The Decline of the Game Manual

So I came across a particular snag today in trying to set up a game of GTA IV on the Xbox. You see, me and my friends are rather snobbish when it comes to xbox live, in that 95% of the populace that inhabit it are complete and utter idiots, and the other 5% are worse. Therefore, we didn’t much fancy sharing our mayhem and shenanigans with them, and so we started a party match, and then once we’d had our fill of needlessly killing each other, we chose to switch to one of the many game modes GTA IV provides.

Only, this isn’t really possible if you want to avoid people you don’t know. Because it throws you in the easiest match it can find, to get the most people playing together. In theory, this is wonderful, because you have more people playing in any given match, and more people usually = more fun. But when you’re elitists like us you don’t want anyone beyond your closely vetted and preened group getting to partake in your games. So we tried various different things to no avail, ending in frustration and a blind websearch to see if we could figure out how to sort it out.

Obviously the first port of call was the game manual for the game itself, but, as became startling apparent when I hit page 4 of the manual, that this wasn’t actually a game manual at all; it was a glorified PR stunt to read on the way home after buying the game, I’d presume. Beyond page 4 there is nothing about how to play the game, nothing about any of the game mode, there isn’t even a multiplayer page. On actually playing the game itself, there are two pages at the beginning. And that’s just controls. That’s it. Everything after that is just a faux tourism book about Liberty City. It took me about 5 minutes of searching through forums to eventually find out the answer to my problem (for those of you similarly stumped, you open your phone in single player, select player match, then select custom match. From there, you max out the private slots and invite your friends in the game ready screen.). That’s 5 minutes I shouldn’t have had to waste when it’s a simple enough thing to put in the manual.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it when a game developer puts in a load of unnecessary information about the game world in the manual. It does serve as something to read on the way home, but please, put some information about the game in the damn thing. I’m happy if you have a cohesive tutorial ingame to help me with most of the stuff, but you can hardly have a multiplayer tutorial now, can you?

Of course this brings me into the wider point I’m trying to make; game manuals are becoming (seemingly) more and more unnecessary, and thus are becoming more stringent on information, to the extent where some games barely come with them at all. I remember growing up spending ages just looking through the Baldur’s Gate 2 manual, marvelling at all the information stored in it’s pages. There were (if I remember correctly, and I could be utterly wrong and riddled with nostalgia) even short stories there. I mean, that’s how you riegn in a gamer! Not this minimilistic control layout and breif description of game modes that passes for a manual today.

I’m about to grab a manual I can’t remember much about from my shelf here and do a quick flick through to see if this argument holds up. I’m going to pick Mass Effect, because, as an RPG, there should be all the goodies I have come to expect from manuals in the past. Here goes.

To begin with, it’s a little thicker than the GTA one, which is a good sign, although there is a lot of that tourism crap in the GTA one… anyway, on to opening it up. Ok, this is preliminarily good on the contents page, in that it has a lot of contents listed.. although, I think the fact that almost all of the things listed are on consecutive pages, and some even on the same page probably isn’t a good thing.

One page on the Mass Effect universe, mostly consisting of a picture. Bad Bioware, bad!

Three pages on Character Creation, and while most of that is breif paragraphs outlining the classes you can choose, it’s an improvement on page one.

Four pages on playing the game, covering everything from conversation and talents to combat and leveling up. I guess that’s ok, but I’d have liked a little more detail.

Aha, I stand corrected. That was just a breif overview of playing the game, to be gone into much deeper detail over the course of the next ten or so pages. Excellent, four pages on just the combat, which, considering this is Mass Effect we’re talking about, can only be a good thing.

I do so love it when a game manual has artist renderings of the weapons in the game. It gives you something to oogle at aswell as read about on the way home. It’s funny, you obviously spend the most time reading a game manual in the time from purchase -> play, and perhaps during the first few minutes of the game itself. But how much help is it when something goes wrong? I’d wager this Mass Effect one would be rather helpful, but then I’ve never had any problems playing Mass Effect, so I don’t know if that’s true.

Ok, so going through the last few pages of the manual it does seem to lay out a rather cohesive plan of how to play the game, but then this almost serves as a good example of what the GTA manual was lacking without having everything the GTA manual did right. That being, helping immerse you in the world before you get to play in it. Half a page of text isn’t really enough for something as big as Mass Effect, and it’s actually rather surprising to see that little in an RPG manual. If anything, I’d have expected more info in the GTA manual and more fluff in the Mass Effect one. Either way, you don’t really find the good heavy tomes of the past any more….

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About Phill Cameron

I've graduated, had a look at the world, and spat. Now I'm devoting my time to moving from 3/4 of a games journalist to 9/10ths. I figure I can get away with 9/10ths.
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2 Responses to The Decline of the Game Manual

  1. Seniath says:

    Frankly, I’ve yet to see a game manual to match the StarCraft one. The sheer amount of backstory and information on each race, unit and structure was staggering, along with some lovely sketches. The WarCraft III and WoW manuals are equally impressive, with a similar amount of information and sketches, and some lovely maps to boot.

    In short, fluff is wonderful.

  2. J-Man says:

    Have you ever seen the Falcon 4.0 Allied Force Manual? 109 pages, baby. And the electronic one is 700 pages long. It’s less of a manual and more of a book.

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