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Default Shack News - Game Manuals of the Past

October 29th, 2007, 17:00
In an article called Warning: No Instructions Included, Nick Breckon of Shack News takes a look at a condition familiar to us all these days: the lack of a substantial and informative game manual, and cites a few games from the past that had exemplary ones:
In addition to actually providing instruction, manuals used to be an important part of a game's presentation—and presentation is everything. Before you play the game, the manual is there, serving as your introduction to the world. It sets the mood and the expectation for the experience to come. It provides the very best in bathroom reading material.
The following is a look at a few stand-out manuals from games of yester-year, selections that reflect the one-time importance of this waning format, and illustrate the current drought of quality booklets.
Fallout 1997
Mixing humor with a dark, post-apocalyptic setting, Interplay's masterpiece RPG Fallout stands the test of time—and its manual is no different. Titled "Vault Dweller's Survival Guide," the book begins with extraneous statistics of the underground vault your character has inhabited since the nuclear holocaust, listing everything from budgetary sums to typical power requirements. This is followed by a detailed, multi-page synopsis of the effects of a nuclear blast. These cold facts effectively introduce the heavy, lead-laden atmosphere that pervades Fallout….
More information.

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October 29th, 2007, 17:00
Part of the reason I love collecting games is the contents of the box other than the game itself… especially manuals. There have been some really great manuals in the past… and it truly is becoming a rare thing to see a great manual in todays games.

However, if you order Dominions 3 you won't get a box… but you will get an amazing 300 page manual that details everything you could ever want to know about the game.

It's more of an encyclopedia… so you won't find much character like in some of the manuals of yesteryear… but it is a great manual nonetheless.

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October 29th, 2007, 17:21
Fun article, although not mentioning the Wiz8 manual is a travesty of justice.

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October 29th, 2007, 17:39
Who remembers the tiny tool set that was included in the Autoduel game? I know it's not a manual but back when computer games were first hitting the market the publishers would sometimes add extra little things like that. It wasn't a selling point for the product but it was a nice little touch that the publishers added. Also the manuals back then almost always had the added atmosphere in the writing. Like the old Ultima manuals were written by a fictional character. I think it was Volo or that may be Baldurs gate. In any case the manuals read like a travel guide and let's not forget the free cloth map that came with every Ultima game and an Ahnk for Ultima 4, a coin with Ultima 6 and I don't remember what came with Ultima 5. Those days are long gone now. Now the norm is DVD boxes with barely a hint of a manual and if there is any extra content added it will only be offered for $10.00 more with the collector's edition.

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October 29th, 2007, 18:16
The first game I bought was Project Stealth Fighter for the C-64. Anyone who remember the Microprose manuals from that day would understand how I felt when I realized that the industry standard was way below that.

The last good manuals I recall are probably those of the BG series, but even they are pretty far from old favourites like Darklands, No Greater Glory, Elite II, or Battle of Britain…

In all fairness I do have to confess to a feeling that the old meaty manuals were a way of using work hours and knowledge that technology prevented from using within the game. I also dont mind pdf manuals as long as you get a quick reference card with the info you might need within the game (such as map). What bugs me is when modern manuals dont tell you how the game mechanisms work! All the examples I gave do that extremely well, in addition to being entertaining and sometimes even educational reads.
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October 29th, 2007, 19:05
Originally Posted by Zaleukos View Post
In all fairness I do have to confess to a feeling that the old meaty manuals were a way of using work hours and knowledge that technology prevented from using within the game.
IMO the reason behind the novel like manuals wasn't so much to just waste time at work or that so the player could understand things that the graphics at the time couldn't show you. Instead it's a little thing called setting the scene. There is only so much you can learn by looking at the pretty graphics. The whole setting and characters in any good novel needs to be well established or the reader or in this case the player will feel lost and not care about what is happening around him or her. This is only one step in making a great game. You could have the best manual with a complete world and backstory but if the game sucks *couch* Dungeon Siege *cough* then the manual will only add to your dissapointment in the game. Everyone pretty much agrees that Fallout was one of the best RPGs out there. They not only had a backstory but it was complete with a manual on literally the word fallout. What it was and how radiation affected people after a nuke attack. Did they have to do that? IMO No. But did it add to the enjoyment of my game …Heck yes it did. So for myself I like to read about the world I'm supposed to be caring about.

I guess it boils down to what type of game do you enjoy playing. One where you buff out and search for rare treasure or ones that take a novel approach and it's like your a character in a great book. I loved Betrayal at Krondor and Return to Krondor mostly due to the fact that I was able to enter this well established world created by one of the greatest novelist of this time IMO. I could meet Pug, Arthura and I could help them on their latest problems facing their world. Don't get me wrong I do love a good hack and slash game just as much as anyone, if it is done right like Diablo, but overall the games I noticed that I keep coming back to and finish more than once are games that had a good backstory and well written characters within the game. Normally those all had great manuals on the history of the land and it's inhabitants.

