RTFM: Remembering the Forgotten Manuals

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RTFM: Remembering the Forgotten Manuals

Game manuals used to be important guides instead of a place to store warranty information.

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Interesting. I guess as we download more games and turn to forums and FAQs for advice the traditional manual is a bit redundant now.

Reminds me of a conversation I was having with my wife about how games used to come in two parts. The first was the game itself, the other was the manual and cover-art that told you how to interpret the game - back when your main character was 12 pixels and it was only the cover art that told you what the artist who assembled those pixels had been imagining.

The vital bridge between these two parts was the user's imagination. As the technical need for manuals and box art has been removed, by in-game instructions and glorious visuals, the side effects of giving context and igniting the imagination have also been lost (or at least moved - the hundreds of in-game books in Skyrim are the spiritual successors of those pages of back-story).

But in this modern post-manual world the most important question is this - if there is no manual to read, what do you do on the journey home when you have just got your new game?

Strongly agree with this article. I'd take the Mechwarrior 2 manual (about as thick as the cd case and full of info on game mechanics, controls, and backstory) over literally every tutorial I've ever played through. It's the difference between letting the player explore and dragging the player through a guided tour.

Dr3Daemon:
Interesting. I guess as we download more games and turn to forums and FAQs for advice the traditional manual is a bit redundant now.

Reminds me of a conversation I was having with my wife about how games used to come in two parts. The first was the game itself, the other was the manual and cover-art that told you how to interpret the game - back when your main character was 12 pixels and it was only the cover art that told you what the artist who assembled those pixels had been imagining.

The vital bridge between these two parts was the user's imagination. As the technical need for manuals and box art has been removed, by in-game instructions and glorious visuals, the side effects of giving context and igniting the imagination have also been lost (or at least moved - the hundreds of in-game books in Skyrim are the spiritual successors of those pages of back-story).

But in this modern post-manual world the most important question is this - if there is no manual to read, what do you do on the journey home when you have just got your new game?

Agreed. I still open the manual of new games I get in hopes of getting something interesting to read. Sometimes, it pays off (Two Worlds - the allegedly terrible one - comes to mind for having a Good Manual).

I still have my Warcraft I and II manuals. Without them, I'd never have had interest in the games, nor interest in World of Warcraft, after the WC II manual painted such an intriguing picture of the World of Azeroth.

All I could add would be Amen brother, Amen

This has been a pet peeve of mine for many years. I still remember buying Ultima V and getting a cloth map, metal trinket, and a manual plus a quick guide for potions... in otherwords a full box that wasn't a CE version. My feeling is that once Adobe introduced the PDF and it became the defacto document format, that was the slow end of the manuals of yesteryear.

Dr3Daemon:
Interesting. I guess as we download more games and turn to forums and FAQs for advice the traditional manual is a bit redundant now.

Doesn't hurt that 80% of the games on the market play practically identically.

I'm not convinced.
Old game manuals were great, there's no denying that - but what I'd disagree with, is the idea that we need them back.
We got controller layouts because usually we didn't get to define the controls, or even see them in game - nowadays every game has customisable controls.
We don't need a comic book included with the game to set the scene, we have Hollywood standard openning videos to set the scene now.
We don't need interesting facts about facts - that's what the internet is for.

I'm all for having something tasteful included with a game, like say - the little art book I got with Unreal3, that's pretty cool - good book for the toilet that one. Anyway, the inclusion of that just wouldn't sway my decision to buy a game - it might encourage me to pay an extra 5 for a limited edition, especially if it comes in a metal box... but when was the last time publishers only charged an extra 5 for something like that!
When I bought Doom3 for the XBox, I got a free copy of the original doom, it's better than the XBox Live version, and it's in a really nice metal box. It's not just manuals that are suffering, it's the wallets of anyone who likes this stuff. Limited editions should charge enough extra to cover the costs - no more, it shouldn't be a bloomin cash cow for publishers.

So, I'm saying we don't necesserily need game manuals to be bigger, but it would be nice if publishers were more thoughtful, maybe tried to mix things up a bit, maybe see that standard game packaging as a bit cheap, and something that can be improved upon. It'll take more than thicker manuals to improve the buyer experience.

So this inspired me to go through my games and see how they stack up in the manual department. I have to say my results were mixed. Some games like Culdcept, Disgaea 3, and MLB Power Pros 2008 all have 30+ page manuals that are very well put together. A step down from that are games like Dark Souls, Valkyria Chronicles, and Infamous that are around the 20ish page range but still very nicely put together. I noticed that while GTA IV only had a 15 page manual it had a LOT of flavor and to add to that it came with a poster sized map which is something you don't see much of anymore. However, most of the games had pretty poor offerings in the manual department.

