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Default No more (big) manuals for you.

March 9th, 2014, 10:27
The time when video games were shipped with big, descriptive, detailled manuals is over and it will not return.

Two main causes behind.


Gaming is divided in two stages:
  1. Stage one: Learning how to play the game
  2. Stage two: Playing the game

Learning can be achieved through multiple ways. Two ways are well known.
Learning through a dissociated way (theory) and learning through an embedded way(practice)


The natural way:

When the video game industry started, people look at what was done elsewhere, in other gaming sectors like board gaming.
Board gaming usually learn how to play games through a dissociated way.
You can learn how to play a game without ever practising it thanks to an extensive cover delivered in a manual.
The dissociated way actually provides two versions of the game: the game as it shall play, the authoritative version (given in the manual) and the game as it plays (given by actual sessions of gaming)
It is well known that the dissociated way provides ground for critical thinking naturally as it gives two versions to compare. The abstraction work is done and given to sight.
That was the state of the industry at start: providing two versions of the same game that make it plain to see what works and does not work.

Then one person or some people got the brilliant revelation that they were not doing board games, that they should not be constrainted by board games limitations, that they were doing video games and they should take advantage of that.

Therefore the learning process in gaming was moved from the dissociated way to the embedded way.
The embedded way, learning through practice, has this it does not provide two versions at the go, you have to abstract and build the model. It might happen when you want to further the knowledge of the game or when you want to teach it etc
Building the second version is not difficult in video games but requires an effort, that step back that people might not take, especially if you want on them not taking it through immersion stuff and the sort.

The embedded way comes with a big advantage: as things are being practised, they seem natural, they flow naturally and questioning them is an imported feature.

For a game designer, the embedded way is superior as it does not prepare for an exercize in critical thinking. The dissociated way naturally prepares players to compare and find their own conclusions on thing that work the way they shall.
The embedded way captures the mind and removes the questions off the table.

Priceless. That alone means that big manuals wont come back.

The mystery book:

In the past, mystery books came as well known scam. They were supposed to contain unvaluable knowledge for people who took time to investigate them.
As it is impossible to judge a book by its cover, you got to read a mystery book before assessing the reality of its content.

The video game industry takes that feature.

Learning through a dissociated way is straightforward: you dont have to play the game to learn it. Or more exactly, you dont have to practise the game.
An experienced reader, by reading a manual, could tell between a failed game and a good game.

Learning through the embedded way comes with the high benefit that the stage of learning how to play a game can be sold. Even better, you can use the stage of learning to cover for the lack of game in the end.

Certain games work fully on this principle.

For example, it is classical for a RTS to learn the game through a campaign. Campaign that slowly introduces units after units, meaning that the player only starts to play the game when the units are all granted. And this might mean only one or two missions in a campaign of 15 missions. The other missions are dedicated to learn how to play the game.

Even better, in the case of an utterly failed game, it still requires ten or 15 hours of practice before declaring that the game is an utter failure.
At this point, easy to blur the lines between stage one and stage two. In the dissociated way, the stages are structurally kept separated but in the embedded way, you can claim that the time spent on learning the game should not be different than the time spent on playing the game.

You spend time learning a totally failed game? The same as playing a proper game. As a matter of fact, you spend time on them.

This opportunity is fully revealed in ventures like Steam Early Access. Players might never play the game as the game never releases. But they spend countless hours learning how to play unfinished versions of the game.

Other side benefits: it widens the customer base as people (sophists) who are infatued with learning things without applying them are perfect target base.
Another massive benefit is that it allows to build on an everlasting metagame without never completing the actual game.
Players always playing an ever evolving metagame without ever touching to a finished version of the game.

Those two causes ensures that big manuals shall not return soon.
The benefits of them are too big to be ignored.
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March 9th, 2014, 12:49
Can't find anything wrong in your reasoning. Good points you have there.
But you forgot to add one thing though:
no printed manuals = less costs.

