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The new player experience in this game is a bit of a disaster


popcar2
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Hey all. I've been playing the game on and off for about two weeks now and I really want to talk about how frustrating it is to try and get into this game as a new player. Some of this is a little obvious, but I still wanted to make it known. Usually these games with small but dedicated communities can be a bit biased, so here's some perspective from someone outside. Hopefully the devs can use this feedback to make the game better.

Your knowledge about a game is split into two parts: Need-to-know information and good-to-know information. Easily the biggest problem with this game is the insane amount of need to know info that the game expects you to figure out. I'm not joking when I say this has to be the most obtuse game I've ever played, despite having a guidebook (that's almost useless, more on that later). For now, lets compare some other sandbox games.

In Minecraft, your need-to-know info is really simple, the only thing you need to know is how to get started. Punch a few trees, make a crafting bench, look up some basic recipes, make stone tools and you're good to go. Everything from that point is relatively self explanatory, you can explore, build a house, mine down to get better materials. Everything else is good-to-know.

In Terraria, your need-to-know is a bit more complicated. You need to know how to build valid housing and have a general idea of what your goals are, but it's still simple to understand when you spend some time. Build houses, explore the world, go to caves and look for ores and chests, fight bosses when you're ready, repeat. You'll learn good-to-know stuff as you play.

In Vintage Story, it feels like everything you do in this game needs constant guidance. Most of the mechanics of the game feel like they're need-to-know, and it's all just dumped on you through the handbook. Just getting started is a hassle. This problem is only exasperated by having a small community, finding tutorials and good resources is really difficult. Lets get into it...

When making my first world, I didn't really know anything so I decided to go with standard. It's labeled "The default survival experience of Vintage Story". This was a big mistake. Standard felt oppressive, and the game didn't warn me how difficult it actually is. I'm just starting the game and I'm already frustrated. After dying of hunger, getting killed by wolves, and trying multiple times to get my bearings only to lose everything, I decided to go back to Exploration difficulty. Finally, now I can learn how to play at my own pace. Standard is probably balanced... Only to people who've played this game before.

One thing that irked me starting another world in Exploration is just how many things I need to get done just to start. I need to spend some time knapping my constantly-breaking stone tools, I need to find reeds for my inventory, I need to find food, I need to chop trees, I need to find sticks and remind myself to horde grass to make a bed so I don't spend ages waiting for the sun to come back up... The first day is just a lot of annoying tasks you need to do, and only after that do I feel like I get to play the game.

I open the guidebook to see what I need to do next. The guidebook is full of information, but it usually lacks so much that I'd need to google things anyways. It says now I need to move to the pottery age and make pots. Lets do this! "Hold shift + Right Mouse with clay in your hand to create a clay forming surface". Okay, where do I get clay? What does clay look like? After fumbling around, I realized the guidebook says nothing on this. Back to google. I spent a ton of time looking for them... Some people mentioned being able to see them in the map as slightly discolored tiles but I had a terrible time with this... All while fighting my hunger meter and not settling down yet.

The pottery age went kind of smoothly. I didn't grasp what a pit kiln is, but after some googling I got the hang of it.

Now it's time to move to the early copper age. This is it. This is when I think most players will give up on the game. I barely understood how to make charcoal from the guidebook. In hindsight, the text guide makes sense, but it's hard to grasp without any visual representation. Great, now how do we find copper? The game fails to mention that you find copper under loose bits. It says this in a throwaway line in the guidebook, but as a new player I have no idea how important that is! I've OBVIOUSLY been picking up copper bits and not been marking the map, how was I supposed to know!? It's a mechanic that technically makes sense but it punishes me for not knowing this beforehand. Fuck me. Finding copper was a nightmare, I spent over an hour blindly wandering outside of my comfort area that I've settled in (because I've picked all the copper bits in it) just looking for any bits on the floor.

After finally pushing through and finally having enough copper, I later realized panning wasn't a bad idea and not a bad source of copper. Some of you will mention it was written in the guidebook, but the guidebook is so full of hyperlinks and data dumps that it's difficult to tell what's actually useful and what you should know in passing. While hounding tutorials and guides for the game I also watched a bit of a popular streamer (Tomato) play this game, and he had the exact issue, and this is exactly when he stopped playing.

