As I mentioned, I bought Civilization V last weekend. And yesterday I decided to finally Civilize myself. The last time I had touched the series was with Civ II, some decade ago. My memories were vague, but the most intimidating part of the game was clearly looming in my mind: The walls and walls of text. Not gameplay-related text.
After watching the rather uplifting intro movie I was apprehensive. It is a deep turn-based game. Those are usually quite punishing and complex. How am I going to learn to play it before I get tired and confused? Then I reminded myself that I have to manage a lot more complex systems when I play multiplayer matches of Magic with my Norin the Wary-deck. But that brief moment was illuminating: I was new player who had somehow managed to purchase the game without (much) prior knowledge of the series. A perfect time to observe how Firaxis handles the new virgins.
I found a tutorial. It was the bottom-most selection in the New Game-menu, which did not feel like the most intuitive solution. Usually the tutorial is situated in the main menu and is made to clearly stand out so that anyone new would be drawn to its friendly name and promise of information. Clicking it took me to another menu, where there were several smaller buttons and one big one on the top. Without reading I assumed that the biggest button was there to lure the new players to it and would offer perhaps some larger tutorial where every small thing is explained in excruciating detail and a slow-speaking voiceover.
I was wrong. The game immidiately launched, giving me Persia as my empire (?), showing my special attributes (?) and telling me that the game world was “small”. Then it entered the main game screen, showing a pretty, if confusing world screen and two units (?). An advisor popped up, telling me to found a city and explore. I clicked on a question “How do I move” or something. The game slapped a screen with text and an eternally looping maze of choices which would result in more text. Instinctively I closed the screen, with images of hundreds of thousands of informative words waiting for my focused attention like a flight of ravenous vampire bats. I wanted to play a game, not read an operating manual for a jet plane!
At that point my Fantasy Wars-reflexes kicked in and memories from many years ago flooded my mind. The details of the next few hours are quite hazy, but sometime after midnight I had conquered the only opposing civilization and ruled the tiny planet with a fist of unknown hardness. But in the end, I had managed the complex system with lots of previous knowledge, and still had unanswered questions. Although an enjoyable experience, I was worried that if the tutorial was just a small easy mode, how would new people integrate themselves into the game easily?
To be fair, there were several more detailed tutorials below the tutorial game-button, which explained the general concepts quite nicely. But the UI and the city production symbols were never explained. The movement tutorial never explicitly stated what buttons I should press to make the unit move! That, if anything, is a colossal failure. I found the unit order menu with common UI placement knowledge. And what’s worse, right-clicking apparently commands the units directly, NOT terminate a current order mode! I accidentally ordered my unit to move when I wanted to cancel the movement target selection and choose another one! City management was explained, but the explanations were in the perverse help menu hell which did not have any direct explanations for the symbols the game uses. Everything I learned with either backwards-engineering or previous knowledge.
If there is a game that would benefit from a detailed tutorial that explains everything, starting with how to move the mouse, it would be this. The Civilization series is (apparently, I need at just one more turn to be certain myself) excellent and well-recognised. I would say that it would be a great aide for teaching Human history. But for the non-Civ-addicts to understand it, they would need to play it. And to do that, they need a simple tutorial that assumes that the person in front of the screen knows nothing of games.