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March 9th, 2014, 13:57
The "embedded way" is something I know from learning to work as an motor mechanic, for example. Or a carpenter. Or a bookbinder.

The "embedded way" is basically "practical knowledge", whereas books seem to be rather "theoretical knowledge".

Originally Posted by ChienAboyeur View Post
Learning through the embedded way comes with the high benefit that the stage of learning how to play a game can be sold.
Even better, you can use the stage of learning to cover for the lack of game in the end.
LOL, but yes, you are right !
It's only that I have never seen it this way so far.

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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March 9th, 2014, 21:50
Originally Posted by ChienAboyeur View Post
Those two causes ensures that big manuals shall not return soon.
The benefits of them are too big to be ignored.
But big manuals are still here. They are not as common as they used to be, but they are not gone. The big difference is that the big manuals are distributed as pdf-documents rather than hefty physical things. And while most games go for the "teach the player in game" rout, there are still games where this is not (entirely) possible, where you need the manual as a source of reference, or where a frontloaded tutorial would simply be too big. Want an example of a recent one? Here is a nearly 400 page manual, for a modern game.
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March 11th, 2014, 11:28
I won't go through an 400 pages PDF manual WHILE playing.

You could do that with printed manuals, though …

And that's one of the reasons why I never bought any simulation game oin the last years (apart from The Settlers 2 Remake).

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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March 11th, 2014, 12:56
Originally Posted by Fnord View Post
But big manuals are still here. They are not as common as they used to be, but they are not gone. The big difference is that the big manuals are distributed as pdf-documents rather than hefty physical things. And while most games go for the "teach the player in game" rout, there are still games where this is not (entirely) possible, where you need the manual as a source of reference, or where a frontloaded tutorial would simply be too big. Want an example of a recent one? Here is a nearly 400 page manual, for a modern game.
(Big) manual means more providing the player with a theorical version of how the game actually works rather than being big.

I dont know this game and it might be that the manual provides indeed the version that would allow to learn the game from the book without the requirement to practise it to get the rules.

Nevertheless, it is no longer the norm.
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March 12th, 2014, 11:51
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
I won't go through an 400 pages PDF manual WHILE playing.

You could do that with printed manuals, though

And that's one of the reasons why I never bought any simulation game oin the last years (apart from The Settlers 2 Remake).
Do you have any other device that can read a PDF? A smartphone? Tablet? Netbook? Ebook reader? If so, you can go through the manual just as easily while playing the game as you could with a big paper manual (easier actually, as you don't have to manually look for certain keywords, you can just let your device do it for you).
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March 12th, 2014, 11:57
Originally Posted by ChienAboyeur View Post
(Big) manual means more providing the player with a theorical version of how the game actually works rather than being big.

I dont know this game and it might be that the manual provides indeed the version that would allow to learn the game from the book without the requirement to practise it to get the rules.

Nevertheless, it is no longer the norm.

It's no longer the norm because its really not something that is needed. A modern more complex & well designed game should have tooltips that lets you know all of these things, and unlike a manual, these will be up to date.
I've been actively playing PC games since 97, and own plenty of older games, and even with these more in depth manuals, I generally find that through good use of tooltips & a good tutorial, I understand more about the inner workings of modern games than that of the older ones. For a decent enough example, compare Civ 1 & 2's information with the information Civ V gives you in game.
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March 12th, 2014, 13:33
Originally Posted by Fnord View Post
Do you have any other device that can read a PDF? A smartphone? Tablet? Netbook? Ebook reader? If so, you can go through the manual just as easily while playing the game as you could with a big paper manual (easier actually, as you don't have to manually look for certain keywords, you can just let your device do it for you).
No. Only a second PC.
But I admit it . I don't want to. I'm a paper man.

Originally Posted by Fnord View Post
A modern more complex & well designed game should have tooltips that lets you know all of these things, and unlike a manual, these will be up to date.
Good point. Drakensang showed me how it could be done.
And before that TOEE.

