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RPGWatch Forums » Comments » News Comments » Ultima IV - Jeff Vogel: "The Ugly Truth"

Default Ultima IV - Jeff Vogel: "The Ugly Truth"

September 27th, 2010, 13:32
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
Then you haven't read an old SIM City or Railroad Tycoon manual EVAR

becaue they actually contained pieces of history, pieces of background information on the world.
As a matter of fact I have- but I didn't read them to learn history, I read them because I couldn't figure out how I can play the game - do you know were you could find great pieces of history? History books.
Not in game manuals - in a game manual pieces of history might be added as a means to reduce the boredom of reading it and perhaps as a means to explain the game a bit more - not to teach you history.

All the rest you're saying is: "you can't play game 'x' properly if you don't read it's manual".
And I didn't say otherwise… what I'm saying is that a large manual is a 'necessary evil' and people who don't like reading them aren't exactly morons.

Ok let's do an experiment:
Let's say I'm 16 and I like games in general but I'm not really all that interested in the glorious history of gaming (also I am reasonably literate).
Explain to me why it would benefit me to spend time reading U4's manual and then struggle to get into it instead of visiting Project Gutenberg, picking something to read at random for a while and then go and play… I don't know.. say Risen.
Why should I prove that I can read by reading, of all things, instruction manuals of 20 year old games?

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September 27th, 2010, 13:42
I'm one of those people who always read the manual before playing agame - sure, it takes a bit of time, but unless you're playing a really trivial game with no depth to its skill/class/levelling/combat/spell mechanics I EXPECT That stuff be documented somewhere, with implications of choices etc explained. If there is a class system, for example, where else should that be explained - along with consequences of stat choices etc - other than in a manual? I enjoy a well presented manual which contains the actual game mechanics description as well as lore - extra brownie points for the developers in my book. Something like Drakensang lacked a good manual - and def. needed one. Sure, many parts of this can be done in-game - help etc - but that doesn't eliminate the need for some kind of manual. Its just packaged differently.
One thing I hated about DA:O, for example, was not knowing why my spells did the damage the did. If it was described somewhere it was hidden very well. Most cRPGS explain exactly where those numbers come from - as they should.

With regards to this article - those students were just bloody lazy. But that's a sign of the times - people want instant gratification. What!? I have to read something before button mashing? How unreasonable! I want it *now*! I see this all the time in the classes I teach.
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September 27th, 2010, 14:15
Originally Posted by holeraw View Post
As a matter of fact I have- but I didn't read them to learn history, I read them because I couldn't figure out how I can play the game - do you know were you could find great pieces of history? History books.
Not in game manuals - in a game manual pieces of history might be added as a means to reduce the boredom of reading it and perhaps as a means to explain the game a bit more - not to teach you history.
This sounds as if Tolkien could have developed Middleearth woth all of the language stuff left out.

To me, certain things are required to understand the underlying mechanics of something … The rest is superficial bullshit.

This is the way society is composed of by today : People don't think, they just act. They believe that thinking "further than necessary" over things is nothing but a waste of time.

And THEN some people come an exploit this "non-thinking".

It's like … politicians to so many things, and Lobbyists even more … But people are like hep. They do not think. They don't scrutinize things. So, they are driven by Lobbyists.

But in order to properly be able to question, to scrutinise things, one must know and understand the underlying mchanics of something that is being questioned.

Like society structures, for example. Why is there poorness in the world ß it's not easy. It has something to do with politics. It has something to do with Lobbyism. Not always with corruption alone. Only to say "curruption is the reason" is far too easy.

Even now, modern analysts are saying that poorness of certain countries comes from the fact that the WTO is making them to place fulfilling of debts in the first place. With interests. And since those credits are given mostly by "WesterN" banks, the money - plus interests - flows towards them. It does not stay within the land. This is like sucking a country out of money.

