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May 1st, 2010, 09:49
Jay Barnson has an excellent article on the death of game manuals and how that has potentially impacted the games themselves:
I think in many ways, modern CRPG design has been driven by the need to avoid needing a manual. This means – for many designers – that anything complex enough to require an explanation needs to be eliminated. “Streamlined.” While there are many kinds of games – especially for inexperienced or “casual” players – for which this is a virtue, it’s not a one-size-fits-all universal truth. Many gamers take great pleasure in plumbing the depths of complexity. I tend to find myself somewhere in the middle-range myself. But “interesting” systems – with enough complexity to prove “meaty” to gaming veterans, full of all kinds of exploration and interesting decisions within the rules of the game themselves – can be a lot of fun.
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May 1st, 2010, 09:49
Only towards the end of the article does he touch on something I agree with - for me I never enjoyed manuals for their rule explanations etc. But I really really enjoyed backstory, lore, ship's magazines etc. and all the other stuff that increased immersion.
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May 1st, 2010, 09:54
As I've made known countless times, for me the Manual is as important as the game. Reading it from cover to cover was always a delight and a pleasure in the old days. Now it's a chore even to make out some of the tiny words which really don't tell you very much in the 5 mins it takes to finish reading the entire thing!!

If God said it, then that settles it!!

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May 1st, 2010, 11:10
It is wrong to describe only the two possibilities:
- The game is complex and you need to read a complicated manual in order to use it or
- The game is so streamlined that you don't need a manual.

There is a third possibility:

Today's software technology easily allows to have all information you need available at a (right) mouse click, which were printed in manuals in old days.

The additional advantage is, that it is context-sensitive. So if you right click on an attribute in you character sheet, for example, it could explain, for which classes this attribute is important, how it influences e. g. damage values etc.

Drakensang for example does this quite good: If you right click on your attack value e. g., you see the exact formula, how it is computed from attributes etc.
(Still some info is missing, but as an approach I like it.)

So for me the rule is clear: Things, which can be integrated into the GUI due to today's technology, should be. Having to read them in a manual instead, is simply
unnecessary work.

Remark:It is like with in game maps: Hand holding, where the in-game map shows you the location of the next quest step, if you cannot know it in game, is bad. But if you talk to a character and he tells you a location, than it is completely ok to see that location on the in game map afterwards, because you could also write it down on a piece of paper.

So my rule is: The computer should spare the player from all mechanical work, which can be better done by the computer. It should not take away the thinking.

Of course there are other reasons to have a manual, like lore, having a handbook of a rule set etc. So the ideal world for me is to have everything in a handbook and in addition have in game help etc.

For example the complete TDE rulebook, which accompanied the German Drakensang version (in electronic form, but you can print it, if you like) was great.


Dumbing down games has nothing to do with the need to avoid a manual. Dumbing down games comes from dumbed down players.
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May 1st, 2010, 13:00
Game manuals can be done o that they are a joy to read - especially when everything is written like a short story, or presented from the view of an inhabitant of the gme's world.

Humour is also a strong point.

But there are imho 2 points o notice :

1. There must be people who are capable to describe not only the mere technical layout and concepts lying behind the the game, but also to present them in a fashion that makes them readable - and even more : enjoyable.

It is relatively easy for a programmer to write everything down so that a programmer can understand what he or she means - but veryone else just fails. Linux s such a case, I have too often shaken my head over the far too technical language of man-pages and whatnot.

Which creasted in me the belief that Linux isn't wanted by the "technies" to "arrive at the desktop". If I wanted to create a conspiracy theory, then I'd say they don't want it at all. They are making everything around (espciall the core of) Linux so that they explicitely hinder the mass of people to understand the whole system, and epecilly what is lying behind it. They just want to keep the core of Linux as a toy for techies, and hey are trying everything they can do to keep it that way - to keep mere users as effectively away from it - away from understanding everything.

3. Gme manuals are considered as nothing but costs. Again, the underlying phiilosophy affects that is hppening. Games are seen as wares, including costs and profits, but not as games. No joy included, sorry.

“ Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.“ (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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May 1st, 2010, 13:27
I never used the manual for Dungeon Siege II, yet I know no game that compare to it in weight of text to read. That is definitely a game that emphasised in-game reading if you were interested.

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May 1st, 2010, 20:52
Originally Posted by kalniel View Post
Only towards the end of the article does he touch on something I agree with - for me I never enjoyed manuals for their rule explanations etc. But I really really enjoyed backstory, lore, ship's magazines etc. and all the other stuff that increased immersion.
I remember eating up the King's Bounty manual because of this. It started with a short story.
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May 2nd, 2010, 22:31
I love manuals and really miss them. Developers don't seem to understand the value of something you can consult without having to interrupt the game. The most recent trend is for manuals that are so brief they don't even include a table of keystrokes. I for one would be happy to pay an extra few dollars for a game that included a really informative manual. Check game forums and you'll find tons of questions on basic gameplay (How do I do such and such?) that should be answered in the manual but aren't. Interestingly, even the wildly overpriced "Collector's Editions" don't include beefier manuals. If they did, I might buy them.
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May 2nd, 2010, 22:50
Games can be complex and still survive without a manual. You just need an in-game manual for them. You might even make it (gasp!) context sensitive. Hover over that fireball spell, press F1, and up pops text on the details of the spell. On-screen hints as to what button to push have always worked well, too. Though it would be nice of the console games would tell us the keyboard key to push and not just the XBox controller key.

