“It gave you information about controls, but it did more than that,”
December 6, 2017 7:44 PM   Subscribe

A Eulogy for the Video Game Manual [Cultured Vultures] “There is something quite cold and sterile about video game packaging today. Sure, the artwork is occasionally nice and cases are becoming smaller, sleeker – easier to store on the shelfs. But there is just something a bit off about them. They are merely methods of storing the disc or cartridge, which sounds an odd thing to criticise, given that is their primary function, though it seems justified. I think most would agree that the removal of the instruction booklet is one thing that is missed most.”

• An Ode To Instructions: Why I’ll Miss Video Game Manuals [Uproxx]
“Manuals used to be the ultimate incentive to buy a game new. The manual was almost always missing from used games, and rentals usually replaced the manual with a photocopy or a lame one-page button layout guide. Everyone I knew as a kid had played Punch-Out (and claimed to be able to beat Mike Tyson) but only one super-rad kid (who sadly wasn’t me) actually owned the manual. Owning a game and owning the game and the manual were worlds apart on the coolness scale. I find it perplexing that the video game industry is doing away with manuals at a time when they’re absolutely manic about the evils of used games. Guys, the manual was your best weapon against used games for a good 20-years — maybe turning your back on it for the sake of saving 25-cents on printing costs is a bit short sighted. Ah, but this old man does go on.”
• Whatever Happened to Video Game Manuals? [Den of Geek]
“This was a time before tutorials were ingrained within games themselves and there was little to no internet usage, games started up and if you hadn’t referred to the manual, it was a case of working out the controls by trial and error. These days most games feature detailed in-game tutorials or dedicate entire levels to getting us accustomed to the controls. Now, if you purchase a physical copy of a game the manual enclosed is barely a manual, more of a flimsy booklet with boring legal stuff in it and a reminder not to have a seizure. They provide us with useful advice such as, take regular breaks and don’t sit too close to the screen, you stupid technophile! Of course, those of you who had to wrestle with intricately folded, manual leaflets for Commodore 64 games on terrible quality paper, my heart goes out to you. Especially as I can only imagine the rage you felt when attempting to re-fold and place them back into the cassette case without ripping or damaging them.”
• Even Nintendo Seems To Be Abandoning Game Instruction Manuals [Kotaku]
“On the Switch, it doesn’t appear that Nintendo is even making the effort to make these digital manuals anymore. In a change from the 3DS and Wii U, there doesn’t even appear to be a system-wide option for accessing manuals. Trying to access any possible digital manuals the way we could on Nintendo’s prior systems is futile. If you click the plus button on a Switch controller while highlighting a game’s icon on the system menu, you’ll get a list of options for reading safety warnings and copyright info, but nothing about how to play the game. We asked Nintendo about this a few times over the last week, while also asking them lots of other questions about the Switch. Some they answered, but we’ve yet to get comment about what Nintendo’s policy is regarding instruction manuals on the system. We’re left to wonder: maybe Nintendo doesn’t think they’re necessary anymore?”
• Nintendo Switch retail boxes are an ocean of wasted space [Ars Technica]
