What Are Your Favourite Video Game Manuals?

What Are Your Favourite Video Game Manuals?
Image: Reddit

As the digital age becomes all encompassing and steamrolls us all, the beauty of the video game manual — that tactile, essential document that often sold you on a franchise as much as the video game itself — has faded.

It’s not a completely lost art, and there are some developers and publishers who understand that special, collector’s editions should come with a book you can treasure and hold. But because these aren’t things that are being printed en masse, the need and the emphasis to create beautiful, sprawling, detailed little bibles just isn’t there.

And that’s a real shame, because manuals themselves have often been a work of art. Civilization 2‘s manual was one I remember growing up with. It was essential often because it was faster to flick through the hard copy of the tech tree than it was in-game. Civ‘s improved on that front a bit, and PCs are more powerful than ever, but there was still a special joy in having that book on hand. (And the manual had other uses: it was comprehensive enough that an AI got a 79% win rate just by going over the instructions.)

But that’s a deeply personal anecdote, and one that doesn’t even come close to appreciating how superb some manuals were. Take Metal Gear Solid 2, which had a whole instruction manga talking you through the controls and stealth mechanics:

video game manuals
Image: Reddit

I was always partial to the sketch drawings in the Heroes of Might and Magic 3 manual. The detailed lines of angels, demons, black dragons and other mystic creatures was incredibly well done, but sadly Ubisoft didn’t incorporate any of that brilliance into the manual for the HD re-release. Fortunately, GOG still has the manual for the original and its two expansions.

I know plenty of artists would look at this and think about how much further these drawings could be taken — but I absolutely loved this at the time when I was a kid. And it’s a great use of all that concept art that would have just been filed away on a drive or a drawer somewhere.

Going further back, the original manual for The Hobbit — one of the first games out of Australia and one of the most successful — was something else for its time.

Image: Museum of Computer Adventure Game History

The Hobbit was a text based adventure, so the manual itself didn’t have a great deal in the way of actual art. But what was neat about it was the sheer precision with which it went to explain things.

Image: Museum of Computer Adventure Game History

And then you’ve got companies like Nintendo, which have a history — one that’s receding fast, sadly — of producing some outstanding illustrations and manuals for their first-party games. Here’s one from New Super Mario Brothers U:

Image: Kotaku

I could go on and on. But I’m curious about your own memories. What were your favourite video game manuals, either growing up or of all-time?

Comments

  • The manual for the the old text adventure Leather Goddesses of Phobos came with scratch and sniff stickers that you used at various points during the adventure. I thought that was pretty neat when I was 13. 😛

  • Age of Empires 2 for me as a history major

    I still have my copy, it was both a manual and a medieval light history book lol

  • Pokemon Blue, cause the classic illustrations of Pokemon were the best

    Megaman (NES/PAL Version), cause the story inside the manual made absolutely no sense, and is no way canon

    Lemmings (DOS), I loved the hand-drawn images of lemmings trying to figure out how to progress through the level

  • Anything by Origin Systems Incorporated were pretty much guaranteed to be great. The manuals for Wing Commander and the various Ultima games were fantastic, and came with great feelies as well.

    Various Infocom text adventures (Like LGoP mentioned above) had fun manuals too written in universe, and had fun mini-examples of gameplay that typically showed how to do something then die horribly.

    Lots of memories of text adventures from the 80s and their manuals being good times.

  • Oh gosh…so many memories. For me, manuals were such a vital part of the gaming experience not only because they showed you the ins and outs of the games, but because sometimes they were your surrogate for the game in the times your parents wouldn’t let you on the computer. Buying a PC game in the mid-90s for me often meant not being able to play it until the weekend and the manual was my only source of entertainment until then. One of my favourites was Buzz Aldrin’s Race Into Space, which was thick AF and had all the details for all the hardware in the game and long explanations about the various types of missions you can undertake. They don’t make ’em like they used to.

  • Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness. roughly 100 pages thick, with 40 pages taken up by installation guide and setting up the various way MP worked and how the game work, then the remaining 60 pages filled with kick arse artwork and lore and story for every single faction, hero and unit. the best though was that the stories both factions were written through the eyes of Gul’dan and Anduin Lothar for the horde and alliance respectivily

  • not my fav, but definitely one of the more metta ones, Assassins Creed 1. It’s pretty basic, coming out at the time where they were in decline, but it had little notes from Lucy and Vidic, with Lucy being the one who wrote it, and Vidic criticising it.

  • I fondly remember driving to the game shop as a teen with the lads, buying a new game and everyone reading through their manuals on the way home. Something that obviously isn’t a thing anymore.

    MGS2 in particular was a favourite, as most things in that game, the care and attention in even the manual was amazing.

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