As Ubisoft today bids farewell to the printed instruction manual, other publishers will surely follow suit. I, for one, am a little saddened by this, as some of my best memories in gaming involve... reading the manual.
Sounds weird when you type it out like that, I know, but don't you judge me! Just like few things on Earth beat the smell of a new book, few things in gaming beat the thrill of thumbing through a book that served not just as a guide on how to play a game, but at their best, on how to experience a universe.
Sure, these days manuals are a joke, a few pieces of paper, written in 19 languages, crudely telling you which button does what and what laws you're breaking if you sit a cup of coffee on the cover.
But once, they were wonderful.
To mark the occasion, then, here are some of my favourite instruction manuals, from the days when companies actually bothered to put a little work (and a little money!) into them.
What are yours? Keep in mind this is just a snapshot, not a comprehensive "top XX" list, but if I've missed something totally glaring, I'll add it to the collection.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Not all great manuals had to come from the dawn of time. Rockstar put a surprising amount of work into San Andreas' PC edition, with the game box remodelled into a tourist guide to Grand Theft Auto's fictional state. Where the guide began and the manual ended was often a blur, and for this reason it remains one of the few boxed PC titles still in my collection.
The Secret of Monkey Island
Not technically a manual, I know, but I couldn't let a discussion about them pass by without pointing out one of their siblings, the copy-protection device. While some older manuals were themselves a form of copy protection (games prompting you to enter words found on a certain page), Monkey Island went one better and included this code wheel, which was so great it was used again for the game's sequel.
Wing Commander 3
The game's manual wasn't the greatest, but the junk that came with it was. Included with Wing Commander 3 was a range of fictional reference material, like technical specifications for the game's starfighters and even an armed forces newsletter, complete with email addresses for those involved. For a game released in 1993, email addressed was a nice touch.
The manual. You cannot speak of instruction manuals for a video game without mentioning Falcon 4.0's, the colossus of the field. I mean, look at it. It's not a book, it's a tome, a collection of individual booklets giving you everything from detailed instructions on how to fly an F-16 down to the conditions you could expect to face in the game. When I first saw this, my mind could not grasp how heavy the game's box was with this inside it. Then, when I got home and after ten minutes couldn't even get my fighter off the ground, I realised it wasn't just big, it was necessary.