“Of course, packaging for physical video games has always had a decent amount of empty space. Historically, that's come partly out of a desire to include large instruction booklets and supporting material, and partly it's out of a marketing desire to make the product stand out on the shelves (we're looking at you, big box PC games). That said, the Nintendo Switch packaging takes this trend to a ridiculous extreme. A Switch cartridge measures about 31mm x 21mm x 3mm, slightly smaller than a 35mm x 33mm x 4mm 3DS cartridge. That tiny Switch cartridge only takes up about 1 percent of the total volume of its game box (170mm x 104mm x 10mm). What's more, the box doesn't include any instruction booklet, registration card, legal health warning, or other materials that might make use of some of that extra space (the original Nintendo DS boxes even used some of that empty space for optional Game Boy Advance cartridge storage). This won't be true of all Switch games, though; The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth has promised to include a 20-page booklet inspired by that for the original NES Legend of Zelda with its Switch release.”
• The Lost Art of the Video Game Instruction Manual [The Artifice]
“Game developers communicate very differently with their players in contemporary gaming, where on average, a game will begin with at least a few minutes worth of cutscenes, dialogue, and world building. Due to increasingly progressive technology, games such as Final Fantasy XIII (which actually did come with a well-written instruction manual, albeit without anything the game does not already convey to players) can have cinema-quality cutscenes that last longer than ten minutes, with exquisite, action-packed visuals and voice acting. The instruction manual for Final Fantasy XIII introduces both the game world and its protagonists, but there is no need to resort to the manual as the game gives a better, and certainly more eye-popping, introduction. In this way, game manuals are obsolete.”
• The Death of the Manual [IGN]
“It's yet another example of the anti-consumer tendencies of big companies under the guise of fictional "green initiatives," and I don't want anyone to get it mixed up. Apart from the use of instruction manuals, and what they may mean (or not mean) to us, let's get one thing straight: any publisher who decides to forego including printed instruction manuals with their games will save the money they have to spend on authorship of the document, putting it together, publishing it, et cetera and so on. And you better believe that none of that savings will be passed on to the consumer. You can take that to the bank. But I also agree with Levi that much of my love of the instruction manual is also tethered to nostalgia. Who can forget going to the game store or the toy store as a child, grabbing a game, and sitting in the back seat of your mom's car, NES box in hand, prying it open to get to the coveted instruction manual? It's strange, because games back then were far more simple in their control schemes and overarching play themes, and yet, instruction manuals were given a lot of love by both the publisher and the gamer.”
• SNES Classic's game manuals are now online, and they're wonderful [Polygon]
“As it did with the NES Classic, Nintendo has posted the manuals for all its SNES Classic games online. With the exception of the Star Fox 2 manual, which has some interactive elements and interesting behind-the-scenes pieces, all the instruction booklets are presented as PDFs. Better still, EarthBound’s manual (direct PDF link) is actually the 135-page strategy guide. If you ever wanted to know the full story behind Donkey Kong Country, which begins, “It was a dark and stormy nite,” now’s your chance. “Any original instruction manuals included with this software are digital reproductions of the original printed manuals,” each booklet says on the last page. “They are as faithful as possible to those documents and feature a bare minimum of edits. Reference may be made to features that can’t be used in this version of the game, or the contact information may no longer be valid. Some copyright information may be out-of-date. Please also note that printed manuals were not always released in multiple languages.” You can view all the SNES Classic game manuals here.”
posted by Fizz (46 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
I remember when Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego came with a copy of the world almanac.