I think manuals will soon be a thing of the past sadly. I love going back through my SNES collection of games and Genesis games and leafing through the occasional manual from time to time. Hell I still have my NES games from my childhood that have my handwritten codes and notes in the back of the manual. I've always been someone that like the author enjoys game manuals and still to this day I refuse to buy a used game that doesn't have the original manual included.

I really miss good manuals, i liked having something to read when I wasn't at the game and being able to get more back story and fluff from it plus some awesome art. The lack of good manuals is one reason I buy used games and am very willing to trade in games I finished. If I'm just buying game data on a disk then its not worth much and it means I can always get it later for cheap since I don't need to worry about the condition of a manual with it.

I'm reminded of when I discovered what was possibly the only second hand game store on the island roughly 20 years ago, where you could trade in SNES games. I was lucky enough to find a used copy of LoZ: A Link to the Past and I jumped at the opportunity and traded in one of my lesser games for it (even though I had finished the game a year or two before on a friend's console). As we were waiting outside the store with my brother for our mother to pick us up, we opened the box to look at the goodies. That's when we realised the game cartridge wasn't even in the box, a standard security measure, especially since used game boxes aren't sealed.

The point of the story is that the box was heavy enough without the cartridge so we hadn't noticed until we had opened it. Between the thick manual and the full map of Hyrule, it felt as full and heavy as any other game box + cartridge. The map is still somewhere in my old room. I might frame it and hang it on my living room wall, now that I'm reminded of it.
Ah yes, I also remember the hints booklet, which was sealed with a Nintendo sticker and gave tips on how to progress through the hardest parts of the game. I still remember the warning that it should only be opened in case of emergencies.

surg3n:
I'm not convinced.
Old game manuals were great, there's no denying that - but what I'd disagree with, is the idea that we need them back.
We got controller layouts because usually we didn't get to define the controls, or even see them in game - nowadays every game has customisable controls.
We don't need a comic book included with the game to set the scene, we have Hollywood standard openning videos to set the scene now.
We don't need interesting facts about facts - that's what the internet is for.

...

So, I'm saying we don't necesserily need game manuals to be bigger, but it would be nice if publishers were more thoughtful, maybe tried to mix things up a bit, maybe see that standard game packaging as a bit cheap, and something that can be improved upon. It'll take more than thicker manuals to improve the buyer experience.

Perhaps controls in manuals are unnecessary, but haven't you sometimes seen an option in the settings screen and wondered what it was, only to Google it? Commercial software is still sold with manuals for these reasons. No matter how standard the setting, it used to be that game devs assumed that every game the made would be the first game someone played, because it very well may be for some people, even today.

Also, character back-stories could be included, even if the intro cinematic covers the gist of it. How awesome would it be if the Mass Effect codex were in printed format? Yeah, it would cost more and they would probably have it as part of a collectors edition, but I think the point the article is trying to make is that these things used to be standard and now they're selling them to us at a premium. It seems unfair, to say the least.

Oh rose tinted nostalgia glasses how you rear your ugly head over and over. Maybe 1 in a hundred manuals were actually interesting/amazing as you described. But the sad truth is that a majority of them were just warning, legal information, basic set of "moves", and on screen information.
Also, where does Downpour fit into the Silent Hill universe...? I'm sorry but do the silent hill games really tie into each other besides them all taking place in Silent Hill? Silent Hill is a story about one's personal hell and coming to grips with why they are tormented. There is no set time line between the games and there is no connecting story. Hell one could even argue that all the Silent Hill games are taking place at the same time. You see the character from 2 running across your screen in downpour at one point, and you can sneak into the room from 4. That's the whole reason why Silent Hill is a scary place you don't know that much about it. Do you really want someone to sit down and be like ok this is why this is such an evil place, this is the character's complete and whole past and why he is in Silent Hill. No! That is the whole reason you play the game, it's to be brought into the narrative by the game and not having to rely on a leaflet.

The worst modern manual award goes to *drumroll* Batman Arkham City!

It comes with a nice bit of paper telling you that, in order to be environmentally friendly, they are not including a printed manual and that the instructional information is accessible in game. Cool, I can get behind that.

And behind this info card you find.. a second ptinted sheet with your Project $10 code. Hmm.. well no big daal I guess. It`s only one sheet.

