One of the greatest joys of my youth, when getting a new game was opening the game itself. Not just because I was itching to open it just to play the game, but I looked forward to the content inside or more directly, the game manual. Game manuals offered more then just an instructional helper in order to understand the game better, but it also told you an element of back story to the game, hints towards completing challenges in the game, clues to hidden weapons, treasure, or special moves. But as soon as games moved from the cartridge format to disc, the game manual started to get thinner and thinner to the point now that most games don’t even come with a manual.
Electronic Arts was among the first to go down this road with their sports titles, and it is very well understandable that they did as there is no story in sports games. You just need to know how to play so EA game manuals became simple 4 to 6 page manuals with a layout of button movements, commands and controls. Then I think about a game like The Last of Us, a marvellous game that I believe should be experienced by everyone but will only be experienced by those that have the pleasure of owning a PlayStation 3 for the time being. As good as a game that one is, I’m sure Sony is just waiting for the perfect time to spring an HD version on PlayStation 4 later down the line. To my point though, when you open the case, there’s nothing there. All you’ll find is a warranty card, some Naughty Dog stickers (thanks by the way), and a code for additional outfits for use during multiplayer.
Among the things I’ve learned studying game design, filling in plot holes is very important because its something that critics love to target. Not as often as issues as they may have with game functions, but its still an open wound they aren’t afraid to poke at either. But I remember opening my copy of Final Fantasy III for my Super Nintendo and having so much to read in terms of story, class structures, towns, characters I would meet along the way, spells and weapons, it was like a mini treasure or an ‘Easter Egg’ before that term ever even became to be. But things have changed…..
I can understand the need for companies to cut costs where they are necessary, though I’m still not sure why they started with the large DVD sized cases, then changed to the jewel cases like common music CDs, and now back to the large DVD cases. Personally, I think it would be better to go back to the jewel cases so I can still have a use for my old CD tower and put these games away in a more compact and neater place, but then again I do enjoy the packaging. UGH, I’M SO TORN! Seriously though, the game manual could be seen as a needless item as much of the content for games can be found online.
Marketing for games has changed as well where players will be given a website to go to where more often then not, a visitor to the site will have to register on the site, fill in a bunch of information that they will question why the site needs it in the first place, then finally login and be able to peruse the content of the website. It’s obvious that games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV can’t in any way breakdown their content to a simple game manual. Those games and others like it have a vast and growing community of their own with dozens of helpful items from their direct vendor sites to countless fan sites for those games. Yet I still long for the return of those game manuals.
I even remember when first playing Metal Gear Solid on the original PlayStation, where one of the clues to finding a codec frequency number was on the back of the jewel case and they gave you a clue to in the game of where to find it. It was one of those “how cool is that?” moments, something very genuine and unique which could have been exploited more to have players be more involved with their game on a different level.
Sure we should be conserving more, stop wasting paper and cutting down trees as well as using more eco-friendly plastics as we’ve seen with the much thinner DVD cases rolled out in the past 5 years, but I feel that the use of the game manual could be resurrected to be a more intuitive and more involved tool for players, like a treasure map in a way. Games are an adventure for the most part, so why not give gamers a reason to think about the adventure more when they are away from the game? Perhaps….