Mine was the previous year's, which was supremely disappointing.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:54 PM on December 6 [9 favorites]


Plus all the manuals used as copy protection: “Type the third word from the ninth page …”
posted by scruss at 7:57 PM on December 6 [16 favorites]


I do have some nostalgia for game manuals (the ones for UFO: Enemy Unknown and Theme Park smelled great!) but today they are completely unnecessary, since the "manual" is included in the first few minutes of gameplay. They are also staggeringly wasteful. I therefore exercise my veto on this matter.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:07 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


I remember an inch thick 3-ring binder (of xeroxed pages) for Microsoft Flight simulator in ~1985.
posted by smcameron at 8:09 PM on December 6 [5 favorites]


This doesn't seem at all mysterious. When games were cramped for space on the cartridge, it made sense to offload some of that to a paper manual. When games had primitive graphics that required players to bring more imagination to the game, a few beautiful illustrations were a big help.

Now you could fit several bookshelves of manuals into a game and hardly notice. You don't need a beautiful illustration of Link brandishing a sword when the game will show you 30 of them every second. Plus you probably have the entire internet in your pocket.
posted by straight at 8:16 PM on December 6 [2 favorites]


From Wikipedia:
Most Infocom games contained "feelies", bonus novelty items included to enhance the immersiveness of the game. The feelies provided with [The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy] included:
  • A pin-on button with "Don't Panic!" printed in large, friendly letters
  • A small plastic packet containing "pocket fluff" (a cottonball)
  • Order for destruction of Arthur Dent's house
  • Order for destruction of Earth written in "Vogon" (actually an English cryptogram written in a thinly-disguised Cyrillic alphabet. The text was nearly identical to that of the English Order for Destruction)
  • Official Microscopic Space Fleet (an empty plastic bag)
  • "Peril Sensitive Sunglasses" (a pair of opaque black cardboard "sunglasses")
  • How Many Times Has This Happened to You?, an advertising brochure for the fictional guidebook/encyclopedia The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Origin did stuff like this as well; to this day I'm fond of the fact that Autoduel came with a tiny little toolbox in the package.
posted by mhoye at 8:21 PM on December 6 [14 favorites]


let's get one thing straight: any publisher who decides to forego including printed instruction manuals with their games will save the money they have to spend on authorship of the document, putting it together, publishing it, et cetera and so on. And you better believe that none of that savings will be passed on to the consumer.

As if publishers aren't already spending several orders of magnitude more to create games than they did back when manuals were printed. "How dare they pocket the huge profit from not printing a manual and still charge us $60 for the game?! They could have at least passed some of that savings on to the consumer by adding multiplayer!" This is some ignorant "LAZY DEVS!!1!" nonsense.
posted by straight at 8:24 PM on December 6 [2 favorites]


My girlfriend and I just watched Top Gun recently and I was lamenting the fact that PS4 doesn’t appear to have any fighter jet games (until the new Ace Combat comes out, anyway). I told her back in the day it seemed like there were all kinds of flight simulator and aerial combat games and that they came with 200+ page manuals, like all the Jane’s flight sim games. I really miss those days. All my N64 and other game manuals are back at home at my parents’ house, including my Metal Gear Solid 1 manual with a specific codec frequency you had to find within it. Good times. My fav thing about old manuals was that there was typically a “notes” section you could write in. When I go back over Christmas I’ll see if I can find any I wrote in as a kid and post them here.
posted by gucci mane at 8:27 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


Oh man, the metal gear solid box frequency!

Also, does anyone else remember the instruction manual for Uniracers? It was a masterpiece, in its way
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:43 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


There was something tangibly delightful about a quick tips manual on shiny cardstock that you'd unfold and and wedge between the desk and monitor so it'd stay open and you wouldn't have to move your eyes too far when you needed a key command or guide.

I will say that I was also one of those self-defeating twits who wouldn't crack open the manual assuming I could just figure things out (well, sure, EVENTUALLY) only to succumb with a certain amount of self-loathing to look something up months into gameplay.
posted by julen at 8:43 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


Infocom feelies - yes! I still have the stone that came with my copy of Wishbringer - well, I have the "white lump of plastic that glows purple in the dark," but still it's pretty cool.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:48 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


Also I'm pretty sure that the first time I was explicitly exposed to the idea that English was gendered, it came through a game manual - an early Wizardy game, I think (Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord?). It actually took the time to point out that it was using "he/his" pronouns throughout but claimed that this was because English was inherently sexist and the reader could substitute "she/her" as needed. I must have been around 10 when I had this game; I don't think I quite got it at the time but the fact that it was in there obviously stuck with me.

Not bad, early 1980s videogame manual writer.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:00 PM on December 6 [5 favorites]


In the 8-bit Ultima boxes you got a map printed on cloth, which was the only way you had of seeing an overview of the whole world. I'm sure supplying a printed map saved many kb of memory vs showing it in the game.

Plus it was awesome.

Also cool were the manuals that were printed in red-on-brown to make them uncopyable on b/w photocopiers. I remember paying like $2 per page to copy them on a then-new colour copier.
posted by GuyZero at 9:06 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


A poured out 40 for such as the Baldur’s Gate 2 manual, with its joyful editorial notes from Elminster and Volo.
posted by invitapriore at 9:08 PM on December 6 [4 favorites]


Mario Maker came with a beautiful manual that pulled off the trick of hinting at a lot of things a person could do with their sandbox without giving everything away, but rather inspiring creativity. Leave it to Nintendo, I guess.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:21 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


Got my digital copies of Bard's Tale I-III last night and they included digital copies of the manuals. (but oddly, no digital copy of the map of Skara Brae which was on the original package).

