Robo Instructus devblog
Updates on the development of coding puzzler Robo Instructus
Teaching And Storytelling
I'm a game developer currently working on robot engineering puzzle game Robo Instructus. For my previous posts look here.
When players first load up Robo Instructus the game will have much explaining to do. Firstly, and throughout, why are we here, what are we doing? The story slowly uncovered will give meaning to the head-scratching meat of the game, the programmatic puzzles and mastery over a programming language. Yet even grasping the language will require the game to be a decent tutor to the player.
The current alpha-1 builds have tutorials to explain how to play the game, after all it’s pretty vital. Lacking totally though is a story or any real clue to the setting. The tutorials that are in place are simple & dry attempts to teach a player how to play the game, in this case that means teaching players how to program. They are somewhat effective, though not yet near perfect. However, they do render the game a drier and more disconnected experience because of their number and that they don’t connect with any plot. Obviously I aim to improve this.
I am working on a narrative structure that weaves a story uncovered over the course of the game’s puzzling levels. In addition to this many of the tutorials will sit in the game’s universe and themselves contain information and clues pertaining to the story of Robo Instructus.
The purpose of all this comes down to reward. That is; rewarding the player for playing the game. Which sounds simple, but how does a story make playing the game more rewarding?
Well most obviously a well written story is itself interesting and therefore rewarding to read. Connecting a story with player agency creates a symbiosis where playing the levels unlocks more story, and pulls the players closer to caring about the story. So in addition to the joys of mastering a tool, creating a solution and seeing it solve a problem, this gives another reason to want to finish one more level.
If I can also make the tutorials themselves part of the story telling, it just helps elevate them from dry study material that, after staring at them hard enough, allow you to continue the game. If they can become interesting in their own right the game should feel more consistently enjoyable.
Bringing the tutorials into the universe of the game can help connect them with the game’s story. This does, however, present problems for me. The current tutorials already aren’t good enough at explaining the game, and that was all I was trying to do with them. Weaving in a story is hardly going to make things clearer for confused players. Indeed the content of the tutorials still requires lots of play testing to help find rough edges.
Still I believe it’s better to have more motivated players interested in the contents of the narrative, than clear & dry tutorials that players want to get past asap.
I am also moving the narrative style to information you “unlock” after finishing a level, rather than text you have to click through to play a level. The distinction is subtle, but again is linked to making the story feel more rewarding. You’ll also unlock new functions after success all in the name of maximising the satisfaction of actually finishing a level.
I should have more to say about the narrative in the coming weeks.