Airships v7.3 has arrived, and with it comes something I’ve been putting off for a while: a tutorial!
The main reason why I waited until now with a tutorial is that I wanted to wait for the gameplay to crystallize and stop changing heavily. In previous projects, I added a tutorial early on and found myself having to rewrite it multiple times as the game changed. This was an immensely motivation-sapping task I wanted to avoid.
I’ve also had the luxury of doing without a tutorial because a large proportion of new players have come to the game via YouTube. This meant that they’d already seen plenty of gameplay. Others simply liked the challenge of figuring things out.
But as we near the end of Airships’ development - two more major interim versions before the final release - making the game more broadly accessible becomes ever more important.
Right now, the game can be accurately described as a niche hit. It’s had modest but steady sales that are just about enough to support me, but not yet pay back the effort invested. And it’s had a very positive reception within its audience - the Steam review score now stands at 130 positive and zero negative reviews!
For the game to break even, for my income from sales to match my cost of living over the about 18 months of full-time work it’s taken, I’m gonna have to sell more copies, to a wider audience. Making the game feel less overwhelming to newcomers is a big part of this. (Another part is the additional illustrations and portraits I’m currently sourcing an artist for.)
It’s an oft-repeated piece of game development advice that ideally, a game shouldn’t have a tutorial - the game should be taught to the player as they’re playing it, introducing new elements and raising the player’s skills over time. I do think this advice better applies to games that have a linear plot, which Airships does not have, but still: tutorials are boring.
So to prevent the tutorial experience from being too dry, the design and combat tutorials are organized in a series of challenges called the Airship Academy. In my view, what makes tutorials boring and hard to program is that they need to be on rails so much. So in the Academy, while your ship design options are unlocked in stages, you get a lot of freedom pretty quickly, and you have a full range of commands to give to your ships. You can follow the advice of your instructor or ignore it and figure things out yourself.
In future versions, this series of challenges will be extended, rising further in difficulty and introducing varied scenarios, becoming a another way to play the game beyond single fights, multiplayer and the strategic mode: Defeat this dragon with a tiny $500 budget! Weave your way through the enemy fleet to board and take over the flagship! Bolster the town’s defences before the air-pirates arrive!
Meanwhile, in strategic mode, the tutorial takes the form of a series of contextual information messages that guide you through the process of conquering your first city, and also warn you of certain situations such as an undefended city or an invading enemy fleet. I’ll probably add more such situational messages over time.
As always, these new features probably need a bunch of tuning - so do try the Academy and tutorial messages, and let me know what you think. Meanwhile, I’ll be hard at work on version 8 and its manifold horrors...
Here is the complete list of changes in v7.3:
- Added Airship Academy and strategic mode tutorial.
- Reorganized main menu into sub-menus.
- Prettier HP and resource bars on modules.
- Added reload indicator to weapons.
- Fixed bug where AI would duplicate ships.
- Improved boarding AI to be better and less likely to bunch up crew.
- Fixed a number of semi-random crashes.
- Ship editor background colour adjusted to match colour scheme.
- Multiplayer terrain is now tamer.
- Prevent user from clicking on different item in file list while the delete or overwrite dialogs are active.
- You can no longer refit a ship from the defences screen when there's already something under construction.
- When a ship flips, troops on it now flip with it.
Also, join me tomorrow on Twitch as I continue work on dev 8 and its many spiders.