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An Introduction to RoboCo (Tips, Tutorials, and More!)

Greetings, Filafolks! As of writing this, it’s been a couple of weeks since we launched RoboCo on Steam Early Access for PC. Even if you’ve been familiarizing yourself with all the game has to offer since it came out, there are a lot of features in the game that you may want to learn more about! Discover what you can do in RoboCo with this guide from senior game designer Luke Jayapalan.

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Like any powerful tool, RoboCo has a lot of different actions that a user could take when editing a robot. This makes it challenging for the user to discover all the actions that are possible, and to remember all those actions once they’ve first discovered them. As developers, we want to make that as easy as we can.

Here’s a few different strategies we use throughout RoboCo to make actions more discoverable and easier to remember. For this blog, we’re going to focus more on what we’re doing on the desktop side. On the VR side, our next round of discoverability improvements is coming in the future, so we may write about the VR equivalents to these at a later date.

Introductory Tutorial

Goal: Help players discover the basics of how to play

We want players to get to the fun part of RoboCo – designing robots to solve challenges – as quickly as possible, which is why we’ve started our campaign with the Sandwich Server challenge. The first time you start this challenge, you’ll be greeted with our introductory tutorial that gets you moving the camera, attaching parts, and driving a basic robot around. We tried to keep this tutorial short and snappy. The better a job we are doing of distributing information throughout the game, the less front-loaded this tutorial will need to be.

Following Conventions

Goal: Help players discover by experimentation

When using new software, you might try a command even before you know if it will work, like Ctrl + Z to undo. When you do this, it’s because many pieces of software that you tried in the past followed the same convention, until you began to expect it as a user.

While developing actions in RoboCo, we consider if there’s an existing convention for the action we have in mind: a keyboard shortcut, an icon, or a gesture such as box select. If there is, we try to follow it. At times this gets tricky because every piece of software is a little different and needs to be internally consistent, not just match the conventions of other similar software. But most of the time, following conventions steers us in a good direction.

Conventions aren’t so universal that they can eliminate the need to teach, though. If we take a random software tool and match it to a random user, it’s very likely there will be at least a few actions that the user didn’t know were supported, or that were assigned to a different command than the user expected based on other software they had used. So we also employ our other strategies.

Heads-Up Display (HUD) Tips

Goal: Help players discover common shortcuts and gesture-based actions

RoboCo has context-sensitive tips that appear on the HUD to make you aware of the most immediately relevant shortcuts and gesture-based actions, like holding Ctrl and dragging a part with the left mouse button to detach it. You’ll see a different set of tips in the HUD depending on what parts (if any) you currently have selected and what tool you are using (like the Joint tool vs. the Paint tool).

As with many such helper visuals, you can turn these HUD tips off if you don’t want to see them.

“Right-Click for More…” is always the last tip, to help you discover our next feature, the context menu.

Context Menu

Goal: Help players discover less-common but powerful actions

The context menu is a good way to discover less common actions (and their associated shortcuts) that could not all fit in the HUD tips. It also gives a way to carry out more actions with just the mouse.

For bonus points, it decreases the mouse cursor travel distance needed for certain actions like opening the Properties for a part. Humans value every little bit of efficiency!

Loading Screen Tips

Goal: Help players discover tips on how to play more effectively

We tend to use loading screen tips more for general gameplay advice rather than discoverability of controls, but it’s still a handy way to drip feed information to players at a time when you would otherwise be idle.

Help Panel

Goal: Help players become a power user or re-discover things they missed

One of our older features for teaching on desktop is our help panel, accessed from the ‘?’ button at the top of the screen. We assume many of you players will never open this, but if you do, we want it to contain useful information that might save you from replaying a tutorial, or that will help you become a power user who knows about every quality of life affordance that we made available.

And lastly…

RoboRepair Tutorials

Goal: Help players learn how to fix common robot-building issues and how to use features not covered in the introductory tutorial

Basically, we knew that beginning players might often run into similar robot-building issues, like having too much weight at the top of their robot that causes it to tip over.

We also knew that some features, like our joint editing system, were too advanced to cover in our introductory tutorial, and needed a different place to be taught.

How do RoboRepairs work?

Hopefully several of you got to check the RoboRepairs out during the recent Steam Next demo. For those who didn’t, here’s a description of how they work.

You will find the RoboRepair tutorials in small sub-menus embedded at various points in the campaign. You don’t have to play the tutorials, but if you do, each is worth 1 bit. These bits add to the bits you are earning from the main challenges. Once you have enough bits, you can unlock new challenges, new parts, and perhaps a new group of RoboRepair tutorials.

Each RoboRepair tutorial consists of a topic like “Flip Motor Direction.” When you load a RoboRepair tutorial, you will arrive in a small scene with a robot already built for you. The robot is meant to carry out a simple task, like driving straight ahead through a goal line. You will be guided through one or two steps to test out the robot. Inevitably it will turn out that something about the robot isn’t set up correctly. For example, the robot spins in a circle instead of driving straight.

Now you know why this robot was sent to the RoboRepair division for diagnosis and repair! You will then be given access to a very limited set of tools to fix the problem — for example, you can only edit motor properties. (No adding or deleting parts, no moving or resizing, nothing else except a Select tool, some motors to click on, and their resulting properties panel.) 

You can make changes and see what happens until you find the right fix and complete the task. In our example, that would mean this:

In other words, RoboRepairs are simple puzzles that give you such a limited set of tools that you pretty much have to stumble across the solution!

There you have it! A breakdown of the tutorials, tips, and menu options in RoboCo to jumpstart your journey into the game. This is just scratching the surface of what you can do in RoboCo. For a guide to robot programming and more about robot customization in the game, check out the RoboCo devblog.

For the latest news on RoboCo, follow the game’s official accounts on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Tik Tok. You can also connect with other RoboCo community members by joining the official Discord and Reddit.

Purchase RoboCo on Steam Early Access today!

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