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The Agonizing Death of Video Game Instruction Booklets

Remember getting a game, opening the case and finding an awesomely thick, well-colored and beautifully rendered instruction booklet within. What’s that you say, “barely?”

Yeah, that’s my point. Instruction booklets are becoming a thing of the past in the world of video games, and it is one of the silent deaths in this medium that I think deserves a little more attention and fuss.

I used to love reading video game instruction booklets. When afforded the opportunity to do it today, I’m ecstatic. I don’t know what it is about the singular joy that comes through thumbing into a game manual and reading all the nerdy facts and stats for weapons and enemies, but I just love it. I know I’m not alone.

I’m about to take you through a few of the worst, some of the good and several of the best excuses for gaming instruction booklets we have today.

The Villains

Let’s take a look at the culprits in this gaming culture atrocity. We’ll start with a few examples of decay.

Here is the original Gears of War instruction booklet. It’s big, it’s thick, it’s awesome.

It even features a letter from Cliff Bleszinski and a bit of backstory for the game itself. Inside were weapon descriptions, action instructions, controller layouts, multiplayer parameters and game credits.

Now, here’s the “booklet” for Gears of War 3.

That’s right. It’s 80% legalese. There’s a controller layout and a brief description of the game itself. No art, no letter, no backstory, just blah.

Here’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, another instance of falling from awesome.

The full color comic within was actually solid. It was a prequel to the events in the game and followed Batman and Joker as they made their way to the Asylum.

Batman: Arkham City? A complete waste of time.

Want a really good laugh? How about some EA Sports titles? NHL 12, Madden 12 and FIFA 12. These are probably some of the most mechanically complicated games on the market today, yet their manuals are non-existant.

FIFA 12 features a trifold for the Spanish language.

These are just a few examples from my personal collection. This new mode of offering a zero-page “booklet” and a link to the internet for further perusal is now commonplace. I bet opening 10 new games today would yield roughly nine crappy excuses for manuals.

The Heroes

There are some publishers that actually seem to take pride in producing quality instruction manuals on a consistent basis. Nintendo is one of them. Their games consistently deliver big, well written booklets with full-color art inside. They also package several small pamphlets for their other products and services.

Here is the outside and inside of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword:

Rockstar also takes time to make good manuals. They are full art and great spreads like what you’ll find below in L.A. Noire‘s booklet.

They even take to including full maps of their open world environments. Look at this from Red Dead Redemption:

The opposite side of that map features a large, color poster of one of the game’s characters.

Publishers like these are out there, and they deserve to be recognized and celebrated.

Vigilante Justice

Finally, I wanted to briefly show you what I would consider a solid compromise on the part of one major publisher.

Sony typically doesn’t produce large manuals for their games. They are more than just single page folds in black and white, but they don’t usually include any of the art or backstory I love looking at and reading. However, Sony does make use of the reverse side of their boxart. Sometimes it’s fantastic scenes and imagery that show off behind the clear case interior.

Here’s The Sly Collection:

And here’s Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception:

Other times, Sony produces awesome, reversible art meant to please fans. Here’s the opposite cover for Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One…it may or may not have been hand drawn by Copernicus Qwark.

Why?

I blame Green Thinking for this one. I believe it was Ubisoft that announced a year or so ago that they were going to eliminate manuals from their physical launches because it was, something to the effect of, “better for the environment.”

Maybe. Seems like a pretty convenient thing to get Mother Earthy about to me. Better for the environment? Think about how much money Ubisoft and other publishers save by eliminating the need to print off a full manual in color and place it in every single game case for every single game they make. It’s probably a lot.

But, hey, they backed up their decision with the environment, so complaining about it just makes me look like some fool that loves styrofoam cups and dumping used oil down neighborhood sewers.

I suppose you could argue that a good game doesn’t need an instruction booklet; it should, instead, teach players visually and aurally in the virtual game experience. While I would agree, instruction booklets, to gamers, are about so much more than tutelage.

A great instruction booklet provides backstory for the game. An amazing instruction booklet has concept art, enemy descriptions, item lists, full game maps and clever writing.

These booklets give gamers bathroom reading, something to carry to school and something to flip through while they’re sitting between sessions. When we spend $60 on a gaming experience, we want to be enveloped in that game. That means we want to play it, hear it, see it and read about it.

These current pieces of legalese with repeated boxart and one single fold are, effectively, a waste of time.


Joey Davidson

Joey Davidson leads the gaming department here on TechnoBuffalo. He's been covering games online for more than 10 years, and he's a lover of all...

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