This is something that I’ve been keeping my eye on for a pretty long time now. Every time I get a new game, I always make a point to look and see if it even has a manual at all these days. More and more I’m seeing less manuals in games in general. The three Xbox One titles I have physical copies of, none have manuals at all. Now I understand why publishers are moving away from manuals – they cost extra money to print, green business practices are all the rage these days, and I think they just want to put everything necessary onto the actual game disc.
But there’s more to this than just losing a place to stick the controller layout, credits and legal terms. One of my favorite parts of buying a game back in the day was reading through the manuals on my way home – getting familiarized with the story and setting and characters and game mechanics well before I ever put the game in. All of that is lost now, which has actually affected game design. I fully believe that as manuals have disappeared, game developers have been forced to put some of that information into the actual core game. Tutorial levels have gotten longer and more in depth – not to mention more direct with how they are presented. There’s a joke image floating around online of World 1-1 from Super Mario Bros. with a text box explaining that the A Button makes Mario jump. A few years ago, that really was a joke image, but these days, text boxes like that are starting to become the norm – even in simple games like that.
This isn’t an anti-tutorial piece either, not by any means. I actually believe that a tutorial level can add to the value of a game, if it’s done correctly. I think that the first two Modern Warfare games do it well – it’s a simple tutorial, but it makes sense within the game world. Same thing for Titanfall – it introduces some of the new mechanics, but in a way that makes sense within the universe. The first BioShock does it in a similar manner – there’s not really a tutorial level, but as new gameplay mechanics are introduced, Atlas helps you with them – using the key phrase “Would Ya Kindly” which ties into the story and game world. I would much rather play through a tutorial like any of them, than a game where simple mechanics are explained through pop-up boxes that stop gameplay. Essentially, I want the game developers to teach me how the game works in a way that fits within the confines of the universe they’ve spent so much time creating.
I don’t think we’ll ever see full game manuals like we used to, unless green printing drops in price tremendously and there’s a strong market demand; but I really think that there still is a place for them in gaming. I also truly believe that by removing them, publishers have affected the way that developers create games – and not always in good ways. This is one of those gaming trends that is still evolving, we just have to wait and see where we go with it.