Ongoing Uru Review: Manuals and Motivation

(This is an edited version of a forum post that I replied to on December 25, 2006. See the whole thread on; I come in on the fourth page of replies.) (Update: That thread seems to have been deleted or moved. Oh well.)

Back in the 2003/4 Prologue, I wrote a page called Why Cyan Needs to Write a Manual.

Since then, Cyan has retooled the software, and many of the problems I cited are fixed. The messy login dialog box has been replaced by a very simple (first-time) dialog: type your name, choose your gender, hit "Explore". All the graphics and audio configuration has been moved to an optional dialog box in-game. There is an in-game KI reference guide, placed where players are likely to find it fairly soon.

The game no longer comes with a physical manual (since there is no physical game product), but the Gametap interface provides a little orientation movie before you start playing. (As I write this, you can watch it at Google Video.) And the first time you play, you also get a quick diagram of the movement controls. (Which are not complicated.)

Interlineated Jan 28th: Cyan has released a manual in PDF form. See the Uru Game Info page.

So, is that enough? It seems to be pretty good for the basic interface: how to move around and click on things. People seem to get that. However, the forums show a steady trickle of players asking "I tried this game but I don't know what to do. Are there people? Are there puzzles? Where do I go?"

Now, these questions are consistently and generously answered on the forums. (And I wrote my Newcomer's Guide to fulfil this same need.) But, as I said in my first essay, most players will never see the forums. These questions are a symptom, not the problem itself.

As I also said in the first essay, you can't just fob off the problem by saying "It's Myst! You're supposed to figure it out!" You can figure out how to get started in Uru; there's a trail of clues and directives which you can follow from the beginning to the City. And it's great when people figure stuff out. But... there are confused newcomers who get stuck. You can't pretend they don't exist.

I think there's an important distinction between what you can figure out, in an adventure setting, and what the game motivates you to figure out. The current Uru setup provides the means for the player to reach the City -- but I'm not sure the motivation is strong enough.

A brief digression now on history. In the original Uru game (both single-player and the 2003/4 Prologue), you began the game in a desert area. You explored the Cleft, solved some puzzles, and received a Relto linking book as a reward. That let you jump into the "main body" of Uru, including areas where you could get the KI interface (chat control) and other areas where you could meet people. (The Cleft had a couple of NPCs, but no other players. It was designed for solitary puzzle-solving.)

This setup caused a lot of discontent. Players wanted to meet and chat with other players immediately. The Cleft sequence felt like a gauntlet that everyone was forced to run through before getting to the "real game".

So the new Uru Live has a different structure. You start the game in Relto. Two linking books are available immediately: one for the Cleft (and thus all the solitary puzzle regions of the game), and one for the Neighborhood (and thus all the social areas).

This was a good change. In an online game -- a game advertised as social and multiplayer -- new players expect to see other people. With the new opening, the path to seeing other people is shorter.

But is it obvious that it is the route to the social game? This is what I'm not convinced of. You have avenues to explore, and yes, there are clues saying "Go here!" and then "Go there!" and then "Do that thing!" But the clues are a rather fragile chain; it's easy to miss one or wander off along some other avenue. (The opening movie is particularly easy to miss.) And there's no notion of an overall goal.

Paradoxically, the old Uru setup -- "drop 'em in the Cleft and let 'em suffer" -- was better for motivation. You don't know what to do, so you head towards the giant mountain thingie. Almost immediately, you see a house -- no, a trailer -- so you head towards that. And then there's Zandi, and he tells you what your next goal is. He's very explicit: "Get Yeesha's message, then enter the tree." It's hand-holding in a way, but he doesn't tell you what to do (unless you go back for hints); he tells you what you want to do. I'd say the Cleft was exemplary as the opening scene of a game. (At least, of a single-player game!)

So, given that the current opening is better for a massively-multiplayer game, how would I change it to provide better motivation?

I think I'd add one notebook to the right-hand Relto bookshelf. (This is the shelf for informational books, as opposed to linking books. Being in Relto, it's one of the first things a new player finds in the game world.) It wouldn't be an old book, but rather a modern DRC folder -- thus, distinctive. It would have a brief welcome, and a clear reiteration of the two paths. "If you want to explore the inhabited city, please use the linking book to your left. Proceed through the Neighborhood to Gahreesen, find a KI device, and then proceed to the Ferry Terminal via the Nexus book." That's all you need. (The clues in the classroom etc then serve as reminders and clarifiers to this basic orientation.) Then it mentions the solitary path in a suitably coy way. "Other linking books and other Ages have not been certified by the DRC. Enter them at your own responsibility." Keep it short; new players don't want a ten-page manual right away.

How do I explain the appearance of this modern folder in Relto? I don't. Frankly, I'd rather get the gameplay right, and waffle on the in-character explanation. Maybe one of the DRC found a magic slot in the lattice. Maybe it's Watson sneaking around. It's a new launch, we can tweak the rules.

Last updated January 28, 2007.

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