How GTA V Fumbles on the Easy Stuff

How GTA V Fumbles on the Easy Stuff

Grand Theft Auto V is an amazing visual display, supported by Rockstar's great tech and environmental design. So why is it so bad on the basics of game development?

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I guess this is a "too many cooks" problem. Somewhere I read that each GTA is made by more people as each iteration is made, sometimes reaching in the hundreds, in GTA V's case, Rockstar even boasted it was developed by a thousand developers. Of course I'm giving them a massive benefit of the doubt, but I can only guess that they dedicated so many resources on the amazing tech, cutscenes, multiplayer (HA!) and story, that they "forgot" to make a good tutorial for the sake of starting the game "with a bang".

What I'm getting at, is that the beginning of the game is, what, 1% of the entire game?, maybe experiencing it once more if you start the game over from scratch. But yeah, of course I'm writing this with an insultingly naive perspective, but that's the best thing I could come up with such a poor excuse of game design from such an experienced developer.

SupahGamuh:
I guess this is a "too many cooks" problem. Somewhere I read that each GTA is made by more people as each iteration is made, sometimes reaching in the hundreds, in GTA V's case, Rockstar even boasted it was developed by a thousand developers. Of course I'm giving them a massive benefit of the doubt, but I can only guess that they dedicated so many resources on the amazing tech, cutscenes, multiplayer (HA!) and story, that they "forgot" to make a good tutorial for the sake of starting the game "with a bang".

Or maybe so many people means that they threw out a bunch of cool ideas when deciding what would be in the tutorial that they hit on a really cool scene while forgetting that it's supposed to be teaching the player how to play, not just drawing in the audience like a movie. I think there's something to be said for the "drop the player into a big brawl at the climax so they can mess about with all the cool powers by hitting mostly-random buttons for a minute, then have a flashback to the rest of the game."

On the other hand, I also know nothing about the development of GTA or any video game.

All GTA games had that problem. Admittedly I don't notice it anymore, status quo and all that, but yes, it is a problem all gta games have.

However, the game DOES tell you everything you need. It shows you the buttons, tells you what to do with them, and then tells you to get good. I can sort off respect that type of tutorial design, even if the practice of it falls a bit flat to new players.

Aye it seems like GTA rarely gives you the opportunity to gradually learn the game via sequential missions. It's as if they expect every single player to spend a good 20 hours robbing, fighting, killing, drive-by shooting and exploding everything before taking the game more seriously.

Of course tutorials can often feel too controlling and breaks the immersion of the game but the most clever game designers teach you without you realizing.

Yeah GTA really frustrates me with the "hold all the buttons to do these things!" always over complicating these things.

The only excuse for not having a good tutorial is having a game that is impossible not to control, e.g. Flappy Bird. Even Flower and hidden object games have screen-filling, clearly understandable tutorials.

That being said, a lot of developers are bad at making a proper tutorial. This is a challenge unique to games - you never see a movie have to explain to viewers, "A fade or wipe between two scenes means some time has passed". If a game is too overwhelming to explain easily, have copious reminders or tooltips, Paradox style. If a game with buttons like "Reduce War Exhaustion" and "Beatify Local Saint" can explain itself adequately, you can too.

You'd think it would trivial enough to have a closed circuit to practice on.

Like, story-wise, you're first driving bit is some kind of small racing course that the owner wants you to try out to see if it's good enough. And your buddy comes along and wants to practice shooting stuff out the window while you do so. Because he's a maniac or something.

And then you drive around as much as you feel you need to do and then give it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down when you're done. And if you've done this a bunch of times in previous games or replays of this one, you can just glance it over and rate it without even getting in a car.

The best part is, it's not a wasted effort solely for a tutorial; the track can be re-used later for actual races and events. The owner can be a recurring character with his own ups and downs you interact with from time to time.

