No manual for you!


It looks like Ubisoft is ready to deliver a knock-out blow to manuals. At least for some of their games.

Eurogamer notes that Ubisoft’s “green” initiative isn’t without merit: to make a ton of manuals, it takes thirteen presumably standard-sized trees into a process that pumps out 6000 lbs. of CO2 and produces 15000 gallons of waste water. Sounds like something that Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe might be caught swimming in.

Splinter Cell: Conviction will also be one of the last games that will actually have one. Going forward, everything you will need will apparently be shown to you in-game and if you really want to read one, a digitized copy will be provided as well. In recent years, RPGs have been doing a lot of this by actually providing plenty of in-game material, such as “books” and scrolls that can actually be read.

It’s obviously a cost-cutting measure, but it also gives Ubisoft a nice “green” checkmark for the environment at the same time. Not every game really needs one as much as they did in the past, either. For someone that has grown up with manuals bursting with details on the PC, it’s something that I’m going to have to get used to.

In the eighties and nineties, before tech had managed to come closer to helping realize the imaginations of the game developers that had shaped their worlds through it, manuals and little extras like actual amulets, crystals, folding maps, and even fake props such as newspaper clippings helped to further immerse the player. Thanks to better tech, that kind of help is probably no longer as important as it used to be when much of that is now in the actual game.

That, and the fact that gaming is so much larger than it had been before with higher sales required for anything to break even nowadays. Creating that many extras can’t be cheap which is probably a big reason as to why most of the interesting ones are found in CEs and LEs.

Eric Wittmershaus at PressDemocrat also points out that it doesn’t make sense for every game to have one other than those with involved systems, such as an RPG like Dragon Age.

Then again, hint guides have been doubling as manuals by providing the basics with their tables and skill tree diagrams, anyway. But if paperless RPGs do come around, I can only hope they don’t follow FFXIII’s lead with a twenty hour tutorial.

Manuals were awesome back then

Open up a game nowadays and you might get a warranty card disguised as a manual. Get a new computer, and you might get a fold-out poster showing where all of the color coded plugs go. But hop into the Nostalgia Machine, and you might discover how weighty manuals were back then when they couldn’t stuff all of that information into a game or when companies needed to explain how PCs worked with ring bound booklets.

But how about a manual that ranted against the idea of DRM before it was known as DRM? A post on Ironic Sans (thanks BoingBoing), a site run by professional photographer, David Friedman, has a few snippets of a manual for the Franklin Ace 100 from the early eighties that rants against copy protection. Seriously. And this was from a PC manufacturer. Here’s an excerpt:


The rest of the manual was also as humorously written and you can read the whole thing on Ironic Sans. Though the writer probably couldn’t foresee the impact that technology such as torrents, FTPs, usenet, IRC, would bring to the table in conversations on piracy, some of what he says resonates pretty strongly almost thirty years later when brought up against draconian approaches like Ubisoft’s online DRM.

It’s also too bad that no one can get away with even a little humor within manuals due to someone that might take it seriously. It’s probably along the same lines of why the trash talking in ads between console manufacturers had died out. For example, I can bet that you won’t see a PS3 ad making fun of how many discs it takes for Xbox 360 owners to play FFXIII in the same way that Square had openly mocked cartridges (and the Nintendo 64 at the time) with a two page spread for FFVII.


But it would probably have been funny.