Facebook Files: Videogame Manuals

By Ishaan . September 26, 2010 . 10:34am


This week in Facebook files, we’re talking about videogame manuals.


Anton wrote:

The other day I was talking to my housemate about how game manuals these days are so boring and drab.
Usually, they include just the basic info you need on playing the game; what each button does, what certain icons mean in game, and so on. No back story, no character bios, etc. And no one ever really reads the game manual anymore.


I remember when I was younger I loved reading the game manuals. Especially for games in the Legend of Zelda series. Not only did they give you plenty of instruction on how to play the game, but there was usually lots of cool art, descriptions of all of the good guys and the bad guys, and more.


Maybe if new games had an interesting and colorful manual, more people would actually read it, and we could avoid boring in game tutorials. Do you ever read your game manual, or are you a fan of tutorials? Share your thoughts and opinions!


Tommy said:

Since I usually buy the games I want on Sundays after I hang out with my friends in Manhattan, and I live in Brooklyn, I usually read the manual to make the subway ride home seem faster. If buy from the store that’s 10 minutes walking distance from me, I don’t read the manual when I get home.


Ishaan wrote:

The problem is, I think publishers increasingly want to move away from manuals. Ultimately, printing a manual is a necessity to make your game accessible and I’m sure part of it is also that the console companies likely require that you include basic information like how to operate the console etc. Were it not for these two factors, we probably wouldn’t even see paper manuals.


Another reason to get excited for Diablo III! I remember loving the D2 manual. I would read it over and over as a kid; it was so fascinating. I’m sure Blizzard will deliver again. :)


Andre wrote:

IMO, for many different genres of games, tutorials really aren’t needed. For games like shooters and fighting games sometimes I feel that if I know how to play one, i know how to play them all. Only time I read them is when they introduce a new concept I’m unfamiliar with. Most of the time it seems that when I pop the game into the system and pick up a controller, my hands automatically know how to play.


Most of the time it seems that RPGs still have good manuals, I like the character designs and the illustrations. Each one feels unique and not like the last one I played. Tutorials in games do often feel unneeded and in my case they bore me and seem to think I’m an idiot.


Ultimately, game manuals may not be for us anymore. They’re more for a younger or more mainstream audience that might not have developed their “gamer instincts” yet.


That said, this leads you to question whether a manual is the most effective way to teach those people how to play your game. Shouldn’t the game itself do that? Are detailed manuals still relevant? How do you think they should evolve from here on out?

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  • shion16

    the worst manual for me
    No more Heroes 2

  • malek86

    An in-game tutorial is generally better than a manual, since you’re experienceing stuff first hand. I don’t really read manuals anymore…

    On the other hand, I miss the days when we would get freebies included in those big boxes for PC games. They were always included, too. None of this “limited edition” crap.

    • maxchain

      Did you know you can move with the Left Analog Stick? Go on, try it! We can wait all day until you go over there and back.

      • malek86

        Of course, a good game is one that lets you skip the tutorial, should you wish to.

    • You’ve made me nostalgic for Infocom games now.

  • puchinri

    I think part of it is how the manual gets localized too. I was so disappointed when I saw that the NMH manual for NA wasn’t the cool comic (I don’t think our’s was in color either, was it?). I mean, our’s didn’t suck badly, but there was no point to that.

    I do like how manuals used to be though, and I think companies should make an effort for the manual to look like they used to. I sometimes skim my manuals, but end up reading very few (the snazzy ones I actually read through, of course). I liked having the cool art, character bios, etc in older manuals. I appreciate them being in color too, but I can understand that color manuals would just be another expense (they can be kept short though? Or use the colors wisely?).

  • Aoshi00

    I have to say I almost always never read game manuals. Even when I buy a used game on ebay I make a point of asking the seller if the manual is in pristine condition (no folds, grease, etc), but then I don’t really touch it myself (or I do it very carefully because I don’t want to get fingerprints on it), so I just had to have it for collection’s sake, or good resale value in the rare case I want to sell it.

    I remember the SNES manuals were pretty cool though, especially the Jpn counterpart. I still have the Super Mario Kart and Chorno Trigger SNES manuals in my drawer, very beat up w/ pages coming off :) The Super Famicom manual for SMB World could be unfolded to this huge poster.