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October 29th, 2007, 19:23
Amazingly, only a few years ago even *strategy guides* had some personality! My wife got me Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and she is always an easy sell for a strat guide so she got it for me. Never needed it, but it was a cool read as it integrated history of all of the games.

Now there are very few decent manuals … and the best ones I've seen lately are for handhelds …

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October 29th, 2007, 19:25
I really miss good manuals and other stuff. Espeically for RPG's. Old Bioware games had great stuff in the boxes. Even NWN had a nice world map and a big thick manual.
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October 29th, 2007, 19:43
Originally Posted by doctor_kaz View Post
Even NWN had a nice world map and a big thick manual.
Yep… and then came along NWN 2 where Atari decided that it would be a good idea for the German collector's edition (I got the chaotic evil box to be precise) to just slap the full manual (you know, where you can find actual info on all that rule set stuff, races, classes, skills, feats and all that other useless junk that no one really cares about) on the DVD in digital format. We're talking the collector's edition here. The one where you have to lay down the big bucks. And you get a PDF manual? WTF?
Then to top it all off when you opened the manual in Adobe Reader it would literally eat up all your memory after you scrolled down a few pages. Adobe Reader would pretty much instantly consume 500MB or so, then 1GB, then 1.5GB+ of RAM (I'm not kidding) and then when it ran out of available memory it crashed, of course. Major memory leakage obviously. I had to download an alternate PDF reader to be able to use the manual. WTF? The least they could've done is to test their frickin' stupid digital manual with the most common PDF reader out there. But, no, instead they had to add insult to injury.

/rant over and out
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October 29th, 2007, 19:45
Originally Posted by skavenhorde View Post
IMO the reason behind the novel like manuals wasn't so much to just waste time at work or that so the player could understand things that the graphics at the time couldn't show you.
Hmm, I think I should have added "some" to that rather badly phrased paragraph. In my case of Project stealth fighter (a flight sim with wireframe graphics) the manual had to set the tone for a game at that technical level to be immersive at all. The hardware alone was simply not up to running a game that is convincing without conditioning, and it worked tremendously well for me. I also think that a much higher percentage of budget went into the manual compared to a modern game by necessity, simply because a modern game has a bigger codebase and more man-hours of textures, art and music put in it.

That has however not so much to do with the state of manuals today. There I rather think we have to deal with a few trends. First games have moved from being a pastime for a relatively small geeky subset of the population to being a fairly mature entertainment industry. Second there is a general trend in society towards a more impatient lifestyle, and for many that means less reading. These two factors definitely dont point towards thick manuals being an area where the game industry get much bang for the buck.

And please dont stoop to a level where you accuse me of enjoying Dungeon Siege
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October 29th, 2007, 19:51
The finest manual I've seen was not from a RPG but the original Falcon 4.0 release. A monster of hundreds of pages in a three-ring binder with tabs separating the sections. Aside from the manual it included a quick reference guide, detailed maps of Korea, a guide for beginners, a guide for MP, and some other assorted bits. The thing was so big and oddly shaped that they just shrink wrapped the beast and used the binder itself as the "box" (the spine was over 2-1/2" thick). And because it was a binder, there was no problems with the binding wearing out or pages not staying open where you want them. And, while the presentation was incredible, the manual itself was equally impressive, written by a real F-16 pilot who was also the technical adviser for the sim, explaining the incredible details for those freaks like me that liked playing it with all the realism options on.

As for supplemental materials, I think Origin was my favorite. And while I liked the Ankhs and such it was the cloth maps that were unbeatable. Other publishers have occasionally included "cloth maps" with games but rarely were they the thick, quality masterworks of the mid-numbered Ultimas.
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October 29th, 2007, 20:00
ah yes, the Lords of the Realm II manual, that was good reading there. Ive been bitching about manuals for years, and I'd also like to complain about them shipping games in those stupid little cardboard sleeves, those things really suck too.

Age of Empires manuals have always been pretty good.
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October 29th, 2007, 21:12
My first games were the Might and Magics(6&7) and the manuals not only listed all the spells and spell effects, but had short explanations of the game mechanics, character creation, etc plus I think one even had a couple of walk-thrus for the first two or three little dungeons. And a really corny story, told by a really corny wizard. You just don't get that anymore(—and it could be just as well.)

Cloth maps were the best though—and sometimes the only way to figure out where you were at any given time.

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October 29th, 2007, 21:28
Oh gosh, I miss the game manuals. I used to do "weight" test on games to decide whether to buy the game now or later.

But now… You can't even get a good manual if you shell out the money for Collector's Editions
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October 29th, 2007, 23:22
I think there are a few reasons for skimpy manuals these days:

1) The M-TVisation of the computer game player. I liked it better when we were all just plain old geeks. Now the demographic is 'cool geek.' Like geeks, but with cool t-shirts with words like 'shit' on them. And a picture of a guitar. Big publishers like EA are convinced that the M-TV demographic gets scared by big thick manuals. This can hurt sales.