Missed those manuals.
posted by drewbage1847 at 9:24 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


When manuals were copy protection, almost no one had a scanner and pretty much no one at all had anything like a digital camera. Much less a cost effective way of sharing that data. Most people couldn't even print graphics at all outside of really low res dot matrix stuff.

People did photocopy manuals, but note that many manuals were full color or had (heh) photocopy protection schemes like using red ink on contrasting backgrounds to prevent copying the manual.

Printed manuals wouldn't do much for copy protection today considering nearly everyone has a 10+ megapixel camera attached to a pocket supercomputer attached to a high speed global network. That would last about however long it took to open a box and start snapping photos.

Most Infocom games contained "feelies", bonus novelty items included to enhance the immersiveness of the game. The feelies provided with [The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy] included:

I've mentioned this on MeFi in a few places, but my very first introduction to HHGTTG at all was the Infocom game. I was incredibly confused by the contents of the box. It was also a Christmas gift, so 12-ish YO me was also kind of sheepishly and awkwardly "OK, so, WTF is all of this? Either my mom is insane or thinks I'm insane, or possibly both. 'Hey, thanks mom! A computer game! I have... no idea what this is.'"

Playing the game itself did not help my confusion at all, either. None of it made a lick of sense until I finally discovered the first book. In a book store in Salt Lake City. On a very religious youth camp kind of thing. Where that book had me laughing so hard at so many things I just couldn't explain to the people around me because it would just start raging arguments and it generally cemented my brain in atheist-ish mode.

Of course, now, I really still wish I had that game box and everything. Especially the "Don't Panic" button, which I probably would have worn to pieces by now anyway.

I always wished they'd put a small, unassuming lead or pewter model of the Heart of Gold in the box, since Arthur has it in his pocket from the beginning in most of the story lines, you know, the thing he keeps throwing away and finding in his pocket again.


Back to the manuals as awesome game components, I wonder if this is something that would be good for indie and steam game publishers. People could get wildly creative, and it's much, much easier these days to, say, get a nice poster printed. Or even a cloth map. Or to get a bunch of little wood, metal or plastic tokens or toys lasercut or even molded.

There's even more opportunity for small, affordable interactive widgets that could talk to a game on a PC, console, phone or tablet, including mixed augmented reality stuff.

Granted, delivering a bunch of physical objects to people is also logistically a lot more difficult than letting a server distribute the digital file you uploaded.
posted by loquacious at 9:41 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


It is so sad that the next generation will never know the dismissive pleasure of typing RTFM.
posted by fairmettle at 9:49 PM on December 6 [5 favorites]


Any discussion of video game manuals requires a mention of Homeworld, whose manual was full of backstory and worldbuilding. The single-player story was already one of the best-executed RTS campaigns ever to that point (and still holds up, I think), and the manual just put it over the top.
posted by egregious theorem at 9:57 PM on December 6 [2 favorites]


The most recent game I've seen with anything resembling a manual is this year's The Signal from Tölva which came with a pretty interesting lorebook detailing its futuristic post-Singularity setting. Pretty good for a game that could essentially be described as "S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky except with robots".

(as a STALKER fan this is intended as pretty high praise)
posted by neckro23 at 10:09 PM on December 6 [4 favorites]


I'm a bit meh on the actual manuals, but the maps I do miss. Especially the few games that had cloth maps. (Why were they printed on cloth, though?)
posted by Harald74 at 10:29 PM on December 6


I'm currently working on the 'spiritual sequel' to King of Dragon Pass, Six Ages, and the developer still believes in manuals. I keep trying to convince him to add more information to the in-game advice system on the assumption that no one will read the manual... no, not even if there's a section titled 'Even if you don't read manuals, read this!'