And behind your P$10 card you find... a booklet of advertising for various Arkham City related merchandise that is, oddly enough, the same size and number of pages as a short printed manual would have been. Yeah... just... yeah.

I remember the manuals for Warcraft 2 and Starcraft had full on novels in them giving you details on every faction in the game world, what they were up to and why you should care.

Good stuff

One of my great dissapointments in recent gaming was buying my new Vita, taking the plastic off of Touch my Katamari, and finding- nothing. Not even a placeholder paper. I thought I'd gotten ripped off until I was told 'no, Vita games just don't have paper manuals at all.' This was wholly disheartening, especially when I looked at everything in the virtual manual and realized how cute it would've been in print. Not cool guys- not cool.

I've always been a huge fan of manuals, love 'em. I refuse to buy a game if it doesn't come with one. And I remember two of the best/weirdest I've come across, first up is Metal Gear Solid's manual, which was quite simply beyond belief. Full of action illustrations, storyline, full cast bio and a small hint book, all in that fantastic sketch art-style, loved that thing. Then Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy's manual, which was more of a poster... with a map in the middle. Weird, but cool and I appreciated Naughty-Dog doing something different. Bottom line, is that while I can pick out any scene from either game and talk for hours about it, I can do the same with the manuals, and that's something I want back. The ability to say something -ANYTHING- about the manual itself, so I can remember it fondly in the years to come like I do the games.

Pipotchi:
I remember the manuals for Warcraft 2 and Starcraft had full on novels in them giving you details on every faction in the game world, what they were up to and why you should care.

Good stuff

I remember, and still have, the great spiral bound manual that came with Baldur's Gate II. It's a thick book with all kinds of details and what not. I remember that one being the best of the Infinity Engine games but I recall they were all pretty good.

Very good stuff.

I also remember my terrible habit of trying to read new manuals while driving back home from the store. ^_^

Not so good stuff. :)

Disclaimer: Super Mario 3DS Land's manual IS actually one page, without any alternate languages due to separate regional editions.

Then again, given the overall design ethic, they already use their game as a manual anyway, not to mention that the 3DS in general is designed to include the manual with every application :P

Bantis:

Pipotchi:
I remember the manuals for Warcraft 2 and Starcraft had full on novels in them giving you details on every faction in the game world, what they were up to and why you should care.

Good stuff

I remember, and still have, the great spiral bound manual that came with Baldur's Gate II. It's a thick book with all kinds of details and what not. I remember that one being the best of the Infinity Engine games but I recall they were all pretty good.

Very good stuff.

I also remember my terrible habit of trying to read new manuals while driving back home from the store. ^_^

Not so good stuff. :)

I cannot remember if it was the manual for BG1 or 2 that had all the little comments from Elminister and that other guy, Volo something? Really helped flesh out the world of the game if you were not a fan of D&D

Pipotchi:
I remember the manuals for Warcraft 2 and Starcraft had full on novels in them giving you details on every faction in the game world, what they were up to and why you should care.

Good stuff

Warcraft 2, yeah, had the backstory of Warcraft 1, what happened in between, lots of stuff on each unit, and stuff on each faction, more detail that appeard in the game.

But Starcraft...the Terrans aren't just from Earth, they story makes up this convoluted story about what happened on Earth, and then says the Terran force were sent off, got lost so none of that matters, then came up with their own, totally different system of...went on for ages and hardly mentioned in the game.

Mind you, not played WoW, but Warcraft 1-3, and the expansion to 3 had a great detailed and fairly coherent backstory to it.

Cap: umbrella corporation

Fine for a game site, just not right now.

Dr3Daemon:
But in this modern post-manual world the most important question is this - if there is no manual to read, what do you do on the journey home when you have just got your new game?

Considering most of our ages, probably drive the car heading home.

I have some nostalgia over old manuals myself. Booklets and Nintendo Power are basically what taught me how to draw as a child. I'd grab one, put it on the arm rest of the couch, grab a notebook and just imitate what I saw. It was, in fact, a fantastic way to learn. If I were to lament anything from modern manuals and magazines it would be the emphasis on 3D art striving for realism. While a kid can sit there and try to imitate it, they don't really get to absorb a sense of style from it. To this day the way I draw cartoony shelled monsters draws inspiration from Bowser and the Koopas.

I'd love to see more hand drawn art work. Hell, have some hand drawn concept art for Brutal Legend in the manual, for example. It's more than possible considering the style.

