On his blog a few days ago, Coyote discussed the golden era when many games came with a hefty manual. Manuals that were fun to read just for themselves, aside from giving information about the game.

Of course, as I pointed out in RTFM, I always go through the manual first, even before installation. These days, there usually isn’t so much to read, though the NWN games were an exception.

But when it comes to “neat stuff”, I’m surprised that Coyote skipped over a company that really did a nifty job on their docs: Infocom. Ah well, maybe he didn’t play many of them way back when.

Most of my old manuals have been packed away, but I still have a couple of examples sitting on the shelf. Witness, for instance. Inside a large envelope were several interesting pieces.

A matchbook (with real matches) from the “Brass Lantern”, with a phone number written on the inside cover. A page from a newspaper (1938; this was a private eye mystery adventure), one sheet, front and back covered with news of the day. An urgent telegram from the client. A suicide note. And the actual manual was done up as “National Detective Gazette” magazine.

Deadline came with a bunch of stuff, including coroner’s report, transcripts of interviews, photos of the crime scene, and more. Infidel, while I didn’t like it, was packed with a personal letter, journal of the main character, a hieroglyphic stone rubbing, and a hand-drawn map of the excavation site, among others.

These items weren’t there just for verisimilitude (though I’m sure the devs had great fun creating them); they were also important clues for the games. Maybe that was all an additional form of copy protection (remember the map from Starcross and the wheel from Enchanter?). Even so, they were a pleasure to read.

As Coyote points out, no one does this anymore. Most manuals today don’t go beyond the basics of installation and basic commands. Digital downloads, of course, don’t have paper manuals at all. Avernum V’s manual is a small pdf, for instance.

I can’t see anyone doing today what Infocom et al. did back in the “good old days”. It takes time and thought to do it right, and what company would want to put in the effort and money? Besides, as I said in RTFM, a lot of gamers don’t have, maybe never had, the patience to read the docs.

Designers can put in all sorts of little “info snippets”, but those don’t have quite the same impact as holding a real thing in your hands. The crime scene photos, the letters – these brought the game to life.

Ah yes, those were the days. We won’t see them again. Sniff. In the meantime, please excuse me. I have to catch up on the news of 1938…

(By the way, Coyote, while PH 1ed and the Wiz manual had the same number of pages, the PH was much smaller type and double columns ;).

Going Beyond The Monitor on Coyote’s blog