Quite frankly being a gamer for this long i don't even notice bad tutorials even more. The controls are always so similar it never takes me more than a few minutes to get everything i need to know, even if the game has no tutorial whatsoever. That being said i reply here because the opposite can be just as bad. I really really hate the games that force the player to learn the most basic stuff. When the game does not let you play it, unless you waste at least half an hour doing boring things so the game can make really really sure that you have noticed that you need to press forward to move forward.

Regardless of your overall opinion on GTA V, I think we can all agree that a good tutorial is important.

I think we can also agree that the Myth II tutorial is the best ever.

Its funny that this specific mission gets mentioned, because I watched my 12-year old brother play through this thinking the exact same thing on Christmas Day. I frowned, since the game was trying to teach him with tiny text tutorial blurbs off in the corner of the screen while he was driving at 80mph. But then I looked at him, and he was having the time of his life, despite his repeated failures.

That mission in particular is a pretty significant set piece, and the mass appeal market ('casual' can be a loaded term) want spectacle, at least when it comes to single player. He didn't really care about hitting the fail state, it was all new and exciting for him. He eventually got it and went on with the game, got bored, and started multiplayer.

Now, I'm not saying that GTA hasn't committed these game design sins. They totally have. But in the grand scheme of things, I feel it doesn't actually matter. Hell, a start-stop-start-stop tutorial can even be as frustrating as an unwarranted fail state to these people, especially in the 'point gun, shoot thing' common ground that most AAA games share. They just want to dive in and be entertained at the end of the day. Shooting a guy off a stolen yacht while in a sportscar while weaving through traffic at 80mph while making witty banter is, as a matter of fact, entertaining at the end of the day, whether or not you fail at it a couple times.

Apl_J:
Its funny that this specific mission gets mentioned, because I watched my 12-year old brother play through this thinking the exact same thing on Christmas Day. I frowned, since the game was trying to teach him with tiny text tutorial blurbs off in the corner of the screen while he was driving at 80mph. But then I looked at him, and he was having the time of his life, despite his repeated failures.

That mission in particular is a pretty significant set piece, and the mass appeal market ('casual' can be a loaded term) want spectacle, at least when it comes to single player. He didn't really care about hitting the fail state, it was all new and exciting for him. He eventually got it and went on with the game, got bored, and started multiplayer.

Now, I'm not saying that GTA hasn't committed these game design sins. They totally have. But in the grand scheme of things, I feel it doesn't actually matter. Hell, a start-stop-start-stop tutorial can even be as frustrating as an unwarranted fail state to these people, especially in the 'point gun, shoot thing' common ground that most AAA games share. They just want to dive in and be entertained at the end of the day. Shooting a guy off a stolen yacht while in a sportscar while weaving through traffic at 80mph while making witty banter is, as a matter of fact, entertaining at the end of the day, whether or not you fail at it a couple times.

I think this matters more for older players. I'm in my thirties, have a baby daughter and a job that takes 50+ hours a week. I end up with very little time to play games and if a game does not get me proficient with it quickly, I'll walk away from it after thirty minutes. At this point in my life, even spending that thirty minutes on a game that is going to be a pain in the ass to learn is already too much time. If I was single and childless, I wouldn't blink an eye at the time investment, but as is, I just can't be bothered.

I don't feel that a tutorial is a must-have in a game. Some games thrive on leaving out any tutorial at all. Encouraging exploration, creativity, and learning. (Ex: Minecraft)
2 easy solutions if a game has no tutorial: 1. check pause menu for controls/check the game manual (if they still make those) 2. press the buttons, simply try things out and learn (do you really need someone to hold your hand?)

well in any case, if this was the major flaw of the game (enough to write an article on apparently) then Kudos again to GTAV.

Ghadente:
I don't feel that a tutorial is a must-have in a game. Some games thrive on leaving out any tutorial at all. Encouraging exploration, creativity, and learning. (Ex: Minecraft)

Those would be the kinds of games that have no goal, let alone a pre-defined sequence of events to follow to get there. Even so, your choice of example is highly questionable. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't ask someone else how to Minecraft before they start, nor one who doesn't go on the wiki to learn what things they can craft and how (unless they're playing the console version).