All in all, though, this is just another rant against how games are becoming more casual-oriented. And I'm all for ranting about that as much as possible.

My favorite manual was from one of the Civilization games (maybe more than one?) where Sid went into detail on WHY the game worked the way it did. I loved that!
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May 3rd, 2010, 01:58
I spent HOURS with all the old D&D based Bioware manuals. Probably just as much, if not more, than I played the games. If a manual isn't spiral bound, then it ain't a manual.
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May 3rd, 2010, 09:28
This might be a bit of an extreme example but I remmember the manual for starlords.

300 pages or something…. and you understood nothing unless you read the entire thing! That was a bit extreme.

However I remember how much I enjoyed the wiz 7 manual…..

I think the main thing about manual is you can bring it to bed to read or when you visit the bathroom or on the tram or wherever…. and I much prefer to read something in a book compared to on screen.

Besides it builds anticipation of the game.. and you get more and more eager to begin to play the longer you read. Unfortunately it doesn't always become that much fun when you finally begin to play.

Anyway I think market forces killed manuals.. the game publisheres agreed… like let's kill manuals it costs too much money to make them.. and also to produce the paper etc etc so we can earn more money and get bigger margins without them… just as long as players don't expect them anymore…..
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May 3rd, 2010, 09:52
I was never a big friend of manuals , i think that a well made tutorial and some mouse over help can cover everything .
Starting characters and failing is the best way to understand game mechanics , also it is the most fun way ( i am like in the 29th restart in Arcanum and i have used people's advice lol ).
The problem is with games that are made in a way that the character can not fail because the game stops to progress or it is simply too easy , this is what i call "casual".
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May 3rd, 2010, 10:22
I doubt the lack of manuals is the reason games are streamlined, but they might be a minor factor.

They reduce complexity simply to make games more accessible in an overall sense (not just to exclude documentation), so they don't eliminate anyone from the audience that would otherwise have bought the game.

It's the exact same reason blockbuster movies rarely (if ever) go beyond PG13.
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May 3rd, 2010, 15:50
Back when I used to buy games at a store, I used to read the manuals while waiting for people to finish their shopping, and then while the game installed. But nowadays most of the games I purchase are either downloads, or they are at my doorstep when I get back from work, so no time to read anymore. I do want all the stats in-game though, like in Drakensang and Anarchy Online that I remember, everything was there with a right click of the mouse (well, except the obscure parry/evade rules for Drakensang, those I had to read in some site, and not sure I fully understood it even then).
I think another issue is the appearance of the Prima Guides. What used to be manuals included in the game turned into 'strategy guides' and you have to fork some $15-$20 extra just for that (which I'm sure the game developer gets a nice bit of that for something they used to do for free)
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May 3rd, 2010, 15:54
Originally Posted by Trelow View Post
I spent HOURS with all the old D&D based Bioware manuals.
You mean Baldur's Gate and such ? The German manuals were shortened in ome parts as far as I know.

I think the need for strealining everything comes from the fact that the more money is put into a game's development, the same lot of money must be brought back into the ompan again - thus excluding potentil buyers will exclude money - and in result it will possibly result in minus-money, so to say.

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May 3rd, 2010, 19:04
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
You mean Baldur's Gate and such ? The German manuals were shortened in ome parts as far as I know.

I think the need for strealining everything comes from the fact that the more money is put into a game's development, the same lot of money must be brought back into the ompan again - thus excluding potentil buyers will exclude money - and in result it will possibly result in minus-money, so to say.
That's where collectors editions come in I guess. I've loved the CEs for Oblivion and guild wars games because of the extra reading. Those who want it can pay for it, while those who don't aren't having to pay for something they don't want.
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May 4th, 2010, 21:21
I thought the Fallout 1 manual was worth the vlaue of the game alone…

This part really rang true to me.

Another problem I sometimes run into with modern games (not just RPGs – in fact, RPGs are usually better at this than many console action games) is the lack of documentation – or lack of familiarity with documentation – outside of the tutorials. If I set the game down for a few weeks and then come back to playing it again, I may have forgotten all those tricks taught in the tutorial, and I find myself trying to hunt down that information again. Most of the time it’s not a problem, but there have been a few games that rely so heavily on the in-game tutorials and explanations that what passes for documentation proves horribly inadequate. Having a really cool in-game tutorial doesn’t excuse you from making a decent manual, developers!
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May 5th, 2010, 10:22
Drakensang has a small in-game tutorial onsisting of tiny windows. In the game's options one can chose to turn them on or off.

I think that's quite a good way to do this.

Another interesting concept they have is the posibility to riht-click on almost anything to get a description. Therefore, there is MUCH, much more text in the background that no-one ever sees ! Even nemies can be right-clicked !

Unrivalled for me, personally, although Drakensang comes very close for me, is still the help system of TOEE. Though it almost only onsists of text, the in-game help system is so much useful and explains virtually everything I need to know, imho.

“ Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.“ (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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