I recently tried out Nobunaga's Ambition: Taishi and its tutorials inspired me to write this piece. Seeing as a good way to learn is by example, allow me to outline how to make an in-game tutorial that's as informative as it is engaging.
Nobunaga's Ambition: Taishi looked like an interesting and complex strategy game but it's a pity that the game is so dense and there's no easy way to learn how to play. Throughout this article, I'll illustrate what I mean and tell you what could have been done differently to give players like myself a better experience. Bear in mind that I'm completely new to the civilisation genre. I haven't played Age of Empires as well as the previous Nobunaga's Ambition titles so genre veterans may not need a tutorial as much as I did.
To start with, Nobunaga's Ambition: Taishi has a lot of different tutorials talking about many various aspects of the gameplay such as army management, trade, and agriculture. In order to play successfully, you have to have a decent grasp of all three. There lies the difficulty because there is no tutorial mode. Instead, you have to just jump into the game with no knowledge while having to juggle everything at once. After each turn, you don't know if you made good decisions so how do you learn when you lack appropriate feedback?
Tutorials in Taishi are mostly text-based which is generally not a good way for players to learn. Many gamers don't like to read these kinds of tutorials so it's a lot harder for them to learn what they have to do. Why not let players learn by playing the game yet impose some kind of structure so that things aren't overwhelming at first? That way, you have the benefit of not boring gamers with text tutorials as well as making players feel more involved with the gameplay because they're learning through their actions.
A good approach is to strip away complicated elements of the gameplay and let the player complete some simplified levels. For example: the Advance Wars series. For the first couple of missions in those games, you only control simple units like infantry and you're not able to create new units. A more recent example is Space Tyrant, a relatively simple 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) strategy game that has you start off in a linear stage where you have to conquer the map before moving on to more complicated stages.
Neither of these games is as complex as Nobunaga's Ambition: Taishi but the same concept should have been applied. I'd like to see a simple tutorial mission that takes place on a small part of the map that's segmented off from the rest of Japan. Maybe you'd start with a small army that you take into some battles but then, you move onto agricultural management and stuff like that. Once you complete that mission, it would be a lot easier to take what you've learned and try to tackle one of the more complex scenarios.
Nobunaga's Ambition: Taishi is a complex strategy game that I stopped playing because I didn't know what I was supposed to do. A simple tutorial that introduced the mechanics one at a time would have been a great way to make it more accessible for genre newbies. If you're planning on developing a game that requires a lot of knowledge on the player's behalf, especially if they're completely new to the genre then crafting an intuitive and gradual learning curve will always be much more valuable than just text.