A Celebration Of Some Amazing Game Manuals

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.

Falcon 4.0

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.


    So many good memories, I'm going retro.
    Anyone remember Rise of the Dragon?
    The game box came with the five floppy discs, a manual put together like a handbook for amature detectives, and a comic book of the opening sequence to reinforce the comic book style of the game.
    It even had a letters page and fake ads, like a "real man" handmade gun. "We'll make you a real man!" And, just to give the pirates a shock, it also told people how to use some of the in-game gadgets so they wouldn't kill you.
    The manual even featured in the opening sequence, just to highlight how important it was!

    How about the Oddworld titles? All of them had great manuals. And the original Metal Gear Solid for PS1 actually had one of the games radio channels in the manual (or the case, can't remember) which you needed to progress in the game. That definitely broke the wall.

    I will maintain to the day I die that Mech Commander on PC had the best manual ever made. Suitably thick, glossy *colour!* pages in the middle with all the mechs and their stats, info on all the weapons, handy tips... now there was a manual.

    Not to forget the box itself for the game was brilliant, and it came with a bunch of random advertising crap, AND a booster pack of Mech Warrior cards.... it was nearly more than my poor 13 year old mind could handle. Ahhh, the good old days...

    Fallout 2 had like a 100 page long manual. Was fun.

    I've still got that Falcon 4.0 manual on my shelf. Awesome stuff. I remember upgrading my PC and buying a new joystick just for Falcon 4.0. It basically was a full flight manual for an F-16!

    Growing up I always looked forward to opening that new C64 game just so I could smell that new print smell of the manual. Then I'd digest it, cover to cover before playing.

    I'm going to miss the printed manual.

    I treasure my collection of pc rpg manuals. Of special note are Baldur's Gate 2 - the annotation by Elminster and Volo is great, Arcanum - the attention to detail is staggering, there is even several pages of experiments documenting the effects of magic on physics within the game space, and finally Fallout 2, the "Vault-Tec Lab Journal", which is laugh out loud funny, even the weapon descriptions rule.

    The grand Theft auto ones are probably the best ones I've seen, the San Andreas one being the peak.
    I was a little disappointed about the GTA 4 one though. It was funny and in the same format, but it was just to short.

    Diablo was pretty cool, had some concept art & characters/spells that were cut from the game.

    I feel i should get out my WC3 box set aswell and take a companion photo :D

    The WC3 and 4 manuals were bad, a little skinny but they both had a cool story in them (WC3 being an interview with pilot's from the Victory and WC4 having a written prologue). Prviateer 1 had a pretty robust manual going on as well.

    Also you cant ignore things like the original Legend of Zelda manual, that thing was great.

    That and every old ADND game manual was quite the meaty tomb.

    I have a love for Yoshi Story and SM64's booklets. Unfortunately, I lost them over time. D:

    The original Gran Turismo came with a thick booklet describing the science of racing cars, everything. It was amazing how much work had gone into it.

    Another reason for people to pirate imo. If I don't get anything extra with the box then why should I buy from a store and not DD like Steam? And if steam is just the same thing a pirate gets then why buy that?

    Ultima 6 Compendium + Orb of the Moons + Cloth map ftw pleae.

    Not a single mention of Frontier - Elite 2's manuals yet?

    I miss all the old Origin and Sierra manuals and paraphernalia.

    Leisure Suit Larry games manuals.

    Comedic readable "brochures" as piracy protection = better policy than DRM bullshit of today.

    Oh man, all of the Infocom games absolutely rocked. Deadline, Planetfall, Hitchiker's guide... the stuff that came with them was truly awesome.

    Going retro - Earthworm Jim gets my vote.
    The same humour is potrayed in the manual as well right from the first page.

    I remember they had a Table of Contents, Table of Continents, and Contents of Table. haha.

    They even placed in a fake item in the manual called Can O' Worms which gives you a free continue (which subsequently did appear in Earthworm Jim 2).

    Man why do i remember this??

    Baldurs Gate 2
    Frontier Elite 2

    The Warcraft II manual might not have been that thick, but it had some of the best concept art I've ever seen in a manual.

    Mechwarrior 2's manual was fantastic. Can't begin to tell you how many hours I spent poring over that thing.

    I recently bought Arcanum from GOG.com, and I can imagine that the manual would have been fantastic as an actual book, but as a PDF it's way too daunting.

    Ultima III was one of my favourite, full spell books with full description of how to create the spells / potions.

    Megatraveller 2 also had a good manual

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now