I believe that it is now time to take a moments silence to mark the death of a constant companion, one which has been with video games since it all began! The instruction manual.
For many years now, it has been in ill health and largely ignored but it has doggedly stuck by us like a travelling companion as we raided tombs, beat up aliens, took over liberty city and saved the world, again! Sure, the PC games have long forsaken the printed manual but it always had a home with the console games!
But now, it seems that it has reached the end of it's life and it's ready to go. Not with a bang, but with a whimper!
What caused this "sudden" revelation? What else, Modern Warfare 2! A quick glance at the instruction manual for the 360 version of MW2 shows that it's a whole 4 pages long. 4 PAGES!!!! Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Admittedly, the humble instruction manual was never an essential item for most games. Back in the 8 & 16 bit era, when 80% of all games were variations on the 2D platform game, all the player needed to know was what the jump button was and what was the other button did (usually shoot) so he didn't need to read the instruction manual to play the game. He could, however, read it to gain some backstory on the game setting, seeing as most games pretty much threw you into the thick of things!
The other, now forgotten, use of the instruction manual was due to it's last few blank pages where gamers would furiously scribble passwords, hints and cheats to help themselves along the way!
A look at my SNES Megaman X (and X2) instruction manual shows a mountain of passwords to let me progress from where I left off, back before the advent of the memory card!
There were some notable exceptions to the rule, however, where the manual not only was useful, but was required reading. Like in Flashback for the MegaDrive/Amiga/SNES
Flashback was one of my earliest memories of a context sensitive control system, where one button could do multiple tasks. I vividly remember reading the manual and it describing the "A" button on my megadrive as the "action" button. Pretty apt considering it was responsible for everything from operating lifts to jumping to shooting my gun!
The single button did so much it was impossible to work out everything by yourself so the manual became a "must read" as there was no tutorial to explain everything within the game.
But then, with increasingly more complicated controls, the developers figured it would be easier to created tutorial levels within their games which taught the player how to control their character in the game. And with it's last remaining use taken away from it, the manual started it's descent into oblivion!
Except when Gran Turismo came out in Europe...
Despite having the license system as a test and tutorial rolled into 1, SCEE chose to print a massive manual detailing everything you could ever want to know about driving and tuning your car in GT. In fact, very little content for for the game itself and it instead focused on explaining driving techniques and what the various tuning options would actually do to your car!!
The japanese version had to make do with the bare bones of controller layout and menu explainations.
Nowadays, it is almost expected for games to have either a tutorial level or popup notifications in game to help them learn the ropes just by jumping in. Storage media have long since rendered the password system of old obsolete and the storytelling abilities of the medium as a whole have improved so much that back history and settings can be done as part of the overall game itself so the manual is simply no longer needed!
The effort placed into making instruction manuals, even now, can often be clearly seen. Many games have quite in depth instructions, far more than what the tutorial provides yet players can easily work such things out for themselves with a little experimentation. One has to wonder "why make all that effort?"
Some recent titles have tried to spice things up a little, with the GTA series having fake "adverts" in their manuals to cryptically help the player and Metal Gear Solid 4 gave basic instructions in a (kinda cool) manga within the manual.
But these are the exceptions rather than the norm. Chances are, most instruction manuals in games are left unopened and are simply left in the box.
In some ways, it's amazing that they have lasted this long anyway!!
Perhaps is it now time for the instruction manual to move on. I doubt many gamers would notice if titles no longer included them in the packaging but I, for one, would miss them.
Goodnight Sweet Prince...