A lot of this game has this same tone in that it expects you to fully understand things on how to play. I was faced with similar issues in the late copper age, the guidebook says you should do XYZ with no context or emphasis on how. "Create an anvil mold and make fine tools". Okay, how? The progression guide says very little on this, so I search for smithing in the guidebook. It says lots of words on how to smith. I don't know where to start. I click on "Smelt" and see the guide for smelting. Four lines in, it says "Before you begin, also prepare a fire and one or more tool molds". I click on tool molds and see a long list of molds. I don't know which I should be doing first and which is more important for my progression considering how difficult finding copper still is.

TL;DR: Figuring out progression feels like a rabbit hole. I am now four pages deep the guidebook with many questions and an overwhelming amount of things I should know and keep track of. You might think I don't like the game, but I do. It's just that figuring out what I SHOULD do is so, so bloody difficult. The new player experience is a nightmare. The amount of need-to-know information is overwhelming. The handbook is simultaneously missing vital information and feels like a massive info dump. It's only thanks to youtube tutorials that I managed to keep playing this game at this point. I really, really hope the devs can smoothen the experience. Not necessarily a tutorial, but maybe a redone guidebook that actually teaches how to play, has pictures that show how things are done, and tell you where to start and not just list things that need to be done. Some things such as difficulty options also need passing over to make it easier for beginners to know what they're up against. Maybe it goes against what the devs want, but I hope the early game can be less tedious too.

Even the most complex games I've played ease the player in. This game doesn't do that, it feels like everything here expects you to understand and plan everything, because I fear that the devs are only taking feedback and building the game around the die-hard fans in their community, not realizing that most (probably) people end up bouncing off of this game without offering feedback or interacting with the community. A small community can give one-sided opinions, because in my opinion this game desperately needs better new player experience to retain a bigger playerbase and following.

Whew. That was a long post. Thanks.

Edited by popcar2
forgot to add conclusion oops
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Personally I found the new player experience to be less difficult than you found it, and I'm a ten-thumbed nimrod with no patience. Vintage Story's in-game guide is far more helpful than, for example, Minecraft's recipe book.

You press escape and you see an option that says "Survival Guide." You can't miss it, it's right above the option to rage quit your first game. It answers basically every question a new player could have. The first page of the book suggests some day one priorities: find stones, make stone tools, make handbaskets, then start thinking about pottery. If you're like me, you spend your first night in an unlit 2x2 dirt cube listening to 100 jerks growl in your ear nonstop. So you spend that night searching the guide for ways to make the next night more pleasant, like a bed and torches. Now you've got day two goals. Eventually you get settled enough to start thinking pottery. What does clay look like? You search the "blocks and items" tab of the guide for clay, and it shows you what clay looks like. Where can you find it? The guide doesn't say, so you wander around looking for it. As a new player, I wandered around for a few days not finding clay. Oh well, I found lots of other neat stuff, and the game is pretty to look at. Overall not a bad experience. You'll see it in the ground eventually, or you'll find it in some ruins storage vessels, or you'll find a trader who sells it, or you'll find it panning, or you'll notice it on your minimap. Basically you'll find it by exploring, which is a core game mechanic and something I wanted to do as a new player anyway. Where can you find copper? The guide tells you it can be found under loose copper bits, or you can pan for it. What's panning? You search for panning in the guide, and it explains how to make a pan and how to use it.

I also didn't find the guide so overwhelming. You point out the process of entering the copper age, where there are tons of links to other pages which link to other pages which link to other pages, but the first page about entering the copper age lays out a basic step-by-step process:

1. Find 40 copper nuggets.

2. Make charcoal.

3. Make tool molds and a crucible.

4. Melt and pour the copper.

I too found the guide a little overwhelming at first, but then I broke it down into one manageable step at a time. Gather the copper, then check the guide for the next step, making charcoal. Make the charcoal, then check the guide for the next step, making tool molds. Which molds do you make first? The guide explicitly says, "You might want to start out with a pickaxe and hammer mold." Make the pickaxe and hammer molds, then check the guide for the next step.

