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Question Handbooks - Quality declining ?

March 2nd, 2007, 15:35
Hello, everyone.

I just decided to open a new thread.

I think it began on page 7 or 8 of what are you reading ? where the discussion on handbooks began.

I think I can relatively safely say that handbooks were better in "ye olde days", than they are today. Also, they are probably thinner, because thick boocks wouldn't fit into a DVD case.

Exceptions are jewel-cases and packages like the one of Age of Wonders : Shadow Magic, where both DVD case and handbook fit into a single kind of extended box.

What have handbooks actually to do with the "casual gamer", the newly-discovered cash-cow the industry favours ? Do both publishers & developers believe that they wouldn't want/need any thick handbook, maybe even with the argument "it costs time" and "everything should be intuitively useable" ?

Will we end up one day with no handbooks at all, only PDFs ? And if it is only in PDF format - why bother making handbooks at all ? Online-help, maybe ? (With "on-line" I don't necessarily mean "internet" but also "in-game".)

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March 2nd, 2007, 16:13
I agree - when you look at the 'old' RPG manuals, even as recent NWN, you see some serious technical writing effort was put into it by actual professionals. Compare it to KotOR - what was it, 48 pages or something - and you see where it is going.

The KotOR manual provides useful information, but nothing to really help you play the game from a strategic standpoint the way that NWN did. I've recounted my NWN RPG renaissance multiple times, but suffice it to say that I read and re-read to get myself up to speed on the details of the D&D systems at work. When I got KotOR I sped through the manual once, and only went back to check the level-ups for various non-Jedi characters to figure where to stop leveling.

I can definitely see manuals going all-PDF, with perhaps a quick-start pack-in. For the Mac versions of the Fallout and BG series, that is all you got in the DVD case.
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March 2nd, 2007, 16:34
The tendency is definitely moving toward more streamlined manuals, and pdf manuals… but to me that is a sad thing. Being a collector, it has always been a bonus to open a game and get a well-written, comprehensive manual. Some new games still provide that luxury to gamers, but it is quickly falling to the wayside.

I have so many great manuals, some even spiral bound that are just amazing: Fallout, Baldur's Gate I and II, Icewind Dale II (can't remember about Icewind Dale I and I'm at work now so I can't check), and more.

And even the ones from the old days that weren't spiral bound were at least very beefy and included everything you would want to know about the game, even history, NPC, Magic, Equipment, and Monster information.

Some games would come with supplemental items like fake newspapers with articles about the game world, journals, mapping paper, etc. What we get in "collector's editions" now used to come standard in many CRPGs of the 80's and early 90's.

So I miss the days of big box packaging with over the top manuals and extras, but there's nothing that can be done about it. But I have to admit that it does change the experience for me.

I love technology and I'm a big proponent of change for the better, and I realize that we save trees and therefore wildlife when we can cut down on the paper products used in game distribution (boxes, manuals, etc), but I don't have to like it.

As a matter of fact I've decided that if the state of PC gaming ever gets to the point (in my lifetime) where you can only get games by downloading them and there is no such thing as a boxed copy with a manual (and extras like those offered in collector's editions), that will be the day I stop buying games. I'm sure there will be a couple every year that I just must have, but my buying habits will change dramatically. I have enough old games on my shelf to last me until I'm about 150 years old, so I won't worry about it if that time comes… I'll just dust off old boxes and enjoy the contents while enjoying the games.
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March 2nd, 2007, 16:58
I agree narpet. It reminds me of the change from record albums to cds--yes, you have a higher quality, more durable medium for your tunes, but no album covers--so no real personality or song information except in fine print in a tiny pamphlet if you're lucky. The whole concept of the album cover as a statement is pretty much gone, because what impact does a 4" x 6" image really make.
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March 2nd, 2007, 17:11
Originally Posted by narpet View Post
What we get in "collector's editions" now used to come standard in many CRPGs of the 80's and early 90's.
So it's just another way of making money.

In 2004 I think, an editor of the gaming mag "Gee" complained that all those goodies the editors received then were in older days meant to be for the masses (I remember "postcards by Lara Croft" being sent to the editors, with her telling from the latest adventures).

He also had the opinion that these goodies could be a strong buying point.