2) Strategy Guides. Why provide a thick manual as part of the cost of buying the game when you can charge the exact same price for the game plus another 20 bucks for a strategy guide?

3) Release & Patch. The whole Release a game and patch it later contributes, according to several articles I've come across over the years, to the reluctance of documenting a solid manual. Wish I could find the source I'm thinking of right now, but from what I remeber reading of what one developer said was that the time and cost of documenting a manual was not justified in that planned subsequent patches would change too many facts in the manual. Something like that.

4) The heavy push by publishers for 'elegant interfaces.' This is a bit of a stretch, I admit, but I really wanted a 4th point in my post. I read an interview once where I remember Chris Taylor talking about how much effort he and his team had put into developing an 'elegant interface' for Dungeon Siege 1… and that such an intuitive interface reduced the need for large scary manuals.

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October 30th, 2007, 00:01
I loved the old manuals that had story bits in them, to which you'd have to refer to at certain points in the game. And the games that came with decoder wheels as a form of copy protection.

In more recent years, the Arcanum manual really stands out as being impressive. The entire tone of the manual is that of a Victorian-period prose. And it was a good size (though with some erroneous information).

On the other side of the coin though, is that games nowadays can have proper, in-depth tutorials, which takes the place of a lot of manual content. And I'd rather have more in-game support than needing to refer to a manual.

Still, there's something very satisfying about a good manual. It looks nice, feels nice, and is something to take with you to read (I always liked taking game manuals with me to work or whatever when I got a new game).

You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't alter their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views, which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.
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October 30th, 2007, 00:40
Originally Posted by Gallifrey View Post
(I always liked taking game manuals with me to work or whatever when I got a new game).
I'm the same way… I still do that when I get a game with a good manual… or when I play an old classic game and I want to refresh my memory…

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October 30th, 2007, 02:13
I too love a good manual. I'd sit down with it and read it from cover to cover before installing the game. However, my son never bothers to look at ANY manual; he prefers to figure everything out for himself!! Guess who the current publishers are catering for!!

If God said it, then that settles it!!

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October 30th, 2007, 04:10
Originally Posted by leth View Post
Oh gosh, I miss the game manuals. I used to do "weight" test on games to decide whether to buy the game now or later.
Oh my god, I thought I was the only one. That was the method I used in the 1980s for Might and Magic, Wasteland, Sentinel Worlds, Starflight, Hard Nova, Ultima and others.

The advent of MMOs and in-game tutorials have replaced the printed manual, for better or for worse.
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October 30th, 2007, 07:06
Originally Posted by leth View Post
Oh gosh, I miss the game manuals. I used to do "weight" test on games to decide whether to buy the game now or later.

But now… You can't even get a good manual if you shell out the money for Collector's Editions
I recently bought a bunch of guild wars games (CEs included) and I was happy too see in mail that it weighted like 3 kg . The boxes (even the standard 2006 edition) all came with full of stuff from manuals to maps to awarded music cds. The original CE included even stuff like a headset etc. Also they didnt cost that much - nightfall I got for only 37€:

Nightfall Collectors Edition
* Nightfall Collector's Edition Key, providing access to the Nightfall campaign, a miniature in-game Varesh pet, and Nightfall signature dances for your characters
* Nightfall Bonus Music Key, providing exclusive in-game music from Guild Wars composer Jeremy Soule
* Nightfall Game on DVD
* "Making of Guild Wars Nightfall" DVD, with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the designers, writers, illustrators, and animators
* "The Art of Nightfall" Art Book, a 124-page book depicting amazing images from the world of Elona
* Nightfall Soundtrack CD with 35 tracks of music from the game
* Nightfall Collector's Skill Pins, a pair of metallic pins showing icons for one Dervish and one Paragon skill
* Nightfall Collector's Standee, a foldout standee of Warmarshal Varesh to place on your desk
* Nightfall Map Poster, a 16x24-inch map depicting the lands of Elona
* Nightfall Collector's Edition Poster
* Nightfall Manual, with information on the world of Elona and explanations of new game features and mechanics.
* Nightfall Quick-Reference Card, with a handy keyboard layout and much more
* Nightfall Buddy Key, a 14-day/10-hour free trial you can give to a friend
* Guild Wars Epic Trial Key, a 14-day/10-hour free trial of Guild Wars Prophecies and Guild Wars Factions
* NCsoft Trial Key Booklet, with trial keys for other great NCsoft games

As for manuals many games especially CE editions have extensive ones and som even include books (mark of chaos, witcher polish edition) or graphical novels of the games lore (hellgate:london comes with 160 pages).
Last edited by zakhal; October 30th, 2007 at 07:58.
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