Or chickens. People like to eat chicken. But what happens with chicken tht "wstern" people do *not* eat ? Exess of production of chicken ? It floods african markets, this destroying local chicken markets, which makes the people a) even more poor and b) make them dependend from foreign chickens, because no-one in the country produces them anymore, because the chicken markets have collapsed because they have been flooded with too-cheap "western" chickens before.

This sounds silly, but this is a seriouis fact. But no-one knows about it, because people do not think. They do not question what's going on in other countries - what does our government do with other countries ? - and they do not question what might be the *real* reasons behind poorness.

So, this background information in these hand books is not just "fluff" to me - to me it is essential for understanding the underlying mechancics beyond from the technical aspect.

And this is exactly the reason. People believe they don't need any knowledge anymore beyond the technical aspect. No philosophy, please, because "thinking too much makes either your head explode or your stomach full of lead bullets".

“ 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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September 27th, 2010, 14:17
Presenting Ultima IV as 'unplayable' is absolutely laughable at best and simply wrong at worst. It is completely playable. That doesn't mean it is easily playable, particularly to younger audiences, but it is completely playable.

I think one of the things that this prof failed in is presenting the purpose of the manuals. I'm sure other develoeprs did it too, but particularly in Origin's games, the 'manuals' weren't manuals as much as they were PART of the game experience. The compendium of the Ultimas felt like something you might find in the game itself. Anyone remember the blue-prints from the Wing Commander games? These weren't just designed to give you the information you needed to play the game, but to ADD to the experience.

Sadly though, even if this prof had stressed this to the class, I don't think the PDF versions would quite do the original experience justice. (Playing U6P, I'm been happy as hell spreading out my original U6 map and opening the compendium and clue books. Even if the everything isn't exactly the same, it's definitely added to the experience).

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Last edited by blatantninja; September 27th, 2010 at 14:43.
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September 27th, 2010, 14:45
Originally Posted by blatantninja View Post
Presenting Ultima IV as 'unplayable' is absolutely laughable at best and simply wrong at worst. It is completely playable. That doesn't mean it is easily playable, particularly to younger audiences, but it is completely playable.
I think I must have skimmed through Ultima IV when I was younger, but I had a go with it using the online flash version. Without reading any manual, I think it's probably nigh unplayable to me. It's hard, I get swarmed by monsters and I have no idea of where to go. I can literally get stuck in between monsters that I have no hope of defeating. So okay, yeah. It's playable, but not a lot of fun.
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September 27th, 2010, 15:01
It's definitely one where you have to be conscious of where you go. Many games now don't unlock areas where you are vastly outclassed until later in the game. With Ultima, if you want to go dungeon diving in hour one, you are free to try!

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September 27th, 2010, 15:33
Yes, but without some sort of in-game map or (hehe) quest markers, I won't survive. I know I need to talk to Lord British, but all I know is that I start near the City of Justice. The rest is forest where I will be jumped and killed. Unplayable says I!
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September 27th, 2010, 17:04
Alrik, I don't know how you got from reading a manual to poverty and all that, but for me the intention of a game manual is to let people know how it is to be played. I don't want to read them as history books. I can read all about the history in the game if the game provides something like that or alternatively they can provide a second manual with all the information.
Yes, I can imagine needing a manual for a game with a class system or something like that, which requires you to put some thought in it. In-game explanations might not always be enough. But, a game that requires you to make an intensive study of a manual before being able to actually play it, isn't necessary a well designed game.

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September 27th, 2010, 17:22
I like them as reference. If I encounter a troll in the game and can't seem to kill it, I enjoy pulling out the manual and looking it up (provided it is done right) to find out what the troll's weakness is.

I'd much prefer that over some annoying pop up in the middle of the game that I may or may not need that stops the game.

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September 27th, 2010, 17:28
I think publishers like to make a deal with Prima or some other organization to create a strategy guide for something like that. I have strategy guides with that sort of information, but no user manuals.

