at one check, place checks throughout the level to help the player to revise the concept and understand the different situations in which the new technique can be used.
Step 4: Fuse the Tutorial Into the Game
The tutorial is the first thing that the players will experience. It is the make or break level of your video game. So, don't isolate it from the rest of the game. Blend it into the game. Blend it till the player isn't able to differentiate between the game and the tutorial!
There are many games that do this, but I personal favorite is Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault's tutorial, where the protagonist has to go through a bootcamp as a part of the story. It not only teaches you how to play a game, but also introduces you to your fellow squad mates.
Step 5: Include a Manual
Remember how I was talking about player's forgetting moves and techniques when they return to a game after a long time? This is something that will happen a lot. Not everyone is able to play video games daily after all.
However, you can help the player by including a manual or simple guide in the menu for your player to refer to when needed. You may use text for this, but you know what's better? Providing your player with a safe environment to practice the technique in. This can be seen in games like Assassin's Creed and Gunpoint. The original Splinter Cell had a short video played along side the instructions to help the player understand the functions of different gadgets. You could also utilize those few seconds of loading time to allow the player the have fun and practice a bit in a safe environment as seen in Assassin's Creed and Bayonetta 2.
Step 6: Playtest
I can't stress the importance of playtesting! This is the most important step of making a game. Not only will it help you to examine if your players are able to grasp the concepts taught in the tutorial, it'll also help you to spot obvious information that the players already know, like the fact that zombies are dangerous.
After every playtesting session, analyze what the player understood and where the player had trouble. Change the tutorial accordingly and playtest again. Rinse, repeat!