Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 – “Battle Simulator” Tutorial

Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 has one of the most interesting tutorials that I plan on looking at (as well as a frustratingly long name!). It combines a lot of good methods and techniques so in theory, it should be an excellent example of good tutorial practice. However it also falls into one big trap that many games are guilty of… it’s still a boring old tutorial.

One of the best approaches to avoid being just another boring tutorial is to provide context and action to the learning experience. Providing a series of dry instructions in a fake environment fails to stimulate the user. To combat this, Advanced Warfirghter 2 puts you in the desert, plying your trade against real enemies (once you’ve taken out boxes of course). This certainly ticks the box of keeping the player immersed.

For the first part of the tutorial you are then guided through movement, aiming and the cover system before having a small bit of combat to test your skills. It feels reasonably rewarding and providing you with a score and chance to replay gives motivation to take it seriously and try to excel. You are then guided through sniping, going prone, using smoke bombs and satchel charges, all with their own little exercises. It does help you learn, but takes a bit of time. After you’re done with the final of these combat lessons, you are itching to play for real. This is the completion of the second part of the tutorial.

Tutorial messages & waypoints

The third section focuses on group work. You learn how to give your team mates instructions to move around, go combat ready and view through their cameras. Again, there’s plenty of little exercises for each action before you go on to a test at the end which comes with a score. This phase can be a little slow, dawdling about, being told not to shoot anyone. Especially so when the AI pathfinding is found wanting, or your AI team mates take forever and a day to shoot one guy.

Finally the third section is finished, leaving just one more task. The final section is relatively quick, using a UAV, but by this point I was bored and frustrated. Doing a speed run still took 20-25 minutes, so for new learners add on another 5 minutes and more if a section is repeated. Add on time for updates plus the game’s loading time and you are looking at a good hour or more until you get into your first mission. Absmyl.

As I said earlier, the general concept and setting for a tutorial is good. However they’ve gone through what appears to be the full controls in plenty depth and as a result it is just too slow and time consuming. As well as being a chore to work through, it is also a lot to remember. Expecting the player to enter the first mission with confidence in their abilities both in combat and ordering their AI around like a pro is a little much.

An old t-shirt of mine springs to mind.

To improve this I can see two possible strategies. The first is to simply remove any excess exercises and tasks to be completed. Not every control needs to be taught through multiple scenarios, or at all for that matter. The phrase “less is more” springs to mind.

However my preferred approach would be to break it up into two or maybe three different short tutorials, stripping out a couple of the tasks as well. After you’ve completed the basics of combat, give the player an actual mission. Of course they haven’t learnt group work so make it a solo mission or alternatively have them be part of a group led by AI. This would provide a more stimulating initial experience of the game and place less demands on the player to remember the array of action & controls.

Context can be applied to the use of a second tutorial. Having completed the mission, perhaps the player can be told that they are ready to lead a team. They can then head off on a short training mission to get practice in group work. The UAV could be included here, saved for another time or maybe even left out completely.

With this approach the player should still get the benefits of the detailed instructions to learn the complex commands but it is broken up, getting the player out of tutorial much quicker and into the core game. Breaking up the learning would also allow players to develop their proficiency with weapons and cover before having to try an take on the complexities of group work.

Messaging is presented in a clear manner. A voice over provides instructions for you to listen to that have a basic story to them whilst on screen the controls and “gamey” text instructions are provided to ensure you know what is asked of you.

... and I do that how?

Voice command are a much more pleasing way to receive instructions than text and also allow for us to make use of our multiple senses. Rather than trying to look within the world and read instructions at the same time (risking missing them completely) you can be mentally processing the audio and then using visuals to complete the task. Text instructions then of course can then provide a secondary, more direct instruction such as the appropriate button press to perform the action, or simply to remind the player of what they were just told. Unfortunately though it doesn’t quite work out that way in AW2.

Sometimes the actual buttons to press are missing. For a new player, this is very frustrating. Either you get yourself back up off the sofa to go check the manual or mash the buttons until you figure it out (the latter being my prefered option). This is very careless and unexcusable. The text messages are also very lengthy and do suffer from tl;dr syndrome. Given translations usually end up 150% of the original character length, often double, I dread to think what it it like for non-English speaking players! When it comes to text messages, less is always better. Screw perfect grammar and ensure that instructions can be read and understoon in an instant.

As well as the text messages there is also a nice flashy on screen controller highlighting the button to press (although that went AWOL with the button presses mentioned earlier). It looked very slick and for people unfamiliar with the console, it is an excellent idea. Regularly I play games with people who’ve barely/never used one of my consoles so they need to glance at the controller to identify which button to press. The usual of an one screen controller of course improves this substantially.

Slick, impressive and pointless

Well at least it would, if the actual implementation wasn’t so much focused on being visually appealling and cared more about being usable. The semi transparent nature doesn’t make it sufficiently stand out and the zoom animation, whilst a nice touch, is too fast so you can’t really process it all that quickly. It rather defeats the point when you have to stop and look at an image of a controller to save you looking at the one in your hands. -_-

Even for me, I’ve went on somewhat in this article. I’ll wrap things up by just saying that the tutorial for Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter uses some excellent strategies to create an engaging (or not-so-dull) tutorial experience, however the depth they’ve done into slows down the pace and enjoyment. They appear to pull out all the stops, but it is too fancy and pretty without focusing on providing a stimulating and engaging tutorial.

Final note. After my basic sniper rifle exercise I was given the task to kill 5 enemies, the first of which was right by and opened fire on me so I downed them ASAP. Then I was informed “Last thing, you’ll be scored on the headshots”. As I say, the ingredients might be right, but the end result doesn’t taste all that good.

ps, sorry about the screenshots… they were actually photos and I am certainly no photographer!

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