So if you play Six Ages and figure out how to add extra trade routes without reading the manual, thank me!
posted by shirobara at 10:35 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


DingoMutt ...the stone that came with my copy of Wishbringer - well, I have the "white lump of plastic that glows purple in the dark,"

It was a magical lump of glow in the dark plastic. I was sad when I realized that I'd lost mine. And my Infocom box copy of Zork as well. Even if I was terrible at text adventures.

On the other hand, in a thrift store a few years ago I did score a copy of Planetfall with the feelies intact.
posted by monopas at 10:40 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


I miss big, lumpy manuals. Counterpoint: I don't recall the last time I actually read one. I've finished Far Cry 2 yesterday (after quitting on the game for something like 5 years due to the sheer number of game-breaking bugs) and noticed my copy has a map of the two areas. Even considering the map on the game is hard to use compared to other open-world games, I never bothered to actually pick the printed map - would probably fall back on a hi-res image found on google maps on my phone, although using either like it that (on top of my legs/stomach) would be unnecessarily meta.
Plus, game controls are far more standardized across genres now than they were on previous generations, and have tutorials and training modes. Why waste trees?

For releases that are 100% digital and the disc by itself is worthless, and it's likely one of those CDKey sites have safe, legit codes to use for half the retail price, I wish companies added some value and made something like the limited edition artbooks with the download code inside (a bit like musicians 10 years ago exploited a loophole and released books with a "bonus" audio CD because the VAT for books was IIRC 5% vs 17% for music). They could make up for the space by selling the regular version as a scratch-off plastic credit card thingy behind the counter. It works fine for Google Play/Apple Store/Steam/basically anything that allows to buy stuff without inputting a credit card.
posted by lmfsilva at 11:25 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


@egregious theorem: I wish I could give you all the favorites. I think that the unfamiliar names in Homeworld really put me in the setting, while Sands of Kharak defaulted to boring Anglo names like Rachel and Jacob that turned me off so much I immediately returned it.



The manual for Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri will always have a special place in my heart.

When my older brother first got the game for us we were still relatively recent immigrants and I certainly didn't have the language skill to understand everything that was going on. Between growing up cognitively and learning a foreign language more and more of the manual opened up to me as time went on and it was awesome.

It's a hefty book with the usual beginning section of going through all the menu items and what all the options were and such, which was necessary because tooltips were not in vogue at that time or something? But then there were also really minute details for stuff like the periods of rotation/revolution for the Alpha Centauri celestial bodies, rates of steel penetration and power sources for the weapons, a reading list from the devs for what inspired them as well as a mini developer diary, a fictional short story that detailed the runup to the beginning of the game, and so on.

The love that the people who worked on that game really shows through everywhere you look, especially in the writing and voice acting. And it's really unfortunate that nowadays the economics of game development frequently means that this kind of stuff gets put aside because 1) there's no obvious positive impact on the bottom line that you can point to unlike with DLC, multiplayer, loot boxes, etc. and 2) everyone else is trying to do things as efficiently as possible so it's a real risk to devote resources to extras.
posted by coolname at 11:59 PM on December 6 [2 favorites]


I rememberr that the game In Search of the Most Amazing Thing came with an actual little novella-type “diary” of your lost uncle. It may have been one of the first real books I sat down and read in an afternoon.
posted by blueberry at 12:19 AM on December 7


Flying Corps included a reprint of Practical Flying: Complete Course of Flying Instruction first published in 1918. You can't beat that with ingame manuals and tutorials and whatnot.

But printing and shipping physical books costs money and it's a deal breaker, as coolname wrote.
posted by hat_eater at 12:23 AM on December 7 [2 favorites]


And it's really unfortunate that nowadays the economics of game development frequently means that this kind of stuff gets put aside...

You guys everything you’re talking about still exists, they just package it up with some junky trinkets and sell it to you as the collector’s edition
posted by danny the boy at 12:38 AM on December 7 [2 favorites]


Nostalgia runs rampant amongst videogame communities, more so than any other creative medium I can think of.