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September 27th, 2010, 18:46
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
Then you haven't read an old SIM City or Railroad Tycoon manual EVAR

becaue they actually contained pieces of history, pieces of background information on the world.

I had several "aha!-effects" when I was reading them.
Which *could* and *should* be presented in game somehow. Heck, look at the books in Morrowind and Oblivion. You can learn a lot about the world by reading them. Even though that wasn't great it was there and part of the game.
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September 27th, 2010, 18:48
Yep, any self-respected modern cRPG should first and foremost present all background info in-game, via intro, dialogues, books, etc. Presenting such info only as a part of printed accessories is a lazy way out, especially now when games can be bigger than 48kb. Having some of this info accessible only via printed materials is potentially 4th wall breaking and hints at developers not utilizing the computer game medium to its potential. Of course, having it in a printed form in addition to in-game presentation doesn´t hurt.

Now manuals explaining game mechanics and such, that´s different.
In this case, it´s usually in-game tutorials that are 4th wall breaking and often responsible for contrived beginnings.
In-game tutorial should be always skippable or, even better, completely disconnected from the main game (as in BG2, for example). In addition, player should always have an opportunity to learn basic rules and such from a printed/pdf manual.
This way, the game can flow naturally right from the beginning, free of 4th wall breaking parts (KotOR, anyone?).

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September 27th, 2010, 18:54
Personally, I like it as a DRM device. Not that "go to page X and type the third word' DRM, but just that the experience of having your compendium, cloth map, etc. laid out in front of you simply can't be pirated via PDF files.

Yeah, I know I'm grouchy and old!

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September 27th, 2010, 20:31
Originally Posted by BillSeurer View Post
Which *could* and *should* be presented in game somehow. Heck, look at the books in Morrowind and Oblivion. You can learn a lot about the world by reading them. Even though that wasn't great it was there and part of the game.
I agree that in-game materials are great. I always read all the books in the Elder Scrolls games. On the other hand, I don't particularly like having out-of-character stuff like what key does what in game. It damages my immersion. But it's not usually a big deal and usually is only at the beginning of a game - so I tolerate it. But I personally don't mind if some of the in-character materials are external to the game, as well.
Originally Posted by holeraw
I don't get it. A game manual isn't some literature masterpiece it isn't supposed to make you smarter or enrich your life or expand your horizons or make you a better person in any way or even entertain you - it's supposed to explain which button does what… it was a necessary -boring- process that you were forced to go through before you could properly experience what the actual game had to offer.
Well it depends what you mean by manual. (And I realize this conversation has a couple tangents, some discussing reading manuals to know how to play a game and others discussing reading supplemental materials to immerse oneself in the game world.) If you are talking about the out-of-character materials that explain how to install and the mechanics of the UI, then sure, that's boring necessity stuff. Skip it if you like, but, if you have difficulty with the game, maybe you should go back and read it!

But some materials are about giving you a context for your imagination. You can't start a game and assume the player has a command of the history of the world in question. Yes you can expose a few very simplistic broad strokes in an intro video, and define tons of little intricacies in in-game materials like Bill mentions, but there's a lot more that is best known before the player begins (unless it's a cliche amnesia game start*) but that is optional so those people with short attention spans can get to their running of swords through things. That's where supplements (whether as external books/booklets or as in-game materials) are valuable.

* Forgive me Planescape: Torment; nothing about you was cliche!
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September 27th, 2010, 21:46
I don't really care for lore books in games. If they are real short, they are ok, but when they end up being more than a few paragraphs, I never bother to look at them. BG/BG2 had tons of lore when you looked at the descriptions of things, particularly books. I never got more than a sentence of two into them.

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September 28th, 2010, 01:44
I resonate most with 2 of the arguments presented above for having detailed printed manuals:
- Immersion
- Gameplay complexity (I prefer complexity + manual over simplicity + no manual).

Example of good complexity - RPG character development rules to guide your choices and evolve a role that way you want to play it. Complexity = flexibility for roleplaying.

