The problem with 'exciting' starting zones

We love it when game designers make an observation that sometimes escapes us, like Dusty Monk's insightful post about the issue surrounding starting zones -- specifically in Cryptic Studio's last three games. His problem stems from the way in which the developer is responding to gamers' demands of a starting zone experience that doesn't involve a newly minted character thwacking sickly rabbits with a twig. It's an old -- almost passe -- gripe that was well founded back in the first half of the 00's.

As many of you no doubt know, City of Villains, Champions Online and Star Trek Online tutorials all begin by inundating the character with chaotic immediacy, and information. Dusty's problem is the combination of these two elements. He posits that any sense of urgency is killed immediately upon the opening of a substantially novella-like text window. On the flip side of that problem, he contends that it's tough to learn a new system(s) while a Hollywoood blockbuster is taking place around you.

And like any good person with an opinion, he's got a solution for the problem, too.

Dusty's preferred fix is to start the player off in a scenic place in order to learn the ins-and-outs of an MMO before tossing the player into more dramatic waters. Games like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars and Dungeons and Dragons Online are his given examples, although we feel like the first one is more from the "whack things with a stick" school of design. But you get the point: Tutorials should start with a bit more restraint, so a player can pick up the basics of play and then rev up into higher gear for that blockbuster experience.

Still, there are most certainly problems with the current Cryptic approach to tutorial design -- thankfully, the very nature of MMOs means that it's always a solvable problem.