Beyond the Mind's Eye - Thoughts & Insights from Marriott_GuyBeyond the Mind's Eye - Thoughts & Insights from Marriott_Guy

Posted on Mar 1st 2011 at 08:41:33 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under MGs Game Take

The Demise of the Video Game Manual


The other evening I opened up NBA 2K11 and was presented with the following on page 1 of the miniscule documentation (4 pages in total):

Download the COMPLETE NBA 2K11 manual at

Reading those dreaded words officially ended my naive hopes that my gaming partner would recover from the years of cropping and truncating.  Though I was aware that the end was nearing (Ubisoft), my old friend known as the Video Game Manual was at long last on its final legs.   

Back in the day, tearing open a new video game was pure exhilaration.  Not only did I finally acquire that cherished title, but I couldn't wait to check out its mandatory sidekick - the Video Game Manual.  As much as the software itself, I was stoked to check out those glossy, colorful pages that would detail the various ins and outs for my upcoming gaming adventure.  What surprises lay in store for me?  Would it give me some secret tips in addition to that somewhat-mandatory "Notes" page to scrawl my cheat codes. high scores and the like?

For those old-timers out there, this anticipation was akin to slipping the jacket out of a new vinyl purchase.  You did so in a very slow, calculated manner in hopes that this meticulous action would somehow ensure the ultimate payoff - song lyrics imprinted upon the album sleeve.  Ripping into a new video game purchase was much the same.  For my hard earned cash, I was eagerly expecting to be rewarded in some manner in addition to the game itself.  For the most part, the publisher did not disappoint.  They took great pride in the production and content of their game manuals. Screenshots were showcased in addition to providing 'survival tips', background story, team rosters and sometimes even a game map. You never knew what might be encompassed within, or accompany, the instructions.  It was like opening up a box of Cracker Jacks as a kid.

Sadly, those magical moments are nearing its end.

Final Fantasy III really gave gamers a bang for their buck!!

For the most part, budgetary and environmental initiatives have basically castrated the Video Game Manual. Don't get me wrong - I want to save a tree as much as the next guy.  I am all for utilizing technology to reduce manufacturing expense and the overall ecological footprint of production.  That being said, the instruction booklet is an integral part of the overall experience for this old school gamer and should not be the sacrificial lamb.  The joy of simply reading through that gaming goodness prepared me for the upcoming experience.  I can't quite put it into words, but I could feel myself getting completely immersed in the game after studying a well produced manual prior to actually playing it.

Yes, I grant you that I may just be feeling nostalgic at the moment.  I miss the days of finding those hidden gems within that game packaging.  I find myself being pleasantly surprised less and less as the years go by.  Of course, this is a sign of old age coupled with dawn of the digital era. Still, I will miss my cherished compadre. The glory days of the Video Game Manual have unfortunately come to an end.

Unless, of course, you decide to purchase the Limited Edition version.

Do you miss the Video Game Manual?
Which ones were among your favorites?

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First GameStop preopens games for you, so nothing is "new".  2K kills the manual (then again, they never put stuff in their 6-page manuals), and disc cases come with 5 inch holes in them.  What's next for video gaming.  Rental-only DLC purchases?  I joke, but it would be more shocking if it were true.
NBA 2K11's manual still has more pages then the Ben 10 I opened the other day.
@OatBob: What's next is the continuing migration towards download-only for all video games. It'll take time though. It's already happening (obviously). At some point I think we'll be in a situation where all games are download only except for "special editions" which will still be available at retail stores.
Best manual to come with a game: Earthbound! I also loved the Super Mario RPG, Final Fantasy III, and Super Metroid ones, but there are too many good ones to name.

I love reading through the old game manuals. It takes me back to when I was a kid and I could get to experience a little part of the game when I wasn't even playing.
How about StarTropics, with the letter you had to soak in water? I didn't want to ruin the letter as a kid, so I typed in the numbers sequentially until I eventually found the right code.

747...Boeing sponsored!
Does everybody see the FF 3 picture?  Shadow let me know he is getting a 404 error but everything seems fine on my end after checking on multiple browsers and rechecking my code.
It was MIA earlier but it is there now.