I guess that's a lot of words to say I disagree, and I found my own new player experience to be just right.

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Most of my friends quit the game because of the same experience. They all complained it doesn't explain enough early on and it burns them out trying to figure it out all that it just doesn't become fun for them anymore. This was discussed a few days ago in another thread in some degrees, as well. It really needs more attention. These people quitting or getting frustrated etc etc would easily stick around or have less of a problem if the hand-book wasn't so...not good. 

And yes, the game is supposed to be more of a challenge than Minecraft. We all get that. But that shouldn't excuse away poor communication in the game and its foundations, in my opinion. As someone who also used to struggle with the game when I bought it and even more recently as I actually started playing, it DOES get easier to track far later on, but those early hours struggling almost made me quit the game too. 

Edited by Rhyagelle
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Agree to almost everything above as we just discussed some of things mentioned in other posts in forum (Here and here).
But i would like to emphasise again that this all goes about new players and only so it wouldn't sound all bad. :) 

There is another thing i would like to mention. Many thing you need to do are made as much similar to IRL processes so people who have some knowledge about metal casting and primitive survival could easily understand direction in making some stuff in this game without any guidance. I understand that it wouldn't be  self-explanatory for many, who, for example haven't heard that coal can be made in pit (Kids living in modern society where some won't even know what coal is even :) ). I learned many real life things while explored tutorials so that's great way to learn stuff about primitive survival and technology. Problem is that not many people have such interest in researching such things. Or they simply don't have english skills to find info they need. Thus they can't simply understand what this game is all about. :) 

Edited by Domkrats
Grammar :)
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Let me bring up Stationeers. I love stationeers, i enjoy it a lot, but if you think vintage story is hard, well there is a key that opens the helmet in stationeers. The helmet is NOT locked by default. In that regard, VS is a nicer game. The environment is not 100% lethal. There was a youtuber who played that game, General Krumedgeon, and i miss his content a lot. my favorite was "You know, i don't think i would live very long as an astronaut" as he was collecting things from his corpse. He died a lot in stationeers. His videos were VERY informative. 

Well, i don't think i would live very long in the woods by myself, without civilization. 

The question is: How do new players find out about this game? There are no commercials, and it's not in a cartridge behind glass at kmart, it is not an impulse buy on the steam store; so how do new players find this game? My guess is word of mouth and youtube. I saw Kage848 play, and so i got it. I have not seen him play that often. Not sure what the reason for that is. Anyway what i suspect is that almost all new players will be here for the hardcore survival experience. It's not the navy recruiter, you sorta know what you are getting into.

Now, i think what might help, based on playing various mods, including and especially the COB one, is an option to "spawn near an abandoned structure" Like a simple hut with a light, fire pit, and pot. IF you are brand new to the game, that would go a VERY long way to find your bearings. Maybe even a "ship wreck" scenario where they crash in a time machine, air ship, or wake up in an abandoned trader cart. I suspect what throws the new players off, is when night hits, and they are IN THE DARK. Hell i have abandoned worlds because i was a dumb and only took a torch with me at night, fell in deep water, and had no way to get to the shore. 

Minecraft does this with the villages. I have played plenty of seeds where i move into a village, and they even made special mobs to attack the villages so you can defend them. They REALLY hold your hand with that, because it's a place to live AND it has food and farmland. Villages provide everything you need to start off. 

So perhaps a special box on world creation, that is "new player experience" and this spawns the player in a temperate zone, with seasons, in a livable abandoned hut, that has books and tapestries that explain things.  tapestries and books that only show up in that mode. Only instead of the typical tapestry it shows what you are supposed to do. This would introduce the way lore is communicated too. 

 

This game can be extremely overwhelming. It really captures the feel of getting tossed into the world with only the clothes on your back. Can you really prepare someone for that? 

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13 hours ago, popcar2 said:

Not necessarily a tutorial, but maybe a redone guidebook that actually teaches how to play, has pictures that show how things are done, and tell you where to start and not just list things that need to be done.

