The Design of Anodyne’s Tutorial

This is a write-up of how I designed the intro bits of Anodyne (vote for Anodyne on Greenlight!), and the successes and failures of the final design decisions.

One of the earliest decisions was to limit the game to two items, a jump and a broom. The mechanics in dungeons  could replace the need for multiple items, and act as things the broom can do – so reducing the flow-breaking process switching items inherent in Zeldas, but still giving the nice feeling of discovering new dungeon mechanics.

This meant I could finally make the tutorial, one of the most delicate and important things for games, because it lets the player learn the rules of the game universe, and begin to immerse themselves.

So what needs to be taught in Anodyne’s tutorial? A few things, including: fighting, interacting with NPCs, exploring, and later, jumping (though we won’t go into jumping, which I feel I taught poorly, maybe I’ll cover that another time). I consider these to mechanics be axioms of Anodyne, in that they are thought of as basic as possible  (an axiom can be thought of as a rule or idea we take for granted, in order to see what truths we can find when accepting the axioms as true – this is most notable in mathematics – so the analogue is, if I can attack and jump, then what else can we do? )

Other less explicit axioms are things that frequent gamers take for actions  – pressing keys, moving, talking, death condition…so those are taught as well.

Anodyne’s tutorial, in my mind, spans a few areas:  the white area, the nexus area, then the street dungeon, although tutorial-like elements are strewn throughout the rest of the game, those are more of “theorems” (in mathematics, theorems are truths that are reasoned about and proven through the assumption of axioms – which forms nice analogues with game mechanics), in that you can see interaction of the mechanics with other mechanics (e.g., riding dust on water, using dust to block things, pushing enemies around, etc).

PRESSING KEYS

Although the game says you need to press C to continue (in order to reinforce the notion that you will be pressing ‘C’ a lot later), most people never really bothered reading that. So more than one key works in the title – but we wanted to limit this to one in-game, so in the first text box, the little arrow icon says ‘C’ until you press ‘C’ a few times, then it turns into the arrow. I aesthetically prefer the arrow, but it was still confusing for some to not have a reminder, so that’s why the ‘C’ was chosen to appear for a bit.

Note that people can rebind the controls at will, so that to deal with this, I allow “ESC” to pull up the controls-rebinding menu at the title screen, in case one forgets the controls – though it would have been ideal to outline this somewhere, it’s not stated in the README or anything…

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MOVING AROUND

So, great, the person knows that C advances dialogue, and if they read it, C can be used to interact. Now they stand across from a portal. The dialogue mentioned that you use the arrow keys to move. There is no visual indication to that in the first screen, though it is arguable that it might have been a good reminder, but I never had a playtester that didn’t figure out the arrow keys moved – in any case, only people very, very new to games wouldn’t be able to know to press the arrow keys, and they’d probably be more likely to read the intro text that tells them to do so – as you can see, it’s a bit hard to come up with perfect solutions to all of these choices, but the choices here usually make this part okay 99% of the time.

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Player has no choice but to walk into the portal.

Anyways, making it through that portal, now you have to move up and down to progress to the next screen.

INTERACTING WITH THINGS

Here, you learn about interacting with objects, to teach how to talk, and eventually enter portals and open treasure boxes. This is told in the dialogue, but even if it is skipped, the flashing of the screens is naturally attractive, and the player only knows one input, C, which is the required one to flip the computers and open the block gates.

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The only thing to do here is interact with the computers.

REGRETS WITH THE HUD

On the next screen is a bit of a negative. It tells the player to use ENTER to open the menu. It’s arguable that it’s better of this comes here, rather than later, as we want to break the 4th wall with controls as little as possible – but many people would open the menu early and be a bit confused as the current area has no map…in any case, it at least puts into the player’s mind that you do have a menu, and there’s a constant reminder of it in the top left corner.

Which brings me to my next point, the issue of the HUD being there too early. The Menu, health, and keys are totally irrelevant information, and in fact, it probably would have been a good idea to restrict the key text to appearing ONLY in dungeons (it appears everywhere, though keys only show up in 7 of the areas in the game).  The menu = ENTER…we should have figured out some way to make it change based on your current key, but it seemed like too much work, plus no one probably reads it, and even fewer people even rebind the key, so it was deemed a relative non-issue. Call this technique “justifying laziness”…

The HUD elements were brought in a bit early, and the early bringing up of the menu can be confusing.

