Tag Archives: Bioshock

The Best Tutorial I Ever Played

Tutorials are the worst.

“Use the right stick to look around.”

“Hold left trigger to aim down the sights.”

“Press A to jump.”

Yeah, we get it. Most of us have played a video game before, we know what to do. Even if we hadn’t, I think we are probably intelligent enough to figure it out. Pressing a button to see what it does isn’t exactly rocket science.

Nevertheless, almost every modern AAA title has a tutorial, and almost without exception they are incredibly dull. Most developers seem to treat game tutorials like a chore; a mandatory but creatively unsatisfying feature that is simply a requirement in shipping a modern video game.

But they don’t have to be. They can be a creative an integral part of the game if done thoughtfully. A good or even great tutorial is supposed to be an introduction, a starting point. Most games take this a little too literally. They don’t even start players on the ground floor of game literacy, they take players to the sub-basement, telling them how to do every one of the game’s basic functions over the course of the first few minutes and then shooing them along so the “real” game can begin.

Maybe if we just rebranded tutorials into introductions they would collectively improve. A great “tutorial” isn’t only about familiarizing players with the game’s controls, but also introducing them to the world and characters they are about to explore and meet. Like I said, an introduction. Some games do this better than others, but there is one tutorial that I can say without a doubt does it better than nearly any other game I’ve played: Bioshock Infinite.

Say what you want about the game’s over-the-top violence (which annoyed some) or it’s linearity (which annoyed others) but Bioshock Infinite boasts the only tutorial in recent memory I could describe as being perfect (Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon comes in at a close second.)

What is so great about it? Everything.

(Spoilers for the first 30 minutes of Bioshock Infinite below)

Players before reaching the tutorial have already wandered about the floating city of Columbia and taken in some of the sights. Everything seems normal; kids play in the street, paperboys hawk papers, couples chat on street side benches. Despite appearances, there is a lingering sense of discomfort that something about Columbia just feels “wrong.” Before long you arrive at a fairground, with posters and signs promoting some kind of special raffle. You see, Columbia is celebrating it’s Independence today, and you’ve arrived just in time for the festivities.

Upon first arriving at the fair you are given your first vital piece of information about playing the game: the seemingly magical potions called Vigors, serving as the Plasmids of Bioshock Infinite. What are they, and what all can they do? Well step up on up and learn for yourself, the game invites, as a professional salesman standing atop the stage begins to promote his products. “One swig, and feats of wonderment are at the tips of your fingers!” The game shows, not tells, as two men dressed as devils use Vigors on one another in front of the stage to demonstrate the different abilities available to the player. Over the course of the presentation the salesman drops several names which will continue to appear throughout the game, specifically the character of Jeremiah Fink.

After watching the demonstration the player moves further into the fairgrounds and discovers a small area to freely explore, filled with a variety of games and activities. Almost immediately a salesman directs your attention to “Cast The Devil Out,”  a game whose name and objective, like nearly everything else in the city of Columbia, draws upon religious symbolism. It’s here players get the chance to familiarize themselves with using Vigors for themselves, an essential part of combat in the game. Using the “Bucking Bronco” Vigor players are tasked with knocking “devils” hiding behind furniture into the air. Even before using it themselves the game salesman gives players his sales pitch about Bucking Bronco, explaining its potential uses and power with his enthusiastic flair.

Around the corner is another opportunity to learn more about Bioshock Infinite’s combat in the form of a shooting game called “Bring Down The Skyline Vox.” Once again the game in name and purpose continues to expose players to important concepts, in this case the skylines players will be using later in the game to zip around the city and the introduction of the “evil” rebels called the Vox Populi. Players are tasked with grabbing a shotgun and blasting a certain number of cardboard Vox Populi targets off the rails, letting players familiarize themselves with Bioshock Infinite’s gunplay.

