Are game instruction booklets dying?

SWard

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I remember the deluxe version of 'Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego' (1992) had a pamphlet which was AMAZING. ???

So I'm thinking scifi game / flight sim manuals must be at the pincacle when it comes to collectors items in the future, especially when it comes to sheer technical information/inputs/theory for playing.

I can see why its hard in moden day to have them, game balance for example is easily iterated upon, I can see why for games as a service it would be difficult to go to print with them (if there's changing meta)

I really do miss them! It's like there was this whole level of pre immersion that doesn't exist anymore. Now you like the game, then buy the t-shirt, go to the fanfest etc. Back then it was like ... "oh and here is this item your character discovered.... it's real and you can hold it".

I remember having a 5 Disc Alice In Wonderland game that had a booklet that looked like it came straight from Wonderland, and I loved it!
Anyway, I'd love to see what rare booklets you folks have! Any idea what the holy grail for booklets would be?
 
Last edited:
Nov 25, 2019
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I am sorry to say that as I purge my house of sedimentary layers of "stuff" every so often, I toss game boxes, booklets, CDs, etc. I just haven't the space to collect these things. Out with the stuff!
(I've probably destroyed future high-value collectables, hehe)
 
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Rogue Leader

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Anyway, I'd love to see what rare booklets you folks have! Any idea what the holy grail for booklets would be?
Falcon 3.0 Gold on PC had a Holy Grail Booklet set. First off it was multiple games in one so it had the manuals for each game which were basically condensed versions of the actual flight manual for an F-16, Mig-29, F/A-18 Hornet, etc. Then on top of that it came with an actual book called "The Art of the Kill" by an Air Force pilot and trainer. The book even had an instructional DVD with it.

Sadly now even console games don't have booklets anymore. Most of the time you open the case and at most it has an advertisement or an online code but thats it.
 
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PCG AndyC

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LucasArts made some great manuals - Their Finest Hour and Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe were both great (especially SWOTL) and the X-Wing and TIE Fighter manuals did an outstanding job of tying the games into the broader Star Wars fiction. I loved the Baldur's Gate manuals too, because they were basically crash-courses in AD&D. Shame that's all a relic of the past now. (Which I guess is my answer to the actual question at hand - they're not dying, they're long dead.)
 

Colif

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Jan 2, 2020
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I have the diablo 2 manual around here somewhere, they explained everything, its 80 pages or something. Now you lucky to get a link to a pdf or a wiki. Diablo 3 gives you a booklet with the character descriptions in it... 10 pages on PC and 6 pages on PS4 (I got it a few times).

Just wait, soon the manual will be DLC you have to pay for and it will just be a link to a page where you get the basic instructions and a key that de randomises the keys as without buying DLC the keys reset what they do every time you start. Needs to be an incentive to buy the manual after all.
 
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SWard

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I have the diablo 2 manual around here somewhere, they explained everything, its 80 pages or something. Now you lucky to get a link to a pdf or a wiki. Diablo 3 gives you a booklet with the character descriptions in it... 10 pages on PC and 6 pages on PS4 (I got it a few times).

Just wait, soon the manual will be DLC you have to pay for and it will just be a link to a page where you get the basic instructions and a key that de randomises the keys as without buying DLC the keys reset what they do every time you start. Needs to be an incentive to buy the manual after all.
I bet the Original diablo is worth something :)
 
Dec 19, 2019
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Well if we keep having games like Fallout 76 and other online games that are constantly changing then yes, it's going to die. I'm starved for a good RPG again. Dragon Age 4 is just around the corner.

I have a hardcover guide on Fallout 76. A good chunk of it is now obsolete, but I keep it around because it has a nice printed map.
 

Rogue Leader

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I have a hardcover guide on Fallout 76. A good chunk of it is now obsolete, but I keep it around because it has a nice printed map.
Now thats frustrating. Reminds me of when Star Citizen completely changed the flight model. The old one had a great tutorial mode which got you familiar with it. Then they changed the whole thing and dumped the tutorial. I get in my ship and I'm like what the heck do I do here?
 
