2 September 2014

The Forgotten Art of the Video Game Manual

Blizzard's Diablo is one of those classic game franchises I never played. So, now that the expansion for Diablo III is out for consoles as well, and conveniently bundled with the main game as the 'Ultimate Evil Edition', I finally decided to pick up the PS3 version and give it a try. But I've barely started the game, so I'm not actually here to talk about it yet, but rather a related observation.

So I bought Diablo III, and opened up the box to check out the manual: a single folded sheet, featuring only a controller diagram and the usual warnings and customer service numbers.

Out of curiosity, I checked out the manual for Diablo II (2000) online. It's almost 100 pages long.

Another example. Some years ago I picked up a cheap second hand copy of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for PS3 ('Game of the Year Edition', 2007). Its manual is over 50 pages, which is actually fairly impressive for a PS3 game. A little later I bought the then brand new Skyrim (2011): a 'quick start' guide a couple pages long. (In multiple languages—this was the Nordic version, I don't know if UK/US versions differ.)

The trend is obvious. The video game manual is a dying breed. There are many reasons for this, of course. Designing and printing manuals is an additional expense. Online distribution of games is growing. Many games these days have extensive tutorial sections and in-game reference guides.

But there's a certain feeling when you open your brand new game and flip through the manual for the first time that an in-game tutorial can't replace. At best, manuals of the past have been much more than just about teaching you the controls. They could immerse you in the world of the game, expand the experience, get you hooked even before you start the game...

And all that aside, there are still games even in this streamlined, hold-you-by-the-hand age complex enough to benefit from a detailed reference guide. (Dark Souls springs to mind...)

I'm sure there are exceptions to this rule, game publishers still making decent manuals. But for the most part the manual seems to be a thing of the past, and I'm not very hopeful of seeing a resurrection. Which is a shame.

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