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Dev Diary #51 - Tutorial

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Hi, I’m Aron, UX Designer on Victoria 3. I'm here to tell you all about our latest attempt to teach you how to play a Paradox game (God help me). Another Paradox Tutorial? As you have probably figured out by now, Victoria 3 is by far our most complex and deep economic experience to date. Many of our mechanics and terms can be found in a real world economy, and we have to take into account that the player might not intuitively know what Tariffs, Loan Principal, or Subsidies mean. But such specialized terminology is also the best way to describe the mechanics - "Trade Tax" is just awkward and imprecise compared to "Tariff". We also have to keep in mind that many of you have your own interpretation of these terms (Like our QA Manager, Paul, who conveniently has an Economics Degree). Down the same line of thought, the optimal way of learning a game is unique to every player. Do you want to be handheld and led through the game bit by bit, or do you simply want to explore the full game yourself and learn from your mistakes as you go? Do you want to know every little detail why you should do something before you do it, or do you want to just do it and learn the effects of your actions as they appear? In the end, this made us ask ourselves, is there a way we can make a solid Tutorial that caters to as many players as possible? This remains to be fully answered, but we are confident that we have given it our best shot. Learn the Game your way In Victoria 3, the Tutorial works as its own Player Objective named “Learn the Game”. A Player Objective is something you as a player can add on top of the normal sandbox experience provided by our GSG titles. Our Game Designer Nik will tell us more details about Player Objectives next week.

4 Player Objectives + Sandbox (no objective).

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When you choose the “Learn the Game” Objective in Vicky, you do not sacrifice your first game of Victoria 3 to a handheld Tutorial experience of the game. The game will start off and work in mostly* the same manner as if you started it with any other Objective (or without an Objective). You may pick whatever country you want, though we do provide a couple of recommended countries that can be considered potentially “easier” starting countries in regards to typical gameplay and amount of things to manage. Like all historical Paradox grand strategy games, countries start off in very different positions and playing your first game with a landlocked single-province vassal state with nothing but subsistence farmers might not be the ideal learning experience - though we won't prevent you from trying!

Currently, we recommend Sweden or the United States of America when you Learn the Game. Although these recommendations are a work in progress, some countries might be removed and some might be added.

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If you start your very first game of Victoria 3 as America with Learn the Game as your Player Objective, you are greeted by an optional introductory popup that will walk you through the basic UI controls, main UI elements, and how to unpause the game (you’d be surprised how many first time Paradox players that do not find out how you unpause our games). After that, the reactive Journal System takes over and handles most of the Tutorial as you move through the game.

The first step in the intro Tutorial lesson. Aimed to set the mood and expectation, but nothing too grand, the grandness we let the game handle itself.

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Reactive Journal system As I hinted at above, there are two major components to the tutorial experience, the reactive Journal Entries complemented by short popup tutorial lessons. The first is a set of challenges for you to accomplish, that will be delivered via the Journal system (see Dev Diary #31 - Journal Entries). Completing (or, sometimes, failing!) these challenges "proves" to the game that you have learned the fundamentals of the mechanic we're trying to teach you, and permits you to proceed in the tutorial. Early challenges are in the form of "Expand a Farm" and teach you basic UI navigation and the surface layer of the construction mechanics. Later challenges could be "Increase GDP by 10%" or "Elevate your Power Rank", which require more long-term commitment and integration of many skills you've learned so far. To the greatest extent possible we attempt to cater these challenges to your situation. For example, if you play the tutorial as Sweden, you will be tasked to expand a Rye Farm as your first challenge, while if you play it as Sokoto it will be a Millet Farm. Another country might be tasked to expand a Livestock Ranch instead, if that is deemed to be a more suitable building type. Similarly, when you're asked to improve relations with a certain country, we try to select a country where your efforts won't be wasted. Our aim here is to not just have you go through the motions, but actually benefit from the challenges you complete. This is also how we can adapt the tutorial challenges to work with virtually every playable country on the map.