In this respect, I agree : Such goodies are in my opinion also strong reasons to buy a game - but on the other hand the industry goes exactly the other way round : They put games into cheap DVD cases with small manuals and often simply PDFs. With that, there is no real difference between an illegally copied game and an legally bought game anymore !
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March 2nd, 2007, 17:13
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
so no real personality or song information except in fine print in a tiny pamphlet if you're lucky. The whole concept of the album cover as a statement is pretty much gone, because what impact does a 4" x 6" image really make.
Yes, that's right.

I once bought kind of an "special edition" of Fleetwood Mac's last album - it really looked like a tiny photo-album ! I was really impressed.

I believe that he industry tries to exploit us : They create "premium content" with what had been normal 10-20 years ago.
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March 2nd, 2007, 17:14
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
I agree narpet. It reminds me of the change from record albums to cds--yes, you have a higher quality, more durable medium for your tunes, but no album covers--so no real personality or song information except in fine print in a tiny pamphlet if you're lucky. The whole concept of the album cover as a statement is pretty much gone, because what impact does a 4" x 6" image really make.
Not to take the tangent too far, but I was discussing Miles Davis masterpiece Bitches Brew on another site and your remark reminds me of the album art for that …


And inside there was a massive amount of text - a whole set of liner notes that really provided some added context for the massive project.

That 'extra stuff' was also what I talked about in the 'now reading' thread when referring to stuff like Dark Forces, Jedi Knight and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Those provided you with more than just how to play the game, they got you into the world as the developers saw it.
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March 2nd, 2007, 17:17
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
In this respect, I agree : Such goodies are in my opinion also strong reasons to buy a game - but on the other hand the industry goes exactly the other way round : They put games into cheap DVD cases with small manuals and often simply PDFs. With that, there is no real difference between an illegally copied game and an legally bought game anymore !
That's a good point, and you're right. There is definitely less incentive to buy a game legally when it comes with nothing extra for the consumer to be excited about. I'm against piracy, but I can see it being easier for someone to consider getting an illegal copy when they know that their money won't buy them anything extra.
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March 2nd, 2007, 17:26
Originally Posted by narpet View Post
I can see it being easier for someone to consider getting an illegal copy when they know that their money won't buy them anything extra.
I can't see that at *all* … but that is a subject for a different day and thread
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March 2nd, 2007, 17:46
Yep, looking back at the works of art like the Vault Dweller's Guide, they just dont make em like that anymore. Along with the actual information, to have a theme just makes the whole package so much more. It makes it something worth collecting, not just a guide. There are some series like Age of Empires that have kept large, well laid-out, artful manuals, but they are indeed becoming a rarity.

Nowadays I just pray that there is a printed manual, and it actually has the important info!
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March 2nd, 2007, 19:07
I hate pdf-manuals. Its fine if its a budget release, but for a full priced game i want my manual on paper.

Well writen manual is always a pleasure and it really increases the enjoyament factor. This thread made me to find those good old manuals from the closet. It really struck me that most of those manuals were unique. they did not only include basic tutorial for the game, they also had backstories, character information and lots of other "unimportant stuff".

One of my favorites is Tribes 1 manual. for a shooter game its more than enough! Detailed starsiege history timeline, tribes information&backstories, weapons in detail, artwork size of a whole page etc…,

hat 'extra stuff' was also what I talked about in the 'now reading' thread when referring to stuff like Dark Forces, Jedi Knight and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Those provided you with more than just how to play the game, they got you into the world as the developers saw it.
I totally agree. I just read the manual again. Great thought was put in it. Most of the Lucas arts games had great manuals. Its shame that they also have gone with the trend.
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March 2nd, 2007, 21:29
Well, I too think that manuals are not as good as in the old days (which is a sad thing really), but then again you have to admit that at least pc games didn't increase much in price over the last few years which is more than just astonishing. Although the price of game never played much of a role for me personally, I had to realize that it does for many people, especially younger gamers.
Compared to digital distribution, print distribution is a rather expensive way to publish something, so…
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March 2nd, 2007, 21:36
That's true about the price of games, ionstormsucks. I still put my hand over my heart and start hyperventilating when I see a game with a $55. price sticker, yet ten years ago I routinely bought games that cost between $40. and $50. I don't think I'd mind shelling out a little extra cash, tho, for a nice manual with print large enough to be read by the naked eye.
Maybe they could package and sell 'special edition' type manuals separately?