Disagree with the author here given the popularity of comic book movies, vinyl records, Stranger Things, westerns, remakes, or vaporwave.

I do miss video game manuals though, at least the well done ones with diagrams and tables and artwork. When my parents kicked me off the computer I could switch to reading the manual.

Baldur's Gate had a good one (PDF)

More recently, the manuals for Zachtronics games (TIS-100 and Shenzhen:I/O) are pretty cool, designed to be printed out and used with the game. A Kickstarter reward for Shenzhen came with a physical manual binder.
posted by JauntyFedora at 1:01 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


Man, I miss the big chunky ring-bound manuals you used to get with games. SimEarth's alone was over two hundred pages. Oh, and the maps. I actually used to have Morrowind's map framed next to my computer so I could refer to it while I played.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:27 AM on December 7 [3 favorites]


I miss manuals so much! Also strategy guides. I spent many a happy hour in middle school not paying attention to class and just reading and re-reading the Final Fantasy 7 strategy guide until it was falling apart. Those were good days.

I met a guy a couple years ago here in Philly that was making these awesome little wearable buttons with cut out sections of stuff from old video game manuals and stuff in them. I have one from the SMB3 manual that's super rad and one from an old Calvin and Hobbes comic, with Calvin fighting his spinach.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:07 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


It is so sad that the next generation will never know the dismissive pleasure of typing RTFM.
I mean, other things still have manuals. Presumably some tech person out there can still "RTFM(P?)" at a newbie, and maybe the modern video game equivalent is "RTFW"... or "PTFT", maybe? Hm.
posted by inconstant at 6:57 AM on December 7 [2 favorites]


I wrote game manuals, and designed quick key cards. It was one of my favorite career periods where I got to combine multiple passions and get paid for it. As a gamer since the Grue days, I miss manuals.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 7:03 AM on December 7 [5 favorites]


I've finished Far Cry 2 yesterday (after quitting on the game for something like 5 years due to the sheer number of game-breaking bugs) and noticed my copy has a map of the two areas.

Wow, that's a shame. The reveal that there's an entire second area bigger than the first was one of the coolest surprises in that game. (And the in-game map is so great, the way it makes you look at it in-game so you have the possibility of things like driving into the ditch because you were looking at the map instead of watching the road.)

there were also really minute details for stuff like the periods of rotation/revolution for the Alpha Centauri celestial bodies, rates of steel penetration and power sources for the weapons, a reading list from the devs for what inspired them as well as a mini developer diary, a fictional short story that detailed the runup to the beginning of the game, and so on

Games like Breath of the Wild, Bethesda RPGs, Bioware RPGs, and quite few others have just as many little details of lore to be found in the game with the added bonus of not spoiling any of them before you encounter them in the game.

I loved manuals, awesome box art, big fold-out maps, and my Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses and Don't Panic Button (both of which I still have). But I think when it's done right, having maps, tutorials, tool-tips, help screens, and lore that needs to be discovered in the game can be better than having that stuff in printed form.
posted by straight at 7:14 AM on December 7


Yeah, I'm a big fan of in-game tutorials. Probably the print game manual that I used the most was the one for City of Heroes, even though eventually game updates and extensions rendered it almost useless, because I was relatively new to MMORPGs and the sheer number of choices for character creation were easier with something physical to refer to. The only time I use manuals now is for the relatively small number of physical-media games that I have for my console, and that almost completely to learn the mapping of a particular game to the controller. The first Mass Effect game's manual was pretty useless, since it didn't mention the game's most useful function--that you could use the Mako's cannon as a very-long-range, very powerful, and completely stable sniper rifle--not to mention a lot of other particular features, and the subsequent games in the franchise spent the first couple of missions demonstrating and giving practice in various game functions.

I also like "feelies" that come with games, but those seem to be reserved now for the deluxe boxed versions. Some of them can be pretty impressive; the Duke Nukem Forever "Balls of Steel" edition came with some nice merch, but I'm glad that I didn't go for it because the game itself is apparently a complete piece of shit.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:16 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


I still have my Su-27 Flanker manual.