I've actually made this suggestion recently to the developers.

 I agree with you, the survival guide needs to be more in-depth, and easier to understand then it is currently. In fact, it needs to tell the player a lot more. For instance, have you been gathering seeds? I hope you have, and lots of them. If you haven't, you're going to struggle on your first winter. Crops take a very long time to grow, and if you don't start as soon as possible, you won't have much, if any for winter. This is important, because during winter, food is scarce. Animals spawn less and drop less meat, and berries bushes do not grow. So you need to start making meals, and sealing them in crocks for the winter as well. That was the biggest thing that kept me from playing as a beginner. My first few worlds felt bricked once winter started, because I didn't realize the importance of farming and preparing meals for winter. The survival guide doesn't put enough importance on that. It does say in the survival guide you should start preparing for winter, but that advice is buried at the bottom of the starter guide which a lot of new players won't read. The advice also does not in my opinion emphasize just how important it is to preserve meals and grow crops early.

Edited by KobaltKookie
Grammar and some extra notes
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Just now, l33tmaan said:

We have to tell players to grow crops so they don't starve to death? 🤣 Some people just deserve the pain.

Did you know that you have to put one foot in front of the other in order to walk? Its really complicated!

Okay, i'm a total newbie, but NOT for voxel games in general.

The hardest part for me to realize was that its really not that hard. You already have everything you need to survive, its literally a matter of finding seeds and knocking a couple of rocks together to knap out a hoe.

The rest is a matter of discovery, and you have the handbook to hold your hand.

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Veggies are pretty easy to spot, too. If someone goes from May to November without harvesting them or noticing they drop seeds and maybe they should try planting them... then I dunno how much a handbook guide can help them.

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6 hours ago, AngryRob said:

So perhaps a special box on world creation, that is "new player experience" and this spawns the player in a temperate zone, with seasons, in a livable abandoned hut, that has books and tapestries that explain things.  tapestries and books that only show up in that mode. Only instead of the typical tapestry it shows what you are supposed to do. This would introduce the way lore is communicated too.

This would be a perfect experience for new players! The best tutorial is one that doesn't directly tell the player how to do anything via text boxes, instead through things that are directly in the game's world. In this case, tapestries strewn on the walls of an abandoned structure that the player spawns in.

A prime example of this outside of the context of Vintage Story is the Ravenholm section in Half Life 2 where sawblades are seen embedded in walls next to headless bodies, implying that the player can use the gravity gun as a weapon when throwing sharp objects.

Edited by maibock
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Honestly, spawning the player in some dilapidated ruins that need repair before you can use it as shelter is probably a good idea too. I usually find ruins within 5 minutes of loading up a new world anyway. New players would probably feel less intimidated if they spawned into a semi-safe structure that could easily be used as a first home if needed.

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54 minutes ago, l33tmaan said:

Veggies are pretty easy to spot, too. If someone goes from May to November without harvesting them or noticing they drop seeds and maybe they should try planting them... then I dunno how much a handbook guide can help them.

There are many other ways to replenish hunger in the game. When I started as a new player, I didn't consider the importance of crops since berries and meat was easily accessible, and I was also not aware of the importance of nutrition. You also missed the point of what I said. The advice I gave was to start farming early. Crops take a long time to grow, so even if you start just one in game month late, that's still a massive amount of potential food you missed out on.

Edited by KobaltKookie
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It's definitely just a hurdle to completely new players. A more in depth guide book an easily solve that hurdle. It's just the beginning part of setting up, really, that's so underdeveloped in the guide. And if you look at the guide without any sort of bias, it is not that good. Open it up and look up leather. The first piece takes you to step 4, with no linking to whatever step 1 is. You have to back track and click through m any things as a new player trying to figure it all out. The guidebook could definitely stand to be far more intuitive. 

Also, I don't think making fun of new players and what they are struggling with is going to help anything, least of all these players' desires to stick around.