Example of bad complexity - 100 hotkey combinations needed to be memorized and touch typed for speed.
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September 28th, 2010, 10:53
Originally Posted by Guhndahb View Post
But some materials are about giving you a context for your imagination. You can't start a game and assume the player has a command of the history of the world in question. Yes you can expose a few very simplistic broad strokes in an intro video, and define tons of little intricacies in in-game materials like Bill mentions, but there's a lot more that is best known before the player begins (unless it's a cliche amnesia game start*) but that is optional so those people with short attention spans can get to their running of swords through things. That's where supplements (whether as external books/booklets or as in-game materials) are valuable.

* Forgive me Planescape: Torment; nothing about you was cliche!
That context can be presented in-game, and it is in many cases. I'll give the Witcher as an example of a game that did that perfectly, even though it did suffer from the cliché amnesia start, nevertheless it did do that perfectly: everything is explained in-game when it was necessary, including the controls, when a new concept appears it goes into the journal from where it's accessible at any time + it has a simple interface that is usable and doesn't need much explaining anyway. Bioware also tries to get there with the use of the codex in their latest games (which is still an unorganized mess, especially in DA).

I'm still in favor of printed manuals as well as any other gimmick that may come along with a game. I'll use the Witcher as an example again because when I bought the enhanced edition and saw that it came with not only a printed manual but also a walkthrough, an original short story, 2 music CDs and a DVD with making-of documentaries I was very pleased. The fact remains that none of those is a critical part of the game.

The whole love for the manuals reminds what I've heard about the first cinemas, when people were not yet familiar with the medium, and they required someone to stand next to the screen explaining what was going on in the movie. We are now very much familiar however and something like that would be considered unacceptable. Still in theaters, concert halls, operas or even cinemas you often get a program that you can read before the show and sometimes gives some kind of 'instructions' of how to approach what you're going to see (and even those aren't usually made by the creators themselves anyway)… but can you imagine going to a cinema to watch a film and instead of a ticket they give you a booklet telling you to study it, learn it and come back tomorrow?

Originally Posted by Thrasher View Post
Example of good complexity - RPG character development rules to guide your choices and evolve a role that way you want to play it. Complexity = flexibility for roleplaying.
Can't all those be presented in-game when you need them? Class descriptions during character creation, detailed skill descriptions etc. Lately it seems to me there are far more detailed descriptions about such things in-game even if there is a manual - and that makes sense to me: I need a class description when I get to choose a class not when I'm in chapter 2 nor before I install the game… why make me search a large document for all the bits and pieces of information I need when I'm definitely going to have a screen with a size and resolution perfectly capable of displaying a paragraph of text and why overload me with information I'm only going to use once in the game - and therefore once in my life?.

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September 28th, 2010, 15:22
Originally Posted by Myrthos View Post
Alrik, I don't know how you got from reading a manual to poverty and all that,
I usually tend to go to the bottom directly, skipping several levels of layers.

Think of it like a mine : The "ultimate reason" is at the bottom, and I'm going straight there, not wanting to be held off by several layers of reasoning above me.

Which means that my point of view is usually very, very broad, and often too much, inappropriate to the discussion.

But that's the way I am, sorry.

In the case of SIM City and of Railroad Tycoon (I just don't remember any better examples from my own experience), I still believe that the "additional fluff" adds to the gaming experience rather than distract from it.

One could look it from a reverse point of view and ask : Why did they put all of this "additional fluff" in it anyway ? They didn't have to. It would save money if they hadn't.

It's the same with the so-called "Feelies" and the "Goodies" in game boxes (Ultima; nowadays rather Collector's Editions). They in no way (okay, except the Feelies as some sort of copy protection) add to the gaming experience, therefore they could easily be left out. It would save money.