I kind of agree here, in that Rockstar have usually had trouble integrating tutorials into missions (I'd completed the story mode of GTA 3 twice before catching the tool-tip that told me how to do drive-bys) but I reckon GTA V does do it a hell of a lot better than the rest of the series. During any point in any mission you can pause the game and bring up the 'mission briefing' tab which allows you to peruse at your leisure all of the dialogue and tool-tips so far displayed in the current mission, so if you do miss a tool-tip you can simply hit 'start' and re-read precisely what it is you're meant to be doing. Perhaps not the most intuitive way of doing things, but it allows the missions to flow better without being paused every few minutes while the game expects you to read an immersion-breaking wall to text.

Action games are so derivative these days, you'd be hard pressed to name one that doesn't burrow the control scheme of a game older than a decade. And they are geared towards players who lack the attention span for an actual tutorial. Teaching players is important but doing so in a way that doesn't insult the intelligence of veteran players is more challenging than you imply.

I actually prefer the GTA approach. Throw us in and let us learn for ourselves. All the damn handholding is getting out of hand (hah!).

"but Rockstar's tech has always felt like they were an entire graphics generation ahead of the others."

And 2003 level of AI.
Why cant developers finally reach GSC's AI dammit...

Good article though. I, however, prefer the "learn yourself or die noob" approach at game design. It keeps the magic of sucking (I am serious) that much longer, and the empowerment of learning it that much sweeter.

I dont know, the complexity of the controls come from the fact that you can do (and have to do) complex stuff. Either way you can pause and see every bit of info and dialong in the Briefing tab, I think it only resets at the start of a session.

There are some legit things to complain about (no crouching) but this one felt very minor.

josemlopes:
I dont know, the complexity of the controls come from the fact that you can do (and have to do) complex stuff. Either way you can pause and see every bit of info and dialong in the Briefing tab, I think it only resets at the start of a session.

There are some legit things to complain about (no crouching) but this one felt very minor.

Its not specifically limited to that particular bit though, and some of it is critical. Convertible tops, landing gear, and combat rolling all whiz by in blink and you miss it fashion, and aren't easily located in the menus (if at all).

That said, yeah, there's bigger things to quibble on. The absence of criminal activities to do in story mode. The insane loading times for online (what is it loading for 5 minutes plus between every mission/free roam session.... the city geometry is already there in memory), backwards driving invincibility mode shooting in cars with no rear windows (both modes), shoddy hitscan shooting physics, Rockstars endless effort to make it harder to do paying missions online by hiding them off the map and playlist makers so they can sell Shark cards), first person mode being a laughable gimmick, since the entire game is built around third person viewpoints and drive-shooting or cover work is nigh impossible.

Hah, always a bit rage inducing when you're playing a good well-put together game suddenly then hit an inexplicable point of bad game design.

I finally got around to downloading and starting Valkyria Chronicles on Steam after Christmas, kind of cheesy but I was enjoying it... then I hit chapter 7 and just stopped playing for two weeks (just got back to it last night). Things had been going smoothly with the game, getting a good enjoyable tactical challenge out of the missions, then I hit this god awful level where they just throw all sense of strategy out the window.

It starts as a basic 3-point mission where you have to stop a giant tank in some desert ruins. Wide range one-shot kill front and back cannon, 6 destructible anti-infantry turrets, and after about every 3 turns it pops up 3 exhaust units that you have to destroy one at a time before you can finally start denting its hit points. Also comes with a squad (6 maybe?) of infantry units at the start that you have to clean up.

