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Manuals

Awhile back I decided to try out Fallout 2, mainly because I had already played Fallout 3 and loved it to bits. I knew that the original two Fallout games were very different than the third, but I figured that I might as well try it out.

Well, as it turns out, I didn’t like it. My main problem with the game was that I didn’t quite understand the interface, and nothing about the interface was explained at all. I had to just learn things on my own, and it quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to get good by doing that. When I talked about this on forums, people told me that I needed to read the manual. The Fallout 2 manual is 166 pages long, and when I said that I didn’t want to read all that, they called me lazy.

That bothers me a lot.

Somebody said to me, “Why don’t you want to read the manual, I mean it’s there for you to read it, why else would it be there?”

Here’s my opinion: Games shouldn’t need manuals at all. If you ask me, most games shouldn’t have manuals, and the games that do have manuals (which would probably be complex RPGs and strategy games) should use the manuals simply as indexes for all of the different abilities, statistics, and other information within the game.

Why do I think this? Because when I sit down to play a game I want to do exactly that – I want to play the game. I don’t want to read fifty pages about how to play the game. A good game can gradually introduce the interface to you as you play through the beginning. If your interface is too complicated to be explained within gameplay, then your interface is probably too convoluted and cluttered and needs to be streamlined somewhat.

I know I may be sounding like a twitchy, instant-gratification type of gamer, but imagine if any other art form did this. Imagine if before you watched a movie, you had to read fifty bland pages about the back story of the setting, and that if you didn’t read every boring page, then you wouldn’t be expected to have any idea of what’s going on in the movie. And then imagine that if you complained about this, people would just call you lazy.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that I can sit down and watch a movie with no prior work involved, and I’m also glad that I can do the same thing with most games nowadays. And if that makes me lazy, then so be it.

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10 responses

  1. Kevin

    Justin my friend, you are lazy…but not because you dont want to read the manual of a video game…;)
    yea i totally agree with you! i am always pissed when i have to go the the manual to understand how to do something mainly because that breaks the flow of the game and destroys any imersion you had. i love the manuals that have breif summaries of tutorials that are in game anyway, because those are typically the ones with lists of the abilities and stuff and what each thing does. if i want a detailed how-to i will get the strategy guide (aka going to ign.com[balatantadvertisinggotoign.comnow!])!

    March 5, 2011 at 5:25 PM

  2. Noob-e

    How can you not like the manuals? Don’t you get a nostalgic feeling of reading them on the car ride home after buying a new game? Don’t you like their smell? Personally I get really sad whenever a game doesn’t come with the manual. Plus they are just great for collection purposes and game cases feel really empty without them.

    On another note, they are a great place to put things that can’t be written into the story without seeming forced too early on. I’ve rarely needed them for actual game-play stuff, but they are great to have and a well done manual can really add to a game by giving you more information and help with fleshing out the world.

    Oh and that’s not really a great comparison with the whole “other art forms don’t need instructions” because other art forms aren’t interactive. Compare it to most other interactive activities and suddenly instructions aren’t that out of place. I do agree though that games should be easy enough to learn that you don’t “need” the manual, but it’s always nice to have a comprehensive list of all your options in case you miss something or simply forget. (I know personally that I forget littler details of a games mechanics if I haven’t played it for a few months/years.)

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s better to have and not need then need and not have.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:02 AM

    • JPH

      I never said games shouldn’t have manuals. I said games shouldn’t need manuals.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:42 PM

    • DustyBear

      I find it hard to believe that interaction was the purpose of JPH and his “other art forms don’t need instructions” comparison.

      I read manuals, but only after I have played the game already. I usually just read it for a little entertainment and see how they describe certain material such as weapons. However, when it comes to fighting games, I will read the manual to learn every little trick there is to know while my friends are kicking each others butts. This way, when it is finally my turn, I can input better combos and evade their moves with far more success. Other than that, I just read manuals to feed my boredom.

      March 9, 2011 at 6:11 PM

  3. Rayzn

    I always go through the manual when I get something new, whether its a game or a VCR (no old people jokes, please) even if it’s just skimming it to see if there’s anything I didn’t already know.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:24 PM

  4. Bubble181

    To be fair; there *are* other art forms you need to research or read about before you can enjoy them fully.

    I’m just going to have to assume you’ve never been to a live opera or ballet performance…Don’t expect to understand the story and half the subtleties in it if you don’t know the story and everything else in advance.

    That said, I think *some* types of games should have a manual that’s pretty much just a listing of some shortcuts and overview charts; other genres get more leeway from me…

    Oh, and of course, a lot of manuals (especially in the Good Old Time when Games Were New and stuff :-P) had backstory, interesting art, little tidbits of information,… Dungeon Keeper had a small booklet with a mini-story set in the DK universe with the manual; Diablo II had lore and backdrop info in the manual;…Those can be worthwhile.

    I do agree that some games are just overly complicated for the heck of it, and just say “RTFM” instead of helping a player learn the game and love it.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:31 AM

  5. I never read the manuals for Fallout and Fallout 2 before playing them. Interfaces have moved beyond theirs, so maybe you just don’t/didn’t have the right grounding in the era to have grasped the interface easily.

    September 9, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    • JPH

      My brother played Fallout 1 for the first time recently. My brother played a decent number of CRPGs back in the day. He considers Baldur’s Gate 2 to be his favorite game ever. And he had a hard time getting used to Fallout, almost as much as I did.

      It’s hard to explain why, but the Fallout interface just feels terribly off.

      September 9, 2011 at 4:36 PM

      • Okay, maybe I’m just a giant super-smart interface nerd, then.

        September 9, 2011 at 4:44 PM

        • JPH

          I certainly wouldn’t doubt that.

          I suppose my brother may have had a hard time because he hasn’t played games like that in awhile.

          September 9, 2011 at 4:51 PM

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