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PCG AndyC

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That's the difficulty with early access and "live" games, things inevitably change so much that sooner or later the manual becomes obsolete.

Similar things would happen in the heyday of boxed games, though: Manuals would be printed and then last-minute changes, bugfixes, etc., would be documented in a readme file on the disc. (Might still happen, but nobody cares anymore.)
 
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Rogue Leader

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That's the difficulty with early access and "live" games, things inevitably change so much that sooner or later the manual becomes obsolete.

Similar things would happen in the heyday of boxed games, though: Manuals would be printed and then last-minute changes, bugfixes, etc., would be documented in a readme file on the disc. (Might still happen, but nobody cares anymore.)
Do you remember Battlecruiser 3000AD? The PCG review of it was hilarious I'll never forget it. But the contents of the box for that game were basically useless. The version of the game on disc crashed immediately after the intro movie played. The manual was filled with controls that changed on the 2nd or 3rd patch release for the game. Even if you downloaded the patches that were released near launch day it only just made the game able to run. it would crash 20 minutes in and it wasn't much of a "game" that you could actually play or enjoy anyway.

Somewhere on usenet out there Derek Smart is still trolling people.
 
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spvtnik1

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Jan 13, 2020
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I remember in some of the old manuals (ex: LOOM) where they included the red tint glasses so you could read the scrambled text to get your DRM codes. Ahhhhh, those were the days.

Falcon 3.0 by Spectrum Holobyte, Comanche 3.0 by Novalogic, Gran Prix by Micropose. These weren't just game manuals to me, they were epic educational documents! Even the Half-Life manual is lengthy by today's standards, but it couldn't hold a candle to those epics.
 
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Jan 13, 2020
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A part of me misses the old game box art, manuals, physical discs, etc. There was something to be said for having tangible bits and bobs about the game you were playing - little illustrations, lore fragments, helpful hints, or even that little page at the back of manuals where you could jot down notes and cheat codes.

Another part of me is happy to be rid of the clutter though. My desk area has never been cleaner than it has in the age of digital distribution.
 
Jan 13, 2020
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The thing about instruction manuals is that a lot of games had basically non-existent onboarding back in the day, especially on PC. So reading the manual was essential. I was reflecting on this when playing the original Mafia, where it doesn't bother telling you how to do pretty much anything. The game literally opens with a car chase, and the game doesn't tell you which button makes the car go forward. Around 2004 there was a definite shift towards a forced "press C to crouch under this conveniently placed log" sections. HL2 telling you to pick up the can was in fact a tutorial for physical interaction with the environment. You go back to HL1, and it expects you to know how to crouch jump. It just assumes you know how to do that.

Some might argue that in this light, instruction manuals are useless, but I think there's significant value in the physical artifact. A little booklet with some words from the team, some general lore stuff. The decline of physical music sales has led to a loss of connection to artists, and I think physical instruction manuals served a similar purpose.
 
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SHaines

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Surely there were others like me in the world, so let's find out. I would always (yes, always) read the game manual cover to cover before ever launching a game. I genuinely miss those really robust game manuals and associated posters that were maps of the world.
 
Jan 13, 2020
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I definitely miss the old manuals that came with games, and hold on to the ones I still have. They used to hold so much valuable information, had little bits of fun trivia, and were sometimes books unto themselves.

Take for example the Microsoft Flight Simulator 4.0 manual. That thing was a legitimate book with a full beginner flight course jammed into it, along with a complete game manual, maps with the locations and frequencies of all the VHF radio stations, a map of every airport that also listed its runway numbering and layout, a section on acrobatic flying, and an intro course on how to fly a glider among other things. I spent many hours just pouring over the manual, and to this day I'm still impressed by how comprehensive and informative it is. Nothing comes close.


Couple more examples:

The Sim Earth manual, a spiral bound book that was over 200 pages long. The Civilization III Complete manual, again a small but thick paperback book that included a tutorial chapter as well as strategy tips. Silent Hunter 3 included a map of the entire playable Atlantic, noting on it trade routes as well as Allied defense coverage throughout the war, and dividing it into the sectors that were used in the game itself, making it easy to plot your patrols and get your bearings.