A hard enough mission in its own rights, probably the toughest challenge yet in the game to this point. It would be perfectly fine on its own, but where the game designers simply drop the ball is when they decide that after you destroy the 2nd exhaust port an entirely new squad of infantry shows up lead by a character that may as well be the bloody final boss of the game. Indestructible, extremely mobile, massive damage, sniper range monster, whom you have to survive another 3 turns until the final exhaust thingy on the tank pops up. If you've been following sound tactics to this point, you're squad is probably well positioned for a quick annihilation.

Only way to win is to have pre-knowledge of what's going to happen and where, have your infantry units placed in about the only safe-ish place on the map beforehand, and your own tank in a rather illogical position to distract the enemy god unit via exploitation of the games AI, then save scum to make sure it all goes right. I wasn't even aware you good save scum until that point, so bravo to whoever thought this level design was a good idea.

It's funny you mention Arkham Asylum, because I just wrapped up another playthrough of Arkham City, and it has similar problems to what you just mentioned.

Now, I will say that Arkham City does a great job explaining the controls and how you do your gadgets, so that's not the problem here. The problem is with those Riddler trophies. Oftentimes, they require the player to know how to exploit or utilize certain quirks with the game's engine in order to complete them, and oftentimes those quirks are learned through trial-and-error. This isn't completely a bad thing, but the problem I've run into are very specific incidents where a certain gadget trick or quirk was need that's used no where else in the game and sometimes leaves you thinking "Oh, I didn't know this gadget could do that."

This is made even worse when compounded with all of the things done right with Arkham City. Too many times I felt that the only real reason why I progressed through certain challenges was because I've already done them already, leading to a bizarre situation like in The Mummy with Hamunaptra, a place that apparently can only be found if you're been there before.

grigjd3:

I think this matters more for older players. I'm in my thirties, have a baby daughter and a job that takes 50+ hours a week. I end up with very little time to play games and if a game does not get me proficient with it quickly, I'll walk away from it after thirty minutes. At this point in my life, even spending that thirty minutes on a game that is going to be a pain in the ass to learn is already too much time. If I was single and childless, I wouldn't blink an eye at the time investment, but as is, I just can't be bothered.

Oh definitely. I think more experienced gamers tend to internalize hitting a fail state more than new or inexperienced gamers. In this example in particular, I bring up myself versus my brother.

When my brother plays, failure is a part of the learning process, sort of like those tougher roguelikes. Unlike a roguelike, however, the controls and goals are pretty easy to grasp. Just trying out all the buttons will eventually net you a win if you have half a brain, even if it does take a few failures.

When I play, on the other hand, the fail state is just that: failure. As an experienced and wide ranged gamer, I should have a solid grasp on essentially any game I pick up simply because of my experiences, especially in a game like GTA where functions are pretty derivative of just about any other AAA title. When I played, it took me a few seconds (and car crashes) to learn the buttons, but I completed the mission first try. A good tutorial could have extended that by about a good minute or so, which sure, isn't much in the grand scheme of things, but as a designer, you don't want to bore the player.

I've always assumed that Rockstar makes their tutorials like this on purpose to cater to both sides. New players don't care about losing, and Experienced players typically don't lose and/or are smart enough to get it on their own. GTA games are all about the world, spectacle, and doing crazy things. I suppose Rockstar puts that before trying to teach the player functions that, nine times out of ten, they know how to perform already or are simple enough to figure out.

Bringing up this particular mission/game again, shooting while driving is just about the most complex function the player can perform, aside from maybe a sneaking melee attack, so it really doesn't get much harder than that.

People throwing around the term 'hand holding' here don't really understand what the term refers to...
Hand holding got nothin' to do with a damn tutorial! It means guiding you nicely through the game the entire way telling you where to go and what to do at each and every turn, not providing you with a nice set of tools, showing you how to use them and then telling you to just go forth and discover. Yeah GTA does have crappy tutorials, but I managed to get through it all without any grief. Having said that, it couldn't hurt for newcomers to the series to have a gentler introduction to the various mechanics, especially aiming, shooting and driving which makes up 99% of the game.