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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March 12th, 2014, 15:05
Originally Posted by Fnord View Post
It's no longer the norm because its really not something that is needed. A modern more complex & well designed game should have tooltips that lets you know all of these things, and unlike a manual, these will be up to date.
May I suggest another reading of the OP? Another reading might reveal how those points are already answered.

Learning how to play a "game" from within the "game" no matter the way of learning
is still learning how to play a "game" from within the "game".

As to what is needed, it is better to consider that the industry does what it is the most benefitial.
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March 12th, 2014, 17:38
I liked the look and feel of the old manuals… but to be honest, even back in the day I rarely really read them or needed them. Occasionally if there was useful reference tables, but those are usually in todays pdfs as well, and if needed I just print those out.
I feel we have lost something in a sensory way, but otherwise, I'm not convinced. And I don't think its any real constraint to limiting complexity in games - there are other reasons behind that, and also it's not universally true that modern games are less complex, either.
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March 12th, 2014, 18:24
One thing that never seems to be brought by these heap big manual discussions is the legal angle.

Remember, 30 years ago when manuals were required, they weren't there just to be helpful or for marketing purposes. There was some debate over what, if anything, had legal protection in software. Was it the code itself? Was it the end-result of the code, the "look and feel". How about nothing - there was an active group that were participants in that corner.

The inclusion of a manual meant you could legally sell a protected product. Lotus 1-2-3 included a giant manual with every license, and so did DOS. I remember stacks of old manuals sitting in my community college's campus.

When I started my tech support job in 2000 they had a whole "catalog" department which did nothing but print manuals and sell them after market.

It was effectively a commodity they could charge for that the law understood, unlike 1's and 0's.

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March 12th, 2014, 19:35
Could be the games are so easy now nobody needs any instructions?
I always loved the big manuals. Big boxes, big maps, big manuals, multi disks.
The good old days.
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March 13th, 2014, 15:42
I always loved big manuals, but they were rarely necessary.

In the past, Internet access wasn't common - so certain games needed to include significant documentation in the box, with flight simulators being an obvious example.

These days, developers are much better at introducing mechanics and most games follow established ways of doing things.

The information available today about pretty much any game VASTLY exceeds anything from the past.

It's a lost luxury, nothing more - nothing less.
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March 13th, 2014, 17:47
Complicated games with limitted or nearly invisible feedback (e.g. games without combat logs) need manuals. But most new games are pretty simple, so that explains why devs can get away with no manuals.

Yes you can google instead, but that's a poor substitute for a well written manual from the devs.
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March 20th, 2014, 20:26
Originally Posted by ChienAboyeur View Post
May I suggest another reading of the OP? Another reading might reveal how those points are already answered.

Learning how to play a "game" from within the "game" no matter the way of learning
is still learning how to play a "game" from within the "game".

As to what is needed, it is better to consider that the industry does what it is the most benefitial.
For the kind of games that would have a decent manual back in the days, you still usually get a PDF manual. And it's usually roughly as useful. Action games rarely had manuals describing the in-game mechanics, so their lack of manuals these days don't really detract from much of anything. What little used to be in the manuals (how to control your character) has been moved to tutorials. For more complex games that would traditionally need a manual, you still get manuals. Those are not gone. It's mainly the dinky manuals that are gone.

And even if you got big manuals, at least as we move into the 90's, you still would not get the full mechanics of the game described in the manual. You would probably get a bunch of stats, but you would not get enough information to actually figure out exactly how things worked, just roughly how they worked. And in those cases where the manual tried to describe everything, they usually suffered from the fact that the manual was written before the game was done. Baldur's Gate for an example had a rather big manual, but it was not a reliable source of information. One example of things that did not work as described was resistances. How they were calculated differs greatly from how the manual described it.
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March 24th, 2014, 20:01
This refers to the later period in video games, when developpers were given the opportunity to release unfinished products. For something like half of the video games era, developpers had to release finished products, with little to no opportunity to patch them later.
This changed the view on manuals.
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March 24th, 2014, 20:41
It goes with iterating rather than designing.
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