    For tutorial, I prefer them to build it in-game at the beginning, like Vanquish or Enslaved, or Blade Kitten, just pop-ups as you go along. FFXIII’s was horrible though, at ch 11 of 13 they’re still giving you instruction every step of the way, really bad pacing there..

    I’m not sure how much they would invest in making a more colorful manual these days, since they’re going to digital sooner or later.

  • karasuKumo

    I used to read them too but now all they seem to be are full of health hazards, copyright info, small print and the same boring stuff in three different languages. I used to look through the Pokemon ones to spot the different Pokemon in them but I hardly bother now.

    Tutorials annoy me to no end too, they say something like “attack 10 targets” one is enough thanks, same as the movement controls I don’t need to wonder around for a minute to figure out that the analogues/buttons make the character move >.<

  • kupomogli

    I’ve reread the Final Fantasy instruction manual a couple hundred times. It’s really nice to read. The Dragon Warrior series manuals, and Phantasy Star manuals are also good. Sword of Vermilion has two manuals(one being a guide) while Earthbound has just a strategy guide(I think.)Home Improvement for SNES has the type of manuals that I’m sure Activision would love to use.


    While it’s not an old game. I want to mention Gurumin on the PSP(PC version is probably the same.) I’ve never read the manual that comes with the game, but whenever you open up your menu there’s one that says “instruction manual.” Lots of pictures that detail how the game is played, similar to the Super Mario Bros. 3 manual. It’d be nice if developers not only made manuals, but also put manuals in game.

    Another thing I really like and wish that developers would do is put history to the games world. It gives a lot more depth to the game. Xenosaga 3 and the Budokai Tenkaichi/Raging Blast games for example. Xenosaga 3 has a massive in game directory. Not only does it tell you the story of Xenosaga and Xenosaga 2, but it gives complete detail to every enemy, ship, colony, character, plot event, etc. If there’s any information you wanted to know about the Xenosaga world then you could find it there. The only other games I know of that has an encyclopedia directory that large telling about everything is Gundam Seed Never Ending Tomorrow(which sucks) and Gundam vs Zeta Gundam(only ships and characters which I don’t remember if it details them and also UC mode is the storyline mixed in with What-If storyline.)

  • gatotsu911

    While it’s true that interesting manuals are far rarer than they used to be, I would personally prioritize saving paper over having nice manuals. Besides, a really well-made game should be so self-explanatory that a manual is extraneous.

  • joesz

    well,tales’s games still have cool manuals,that’s about it.

  • I stopped reading manuals after the Lunar 2 (Sega CD version) manual had a major spoiler in the character descriptions. Ever since then, I try to avoid them. I much prefer in-game tutorials, these days.

  • Needs more Shadow of the Colossus style manuals, or unique things like the ‘instruction manga’ from MGS2’s.

    And I DESPISE b&w manuals.

    • RupanIII

      I think I started noticing a decline when they started putting out AAA, hotly anticipated titles with black and white, sometimes crooked manuals. Something a little underwhelming about the presentation when you tear open the wrapping on a big name title only to find a manual that looks like not a lot of thought was put into it.

      I re-read the MGS and FFVII manuals so many times, not to mention lots of SNES games. A manual can be more than just plain instructions on how to play the game and 20 pages of legalese. It can be mini-artbook, encyclopedia of the game world, character bios/bonuses, etc. I know people say oh just make it digital, and maybe I’m alone on this, but I don’t look at manual type stuff in-game too often, I prefer to have it on paper to read it.

      I haven’t bought an import in a while but going on the last time I put in a big order, it seems like Japan still puts a bit of care into the packaging/manual/presentation aesthetics. Anyway, I still read the good manuals. Some might say you don’t need them anymore with the internet, but personally I don’t want to have to go online for everything, sift through spoilers/flame wars for hours looking for info or artwork, etc. I’d rather just have a nice little compendium with all relevant stuff in one place. That’s something pretty basic that the antiquated print media does have over the internet.

  • Well I bought a copy of Trauma Team off amazon.com and the cover appears to have been miscut but everyother page appears to be fine.