The HUD elements were brought in a bit early, and the early bringing up of the menu can be confusing.

TALKING, EXPLORING

In any case, you enter the portal, and begin the game! Here, we begin to teach exploration and more interaction. You can talk to the rock, or the statue behind Sage. Even multiple times, if you desire…

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We allow the player to move in the 4 directions from the Sage room. Left is the direction they are told to go (in order to progress to the Street tutorial dungeon), but you can go up (which is blocked by gates), or right (which is also blocked by gates). This was done after watching too many people wander aimlessly in the Nexus area. A benefit of giving this choice is that people feel a little freer, and also see that the game world is fairly large, with each portal leading to a new area.

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Allowing the player to explore the hub a bit (without getting lost) shows that the game world is large

Anyways, the player again has to use C to interact with the active nexus portal to enter the Street dungeon.

TUTORIAL DUNGEON – Teaching the basics

So here is the street dungeon, which is intended to equip the player with the necessary set of basic skills to get them through everything the game will throw in their path. The dungeon’s design was iterated upon many times, and is nearly overdesigned, far more than other areas in the game. The reasoning behind this is that finishing the tutorial gives you a set of “axioms” as you play through it, allowing you to figure out the rest of the game, and that the more “hands-off” we are (with very few words), the more likely someone is to absorb these skills.

If the player missed the checkpoint in the Nexus, they’re forced to walk across this one, so that they KNOW they need to use them in order to save their game (or if the player explores the menu, they can save through there, but almost  no one does that)…of course, if the player doesn’t read, they still don’t exactly know what to do, but I think it’s a natural instinct to stand on something, hear a sound, see it flash, and then press the only key you know does something (the C key!)

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You are forced to step over this checkpoint.

From there, the only direction you can walk is up, which leads you to a crossroad. You can’t go north – walking into the block and interacting tells you it is a locked door. Heading left are some enemies, which you can’t kill yet – so the player will just leave the room, or walk into them and die. Again, reinforcing the notion of exploration, and further that not all paths are always open.

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Again, choice to emphasize exploration, but the only feasible way to progress ends up being going to the right.

DYING

You can die by walking into those slimes. Most “gamers” intuitively know those red icons in the HUD are health, but it can be reasoned that when you touch an enemy, there’s a hurt noise, and then one disappears, that those represent SOMETHING, and if the player really has no clue, then when they all disappear, you get a  Game Over screen.

FIGHTING, PUZZLIN’

The only other way is now to go to the right, through an empty screen, then pressing a button to open a gate – which is to show the cause (pressing buttons) which makes an effect (opening this obstacle, a gate). In the next screen are more slimes, and then a treasure box. Hopefully the box attracts the player, who then goes up to it and presses C, getting the broom – which tells you to use C to attack, but it doesn’t really matter if you read it, since C is the only key you know, which conveniently also attacks. at that point, the only logical thing to do is to attack the slimes, and killing them opens the gate.

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Buttons can unlock gates. This is the simplest version of this idea.

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To teach fighting, I limited the actions in this room to attacking the slimes with your broom.

So hooray! Now, the player has seen that pressing buttons opens doors, as does killing enemies. These are the ways that progress in dungeons is hindered. The only thing left to do is to travel back to the 3-slime room on the left end of the dungeon, kill the enemies, and take the treasure – which is conveniently a small key. Which can then be used on that door in the middle of the dungeon, since there’s nowhere else to go!

REMINDERS

In the screen north of the locked door, there is a slime and a gate. Just a reminder that sometimes, all the enemies need to be eliminated to open a door.

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3-Slime room, which leads to a chest with a key.

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The “reminder” room, for killing enemies and opening gates.