Probably one of my favorite manuals is the one that came with Super Mario Bros. Deluxe for the Game Boy Color. This is because it included the story of the game, as well as little descriptions of each enemy. That's right, SMB has a backstory! Did you know that most bricks and ? blocks are in fact enchanted Mushroom People? Or that Goombas are in fact mushrooms that betrayed the Mushroom Kingdom to work for the Koopa? Here's a link to the manual if you want to read the whole thing.
 
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Rogue Leader

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Surely there were others like me in the world, so let's find out. I would always (yes, always) read the game manual cover to cover before ever launching a game. I genuinely miss those really robust game manuals and associated posters that were maps of the world.
Well sort of. First off back in the day installing the game was 30-45 minutes of swapping floppies and unpacking files, so often I'd read through at least some of the manual back then. Then I would usually try the game, not have a clue what I'm doing, THEN read the manual, then start over.
 

jpishgar

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Nov 24, 2019
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The worst was when you lost the manual, but getting into the game involved entering a code or a glyph sequence that was only found in the manual. Simon the Sorcerer was one of the roughest. Little objects in little compass points on each page. To start the game, you had to enter what went where. Woe betide you if you lost the precious manual.
 
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Rogue Leader

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The worst was when you lost the manual, but getting into the game involved entering a code or a glyph sequence that was only found in the manual. Simon the Sorcerer was one of the roughest. Little objects in little compass points on each page. To start the game, you had to enter what went where. Woe betide you if you lost the precious manual.
That was the fun part because thats when you dug into the executable file to see if you could just break it!
 
Jan 13, 2020
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The worst was when you lost the manual, but getting into the game involved entering a code or a glyph sequence that was only found in the manual. Simon the Sorcerer was one of the roughest. Little objects in little compass points on each page. To start the game, you had to enter what went where. Woe betide you if you lost the precious manual.
Same with Sim Earth, to start the game you had to enter a random planet fact from the Planet Data Tables. What made it worse was that the data tables seemed to be based off of real world data; how long it takes Jupiter to orbit the sun doesn't seem like something a developer would just make up. This gave you a false sense of hope, especially as Google started to become more prevalent, because you can find the answers elsewhere! Sadly not. I don't know if the data tables were slightly altered on purpose to prevent that sort of mischief, or if just the code questions had made up answers, but it was impossible to use real world data to bypass that DRM. At least that's how it felt when I was ten.
 
Jan 15, 2020
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I remember being shocked to learn as a child that people existed who didn't read the books before playing the games, and that some of these were kids I counted among my friends.
 
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Jan 16, 2020
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I work at an independent used video game store and indeed game instruction booklets are dying. Honestly they've been dying since the PS3/360 days. They've all but disappeared from modern games really, you're lucky if you even get a little slip of paper in a new game. I think the decline coincided with the rise of digital distribution.

However Limited Run Games (if you've ever heard of them) include instruction booklets in all the games they publish. They do small batch runs of indie games for ps4 , ps vita and switch. Honestly it's a great resource for indie developers who want physical releases of their games but aren't "big enough" to have a major publisher do it. There are other similar companies out there doing the same thing and I'm glad they're keeping the art of instruction manuals alive, as well as providing an outlet for indie developers. But of course I'm only talking about console games. With PC Games you're lucky to find a physical copy anywhere lol.
 

Rogue Leader

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With PC Games you're lucky to find a physical copy anywhere lol.
Funny enough I bought a physical copy of Mass Effect Andromeda because it was $10 vs buying it on Origin or whatever which was $30. So I get the box, open it and guess whats inside. A slip of paper with a key printed on it to download it from Origin! lol.
 
Jan 16, 2020
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Funny enough I bought a physical copy of Mass Effect Andromeda because it was $10 vs buying it on Origin or whatever which was $30. So I get the box, open it and guess whats inside. A slip of paper with a key printed on it to download it from Origin! lol.
Jeeze! The least they could've done is give you a disc with the download code, I mean it's not expensive to manufacture a blu-ray lol
 

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