Alright, that sounds a bit pompous. Even for me, but I hope I got your attention because this is important. I started thinking about this last night when someone asked me to expand on why I would recommend Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist (by Crows, Crows, Crows) to anyone trying to introduce someone to gaming. I’m expanding on some comments I made on Reddit, so proper citation of me applies (I mention citation, so that completes the formal aspect of this).
If you haven’t played it yet, go do it now. Here’s the link. I promise I’ll wait. It’s free and it’s short and you’re going to enjoy it, I promise. Go on. I’ll wait.
While we wait for those folks to play through the game, let’s talk about introduction to gaming and how to train someone without being right there to walk them through.
We’re going to travel through the mists of nostalgia and go way back in time to 1985. For those of us that grew up in that time, many of us first experienced our original non-arcade game when we played Super Mario Bros. on the NES. Because it is kind of the original game, it was the introduction that most of us had to game mechanics.
That first level is a beautiful piece of tutorial and easily one of the best tutorials in all of gaming.
For the first screen, you are on the left of the screen and there’s a wide-open expanse to your right, inviting you to explore that direction. This screen is fairly unique from the rest of the level because you are not centered in the screen. Once you start moving the screen, Mario becomes centered in the action.
Once you begin moving to the right (good job, you awesome presser of the right-button you), the first obstacle that you face is a dark, angry-eyed, chode-mushroom that walks towards you. What are you going to do? AAAAHHH!!! PRESSURE!!! You better figure out how to jump or you’re going to… oh. Yeah, you died. Start over. What are you going to do now? Just walk into the goomba again?
You will not be able to continue until you learn how to jump.
Then, using that mechanic that you’ve just learned, you get flashing bricks that draw you attention to them and raise a question (get it?) and entice you to hit them – introducing rewards via coins and power-ups via an impossible to avoid mushroom.
Immediately after that, you’re faced with a non-dangerous obstacle to teach you how to jump over things (if you’re keeping track, we’re now up to three total mechanics; moving, jumping, and moving+jumping) and until you learn how to move+jump, you’re never going to proceed. Then you have obstacle+enemy. And then enemy+enemy+obstacle.
Your fourth enemy… that’s the most subtle piece of tutorial in the entire section. Think for a second about what you’ve learned about goombas by the time you get to the pipe before the hidden one-up.
First goomba – moves from right to left. It just walks and will kill you, but can be evaded or if you accidentally land on it, it dies a horrible painful death in the midst of its meaningless existence.
The second and third goombas bounce between the pipes and each other, teaching you that obstacles cause direction change. It also teaches you how to extend your jumps or how to chain “kills” if you’re feeling particularly murdery.
The fourth goomba – moves away from you (from left to right) and falls in a pit. It teaches you that pits make you disappear.
Combine all that together and by the time you reach the edge of the first pit, you have learned every single mechanic that you will need to beat the rest of the game.
What does all that rambling have to do with my point? Well, Dr. Langeskov is the FPS equivalent to Super Mario Bros. World 1, Stage 1. It is the perfect introduction to basic modern First Person Perspective and 3-Dimensional Gaming.
Now, I’m not going to claim that playing DLTTaTTCE:AWH will turn someone into a pro FPS player but it introduces you to every basic mechanic you’re going to need to understand.
Everything about this game ties this together as the tutorial to games.
First and most importantly, there is no fail state possible in this game. Without a fail state, the chances of frustration or rage-quitting is near zero. DLTTaTTCE:AWH is entirely narrative based, with minimal mechanical interaction – or rather, what seasoned gamers would consider interaction.
Let’s start with the fact that the game “breaks” and if you don’t touch anything, will just sit there while the narration begins. However, most people are going to wonder about the breaking and jiggle the mouse a little bit. Then you realize you’re in the game.
You have a safe area with no pressure to continue to learn basic movement (WASD or arrow keys, in this case). You’ll also note that there is no rotate key. It’s strafe from the get-go.
And you don’t get to proceed until you click on the glowing button. The glow draws your attention to it and the sign “Please Buzz For Entry” tells you what to do.
You press the button and you get immediate feedback. You hear the buzzer and the narrator addresses you directly as the player character. Some dialogue proceeds and you move on when the game opens the door.
The second room expands on this. You move in and the narrator places a call to the room you are in. You have a phone ringing with two visual cues alerting you to the fact that the phone is ringing. It’s jiggling and there’s a flashing light. The narrator just keeps commenting on the ringing until you click on the phone. And then the game reinforces the fact that your actions or lack of have a “real world” affect by repeating the sequence.
I’d like to take a second to talk about moving about in 3-dimensional space. It’s really fucking hard. Well, maybe not if you’re a seasoned gamer, but to someone who doesn’t game, especially doesn’t play games in the first-person perspective, it’s really, really hard. One of the most commonly demonstrated problems is integrating the Z-axis into their gaming vernacular.
Dr. Langeskov keeps the Z-axis use to a minimum. I just replayed the game again in full while writing this to confirm my memory. Every object that you interact with in the story is within a couple of degrees of the player’s base eye-line in the Z-axis. Minimal movement of the mouse. No extremes or quick rotation. It gently leads you through utilizing this core staple of modern first person perspective gaming and rewards you with continuing the story at your own pace. It allows you to make mistakes without punishment (beyond some teasing dialogue from the narrator) and learn the control you need.
However, the game also includes rewards for those players who are experienced with interacting in the Z-axis or new players that explore the limits of the mechanics. The cassette tapes are bonus easter-eggs that fill in back story and are highly entertaining… and after the first couple of tapes, they all are placed outside of the story-required field of view.
DLTTaTTCE:AWH also does a great job of showing the player that the pressure in game isn’t real. You may have a very real emotional reaction to it, but if you look at the examples of pressure in the game, there’s no punishment for not doing exactly what you’re directed to do as soon as you’re told to do it.
Think of the tiger room. If you don’t release the tiger, nothing happens but the narrator chides you about messing up the game for the “player”. If you release the tiger before instructed to do so, you get some dialogue about how they hope the “player” is in the right area. If you don’t press the red button, you get chided about leaving the tiger out to maul people, but you still can’t fail.
What about the elevator? First, it’s a very entertaining inversion of the elevators trope. Instead of “you the player” waiting on the elevator as either a survival choke-point or a massive loading screen, it’s “you the elevator” waiting on the player. It’s rather hilarious to see it from that perspective but, even if you don’t pull the lever nothing happens. You just sit there until you decide to follow directions.
Then the control room. Ah, the control room. This single section of the game introduces more concepts to the player than any other section.
You’ve got environmental information. You have the ubiquitous alarms. You have steam vents preventing progress. Explosions. Fire. Resolving environmental issues to proceed. Multi-step puzzles. It’s essentially a primer on FPS games in a single scene.
The length of the game adds to its appeal as a teacher of games. Lasting roughly a quarter of an hour, it is a well-scripted, quick-witted, and punchy little piece. Anyone can find a few minutes to run though this without having to invest in characters or plot. The brevity makes it easier to convince someone to give it a try.
Combine all of the above with the awesome price of “free” and you have the recipe for the best game to introduce a non-gamer to modern gaming.
I may revisit this in the future or expand on some ideas, but the last time I wrote this much in a single piece I ended up on the US No-Fly List.
I’m adding these words down here because my editor removed a few and janked up my whole “Ha! I wrote a 1,610 word article!” and dropped my word count below 1600… so I’m increasing the word count down here where it isn’t important.