@tx1265
That Bitche's Brew album was a classic, in all ways. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
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March 2nd, 2007, 23:35
Looks really like an work of art. Does it exist for use as a background wallpaper picture ?
I think I should try finding this album on a flea market somewhere, just for the picture …

If you stumble upon the inlay art of Genesis "Nursery Cryme", then you might have a similar thing, very detailed indside art with the somgstexts … I don't even own that vinyl album, just saw it somewhere … I think I should try getting it, too …
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March 3rd, 2007, 01:08
Now I know why you are all into fantasy!! Let's be real here; WE read and love paper manuals, but the VAST majority don't. Heck, some of them probably couldn't read the thing if they wanted to. Most 'gamers' just want to load up the game and start killing things!! We oldies, like to 'appreciate' every nuance intended by the developers.
Also, there is now very little space apportioned in retail gaming outlets for PC games. Can you seriously imagine them allowing valuable shelf space for ONE of those large old boxes?? Remember M&M5 World of Xeen!!!!! I love to curl up and read manuals from cover to cover, but I'm a dying breed. I still have all my old LP's, even though I also have most of them on CD as well, but the younger generation doesn't seem to care!!
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March 3rd, 2007, 01:21
The last game that pissed me off in this regard was NWN 2. I bought the Chaotic Evil Collector's Edition which -OK- does have a printed manual but it turned out to be a stripped down version of the US version's manual which has an extensive section on 3rd edition D&D rules, (prestige) class requirements etc etc etc - The printed Euro manual in the CE does not have that.

Instead they included the full (US version) manual as a PDF on the DVD. To add insult to injury, that manual had some compatibility issues with Adobe Reader (or maybe it is a general Adobe Reader 8 issue, I don't know).
What happened though is that when you scrolled up and down a few times, your system memory started filling up like mad up to the point where the computer would run out of physical memory and Adobe Reader would crash'n'exit).
Well, luckily there is an alternative PDF reader in Foxit Reader which does not have this memory problem with the NWN 2 PDF (it still uses crazy amounts of RAM but at least it doesn't crash). So I finally did get to the info in the PDF but what an annoyance until it finally worked out…

That was pretty lame of Atari. If you pay the premium price for a CE then they should include the full manual at the very least.
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March 3rd, 2007, 02:46
Originally Posted by Corwin View Post
Can you seriously imagine them allowing valuable shelf space for ONE of those large old boxes?? Remember M&M5 World of Xeen!!!!!
Man, those were huge boxes.
Manuals had one other use, though, copy protection. But that method was less annoying by a long shot than what we have now, however (well, unless you lost your manual).
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March 3rd, 2007, 13:11
Originally Posted by Corwin View Post
I still have all my old LP's, even though I also have most of them on CD as well, but the younger generation doesn't seem to care!!
I hated LPs, even at the time when there was no other medium (okay, so there were big and smaller audio tapes). The first thing i did after buying a record: record it on tape and put the record in the closet. Man, I was glad when they invented CDs…

My games are on a shelf above my head here in my home office, but without boxes: I cut up all boxes that were bigger than a DVD case, keeping the front only to put it in a hanging file folder along with the manual. There was only one big box I kept for nearly ten years: the one containing 'Towers of darkness'. But I cut that one up last year when I ran out of storage space.
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March 3rd, 2007, 13:19
I have a massive collection of old empty boxes!!
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March 3rd, 2007, 14:03
I concur & agree with all these statements beeing made about players handbooks and manuals.

In the olde golden days, even the manuals and handbooks were better.

I have jost gotten a hold of my manual for BG2, and I simply like (nay, love) to feel
the small and to touch the binding and to turn the pages as well. Today, if you buy an ordinary game, you will get a somewhat thin manual (handbook) which really hasn't any usefull information at all. (imo). But if you buy the collector's or limited edition of the game, you will get a full player handbook, a decent manual, a map
and some other stuff. Back in the olden days you would get a map + some extras even without the need to order the Limited or the Collector's Edition.

And corwin --- be glad that you have kept all of your old records…
(as I have).

The rumour isn that they are making a comeback --- sometime.
[I base this on the popularity of the limited edition of the Danish version on LP records - of the Leonard Cohen's songs…].

I also like to read manuals, and in fact have sometimes learnt new things from reading these…
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