But, that does not speak to the practical application of a manual. I feel video games are following other pieces of software that are slowly beginning to stop printing physical manuals and instead have everything in PDF or on a disc. It's cheaper that way, after all, though it hits a major controversial issue when you consider a lot of these discs do not contain a physical copy of the EULA, and if you unseal the disc case, put it in your drive and then disagree to the EULA, you can no longer return that item to most retailers since it has been opened and therefore could have been illegally copied onto your machine, or a number of other issues.

That's a major digression, but certainly one video games are relevantly in.

In truth, I really do want a manual as a reference at the very least. Perhaps building on material in the game to greater detail. As a recent example, at the start of playing Xenoblade Chronicles I was unclear on the instructions as to activate a chain attack. It told me to activate it, but not how. I paused the game, grabbed the manual and flipped on through. To my dismay, the information was the exact same as in the game itself. It wasn't until the game taught me how to Flee that I accidentally stumbled upon how to activate chain attacks.

Even though the game has in-game documentation (which I had checked), I'd like to have the paper manual to flip through while I still can. Having a physical object like that is very convenient as it's easier to find whatever I'm looking for. This is especially true when it comes to games where I stop playing for a week or two to even a month, and suddenly it's asking me to perform a task I cannot remember how to execute. I've checked manuals before, and then found absolutely nothing on the task I had forgotten. This leaves me to check the Internet, which is harder and longer to execute than simply flipping through a booklet.

There is value to physical instructions. It's not just a matter of teaching a player, it is also a matter of reference, and even if all games don't "need" them, all games should have them, and they should be extensive rather than a simple "here's what buttons do". I'm not asking for a novella with each game, though. Some games are more complex than others.

As for narrative material, this depends on the game itself. Warhammer 40K: Space Marine probably could have done well to have some basic introductory information to the 40K universe. Who are the Space Marines? What's some of the key language they use? What's up with the Space Orks and Chaos Marines? What's "The Warp"? Once again, not looking for a full encyclopedia here, but 10-20 pages of basic information of the universe could help people that aren't familiar. It could also help provide a stepping point.

I like that 40K: Space Marine doesn't waste time trying to teach people about the universe in game, but those not familiar could easily become confused and just shrug the story off as being weird. True, some will probably research it, but I feel as if more would if the manual came with more information.

And then release a much more detailed codex with a collector's edition.

Not all games need this, but it's not always about need. Sometimes it is about enriching the experience, something that is often over-looked in an industry supposedly focused on entertaining consumers rather than just people looking to make a buck.

I agree that some of the old manuals were great (but there were a lot of crappy ones as well), but there are some real problems with including manuals in games:

- Most people don't read them (and didn't even back in the day).

- You have to be organized enough to have final screens and mechanics and everything else worked out long enough in advance of shipping that you can print them. Remember some of those old manuals that had inaccurate or clearly out of date info in them?

- Distribution is moving to digital, making them even less relevant. On the other hand, this does make the 'far enough in advance' less of a problem if your manual is all digital.

- It's a less and less hardcore audience, who won't read the manual and if they need a manual to figure your game out will just toss it aside and try the next thing.

- The whole 'you open up the box and there's just a small sheet of paper and your product, which you turn on and go' thing is Apple chic. It's a nice thing for Apple, but everyone loves chasing Apple without actually understanding why they do things.

Not disagreeing with your love of manuals, but I think you need to accept they're dead except as premium bonus items like a packed in cloth map. These days you buy the collectors' edition and it'll have your art book which mostly serves the same purpose.

It's not a console game, but the manual for Civilization IV was massive, and kept me glued to it for an hour at the very least. A friend of mine bought Civilization V a while ago and I was disappointed to find that when he opened it, there was only a tiny booklet inside. Ah how times change.

For my money RTS/TBS games have always had the best manuals. From Pharaoh's 150-odd-page encyclopedia to civ 3's ring binder to AoE's miniature books and associated tech tree foldouts, they were a joy to read. A pity the modern equivalent is the Collector's Edition art book - I'd pay extra for a proper manual in the box - maybe hardcover and glossy, but certainly more than a collection of pretty coffee-table pictures.

you have to go to more niche genres these days to find them and they are a plesant suprise when you do. i used to get every sim i could get my hands on so at one point id say the gravitational field at my house was bordering on a black hole. still good to see the people at DCS releasing 600+ page manuals :D

I don't suspect anyone born past 1988 would "get" this article at all.

In response to it though I give a resounding and wholehearted "YES."

I miss manuals. I still remember games like Buck Rodgers on the genesis with hundreds of pages explaining the formulas for attack/damage/etc. All taken from the DnD version at the time.