I didn't have as much grief with the tutorial insofar as actually trying to do that section, while having all these messages popping up all over the place and not being able to read them, I know you can find them all after digging through menus afterwards but really? You want to give me all this info NOW, when people's freaking LIVES are on the line?!

At least the game gave you a glimpse of a tutorial with failure meaning being sent back 1 minute.

As Yahtzee mentioned, one mission requires you to land a plane safely... after flying halfway across the map... after a playable character leaves another for dead... after the excitement of the opportunity to rob their world's "Federal Reserve" vanished.
As I was saying, the plane mission doesn't even tell you to use landing gear, let alone how. After losing the mission twice because the plane parts fell off, I threw the game out, half-thinking "I HATE THIS!" and half-thinking "screw it, I'm probably getting the PC version and just going online there anyways."

To me it felt like a fresh breath of air, after all those games that try to hold my hand and not let go.
Also, you can find everything in the Controlls setting.

My beef with GTA V tutorials is that they give you 5 minutes to learn something that you'll not encounter again until a few hours into the game. As someone who plays it maybe once every 2-3 weeks, it's made it pretty difficult. I'd not played GTA since GTA London...

The thing is, GTA games are loaded with bad design. Rockstar are peerless when it comes to developing worlds (modern urban landscapes anyway), but completely clueless when it comes to developing gameplay.

Every mission is still "do this mission in the exact way we have envisioned it being completed or fail and do it again, stupid". I'm a stuntman in a movie who doesn't get to read the script first.

Compared with something like Saints Row or even Far Cry or anything that allows you to tackle problems in any way you choose and GTA comes up short in the fun gameplay department every time.

I would love to see the GTA worlds combined with the Saints Row gameplay. That would be the PERFECT open world game.

Roofstone:
All GTA games had that problem. Admittedly I don't notice it anymore, status quo and all that, but yes, it is a problem all gta games have.

However, the game DOES tell you everything you need. It shows you the buttons, tells you what to do with them, and then tells you to get good. I can sort off respect that type of tutorial design, even if the practice of it falls a bit flat to new players.

And not just GTA. Previous Rockstar games like LA Noire and Red Dead Redemption have a habit of giving tiny, complicated instruction boxes whilst simultaniously introducing a new game mechanic that demands all your focus. To this date, I still don't really know how exactly the duelling game play works in RDR, as the instructions on how to do so appeared once, and only whilst I was actually in the middle of the god damn quick draw.

Verlander:
My beef with GTA V tutorials is that they give you 5 minutes to learn something that you'll not encounter again until a few hours into the game. As someone who plays it maybe once every 2-3 weeks, it's made it pretty difficult. I'd not played GTA since GTA London...

That's a thing all games should have by the way: if you haven't played the game in over 2 weeks, it would be cool if the game realised this and popped up with a little prompt that asks you if you'd like to see which buttons do what. I have to re-learn everything in The Last of Us every time I get around to playing it once again.

In the next-gen version of GTA5, they changed the controls for shooting while driving, almost certainly due to the first-person mode. When I discovered this in the game, I immediately changed it back as to how it was on last-gen. My friend couldn't for the life of him figure out to shoot while driving and I told him to switch it back. The reason the font is so small is because the menu had to be redone on next-gen, they looker nicer and more detailed, as what happens when you convert text from 720p to 1080p. Instead of pointing out the other things the game got wrong, you spent an entire article complaining about a small segment of the game.

Chezza:
Aye it seems like GTA rarely gives you the opportunity to gradually learn the game via sequential missions. It's as if they expect every single player to spend a good 20 hours robbing, fighting, killing, drive-by shooting and exploding everything before taking the game more seriously.

Of course tutorials can often feel too controlling and breaks the immersion of the game but the most clever game designers teach you without you realizing.

Well said. I could have done with more hand holding regarding the stock market and those assassination missions. Sure, you can Google anything, but I don't want to sit with my iPad while m playing a game. There were just a few mystifying gaps in learning the game.

 

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