Often times concepts important to understanding the world of Columbia can be found in the fair multiple times, just in case a player misses out on one activity. In addition to the skyline featured in the shooting gallery, a non-interactive exhibit discussing Columbia’s skylines and their use in transporting goods is also on display. An additional shooting game continues to reinforce the idea of the Vox Populi as villains, even including the important side character and Vox Populi leader Daisy Fitzroy as a special target that can be shot for extra points.

Better yet, doing well in these “tutorials” cleverly disguised as carnival games grants you rewards like additional money. This gives players an incentive to actually explore everything the fair has to offer.

Even after playing all the carnival games there is still plenty left to see. An exhibit with mechanical horses show the technical capabilities of Columbian inventors, paving the way for the game to introduce the heavily armed motorized “Patriots” that players fight later in the game without having to overly explain why. The game’s audio logs, Voxophones, are introduced and explained in a humorous way with player character Booker recording a Voxophone of his own and then spouting the line to the salesman, “Just so we’re clear, I’m not paying for this.” The colossal Handyman, one of the game’s most challenging enemies, is also on display for players to witness and learn more about before having to face one in combat a few hours later.

Minutes after leaving the fair comes the controversial “raffle scene.” It serves as the conclusion to Bioshock Infinite’s introduction. Picking a numbered baseball from a basket as your raffle ticket, you wait as Jeremiah Fink (the same character responsible for inventing Vigors and introduced just minutes before) announces the raffle winner. Lo’ and behold it is number 77 — your number. All the while the player is curious, “What did I win?” The reveal comes as a shock, quickly followed by a sense of discomfort and revulsion — your prize is the “honor” of giving first throw at the public stoning of an interracial couple. It’s in this moment that the uneasy sensation creeping just below the surface of Columbia comes to light. This is the real Columbia. After Fink and guards catch a glimpse of the “A.D.” tattooed on the back of your hand as you attempt to either throw the baseball at the couple or at Fink,  the game begins in earnest. Players grab a skyhook and melee their way out of the area before truly starting their adventure in the dystopia of Columbia.

All the information in the game’s fair “tutorial” is presented to you, not forced upon you. That is the key here. While the game does give players a quick cartoon demonstration of how to use new Vigors upon acquiring them, several of the Vigors have already been explained and demonstrated in a non-intrusive and interactive way long before players even get their hands on them. Important characters, game concepts, ideologies, and the true nature of Columbia itself have been revealed naturally as the game went along, not as walls of text appearing in the middle of your screen or journal entries. By the time Bioshock Infinite really begins, it’s likely you didn’t even realize you had played a tutorial. You were simply absorbed in the world Irrational created and ready to explore it further.

Bioshock Infinite proves that tutorials can be an integral part of the game experience and don’t have to be a mandatory afterthought. In fact, the fair, raffle,and scenes leading up to both are my favorite parts of Bioshock Infinite, even taking into account how much I enjoyed the game’s combat and dimension hopping storyline. Video games need more tutorials like this. Gamers are (generally) a smart crowd. We know how to shoot and jump. We know how to crouch. Developers, tell us something we don’t know. Tell us about the world you’ve created, the characters you’ve populated it with. If you do have to tell us how to play, make it part of the game, not separate from it. That’s all I’m asking. If you follow Bioshock Infinite’s lead, modern games will be all the better for it.

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Dishonored Review – The Power of Player Freedom

Player choice and freedom is an idea many video games try desperately to capture. Ultimately, the vast majority fail, instead only offering brief glimpses of what a game could be like if it truly let you play it your way.

Dishonored is not one of those games. In the dark, steam punk, rat plague ridden port city of Dunwall, developer Arkane Studios gives you, the player, incredible power. Better yet, they give you freedom to do whatever you want with it.

Players done the mask of one time royal bodyguard turned assassin Corvo. After a bloody coup that leaves the empress you swore to protect dead and her daughter stolen, you are framed for the deed and imprisoned. After a daring prison escape you learn of a resistance aimed at removing the conspirators who captured the throne. From there the game is a series of daring assassination missions on key targets, paving the way for the return of the rightful heir to the throne of Dunwall.