Or the SNES Metroid which came in a bigger box than usual to fit the comic book sized manual. Great times.

I also miss people asking questions on 56k modem online quakeII and being told to RTFM. Its not something you hear (read more accurately) anymore.

An enjoyable read.

surg3n:
snip

Your opinion is right to a point - games that require manuals are not big hits anymore.

My point isn't the manual at all. I want a *new* game that mandates the use of a manual.

Mumorpuger:
I don't suspect anyone born past 1988 would "get" this article at all.

Born in 1993.

Lopsided Weener:
It's not a console game, but the manual for Civilization IV was massive, and kept me glued to it for an hour at the very least.

I remember that manual. Lots of detail.

Mike Wehner:
Sometimes a premium is put on this type of content, requiring that you buy a collector's edition if you want a glimpse at concept art or additional materials. You may even find yourself reluctantly shelling out money for a strategy guide you don't really need, just to get that same behind-the-scenes feeling that the manuals of yesterday provided for free.

Exactly.
I got the Diablo 3 Collectors Edition AND special edition strategy guide for this reason.
Read it in the train home, ahhhh, the anticipation!!!

Funny story, still have the Diablo 1 manual from 1997 lying 1 meter away in the closet ;)

I remember the original Warcraft manual, that was like a manual with a novel attached to the end. Loved reading me a bit of Warcraft lore.

Can't think of any recent manuals I've seen tbh, last one I remember reading was one of the GTA 3 (may have been Vice City or San Andreas) ones with all the adverts for the various fictional shops and services presented as a tourist guide. Not a long manual, but very nicely presented I thought.

The author has a decent point and I agree with a lot of what he is saying but there is definitely a lot of nostalgia influencing his overall opinion.

I like the manuals from the older Command & Conquer games. Equals parts instructional and background lore. Made it more engaging.

I agree, having a good manual to flip through was always a plus for a game for me. What's more having the spell lists for your RPG in your manual was an interesting take on copy protection, and also allowed them to have more detailed systems without having to worry so much about being able to have the game be able to explain itself for the MTV generation and beyond. :)

My favorite manuals were probably the Ultima IV set, which included it's own spell book listing all of the game's spells, along with a lore book. The original Might and Magic (while crude, I really liked the drawings of the adventurers throughout it) and Wizardry "Bane Of The Cosmic Forge", and "Crusades Of The Dark Savant" which also had some excellent artwork that contributed to giving the game personality.

To be honest, it seems the printed/supplementary materials have gone the way of the dodo in the quest to make gamers pay for every little thing. I suppose I could stomach it if cutting these corners in some way had reduced the cost of games, but really game companies just pocketed the money they saved, while gradually moving on to find ways to increasingly gouge the customer more and more.

I think the reason that manuals have become pretty pitiful these days is because they aren't really needed anymore. In the 8-16 bit era they didn't have the means to really put all that much backstory and such into the games themselves, or putting a lot of tutorials either, or at least they weren't used for that purpose very often.

Now, they can easily put how to control the game and it's backstory directly into the game itself, which actually works quite well a lot of the time because learning by doing is more effective than by reading a manual, and they can slowly reveal the backstory of the game as the game progresses to give you a deeper understanding of the game than telling you "this guy did this" and trying to imagine it in your head, instead of having it right in front of you; Show, don't tell. not to mention that they can use this to create surprises that revealing in the manual would ruin.

captcha: watch c-beams glitter.

Ok captcha. Ooooh... Pretty....

Does anyone remember the original StarCraft manual? Oh man, was that a good one. It had 50+ almost A4 size pages, about 15 were dedicated to the backstory on how modern man got from here to the current time in the StarCraft universe. This was a paperback quality backstory too, no big chunky text. The artwork in that manual was and still is full of style and sets the mood perfectly for the game.
I remember lugging that manual around with me all over the place, there was a full tech tree for each race as well as detailed character bios and hints and strategies and my god I want to read that manual again. Thank God I horde all my gaming purchases, I still have it here.
Excuse me while I spend the next hour reading over that backstory again.

Hell, even games like Crash Bandicoot, Rayman and Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee had awesome manuals. I need to go back and read those too.

Mumorpuger:
I don't suspect anyone born past 1988 would "get" this article at all.

In response to it though I give a resounding and wholehearted "YES."

I was born in 1989 and this article had me oozing with nostalgia.

I have a fair few games that feature "You can read the manual in-game now!"

Which didn't work so well - since I was playing on an SD television, and couldn't read the damn manuals.

Apparently knowing how to play the game is optional nowadays.

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