It's a question of how far you wanna boil it down. Just look at the Bauhaus architecture. Just look at he houses of modern : No embellishment anymore like in the architecture of let's say the "Jugendstil". In principle, at least from the outside, all houses are nowadays descendants of Bauhaus style : practical, functional, emotionless form, "houses made for living", and nothing else. The result is the "Plattenbau". It's "housing" boiled down to the utmost extreme point of living.

It's a question of how far you want to biol down the need of any hand book in terms of gaming. You could easily do a game without the need to read any handy book at all.

The question is : Do we want that ?

And … Will the future consist of picture-books instead of text-books in general literature ? Because reading is an investment. Just looking at and understanding icons is much, much more intuitive (when the icons are carefully planned so that they ARE easy to understand), and they take less time.

If you boil it down that far, then the whole investment of learning to read at school could be skipped by only offering picture-books. Because, as the word implies, investment is a distraction of money (read books) and of energy (at school), so why not just save that ?

I fear that the result of all of this would directly lead us into a future like described in the novel "Brave New World".

“ 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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September 28th, 2010, 15:44
So… not wanting to read the manual of U4 will result in schools not teaching people how to read?…

I'm sure nobody here supported the benefits of extinguishing any form of written language in any medium ever and anywhere.

If that's what you getting from "game instruction manuals should not be necessary" then there are certainly several layers of reasoning you are not being held by.

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September 28th, 2010, 16:15
Originally Posted by holeraw View Post
So… not wanting to read the manual of U4 will result in schools not teaching people how to read?…

I'm sure nobody here supported the benefits of extinguishing any form of written language in any medium ever and anywhere.

If that's what you getting from "game instruction manuals should not be necessary" then there are certainly several layers of reasoning you are not being held by.
I'm not sure how we got from manuals to schools not teaching people how to read….but there is something missing from today's games that will never be had again from AAA publishers. Whether it is a good thing or a bad thing is up to the gamer. I think it's a damn shame, but oh well life goes on.

I liked this blog and share his viewpoint on this matter.

I have to wonder though, it used to be that I would consult game manuals in order to know how to play games. I don’t just mean what controls do what, but to learn about the rules of the game and begin to form strategies to be successful in the game. The Ultima games spell system required you to know the obscure spell names that were all built up from a pseudo latin ( or was it real Latin? ) language. In order to ready and cast them you had to know what “An Nox” or “Vas Flam” meant. Trying to heal your wounds with a “Corp Por” spell would be an exercise in futility. The Wizardry and The Bards Tale games were similar. Hell, I remember the runic alphabet from Ultima and how you would sometimes run into it in the game and in order to translate you either had to have it memorized, or break out the manual and start translating. And, yes, I was one of those Ultima geeks that could, at one point, read runic phrases without looking anything up. You might think that incredibly geeky, and it is, but it serves as a testament to the immersion factor that simple effort and pack in materials could provide.
How many people could actually read the runes in the Ultima games? When your a kid that is just awesome that you know a language that only a few others do. It's trivial, but still awesome

I remember for Halloween I dressed up as a sorcerer in jr. high and had the ankh and spellbook from Ultima 4 hanging from my belt. Best costume ever!!! Yes, I was that big of a nerd even back then and got a few stares with my full on cult like black hooded robe that my mom made and the necrominicon looking spellbook and ankh hanging form a rope around my waist. This is the kind of entertainment that the Ultima games provided. Between D&D and CRPGs my imagination as a kid was in full throttle.

Whether or not people agree with the whole manual debate is up to them, but I've tried dumbed down games where you need no manual or any kind of investment to reap some kind of entertainment out of them. I also have tried more complex games where you have to spend some time with it to understand the true benefits like all of the Realms of Arkania games, Dwarf Fortress, Dominions 3 and Armageddon Empires. I enjoy both for different reasons. So why not have both kinds available?

So maybe because I can play both it's my gain and their loss. Who knows or cares? All I know is that at least there are still a few companies willing and able to produce complex games that require you to read a manual to understand them. Dominions 3, I am especially looking right at you. That dang thing is HUGE!!!!

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