Death of the Game Manual


Ubisoft have announced that they are ditching paper manuals for games in favour of electronic on-disc copies. This is sad news. Not that I was particularly fond of paper manuals - they are now mostly just legal boilerplates more than anything to do with the game - but because this means we’re almost at the end of game pack-ins entirely.

I was a little disappointed when games switched to DVD-style cases. Yes, it’s great that publishers finally settled on a standard shape and size for their boxes and my games collection doesn’t look like a fucking cardboard shanty town, but it also meant that game designers couldn’t pack extra things into the game box. Back in the 80s, Infocom games usually came with ‘feelies’. These were ostensibly copy protection, but it’s not fair to say that’s all they were. Rather than the usual, bland, hard-to-photocopy sheets of teeny-tiny numbers for the game to ask you “what is the number in row G, column 16?”, the Infocom feelies also gave you something that felt like an artefact from the game world. It was something physical that helped you identify with the game, made the game come alive and feel more realAnd let’s face it, those Infocom text adventures needed all the help they could get to feel more real.

Looking back, I think most of my favourite games had some sort of pack-in to enhance the player’s experience. For example, the graphic adventure of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade came with a small, 20 or 30 page replica of the grail diary on top of the usual copy-protection. It wasn’t essential and you didn’t need this grail diary to finish the game, but they gave them out anyway. As an 11-year old who was crazy for that game, this cheap, paper copy broke the game’s fourth wall and made the whole experience more real. It felt like treasure.

More recently, there’s Heavy Rain which has you hunting for a serial killer known as the “Origami Killer”, who gets his name from the fact he leaves a little origami figure in the cold, dead hands of his victims. Origami is used as a visual motif for the entire game, right down to the logo to indicate the game is being saved. Even though creator David Cage has a major boner for movies, he ignored the whole ubiquitous floating head idea for the poster, and stuck stuck with a simple image of the origami crane from the game.

When you’re installing the game, a process that can take a few minutes, a message comes up on the screen to tell you to take out the flat sheet of paper packed into the case and, over the course of 12 steps, you’re taught how to make your own origami crane, just like the one from the cover. Things to keep you distracted while your game loads/installs aren’t anything newYou hearing me, Kojima? Watching an old fart smoking for 10 minutes is not fun, but it’s hard not to be impressed by Heavy Rain’s implementation. It’s different, it’s fun. And how difficult was it? It’s a sheet of paper, yet that one sheet of paper enhanced my experience of the game and my overall impression of the care that went into the game.

So today I’m pouring a 40Not literally, obviously. What a waste of booze for game manuals and pack-in tchotchkes. At least we have special editions, right?