But I wish I still had my Homeworld manual.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:31 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


At the time, I really enjoyed the extras that came with Space Quest 2 (Space Piston comic), Space Quest 4 (Space Piston Magazine), and Space Quest 5 (Galactic Enquirer tabloid).
posted by Kabanos at 9:06 AM on December 7


Now, not so much, but I still like the idea.
posted by Kabanos at 9:07 AM on December 7


"- easier to store on the shelfs"

"Shelfs"?? Proofread much?

Also I still have a few old games with the old boxes and I always hated the amount of pointless packaging that went in to games. Stupid old people in advertising and marketing who can't adapt to new things, and don't realize that people will still buy the game if it's just in a jewel case. A digital manual would be fine, but no, the fundamentally evil "bigger is better" maxim had to be applied to this too.
posted by Zack_Replica at 11:27 AM on December 7


The large boxes were there to prevent (or discourage) theft, and once you had a large box, you needed to put something in it, or people felt cheated. So we got weird plastic parts-holders and an indent for the disc, for the manual, for a couple of dice or crystals that looked like something in the game, etc., so they had an excuse to package a game that would fit in your pocket in a box that absolutely wouldn't fit invisibly under your jacket.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:45 AM on December 7


I think there's still a plastic bag with a shitload of nineties vintage manuals in my parent's attic. There was something very pleasurable to a good manual, if it went beyond tawdry instructions to include a bit of worldbuilding. Some games I never played beyond the manual, like that not quite legal copy of an early Elite clone, which promised riches in the descriptions but we never got past the copy protection.

The manual of either the first or second Wing Commander a friend brought to school was a thing of beauty too. Always was envious of him for it.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:19 PM on December 7


It's about mindspace for me. You could read eg Dungeon Keeper's manual while not playing and Lords of Magic had a massive manual with mythology vaguely related to the game (Tolkien style).

I was certainly disappointed when the latest Zelda was the first one without a manual.
posted by ersatz at 2:11 PM on December 7 [1 favorite]


A summer birthday meant I would often get games while vacationing with family, and it would be weeks before I was back home where the computer lived and could actually play them. I have fond memories of pouring over the Maxis manuals for '90s era Sim-whatever games. Especially SimTower and SimPark. Good times.
posted by Wretch729 at 2:35 PM on December 7


Especially the few games that had cloth maps. (Why were they printed on cloth, though?)

Cloth maps are A Thing in the real world. I recall reading specifically that military pilots would be given cloth maps of the region where they'd be flying so that if they got shot down, they'd have a map that wouldn't disintegrate if it got wet. A cloth map seems like it would be a useful item to have in any situation where you're trying to navigate outside of a waterproof vehicle.
posted by shponglespore at 5:00 PM on December 7 [1 favorite]


The large boxes were there to prevent (or discourage) theft

No, it was all about retail shelf space. Other than some models where the cover is just sleeve for a chocolate style box or ones that had convoluted inner bits made out of cardboard, it was not that hard to steal the discs. In the late 90s a friend in school and one of his buddies raided a few chain stores during slow hours (when only the cashier was present) by swiftly cutting the edges the bottom of the shrinkwrap with an exacto knife, taking out the game discs and stuffing them in a windbreaker pocket, and putting the box back into place. By their accounts, before one of them tried to do it alone and was caught red-handed, they cost those stores thousands in missing discs.

(and because this is a relatively small town, I once was talking to a costumer that was likely a victim of them - he had bought a game on one of those stores around the same time, and only noticed the shrinkwrap was gone at home and the store initially refused to do anything about it because 9 out of 10 times "I bought this and the disc is missing!" is a scam, and HQ only contacted him later on offering him a refund or a replacement to settle the claim - probably after they had a few more complaints or did a stock check.)
posted by lmfsilva at 5:55 PM on December 7 [1 favorite]


shponglespore, some of those pilots had the cloth maps sewn into the linings of their spiffy brown leather jackets, along with "blood chits" that promised a reward to friendly civilians.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:37 PM on December 7


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