Game Design Talk: Tutorials, Hand-Holding, and Subnautica.

Discussion in 'Games' started by Xylia, Sep 3, 2019.

  1. Xylia

    Xylia Tiy's Beard

    So it's been awhile since I've made one of these posts, and recently I did most of a playthrough of Subnautica, though I kinda got side-tracked before the end, I wanted to make another playthrough to keep it somewhat fresh in my mind before its sequel, Below Zero arrives.

    I got to thinking about how Subnautica teaches the player about what they should be doing, about the world, and I thought... you know, Subnautica is mostly an open world sandbox with very little direction, and the game really doesn't tell you what you should be doing at all....

    .........or does it?

    Then it hit me.

    The game DOES tell you where to go, in very subtle ways. So Subtle, that I missed it until I discovered a very important fact.

    I'm going to add a few spoiler warnings of minor spoilers having to deal with the game here -- stop here if you don't want to be spoiled.




    Okay. That should be enough space.

    About the time I discovered that Lifepod 2 was right next to one of the more commonly-used entrances to the Lost River zone, it hit me...

    Pretty much ALL of the Lifepods that you are given direct coordinates to... are actually pointers to important locations. Now, granted, the entrance to the Lost River that Lifepod 2 is at is.. not the best entrance to use, it can, however, be used to FIND the Lost River and if you explore the Lost River some, you can discover the other, better entrance that doesn't have a giant Leviathan swimming around it. It's not perfect, but it will get you started.

    "So what about the other Lifepods?" I asked myself, of the ones that the game tells you where they are, and... you know what? They all give important locations. Each and every one of them.

    I'm going to list them, sorted by Depth, and what I believe the developers intended:

    Lifepod 3 (17m): This lifepod is near some wreckage and is in the general shallows area, and it has a bunch of Seaglide Fragments (the game tells you that the people in this lifepod had a damaged seaglide). This one is important because it leads you to some wreckage with some important unlocks, such as the Seaglide, Beacons, and other such things. It's a good starter place to gather some materials as the location of your own lifepod is a bit random, and you're not guaranteed to land near a wreck yourself.

    Lifepod 17 (91m): This lifepod is right next to the entrance of the Mushroom Caves. The Mushroom Caves are very important, as it is probably the easiest source you're going to find of Magnetite and Shale Outcroppings (for Gold, Diamonds, Lead, and Lithium) not counting the Mountain Island where the Weapon Platform is.

    Lifepod 13 (177m): This lifepod is near the Mushroom Forest, which can contain fragments of the Cyclops, and also the Moon Pool which are both insanely useful in the game, and the Mushroom Forest itself is home to a few wrecks, and is close to other several useful locales, and IIRC, this Lifepod also takes you closer to the Mountain Island, which you might end up noticing if you explore the area some.

    Lifepod 12 (268m): This lifepod sank in the Crag Field, and while the Crag Field itself isn't hugely important, it is one of the few places you can find Cyclops Hull fragments, which in both of my playthroughs was the last part of Cyclops that I was missing, and following this marker generally led me to the 3 fragments I needed. There's also some nice resources around here too, and if I recall correctly, there's a cave containing Rubies not too far from here, and Rubies are essential for upgrading your Seamoth so that it can dive low enough to unlock its final upgrade.

    Lifepod 19 (298m): This Lifepod also sits near a bunch of rubies, and it also has Commander Keen's PDA, which will then lead you to the Floating Islands which are insanely important (it is very likely the first place you will find Multipurpose Rooms to scan, along with planters and indoor food plants to grow in them, along with an outdoor planter for your underwater planting needs).

    Lifepod 2 (500m): And lastly, the aforementioned Lifepod 2 which practically leads you straight to the Lost River biome which is an essential part of the progression in the game.

    All of these, combined with a couple other small elements, the game does give you direction... but yet it doesn't hold your hand. The game nudges you to look around and explore your surroundings when you reach one of these lifepods, and also, one should pay attention to the broadcasts and what the crew are actually saying.

    One early-game log mentions "Dry Land South-Southeast of the Aurora Crash Site" that is probably missed by many players. You get this broadcast very early in the game, and there is nothing stopping you from swimming to that island right from the get-go, if you actually paid attention to the dialogue and transmissions you receive from your radio. If you go there early, it makes the rest of the game so much easier as you can build multipurpose rooms (which are required if you want a bioreactor), along with planters and plants as mentioned above.

    Also, the game tells you the depth of these pods, and if visited in order, you will likely come across fragments and tech, and if built in order, it should lead you right through the game without you even knowing you're being led unless you stop and think about what the game is actually doing in the background.

    This is how you design tutorials, and how you lead the player along right. I feel that Subnautica does an excellent job in giving you direction, but yet not holding your hand with quest marker arrows that pinpoint your exact destination. It makes you think about what you're doing, it gives you goals (the Lifepods and other things), but yet it leaves it up to you to add 2 + 2 and come up with 4 on your own instead of telling you outright that 2+2=4.

    For those of you who haven't played Subnautica yet, I highly recommend it! I've had many a fun hour playing it.

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