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Blog posted by Ste Pickford on Tue, 15 Jul 2008
Subject: Pickford Bros.

Ste Pickford

I'm off for a week in sunny Wales tomorrow, so probably won't be posting anything here for a couple of weeks (not that I usually post anything more often than that anyway!). No computer, no internet, no phone. Just family and friends, a sketchbook, a pack of cards and some beer. Brilliant!

I've spent all week beavering away at the tutorial text, which is finally finished, while John's been working on various flags and filters to turn different features on or off in each tutorial.

Our game is dead easy to understand and play, but there are quite a few complexities and subtleties to the rules. I realised this morning that I'd actually been describing one of the key rules of the game slightly incorrectly in all my tutorial text!

I'm putting this down to an addled brain on my part, rather than on overly complicated game. Still, I'm going to play through the tutorial when it's finished, to make sure I actually understand the game we've made.

I asked for a bit of help from the community over at rllmuk. It was really interesting to read what the gamers over there want from a tutorial. They definitely gave me a couple of very useful ideas that might improve what we're doing, without changing it fundamentally. At the same time, I'm slightly wary of the hardcore gamer's perspective, as I suspect that it isn't exactly the same as a more casual gamer's view (we really need some better descriptive words for different types of gamer!), and our game isn't aimed exclusively at the hardcore.

After posting my last blog I was invited to talk at a gaming festival in Nottingham about tutorials. I was very flattered, but I'm a bit unsure about doing it. The point of my last blog, and the thread on rllmuk, is that I don't really know how to make a great tutorial, so I’m trying to learn. I'm wary of talking to other people as if I'm an expert on the subject, when I'm merely a student myself. If it's more of a round table type thing, or informal chit-chat, rather than a lecture by me, then I might be up for it.

While my head has been filled with thoughts about how to explain our game to new players - how to give them all the information they need, how to ease new players in without too many shocks or frustrations, how to remove any barriers there might be to understanding the game - Braid comes out this week on XBLA and takes a completely different approach, and does it really well!

I've really enjoyed Braid. There are a few bugs, a few flaws, and a few frustrations, but I love the fact that it all feels like a really personal, individual vision. Although, in part, it's a kind of homage to Mario Brothers games, it most reminded me of Manic Miner. It has that uncompromising, old-school, brutal difficulty, without any attempt to flatter the player or ease them gently through the puzzles. A real gamer's game.

The only thing I really don't like about it is the addition of speed runs at the end. Portal had the same thing. I'm not much of a twitch gamer these days, and really enjoy games that I can play slowly and methodically using my brain instead of fast reactions. Why do such games insist on putting some twitch gameplay in at the end before you get the last achievement? You don't get turn-based puzzle sections at the end of Halo (or maybe you do? I've never got to the end!).

I'm delighted that Braid is doing well, and for me, this is exactly the sort of thing that should be appearing on XBLA. It's very existence seemed to contradict my own complaints from earlier this year that Microsoft were discouraging this kind of product on the service, but this interview with Jonathan Blow on Gamasutra seems to confirm my worst suspicions, as he pretty much states that his next game probably won't end up on XBLA thanks to the changes they've made (or, presumably, if he started Braid now, he wouldn't develop it for XBLA).


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