What Makes Tutorial Modes Useful

Why they’re important, and when you should use them

I’ve been practicing I-No to prep for GGST because she looks cool. (Also, eventually I’m going to run out of images of training rooms to use for my articles…)

The fifth Guilty Gear Strive Developer’s Backyard blog post went live on April 6th, the day that the early access build of the final game would have launched if not for development delays. The post detailed feedback the development team gathered both from the Open Beta Test’s in-game replay system and the survey conducted afterwards. Akira Katano explained the results of various polls, such as popular characters, opinions regarding balance, design intent, positive feedback about the rollback netcode, and features that will be added to the reworked lobby system. In particular, comments Katano made about the beta’s Tutorial Mode sparked some discussion amongst the online FGC:

“Tutorial Mode received mixed reactions. Some praised it for the unique freedom it gives the player, as opposed to a traditional textbook-style explanation. Others, however, pointed out that it lacks the explanations needed for an introduction to the game. Our intent for the Tutorial Mode in GGST is to show the player that they can enjoy fighting games without having to study. We intentionally left out explanations of game mechanics and the different uses for each attack button. In our previous games, players new to the fighter genre would need to put in some practice in order to complete the tutorial. We checked the result data and replays from the first floor of the Rank Tower, and saw many matches where neither player used special moves or every game mechanic. We will brush up on the finer aspects of this mode, but for the most part, we felt this style of tutorial was successful.” (emphasis mine)

Ky’s sincerity almost comes off as condescending, especially when you’re Sol.

For those who didn’t play the GGST OBT, or who didn’t try the tutorial, the game mode consisted of a mock-fight between Sol and Ky, framed as a prelude for the game’s story. During the fight, Ky would give you instructions while basic controls appeared on the screen, and your goal was to simply deplete his health bar while he progressively resisted you as the fight went on- first not defending at all, then finally playing aggressive. Also, during the OBT, lists detailing special moves and universal mechanics were viewable from the pause menu. Katano went on to explain that in the final product, Mission Mode would contain in-depth explanations for system mechanics, character combos, and more- much like the existing Guilty Gear Xrd tutorial content.

Katano’s comments about the developer intent behind a minimalist tutorial, as well as how they evaluated its success, generated a lot of discussion about the value and necessity of lab time, and the importance of providing information to new players. Many players argued that having a good understanding of the game is important before playing against other opponents, and that fighting games will inevitably require a lot of lab time if you want to stick to the genre. Others, however, pointed out that it is often very overwhelming when any tutorial feature takes a long time to complete or asks for undeveloped skill checks out of nowhere. It can often simply be enough to give players the minimum tools required to have fun with the game before sending them online.

Tutorials in other modern competitive genres mainly focus on familiarizing players with the basic controls and maybe a handful of UI elements before sending them online.

I’ve written before about metagame tutorial content and how to make it effective, and I’ve also created beginner-level content myself. I also personally believe that reaction to the GGST Tutorial Mode was very knee-jerk for several reasons. We had known since the Game Modes trailer that a full Mission Mode would be added to the game eventually. Anyone who has played past Guilty Gear tutorial modes, specifically the Xrd Rev2 tutorial, also knows that bare minimum tutorials followed by comprehensive Mission Modes are par for the course- unless there are some players out there who derived a lot of value from Jack-O’s trivia pop quiz. In order to understand the value of in-game tutorial features, you must first understand what comprises good tutorials and when you should use them.

The way fighting games break down their tutorial varies from game to game, which can often be confusing. In general, however, there are a few consistent modes that you can expect to find in most modern titles: a tutorial mode that breaks down controls and game mechanics, a combo practice mode that gives you recipes and challenges you to clear them, and a training room where you can fight against a dummy CPU that might have additional esoteric features for testing certain situations. There are also often command lists viewable somewhere in the game, usually from the pause menu, that demonstrate special moves for each character. What each of these modes specifically includes will also vary between titles, but their quality has generally improved. Most training rooms, for instance, will have dummy recording playback options, and better ones will have things like frame data and hitbox viewers. Regardless of when or how you use these features, it’s crucial that any fighting game- as with any competitive game- includes resources like these so that no new player is completely blind.

We saw a glimpse at what the Mission Mode for GGST would look like when ASW released more information about various game modes. The feature was not complete in the first OBT.