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2 hours ago, Rhyagelle said:

It's definitely just a hurdle to completely new players. A more in depth guide book an easily solve that hurdle. It's just the beginning part of setting up, really, that's so underdeveloped in the guide. And if you look at the guide without any sort of bias, it is not that good. Open it up and look up leather. The first piece takes you to step 4, with no linking to whatever step 1 is. You have to back track and click through m any things as a new player trying to figure it all out. The guidebook could definitely stand to be far more intuitive. 

Also, I don't think making fun of new players and what they are struggling with is going to help anything, least of all these players' desires to stick around.

I'm a completely new player. Its my first playthough and I'm surviving just fine in a bear and wolf infested area. I got a farm going and a healthy supply of meat. On my first try.

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Ivought this game about 3 weeks ago and dived in blind. No idea what I was doing or where I was meant to start. 

Found the key for the game guide and started using the search button. 

After a couple of failed attempts, I started my third 'campaign' in default mode. Now 30 hours in and everything is starting to fall into place. An element of intuition, albeit limited has began to replace some of the guide searches and every success brings variable levels of satisfaction. 

Satisfaction that is missing from many other games I've played where there's very little thought required to complete tasks and progress. 

For me, the requirement to explore / invest time to research the many steps to achieve something as basic as a copper axe head is what makes this game so addictive and rewarding. 

Dumbing down / hand holding could very well destroy much that makes it so enjoyable for a fair amount of people that pick it up. 

Edited by creepyfeet
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3 hours ago, BigBadBeef said:

I'm a completely new player. Its my first playthough and I'm surviving just fine in a bear and wolf infested area. I got a farm going and a healthy supply of meat. On my first try.

That's awesome! But not everyone will  have the same experiences. 
 

1 hour ago, creepyfeet said:

Dumbing down / hand holding could very well destroy much that makes it so enjoyable for a fair amount of people that pick it up. 

Wouldn't require dumbing down the game at all. I think a lot of people are confused about the discussion's reach. A more intuitive guidebook is all that's really needed. Expanding knowledge and making it easier to reach that knowledge is not "dumbing down". The difficulty can and will still be there, all that will change is that the guidebook would be more complete and easier to navgiate.

Edited by Rhyagelle
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20 hours ago, l33tmaan said:

Honestly, spawning the player in some dilapidated ruins that need repair before you can use it as shelter is probably a good idea too. I usually find ruins within 5 minutes of loading up a new world anyway. New players would probably feel less intimidated if they spawned into a semi-safe structure that could easily be used as a first home if needed.

 

Perhaps this would be what "hermit land/adventure" can be. You spawn in the hermit's land, and he is long past. Maybe even part of the tutorial is to bury him? you see a tapestry, or rock painting showing how to knap stone to make a shovel? From there you find his solitary life explained via tapestry. How he did not go underground, how he kept the dark away, how he survived the rot by being in the woods isolated. How he heard of serphs but never saw one. So not only do you learn the basics, which are more advanced then most games, but you learn the backstory, and that there are ruins in the caves. 

AT the same time, that does take away the Suprise of the initial cave ruin find. Cobble skull is a testimony to how dark things were down there. 

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23 hours ago, l33tmaan said:

Honestly, spawning the player in some dilapidated ruins that need repair before you can use it as shelter is probably a good idea too.

Honestly giving player one torch in hand when spawning could already be great solution. :) He has clothes on, why couldn't he have torch as well. He will jump in water with it anyway. :D 

Edited by Domkrats
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Just now, Domkrats said:

Honestly giving player one torch in hand when spawning could already be great solution. :) He has clothes on, why couldn't he have torch as well. He will jump in water with it anyway. :D 

Because a torch takes all of 60 seconds to make after you spawn in? 

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1 minute ago, l33tmaan said:

Because a torch takes all of 60 seconds to make after you spawn in?

I am talking about first experience again for people who don't know anything about this game. He will learn how to make torch once he learns other things. ;) 
Where is problem in you having torch already, if you know how to make one?

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8 minutes ago, l33tmaan said:

I don't want free stuff, I want my legs broken!

O.K. Then solution is tickbox at start: "Do you wan't you legs broken? - YES and NO". Pressing NO. You have game we have now. Pressing YES, you can have torch and, maybe club. :)  

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