The Lost Art Of Instruction Manuals

Instruction manuals used to be a part of the experience of buying a video game. Those days are long gone, and that may not be such a good thing.
Ubisoft announced not too long ago their plans to stop producing instruction manuals for all their titles from here on out. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before other publishers begin to follow suit. While this news bummed me out a bit, I can’t say I blame them, nor can I say there’s any point to continue producing the small insert pamphlets. Back in the day, instruction manuals were needed because development time and resources couldn’t be devoted to in-game tutorials, so including a manual was often needed considering games were still a fledgling art form at that point, and some people had no clue what to do with them.
Developers and publishers took this as an opportunity to enhance the game experience by really putting forth creative thought and execution to the look and design of the instruction manuals.  They served as a great place to recycle and make use of concept art, and in some cases new art was produced for different sections of the manual. With some titles, the accompanying booklet felt almost like a storybook that stood separate from the game- a work of art unto itself.
The most notorious examples of this would be the first party Nintendo releases during the heyday of the NES (Mario, Zelda, etc). The illustrations in the Legend of Zelda manual are some of the most memorable works of art in all of video games. Sadly, the trend faded quickly within the span of about ten years or so, and these days finding an interesting manual is next to impossible. Off the top of my head, the comic pages in the MGS booklets, most Atlus releases, and the GTA booklets come to mind. Outside of those, and a few others, most modern instruction manuals are just plain ugly.
Picking up the regular edition of Alan Wake last week, and taking a look at the collector’s edition beside it, I had a realization. Much of the same experience that came with older games and their booklets has been transferred and re-made into the modern collector’s edition of a title’s release. The included manual? Nothing more than a dumping ground for legal copy and company advertising. If you want the cool stuff… well, you gotta pay extra for it.
It’s business, and the market obviously supports this transition, so I can’t knock them. Still, there’s a part of me that misses how it used to be.

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