Level One: The Intro Stage

Way back in 2007, before Stack Overflow was a glint in anyone's eye, I called software development a collaborative game. And perhaps Stack Overflow was the natural outcome of that initial thought – recasting online software development discussion into a collaborative game where the only way to "win" is to learn from each other.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://blog.codinghorror.com/level-one-the-intro-stage/

I think your vision of games is overly simplistic. Both EVE Online and Dwarf Fortress, to name just the ones on the top of my head, require extensive documentation and training before being able to effectively play. And that’s part of what makes them interesting and shapes the community around them.

1 Like

@raul2010 And (arguably) the world’s most popular game World of Warcraft does exactly this. Level 1 is ultra simple and virtually impossible to get anything wrong. It’s the later complexity that fosters the community spirit.

The most popular game in the world, by a fair amount, is Minecraft. No intro levels. No story. Barely an interface. And if you find a manual for that outside of a wiki made by fans, I’d be surprised.

1 Like

Read this comment in the featured video’s ‘girly’ voice. Fuck that, it offends me.

I think the concept of “gaming” has been overused and overextended to include something we already have an adequate word for: play.

It is an understandable conflation, given the Geekworld’s high awareness of games, both online and on the table.

Play, flow, and gaming are all interrelated, but it is useful to keep the distinctions clear.


The two things I’ve heard about EVE Online and Dwarf Fortress more than any other game:

Insane learning curve.

Huh, wonder why

1 Like

One, yes, Dwarf Fortress would probably be a lot more popular if the learning curve was less like standing at the bottom of the Grand Canyon looking up. A tutorial would be most welcome (but, see below).

Two, I think it’s important to make the distinction between Photoshop (think Dwarf Fortress / EVE) and MS Paint (think, I dunno, Bejeweled). The scope is very different. You need to learn one or two mechanics in a simple program (or game), while there are multi-semester college courses covering the huge list of features in the more complex program (or game).

Of particular note, the cost of doing a really good tutorial increases with the number of systems that need to be taught. Basically, the tradeoff is between doing a lot of features with a bad learning curve (and trusting that users will put in the work to learn even when it’s hard) or doing fewer features and having a really slick introduction. Having a ton of features, and a good tutorial that slowly introduces them all to the user, is incredibly costly.

1 Like

Maybe it’s been a while since you played Minecraft? When you start your first world, it launches you down a tree of “achievements”, which is basically a list of features to learn, beginning with “open your inventory” and proceeding up through making armor, growing food, etc etc. It doesn’t hold your hand as much as a AAA title but it’s a damn sight better than, to use an example from earlier, Dwarf Fortress.

Also, I think Minecraft might be part of a new trend in early-access, “viral” game development, where a community forms around the game and provides its own support. Just because the best “manual” is a fan-made wiki, doesn’t mean you should write it off!

1 Like

I fondly remember eagerly ripping open the box and reading the manual on the entire drive home, right up until I could get the game in and start playing. I had to immerse myself in the world I’d soon be playing.

Also, Minecraft the “most popular game in the world”? I love the game, but only 16 million copies of Minecraft have ever been sold at all, while Call of Duty has had well over 40 million players active at once at times.

A minute correction – the word gamification appears to have been coined around 2002.

Stack Exchange needs a proper ‘level 1’ sandbox.

Many times, a new user shows up, seeing that they are limited by the low-reputation shackles that are in place, and figure out that about all they can do out of the box is pose a question or answer a question. Because they don’t yet understand the ‘answers aren’t for comments’ style of the site, and/or don’t understand what makes a good SE question, they post things that get downvoted to oblivion. Welcome to level 1, you’re dead.

New users really need some sort of sandbox to show them how to fill in their profile, how to post a question, how to answer a question, how to comment, how to vote and how to flag.

That’s “slightly NSFW”? Dang… I guess it depends on where you work.

@thw0rted - Games with tons of features can have a good tutorial without breaking the development bank. Instead of showing new players ALL of the features over the course of the tutorial, show them just enough of the core features to be able to survive and enjoy the game enough to want to stick with it. If players can experience a little success early on in their experience, more of them will stick around and learn the more detailed and powerful mechanics not covered in the tutorial.

Now, in Dwarf Fortress’s case, there may still be too many things that a player must know just to get a basic fortress going to put in a tutorial, but Dwarf Fortress is on the extreme end of the steep learning curve scale, and is so intentionally.

1 Like

Egoraptor + Coding Horror… I never expected those two parts of my world to collide!

I love the part where he talks about conveyance. It’s so incredibly important. Remember the first time you opened a development IDE? Back in the day of baby’s first Hello World?

I don’t know what to do…

In addition to the point @mouseasw made, they should be observing this stuff happen (watching other people exercise these abilities) and realize they will be able to do that at some point. Like Megaman X and Xero:

You’re strong, but you’re not as strong as I am. But someday you will be as strong as I am.

There’s also this, though it is more of a tutorial, it is very well done:

Good luck getting people to click through to it and read it, as usual… it is linked from a giant banner at the top of the page when you visit Stack Overflow in incognito / anonymous / inprivate / new user mode.

Well, yeah, but DF is legendarily complicated. That’s an extreme example. Which brings me to…

As others pointed out, there are intro levels in Minecraft now, but there probably weren’t early on. For example in the PS4 version of Minecraft:

I really think once you learn the basics of Minecraft via the really impressive and fun tutorial world,

But did you know that Minecraft was inspired by Dwarf Fortress?

From Dwarf Fortress, [Notch] wanted to bring the exciting feeling of depth and life that Tarn Adams’s cult game was so good at conveying. His own game would feel more like a world to explore and to try to survive in than a narrative, segmented into ready-made challenges.

And directly from the creators of Dwarf Fortress:

Meanwhile, the smash success of the world-building game Minecraft, which is in many ways a more user-friendly version of Dwarf Fortress (and which has earned its Dwarf Fortress-loving creator millions of dollars), has only been good for Tarn, driving curious new players his way. Still, in the only moment I heard him speak with anything like bitterness, Tarn called Minecraft a “depressing distillation of our own stuff.” He paused, adding more magnanimously that the game “has its own things going for it.” The problem, he concluded, “isn’t with Minecraft so much as it’s with society.”

I completely agree with your assertions here. The general catalyst for learning to do something is from a desire to engage. Users, players, customers, etc learn best by action… Instructions and manuals detract from user interaction. Instructions should be like road signs not road blocks. Excellent post.

1 Like
  1. I’d love to tag this with “agile” and “read the fuck manual”, though I still haven’t “tagged” the the second one with more posts nor I think the name is simple enough yet!

1.5) Maybe also a discourse feature request: add links to posts found within the embeded site which are linking dicourse itself. In this case, the mmorpg topic.

  1. I’d love to see that nsfw guy talking about Mario and Zelda! :slight_smile:
  1. Do you happen to have stats on how many people click on it?

How would you apply this to piloting a 747 for instance? Games are an interactive story - they’re very linear, so it’s much easier. Even open world games limit your options by starting you off in a dungeon and have various fictitious stories to push you along a path. I find it difficult to apply this “Intro Stage” to a business and task oriented app. What are some popular complex business and task oriented apps that really do intro stages well?

For a 747 the intro stage is a flight sim, that’s time spent training for real life. For me, the question is how do I make my users want to spend time in the flight sim? And this is accounting software, what is a simulator in this context? An overlay of cartoon people pretending to buy goods, fictitious suppliers… Even Clippy was created with good intentions of making MS Word easier to use as it got more complicated.