We recently took part in a seminar by Paul Grogan, one of the leading “learn to play” video creators of the board game industry. He’s done a fantastic job of lowering the barrier of entry to the hobby and empowered us to play more games. He’s passionate about rules and he shines at teaching them. You can find him in most of the big expos where he spends his days (and sometimes nights) doing a fantastic job at teaching game after game, never tiring. And of course — on his online channel Gaming Rules!
Paul has been teaching games for over a decade, but as he admitted himself, it took him a long time to get to the point where he is now: getting people to play Through the Ages in under a minute in a live demo.
Listening to Paul talking about his method of teaching reminded us a lot of why we started working on Dized in the first place. Five years ago when we started demoing and teaching our own game, Race to the North Pole, we struggled to find the “perfect method” to teach the game. After a year of trial and error we ended up with the three primary principles that you can now see in Dized tutorials as well:
- Immediate Action — Typically you don’t need to know all the rules to start a game.
- Learning By Doing — Knowledge becomes a skill more efficiently when new rules are only taught when implemented immediately.
- Emphasis on Experience — First game is a learning game and the focus should be on enjoying the game and meanwhile learning the correct rules instead of trying to maximize the performance.
With Race to the North Pole we pitched the goal of the game in 30 seconds and then instructed the first player to start moving their pawns. The first turn for the whole table (full round) was done in under two minutes. People were playing immediately and having fun, rather than listening to us teaching rule after rule and forgetting most of them.
We wondered if this can be done with a device — can we create a smart tutorial that would mimic an ideal demo person? And now, after development and testing, we definitely know we can.
We hand-crafted three tutorials as a proof of concept and they turned out fantastic. Players loved them and publishers wanted tutorials like these for all of their games. But we were taken aback by how long it took to develop and create each of these tutorials by hand. Spoiler: it took a very long time.
So how do we create more tutorials, faster, cheaper, and with the same high quality?
Now that we have the theory worked out, and we’ve successfully proven that a smart tutorial can make huge improvements over a rulebook; how do we multiply these handcrafted tutorials? There are thousands of games released every year and to serve even a fraction, we’d need a factory.
This of course is where the Dized Toolset comes in. We are building tools that allow publishers and freelancers to easily create tutorial content. Our main objective has been to create tools that are:
- Simple enough to use by a vast number of people,
- Robust under the hood to allow power users more options, and
- Efficient in producing high quality tutorials.
Roughly speaking, the tutorial tool consists of two major parts: animation (and art) and logic.
Let’s talk about the animation and art first. For games that consist of just cards, basic cardboard, and standard wooden components, a tutorial creator will be able to get started very quickly. But we’ve also thought of games that have complex miniatures and/or non-standard components, and importing such assets can be done easily as well.
To understand how the animation tool works, here’s a small rundown. The art is all based on standard asset libraries (default dice, meeples, etc.) and graphics/models from the publisher that are directly imported to the editor. Animations are done by either the quick template animations (flip a card, throw a dice, move a piece in an arc) or by creating custom animation paths. All these are controlled on a timeline. Building a custom animation such as the one below, that has 4 moving cards, takes less than two minutes with the tool.
This part is actually less complicated for us to build, it just takes a long time to get it “just right”.
How do we create smart tutorials?
Our biggest technical challenge has been creating the brain of the tutorials: the logic editor behind them.
The flow editor is where you “program” the tutorial. It’s basically a big decision tree flowchart creator that has enough functions so it can perform all the necessary game logic operations.
Each tutorial is intelligent and it needs to know what to teach at any given moment during a game, so that in the end all the rules have been taught at the right time.
For example, in the Blood Rage tutorial, the second round brings two new actions that the players can use. At the start of that round we teach the basics of these actions and then give a longer description of them when performing those actions. Players won’t be able to learn the actions in the previous rounds and in the upcoming rounds they will only get a short recap, but not the whole explanation.
All of that logic is created in the flow editor mostly by just dragging and dropping objects around and connecting them in the correct order. Sometimes we need to keep track of things like “what round is it” — a counter if you will — and these are called smart objects that you can add to the tutorial flow.
So in the example above, if we have a smart object that is counting turns, when that counter hits 2, a part of the flowchart is unlocked that contains the explanations for those actions.
How do we teach you to teach us?
We strive to keep the tools at a level where the barrier to entry is low. Creating a simple tutorial for a game like Kingdomino should be a breeze for anyone who has basic computer skills. Even tutorials for tougher games like Blood Rage does not require any programming expertise, just a bit of logical thinking.
One of the biggest challenges is to teach the “Dized method” of teaching games. Moving the thought process away from “all the rules at the beginning” to “these are the essentials to get you playing and having fun right away.’’
We plan to have a torrent of material for our content creators to use: tutorial videos, blog posts, best practices documentation, and other online resources. We want to keep the content creator community in our Slack channel up to date, where everyone is encouraged to ask questions, get answers, and share their experiences. We’re planning to arrange seminars in the big board gaming expos around the world where anyone can come, listen, and learn how to use our Dized toolset and how to shape a successful tutorial. After all, there are hundreds of publishers who will be in need of content creators.
We’ve been building Dized for a long time already. Delivering the Rules Tool was a huge milestone for us and the Tutorial Tool is of course the next big thing. We’re expecting to get it to the hands of the developers later this year. When we publish a user friendly tool that can create stunning tutorials for players we just might create a whole new way of learning board games and, by doing that, make the hobby even more accessible and inclusive.
(And I finally get to play those dozens and dozens of games that are just laying on my shelf, as I haven’t had the time or energy to study the rules…)