The Journal with a bunch of active Tutorial Journal Entries

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Tutorial challenges aren't completely linear but do spawn in a logical sequence. For example, you won't be given the challenge to increase the investment into an Institution until you have actually enacted a Law that enables an Institution. In some cases a previous challenge sets up the preconditions for completing a subsequent challenge, and in other cases later challenges build on concepts you have learned about in prior challenges. This is handled by a kind of pacing system that underlies the Objectives mechanic, which we will also learn more about next week. * I previously mentioned that Learn the Game will work "mostly" the same as any regular sandbox game, with the addition of the learning challenges. There are some subtle differences, such as the AI being reluctant to start Diplomatic Plays against you before you prove you have a handle on the basic economic and political aspects of the game. Setting an Objective can also apply a set of default Game Rules which can override core game parameters. For the Learn the Game Objective this includes lowered AI aggressiveness by default, though you can always choose to ignore this default and increase it before starting your campaign if you prefer. Perhaps you learn best through repeated failure? How and Why The second aspect of the tutorial are popup walkthroughs that deliver explanatory information or guide you through the user interface. This will be highly reminiscent of the classic linear tutorial experience, where the next bit of information or instruction is unlocked by you navigating to and clicking a specific highlighted button in the interface, or just pondering the text for a while and clicking "Next" when you feel you've understood. The difference between the classic linear tutorial and our approach is that these lessons are short, modular, and usually player-triggered. Each tutorial Journal Entry has up to 2 popup tutorials called Tell me How and Tell me Why. The How will guide you through the interface to show you which buttons to press to complete the task, for simpler challenges, or show you where you can find the information to solve the problem, for more complex ones. The Why will tell you the often crucial bit of information of why you would want to do a certain thing and what effects this might have.

Here is step 9/10 in the Tell me Why lesson for Expanding a basic Building. Note that we also use illustrations to convey how things work.

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You can trigger any of these, in any order you like, or not. In many cases, especially if you're well-versed with Paradox games or strategy games in general, you might want to solve the simpler challenges with no guidance at all just by clicking through the menus and figuring it out. For some players, this kind of self-guided problem-solving is less tedious and leads to a more comprehensive understanding of the game, though it may take longer. If you get stuck, you can always click Tell me How and follow the instructions. Many players might want to click Tell me Why to get a more in-depth explanation of every feature as they first engage with them, but you can also skip past it and read up on it later in our in-game Vickypedia or online wiki.

The first step of the Tell me How lesson to Fixing a Capacity Deficit still gives you a short premise of why one way of doing it is better than another, but not nearly as extensive as the Tell me Why lesson does.

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A lesson telling you why expanding a basic Building is a safe investment.

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Popup walkthroughs are not only associated with tutorial Journal Entries. Some are triggered at key points in the tutorial, such as when you complete a challenge and in the very beginning of the Learn the Game objective, just to teach you the basics of moving the map around, clicking buttons, and the main HUD. They are also wired up to a few key Concepts. If you encounter such a Concept in-game that you'd like to learn about more in-depth and hands-on, you can trigger a tutorial right from the Concept tooltip anytime - whether you're in the Learn the Game Objective mode or not.

The Interest Group game concept with a button to get a UI walkthrough of what Interest Groups are.

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You don’t have to start the game with the Learn the Game objective to be able to get this lesson, it’s available in all objectives and sandbox mode, whenever you might need it.

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Final Thoughts When we designed the tutorial system we had three main goals:

  • It should cater to as many unique learning styles and degrees of prior experience as possible

  • It should be integrated with the regular gameplay experience, not be a separate mode players have to go through to "get to the game"

  • It should be modular and future-proof, so we don't have to rewrite the flow of the whole thing when we add or change mechanics

Based on our own experiences as avid strategy gamers, games that force the player to make an initial self-selection of "Novice / Intermediate / Expert" player profile to funnel them into the appropriate tutorial "track" often end up off-base, with players assessing themselves incorrectly or more advanced tracks leaving critical knowledge gaps. Instead we figured, why don't we ask the player what type of information they want in the context of whatever they're trying to learn, and put them in charge of their own learning? Similarly, while a tightly scripted and funneled tutorial with perfectly controlled variables might be easier to craft a novice learning experience around, we didn't want players to skip the tutorial because they wouldn't be able to play the campaign they wanted to, or cancel it halfway through and restart because they felt they'd learned enough. So we thought, if we get the player to tell us they want to "Learn the Game" as an Objective, we can serve up suitable dynamic challenges with optional guides, and everything else is simply pure gameplay. Finally, with this approach we can add or change individual challenges and tutorials along with updates to mechanics, without having to worry about shoehorning learning about this new mechanic somewhere in the middle of a linear tutorial, rebalancing this tutorial, and perhaps most importantly, forcing existing players to replay the tutorial to learn about the new stuff. Crusader Kings 3 was the first PDX game to implement a Reactive Tutorial, which triggers an informational window when the player first encounters a new mechanic. This may sound straightforward but was a big step forward for us in terms of proactive explanation of new game mechanics in our highly interconnected and evolving games. In Victoria 3, we have taken this concept and expanded it such that we can embed entire tutorial flows into new game concepts that lead the player through the interface of a new mechanic in depth and on-demand. In addition, we can add more challenges and tutorial flows into the existing Learn the Game Objective, and even add new Objectives that incorporate challenges to teach major new features. But we will learn more about that next week, when our Game Designer Nik tells us about how Objectives work.

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