  • I think the funniest thing that happened to me lately is finding out that EVEN the quite expensive collector’s edition of Civilization V doesn’t have a manual, except for a four page thing that quite frankly says ‘check out the digital version’. Ha. And to think old Civs had 100 or more pages. Kinda sad really.

  • I think it’s preferable for the game itself to teach you how to play as you’re experiencing it, but in a lot of games you can’t repeat those tutorial segments if you need a refresher. There might also be times when a player can’t play the game itself, but want to learn more about the mechanics and things to look forward to. A detailed manual can fill in these gaps.I remember, as a kid, not being able to play games as much as I’d want, but I’d bring the instruction books to school and read them. This always got me really psyched and excited to come home and play the game. You really don’t see that anymore, I think. While the internet can serve these purposes now, there’s sometimes too many spoilers and too much crap to wade through. A manual is something more unique in its simplicity.

  • Methylene

    I think it’s because we don’t need that much information about characters anymore. Back in the old days, some games barely had any description in game about the story or the villain beyond “The evil bad guy took the princess”, so game manuals could be used to introduce the setting, the bad guys, talk about the world and all. Nowadays, this is either done all in game, or the amount of extra information is so great that you need those huge “material collection” books, not just a tiny manual.

  • Jaxx-Leviathan

    My most memorable manuals were Pokémon Silver and Super Mario 64, Pokémon for its “Trainer’s Handbook”-style of narrating, making it fun and showing cool pictures, and Mario for its helpful descriptions of moves and for the pictures. But I don’t really remember any manuals since them… still, I do check out the manual of virtually every game I acquire, in the hopes that it might be interesting.

  • Tom_Phoenix

    “Another reason to get excited for Diablo III! I remember loving the D2 manual. I would read it over and over as a kid; it was so fascinating. I’m sure Blizzard will deliver again. :)”

    Sadly, after buying StarCraft II, I have little faith that this will be the case. The original StarCraft manual was one of the best manuals ever released, since it had such wealth of information regarding the story. During lore debates, it would frequently end up being one of the most quoted source materials.

    In comparison, a hard copy of StarCraft II had nothing more but a pathetic “Quickstart Guide” that had installation instructions and a brief summary of the story from the original. Worse still, even these “manuals” weren’t made properly. My copy in particular has a Quickstart Guide that is half in English and half in German. I don’t mean that the content is fully explained in two different lanuages….the Guide literally cuts off being written in English in the middle and continues in German!

    Anyway, I miss the days when a manual was a valuable part of your collection. Even if it didn’t contain anything special, they were generally so well illustrated and colourful that they were worth keeping for that alone. I will forever beat myself over losing my Curse of Monkey Island manual. =(

    Also, while it is practical to have the manual in PDF format, it’s nice to have it on hand in paper while doing the installation/boot up process….at least you have something to read.

  • maxchain

    In this day and age, every game and its brother has to force-feed you a tutorial. Make them optional, at least! I would’ve killed for any Megaman Battle Network to have a “just show me the new stuff, I played the last one” option.

    As far as manuals go, it’s hard to suggest a universal fix, but maybe have them narrated by the protagonist or make them some kind of cool comic? I think a comic in, say, the Viewtiful Joe manual that walked you through the moves in-between Joe jonesin’ for a burger would work pretty nicely!

  • Grantster

    Ratchet & clank: a crack in time has a great looking manual. It’s all done in the style of the game’s weapon how to’s. With artwork from former spumco artist Tony mora. Check it out!

  • Metroid: Other M is the first decent manual i’ve seen in ages.

  • Joanna

    I agree with Anton, there seems to be less and less really well made manuals nowadays. I really miss them because I love to read the manuals and look at the pictures and consider the overall layout. I still have all my old manuals (except Pokemon Blue, I have no idea where I lost it. :/ ) And I will from time to time flip through them.

    One of my biggest pet peeves with manuals is black and white ones. I love vibrant manuals so when a manual is only black and white, it seems so bland and uninteresting in comparison.

    As for tutorials, I don’t mind them as long as they aren’t overly long or touch on things that one could figure out on their own (like moving your character, for example).

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