One of the issues old school gamers sometimes lament in these times is the disappearance of manuals from game boxes. I’ve started to rediscover them a bit to see where they’re starting to take their place in today’s world.
Basically, the future is digital manuals. That brings up a debate similar to that of the rising eBook industry but I think digital manuals present a lot of advantages, and you’d be surprised how many developers and platform holders are making good use of them.
But first there’s the question of why even have manuals today when every game has a tutorial. That’s honestly a good question. Manuals probably aren’t necessary anymore for everyone or every game. If you take a case-by-case look at them though you’ll find at least a few games that still make them seem worthwhile.
A lot of games, particularly modern RPGs, have begun to include large codices packed with what is essentially the same text you’d read in the manual. The codex in Mass Effect basically is a manual of hundreds of pages containing not only information about the lore but also basic tutorial info. Before CDProjekt patched a proper tutorial into The Witcher 2, learning that game demanded players read either the actual manual or the in-game codex. A most interesting example of this is Ni No Kuni’s Wizard’s Companion which comes both in the form of an actual massive book (which is pretty hard to buy now) and a sort of in-game eBook that is required for gameplay and is even a part of the story itself.
Ordinary digital manuals though are overall better if you have to have a manual with your game. They save trees, it’s impossible to lose them as long as you keep the game, and the developer can pack as much content in a digital manual as they want without worrying about the page count (see the codices above). Digital manuals are already a requirement for 3DS (and I think PlayStation Vita) games, and I think they should be on next-gen consoles too.
One smart thing platform holders have already done is include digital manuals with the old school games they’re re-selling, like all the Virtual Console games, PS1 and PS2 classics, everything on Good Old Games, and most old school games on Steam. Many of those games were designed to basically require the manual. It’s nice that Nintendo actually rewrites every manual in a new digital style, but I’m equally impressed that the PC services and PSN include full scans of the original manual for each classic game.
More recently a lot of indie developers have actually written and designed manuals for their games, despite most of those games never being sold physically and how few of those fans probably even know those manuals exist. One of the most impressive manuals of recent times is the one for La-Mulana which includes a lot of cool artwork exclusive to that manual. Indie games like Inquisitor and Legend of Grimrock do something similar.
Basically, I don’t think manuals are going away at all. Even aside from tutorials they’re just transitioning into something new.
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