AESTHETICS

The whole tutorial is a street, which leads north, giving a feeling of “oh, I need to go THIS way…” The music is also fairly hands-off, fitting the feel of the unknown, slightly creepy street….then in the underpass area where the music goes off, there’s a creepy zombie. People always wonder “what is this?”, and, well, it doesn’t come back in the game, but like a lot of things it’s more of a symbol of themes in the game, so I’ll leave it to you to decide (sorry!). Moreover, it lets you know that not everything in dungeons necessarily is an enemy…though for the most part, things are enemies 🙂

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MISC

There is a minimap in this area, which was added per suggestion at TIGSource – and a good idea, it helps make local navigation easier, though there is a full map in the menu (which not a lot of people use)…

ENDING

You go through the under pass, go through another screen, then are confronted with dust. Most people are likely to attack, which gives you a dialogue that you can pick up and place dust. We decided this had to be verbal, because there wasn’t a necessarily intuitive way  to teach that you can pick up and place (though we could have done something like make a little “C” key pop up when you have dust, for the first time, but oh well – I guess in a way it’s nice to limit your wall-breaking to the dialogue popups).

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And, the next room, the dungeon ends.

So through all of that, the player learned actually a lot of things, whether they realized it or not – progressing through text, interacting with objects, movement, the concept of doors, talking to NPCs being optional, the necessity of exploration, the scale of the game, checkpointing and saving, the concept of dying, how to open locked doors, exploring a dungeon, fighting enemies to open gates, pressing buttons to open gates, and that the game has a dream-feel to it.

 

 

 

All said with not too many words! If you’re making a tutorial, I encourage you to use as few words as possible – if you can teach things well without words, it’s far more likely to stick with the player.

That’s all for now, maybe more design posts later.

If you found this interesting, follow me on Twitter, and make sure to vote for Anodyne on Steam Greenlight.

The final “Street” tutorial dungeon (entrance at bottom)
17


Anodyne Pirate Bay Promo Post-mortem.

pircy

EDIT – Next Greenlight is 26th! Help Jon and I out with your votes at our Greenlight Page

Time to answer the question: “Was that Pirate Bay Promo useful at all?”

The promo was a big picture of Anodyne on thepiratebay.se ‘s front page linking to http://www.anodynegame.com/tpb.html .

So was it useful? Or did no one pay for it and now we have devalued our game completely?

First, it cost $7 to do the promo, all $7 of which were for paying our hosting provider for bandwidth, Nearlyfreespeech.net. There were no other costs.

Well….yes. It was. It far exceeded sales from the past 10 days of reviews/videos, traffic was huge…so details…

Exciting graphs at the bottom, but words first, and this post is concerning only the 72 hour period between 5 AM CST 2/15 and 5AM CST2/18 , the time of the pirate bay promotion (and sale). The soundtrack bundle did not go live until 11 AM 2/16, CST.

GREENLIGHT

We are much better off on Greenlight. It would be cool if Valve takes us because of the rising trend (a-la-McPixel), but if not we will be waiting around for a bit till we get into the top 10.

  • 28k -> 41k unique views
  • 90% to top 100 -> 59th place on greenlight
  • More favorites/comments (in correlation with views)

SALES 

We still sold through Fastspring, Desura, and Gamersgate. We also accepted donations through Dwolla and via bitcoin. The majority of sales were through the Humble Store which was the most prominently advertised. Desura and Gamersgate remained at $10 for the weekend, while Fastspring remained at $1 min. for the game, Humble Store was $1 min for game, $1.50 min for game + Official Soundtrack (OST). I also sold my soundtrack at a minimum of $0.50 (or free) throughout the weekend through my bandcamp.

Quick stats:

  • HUMBLE STORE: 4511 “only game” sold (av. price $1.74), 1750 “bundle” sold (av. price $2.76). Total (after transactionfees, before cut taken out for Humble Store) – $7064.42 + $4439.56 = ~11,500.00.
  • FASTSPRING: ~450 copies sold. Average $1.25, total $576.90
  • DESURA/GAMERSGATE: ~30 copies. Probably almost $200 from those.
  • BITCOIN DONATIONS: 3 bitcoins, or ~$100.
  • DWOLLA: A whopping $0.00 .
  • BANDCAMP: I sold 100 copies of the soundtrack only (not including the ones sold through the bundle). There were about 430 downloads at a price of $0 from bandcamp. This came out to about $175.00 as the minimum price was $0.50 .

Fun stats:

Out of the 4511 only-game purchases:

  • 3539 (78%) were $1 purchases (minimum)
  • 3681 (79%) were <= the average (1.74)
  • 967 (21%) were > the average (1.74)
  • 123 (3%) were >= the advertised retail price ($10)
  • Highest: $20 I believe.