What is important to emphasize when using tutorial features is that you do not need to study absolutely everything in the feature set to be competent at the game. Here, at least, Katano’s statements about learning the genre are correct. Tutorials are handy to brush up on to understand fundamentals and get your feet wet, but if you plow through everything in the tutorial there’s no way you’re going to keep all the information in your head at once. You will either forget everything you just learned five minutes after having reviewed it, or you’ll be overwhelmed by the wealth of information and tools and not know how to sort your mental stack when in real gameplay. Think about how you learn literally anything else- you process the foundational material first before adding on newer and more specific tools.

For instance, when playing Xrd and interacting with the Burst meter, you mainly only need to know to activate it to escape combos. While the Mission Mode will explain how to bait your opponent’s Burst, or how to counter such a powerful option with air throw, you won’t be able to do any of that at a low level- just focus on using the tool to escape pressure. When you find yourself getting blown up by Bursts or wanting to continue your offensive pressure without your opponent escaping, you can then study the tools required to counter Bursts. There have certainly been specific Missions in Xrd that I’ve played through, completed, and forgotten about entirely or never utilized in gameplay because I’ve just never needed to use or practice that mechanic.

Tutorial modes are, thus, not a place where you go to learn everything before hopping online. They are instead a place where you learn fundamentals, and a place that you return to in order to solve problems that you encounter in gameplay. Even labbing long, situational combos is a problem-solving measure; the problem being something like “my damage is often lower than my opponents” or “I keep ending up in scramble situations” or “I need to know what to do when I land my anti-air” or even just “I need to practice my execution.” You will rarely, if ever, go into Training Mode knowing what to do if you don’t have a problem to solve or a goal in mind. When I go into Training Mode for the first time in a new game, I typically am only looking for one or two bread-and-butter combos and I practice the special move inputs for my character a bit. I will only return to Training Mode later if I run into something that I want to practice, like an even harder combo or maybe a situation I keep getting trapped by, like Ky knockdown into Grinder EX Stun Edge oki. I will then set the dummy to run the situation that I want to practice, have the dummy play back my recording, and then practice until I’ve figured out my escape options or how to punish it, if I can do either.

Even then, however, this well of knowledge is only ever plumbed after a familiarity with the game has been established. At a fresh, entry level, what’s more important is getting into the game and having fun. At the end of the GGST tutorial, Ky gives Sol a suggestion to go into the game’s training modes if he wants to learn more about combat- a suggestion that the latter scoffs at. Much like Sol, most new players probably aren’t going to want to spend all day in Training Mode or reading about specific terminology or tools. They’d rather just go and play the game and mash buttons against their friends, and that’s okay. (We know this is true because we can look at the achievement statistics for any fighting game and see how many players actually cleared the tutorial or played training mode more than once.) A tutorial that teaches players the bare minimum to allow them to begin having fun is successful even if those players aren’t using things like special moves or important mechanics because it got them to begin playing right away. Anyone who has been playing fighting games for a long time knows that most of their knowledge was developed from real matches, not from lab time.

Of course, wanting the in-game tutorial content to be improved regularly is not bad. Training Modes should feature tools to test every conceivable situation without looking up outside resources or waiting for such a situation to occur organically. Again, while GGST’s Training Mode doesn’t feature things like frame data, it does include a wide variety of recording settings that allow you to test things like wake-up and reversal scenarios. Tutorials that are also broken up by levels of experience that deliberately send players away once reaching a certain milestone are also good at establishing foundational knowledge. BlazBlue Centralfiction and Them’s Fightin’ Herds both excel at pacing their tutorials by the knowledge level of the player. Combo trials that are also practical and explain the methodology behind a character’s combo routing will also help players figure out how to deal damage and how their kits work. Under Night In-Birth’s combo trials mainly focus on teaching the player a handful of BnBs, and then how to confirm that BnB in a variety of situations.

The most important thing about tutorial features is that they exist and are well-implemented. GGST, at the very least, will have most of the features discussed here: a tutorial that gets players started, trials that break down mechanics and combos, and a robust training room. (I’m still nagging ASW via their request forms for a frame data viewer at the very least.) Newbie players do not need to be good at the game right away, nor do they need to digest everything present in the tutorial content- they just need to know enough that will let them have fun. If they decide they want to improve and practice more seriously, or if there’s something they encounter while playing that they want to experiment with, they can return to the tutorial features and investigate further. Fighting games should make their games easy to learn via their tutorial content, and those features should also be easy to use, but you don’t need to grind away in the lab for hours to have fun with the genre. If you want to be like Sol and just punch your buddy in the face with a cool fiery uppercut, that’s totally okay.

Nathan “Lite the Iron Man” Dhami can be found on Twitter (@LiteTheIronMan,) on Twitch (twitch.tv/litetheironman,) and at your local.