Every mission sends players to a large, open ended environment. Aside from a few clues, it’s up to you to piece together the best way to eliminate the selected target. First you have to figure out how to get there, which is where the real beauty of Dishonored’s gameplay comes in.

Central to the Dishonored experience is the Blink ability. Corvo’s first magical gift from the Outsider, Blink allows players to navigate huge gaps of space in the blink of an eye. Warping across rooftops or quickly appearing behind an unsuspecting guard can be done instantly, eliminating the slow and methodical pace many games with an emphasis on stealth suffer from. Combine the Blink ability with the open environments and multiple ways to reach and accomplish each objective and you have a freedom that is almost unheard of in video games, aside from pioneers such as Deus Ex.

A variety of tools are at the player’s disposal. Corvo, being a bodyguard, is skilled with both swords and guns, and thanks to a little visit from the mysterious otherworldly presence known as the Outsider, he isn’t half bad with magic either.  Stopping time outright? No problem for Corvo, magician extroidinaire. Summon a swarm of man eating rats? Easy. Possessing one of said rats? Done with the press of a button. Players can find hidden Bone Charms that provide small passive bonuses such as more mana regeneration or faster knock-out attacks, allowing you to tune Corvo to your playstyle.

Now combine all of this together and you begin to experience the possibilities, and fun, of Dishonored. Should I possess a rat and sneak into the Overseer’s office through a grate? What about Blinking up to the balcony, stealing the key from a guard and opening the door? Or I could simply waltz up to the heavily fortified front door and hack, slash, and shoot my way inside. The choice is yours – there is no wrong way to play Dishonored.

Except when there is.  My only real gripe with the game, aside from a plot twist over half way through and a rather abrupt ending, is that though the choice of playing the game your way is there, if you want a certain ending (of which there are several) your play style must adapt accordingly. Killing enemies in the game has consequences in how NPC characters react around you and the state of the already dismal Dunwall. Players that kill with reckless abandon will receive a much darker and more depressing ending than those who snuck their way past every guard and performed the nonlethal options for removing assassination targets. While the choice in how to play is yours, so are the consequences. If you want the best ending, you really only have one way to play the game; with the upmost stealth, essentially eliminating a large, and satisfying portion of the game – the combat. Sword play involves well time parries to be successful, making it hard to simply hack and slash ones way through large groups of enemies. When combined with one of Corvo’s magical abilities however, such as Stop Time, you can quickly become an unstoppable force.

Perhaps the true star of Dishonored is the richly detailed world of Dunwall and all the interesting characters that inhabit it. Upon your first encounter with the Outsider you are granted a strange and grotesque, heart. This heart speaks to you, showing the locations of bone charms and hidden runes used for upgrading your abilities. When pointed at an NPC, the heart dives deep into the characters mind, revealing their inner thoughts, experiences and thoughts. I spent at least an hour just learning the hidden fears and ambitions of random NPC characters, even learning some very interesting background information about some of the games more important characters. Players can learn about the world of Dishonored and the city of Dunwall by reading books and notes littered throughout the game. It’s there for players who are into that sort of thing (I am) but is completely optional. From just looking and exploring the game environments you get a sense of Dunwal being city of real history, now suffering from a crippling plague that is bringing the once proud city low.

Dishonored is one of those rare games that truly is a joy to play. It’s variety of refined gameplay and it’s simple but precise controls combined with a detailed world setting evoke a near perfect mixture of gaming nirvana that is part Deus Ex and part Bioshock. Arkane Studio knows that if you give gamers the tools, they will figure it out how to play the game themselves. It’s this trust and faith, to simply let gamers play the game, which makes the game great. There is no hand holding in Dishonored, no right or wrong way to accomplish any given task. There is only freedom – and all the fun that comes with it.

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