Out of the 1750 bundle purchases:

  • 1136 (65%) were $1.50 purchases (minimum)
  • 1293 (74%) were <= the average (2.76)
  • 467 (23%) were > average
  • 45 (2.5%) were >= advertised retail ($12) – 2.5%
  • Highest was $30

TRAFFIC

  • 240,000 uniques (roughly) over the sale period. Concurrent visitors ranged from 300-700.
  • Unsurprisingly, thepiratebay.se was highest referrer, followed by Reddit.

PRESS

MISC

  • Within a few hours of the sale we front-paged Reddit. I was sleeping and woke up after an /r/gaming mod deleted the post. Thanks, /r/gaming mod. (Deleted likely for “enabling” piracy)
  • Traffic cost me about $7 in all. This is in part due to our webpage being really lightweight, and also due to Nearlyfreespeech being fuckin’ awesome. I highly recommend them if you want cheap hosting.
  • THE REST OF THE PROMO COST NOTHING! …only paid for traffic. Yep!
  • SOCIAL MEDIA – I think our facebook page gained 200-300 “likes”, Twitter follow counts increased by hundreds (550/220/400 for me/anodyne/jon)
  • Release trailer has > 100k views now
  • Seeder count varied between 2k-3k according to The Pirate Bay.
  • Many many nice messages from fans enjoying the game!
  • Many many bug reports 🙂 often of a few of the same bug

WHAT ABOUT LIFE BEFORE THE PROMO BAY?

Over the 10 days after release before the promo bay, I think we accumulated 40k uniques. This resulted in around 800-900 sales between all of our channels, at an average price of I think $8.

Over that time, we got a number of reviews and videos to drive traffic!

So, the promo bay far exceeded what our sales cycle would have been if we just went on as normal – sales were dying down around the start of the promo. We made twice as much revenue as we did in the past 10 days (plus the pre-orders), many more visitors, votes, etc – as mentioned earlier!

In summary…

Our take was about $12k for the promo, split between Jon and I evenly. A nice amount for the work we’ve put into Anodyne. We also have a lot more publicity and fans now (go look around Youtube! Many many Let’s Plays). So things are looking up!

Without further ado, some graphs. Kind of what you might expect – sales highest during daytime for US/europe, sales die down over the promo. Gross refers to before we cut out 5% for the humble store creators, but after we take out transaction fees.

Does the promo work? Yes! I think everything is much better off now – revenue, people playing, fans, etc, than we were before the promo. I definitely encourage trying something similar with The Promo Bay if you’re able to.

That’s it! Any other questions? Post here or ask me on Twitter.

cumu_salescumu_grossgrosssales


Piracy and Anodyne.

So, in recent news…this has been happening with Jon and I’s recent game, Anodyne.

pircy

You may be wondering…why? Why Sean, why?

If you haven’t heard the story, I’ll cover it here quickly. You can skip this paragraph if you know:

Game releases Feb 4th, get some nice press from wonderful journalists, we do some interviews with wonderful interviewers! Over the weekend, someone from France tells me they liked the game, and was sorry for cracking it – I say it’s okay, as I was sort of expecting someone to upload it on TPB at some point – he asks if he can upload it, I say “sure!”. It goes live, I wait a bit to see if it is getting torrented, then comment saying that I’m okay with it (for following reasons in this blog post, more or less). Then a mod takes it down by accident, TorrentFreak does an article, commenters convince me to upload it myself, so I do that. /r/piracy and /r/gaming talk about it, someone from TPB contacts me, and then history.

So, there’s been a lot of luck in getting to this point, but I’m very thankful.

Anyways, here are some thoughts I’ve had on piracy as they relate to indie games (I define “indie” as a small group of people making the game who can market the game however they please). Of course these aren’t all the positives and negatives and it’s not all black and white, but these touch on some of my ideas:

POSITIVE ONE

  • More people get to play your game. And listen to your music. Etc.

Self-explanatory. Normally only a few people would be torrenting it, but with this promotion, many people get to play it. The freeloaders, the ones who want to try-before-they-buy, the ones who cannot afford your game. They spread the game via word of mouth. Then more people get to play.