I remember when i was a kid manuals were great. You could flip through and get back story, find out the names of random characters/baddies, find cheat codes, etc

As manuals became lower and lower quality my interest faded more and more. I haven't flipped the cover of a manual in over a decade. With the exception of getting accurate publisher/developer data for the site.
I remember buying Phantasy Star II and getting not only the nice manual, but a very detailed hint book to go with it. Working Designs always put a lot into their manuals also. I too will miss the manuals, but it seems like game companies plan on shafting you these days unless you splurge for the collector's edition.
"I want to save a tree as much as the next guy" - I was actually under the impression that (at least in the US) there are more trees today than 100 years ago.

I say bring on the extra content!!! Heck with some Canadian releases we get 2 manuals, French and English.
Very sad. I'm a total sucker for the full package. The physical aesthetic is just as important to me as the game in some ways. It offers up a special feeling, that you've certainly outlined above. In many ways my favorite game cases are the PSP UMD's. They are a great size for showcasing artwork and can house a rather thick manual, but are not super-spacehogs like a DVD sized case either. It makes me really sad that Sony's PSPGo and PSP2 (whatever it's called) are lacking the UMD drive because that seems to point to the demise of UMD's... aka the demise of the physical package, with manual, maps, and even soundtracks in the case of Premium Editions. Personally I don't mind spending the extra dough to get an awesome soundtrack or extra guide or artbook as it makes for a far more awesome addition to my collection than just a digital file.
I've been so busy buying old-school video games for obsolete consoles, I haven't even given the apparent demise of the hardcopy video game manual a second thought.

Or even a first thought for that matter.

Does that make me a bad person?
I completely agree with your lament here, MG.  So much of gaming for us collectors is the whole presentation, the pictures, the background, even story elements.  It just gets you pumped for the rest of the experience, like a movie trailer preparing you for the whole package.  That has been lost to a large extent over the years.  I still pour over all the material for new acquisitions to the collection, especially older stuff that has the box and case.

The recent explosion of 'Collectible,' 'Limited,' and 'Premium' editions seem poised to replace such simple pleasures for us fans, but it sure is a poor substitute.  Lots more money for the story and game universe elements we used to expect from a real manual or game art.

I tell ya, in probably less than a decade our collections are going to be worthwhile for more than just the ability to play classics...they will represent different takes and approaches to media before the 'games as a service rather than a product' mentality completely overtook the industry.
@slackur: Unfortunately, they might also be worthwhile because you can play them when the Internet goes out.
^That...that can't happen, right?  Ever?...*shudder*... thank goodness XBox Live or PSN never goes down, effectively crippling my ability to play several hundred dollars worth of games I paid for...
You mean 'future' doesn't mean 'progress?'  All these glorious promises by the technocracy are actually stripping us of our ability to own media?...

This is all because I used to run Napster servers, isn't it?  THEY FOUND ME!!

*runs away screaming in paranoia*
The old LucasArts flight sims, Their Finest Hour and Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, really stick out in my mind as great manuals. The old Microprose stuff too, like Gunship and F19. You could read them just for the hell of it, without any real interest in the game. Aces of the Deep was great for that, packed with interesting historical information.

But now, no, you really don't see that anymore. I don't think it's environmentalism so much as it is a matter of money. If a publisher can sell the same game for the same price with or without a manual, it's going to ship without one pretty much every time. These days it's all about margins and bottom lines.

After opening up my recent purchase of Heavy Rain I got a big grin across my face. The little Oragami Crane paper included with the game really made my day after remembering this article!!
@Crabmaster2000: Thats a neat addition to be sure!
@Malygris: PC Games usually destroyed their console counterparts.  Maps, keyboard templates, an actual book, they were the best IMHO.
All I have to say is this:
Lunar: SSSC and Lunar 2: EBC
And EA Sports normally includes just PDF's of the game manuals on an extra CD-ROM, when you purchase the PC version of their games.  Few things bother me more than having to stay attentive while reading through a PDF. 
The manual that came with sim city 2000 was one of the best manuals I've ever seen, very complete tutorial and refrence sections - then everthing from newspaper articles, poetry and artwork about cities. Star Wars Tie fighter came with a pretty cool amount of paperwork including a novel.

Still it might not be quite the end for the manual GTA:SA PC came in a tourist guide style book.

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