If you’re into trying to advance the public perception of games, then by putting your game out I think that it’s possible to shift the public idea of games from a product to an art form, even a tiny bit. Something I think really helps is enforcing the connection that humans created the game. It’s easy to know this for art, or music, or films – but what some people forget is, yes, for video games, some other human beings spent thousands of hours over a keyboard, plugging away at throwing their thoughts into this world! And by commenting on a torrent, or putting up our game for a sale, it helps to associate someone’s face with the game, and even though someone may not realize it, I think it can help in some way in shifting the average public perception towards the thought that games are a creative and expressive medium. Part of the fun of being independent is being able to talk with players – I can jump into comment threads,etc., as I wish.

Additionally, this had a bonus for me as a composer, I’m able to offer my soundtrack as part of a premium bundle, as well as offer it for free through Bandcamp. People seem to like the music, which is nice!

POSITIVE 2

  • You will make more money than the normal sales cycle. At least in the short term.

Putting on my business hat…

I hear a lot of arguments saying this will kill your sales because everyone will pirate. Well…

Anodyne had sold almost 1,000 copies before the Pirate Bay promo started. There are still about 12 hours left in the promo and, even with all the piracy, we have made more money than normal sales with our $1-min-PWYW sale using the Humble Store. This has been useful as we were entering the phase were sales would probably only be driven by the occasional large review or huge Youtube video – and now with the Pirate Bay going on, 10s of thousands of people have been able to play Anodyne and talk to their friends, share their experiences!

There is the unknown of how this will fare in the long run. Some have said Valve may not be happy with this sort of behavior, but they seemed okay with it with McPixel. I guess I’ll have to make an update in a few months.

RISK 1

Well, if your game is terrible, there goes your reputation (but maybe you could turn that around into a good thing…). If it crashes really fast in the beginning? Same. So avoiding these two main issues (which I believe we have avoided for the most part with Anodyne, at least from public response and the game not being *too* buggy). My thought was always “well if Anodyne is good enough someone will crack it and put it up somewhere and others will torrent it”, and this happened, kind of (it was interesting that they contacted me first!).

RISK 2

I’ve heard the argument that this might devalue video games over time. One line of thought I had is that indie games might become more valued as a result of more piracy, as people realize the small groups of humans that create them – I’m not sure how well that holds, I’d have to look at analogues in music, perhaps.

I think piracy is inevitable. If you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it – and as developers you may as well just get to know people pirating your game. Maybe they’ll pay for it, maybe they won’t – in any case, they’ll know you’re a human, and that is a good thing, I believe. Piracy isn’t “getting screwed”, but I think a natural process that arises out of the distribution process in any sort of business system. There are good ways and bad ways to deal with it. You may as well deal with it in the way that will let you continue to make games.

But, if I’m wrong, and Sos and I have ushered on an era where no one pays for indie games, I apologize. But I really don’t think that will happen – people *do* have morals, and you’d be surprised at how often people will pay for work they think is good.

What about piracy and larger game companies?

Well, I haven’t researched this and have about as much knowledge as the next guy. But here are some thoughts. Certainly Jon and I benefit from our game being relatively cheap to begin with – someone is more likely to pirate Anodyne and then pay $10, rather than pirate the next CoD and then pay $60. Plus, large companies employ more people who require higher incomes, due to families, homes, etc – thus my intuition tells me that the issue is figuring out exactly how much action needs to be taken to keep enough sales to keep your employees fed and healthy – so there are more complex moral issues at stake with pirating at a larger scale, exceeding the scope of this post.

Will this sort of way of approaching piracy work for everyone?

I can’t say. What would have happened if we didn’t have The Pirate Bay promo? I don’t know. But it worked for Sos and McPixel, and it worked for Jon and I and Anodyne. But, we definitely benefit from being one of the first to have done this. So if you have a game, and sales are dying, and you truly believe it is a game worth experiencing, you should probably get in contact with The Promo Bay – they are very nice people! (Made some good suggestions that implemented or I couldn’t implement – e.g. a top 10 order list, etc). It’s worth a shot.

So, that’s all for now…back to tech support, then.

If you found this interesting, let me know! Talk to me on Twitter: @seagaia2