What Are The Best Game Manuals?

The omnipresence of the Internet, together with the ease of modern control schemes, has all but eradicated the need for game manuals. Who needs a glossy paper booklet when they have Reddit and GameFAQs and YouTube? Who has time to read with such a gluttony of entertainment options available at their fingertips?

But game manuals and owner’s guides aren’t just about information. The best ones can be beautiful: cornucopias of concept art and comic panels, hives of witty one-liners, knots of clever prose intertwined with moments of weird. I want to talk about, if not the best, then at least my favourite manuals – and then I want to know about yours.

Kikopa Games’ inscrutable yet charming Minkomora is a great example of modern games doing old-school manuals right. The downloadable PDF, which is available through a pay-what-you-want model, teems with dream-like creatures and pastel colors, gentle descriptions of a gentle world that invites no other commitment aside from a desire to explore. Similarly, Serpent in the Staglands, an intentionally anachronistic party-based RPG, summons memories of Baldur’s Gate with its pretty little manual and its in-depth descriptions of pointy objects.

That said, these contemporary endeavours pale somewhat in comparison to their predecessors. Namco’s We Love Katamari — an apocalyptic game about rolling up the universe into a ball — came with a pastel-colored wonder that read a lot like a children’s pop-up book. Inscrutable bipedal animals raced from page to page, pushing the eponymous sphere along, before finally gathering together to stare lovingly up into the cosmos. Strip out the concise explanations about how to engage in two-player conflict and what the Select Meadow is, and you’d have a perfect Christmas gift for anyone under seven.

(Yes, I know that We Love Katamari wasn’t a PC game, but ssh. Sssh.)

Even Metal Gear Solid 4 was gorgeous. (The manual. Not the game. Although the game was great.) The 2008 action-adventure stealth title came replete with gritty comic panels, all in-character, all meta, all intended to illustrate — har, har — the mechanics of the game. Move back a few years, though, and things get more elaborate. There were manuals that spanned hundred of pages, combat simulator Falcon 4.0 being perhaps the most noteworthy example. The game featured a staggering 716-page compendium that was meant to be used to as a “quick start.” It shipped with a binder. A binder.

While critically lacking in fluff, the manual was an instructional marvel. Take Chapter One, for example. Not only did it expound on the symbiotic relationships between turn rates and aircraft G, it also outlined the exact effects of an F-16 being flown under minimum speed requirements. You’d almost think that this was an actual how-to for military pilots instead of kids with disembodied cockpits, and its attention to detail helped sell the accuracy of the game before you even started playing it. On top of everything else, Falcon 4.0 also included surrealist short stories rife with in-game advice and 80’s good-naturedness.

Speaking of prose, The Hobbit was great. The 1982 game, I mean. An interactive fiction title that featured NPCs who strove to have a life outside of you, The Hobbit pushed the boundaries of gaming at the time. I mean, it had a text-based physics engine.

In a bid, perhaps, to ensure people were properly excited for this innovative adventure, the makers released an oddly charming manual elucidating the big idea behind its INGRISH engine.

Where The Hobbit strove to explain its parser, Captain Blood’s manual tried to explain the game’s very existence. It had an elaborate tale, filled with over-the-top moments of drama (The snarling yet weary postman on the first page is a personal favorite), that looked at why its protagonist, a video game designer, must eliminate all 30 of his clones in order to retain his tenuous connection with the human species. And though bizarre, it made more sense than Kojima’s justification for Quiet’s outfit.

Still, Captain Blood has nothing on the StarCraft manual. Like the game itself, the accompanying text borders on iconic. Every page is trimmed with metallic grills, cogwork and mechanical structures conjoined in defense of the words within. In between the more utilitarian descriptions of how the game worked and the fantastic, the owner’s guide offered a history of its universe: how the Terrans came to interstellar conflict, what birthed the Zerg, and why the Protoss became involved in this cosmic war.

The same way Starcraft and Baldur’s Gate came festooned with vivid illustrations and flavor, Diablo shipped with a gorgeously elaborate manual. It didn’t just have little blurbs about what the controls did. It had a bestiary of monsters. Descriptions about the backgrounds of the weapons available. It dove into the history of the universe, the socio-political structure of its cosmology.

I could go on.

So, are these the best game manuals out there? Probably not. They’re some of my favorites, though. Which, I guess, makes them the best in my eyes. But that seems such an unnecessarily arbitrary gesture. The best manuals — the best anything, really — are the ones that care enough to do something different, or to do the mundane well. Startopic, Earthbound, Fallout, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — there’s something to them all, whether it is the conciseness of their instructions or the depth of their illustrations, the use of clever DRMs or glorious irreverence.

What’s your favorite game manual of all time, Rock Paper Shotgun? And why?

Header image via Posidyn.com.

166 Comments

  1. Talos says:

    The favourite manual I have is probably Homeworld: Cataclysm for the descriptions of the ships. Re-read that so many times.

    • CannedLizard says:

      Seconded. After my most recent move, I purged my old PC game boxes and manuals, but I made sure to keep Homeworld and Homeworld: Cataclysm on my bookshelf. Amazing world building and lore. Pity they didn’t keep it up for Homeworld 2.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Sadly I only ever had it in .pdf form, but the manual from Homeworld 1 is truly amazing.

    • Ghoul Monkey says:

      Consider yourself concurred. The manual for the first Homeworld was really something else, and my first foray in the whole ‘video-game-as-a-world’ concept.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Yeah, Homeworld 1s manual was extraordinary.

    • Frosty_2.0 says:

      +1 for Homeworld, I think Alex Garden was to thank for most of that, the heart of Homeworld and the credits track ‘The Ladder’. A shame they lost some of that with Homeworld 2 and retcon & pseudo-religious stuff.

      Also Crusader: No Remorse had great stuff, propaganda posters, booklets, WEC dossiers with scrawled notes by ‘Wizard’ on them.
      I still seem remember the “looking dapper General” note!

  2. MiniMatt says:

    The original Elite (hey, the Speccy was the PC of it’s day) had a novella thrown in (“The Dark Wheel”) on top of an amazingly detailed manual, a keyboard template cover, oh and the fiddly Lenslok copy protection widget. It was glorious.

    • Robmonster says:

      Yes, had it on the Commodore 64. It went into a lot of details about the in-game world.

    • Blackrook says:

      I was going to say Elite as well, but I had the BBC B version.
      I remember the novella but oddly for all the scifi I’ve read I never bothered with that.

      I am pretty sure I still have these in the loft as well.

      • MiniMatt says:

        That short story was excellent! I read it so many times as a kid, when I had imagination and when no-one had yet invented youtube cat videos to otherwise keep me occupied.

        Read it again online last year in preparation for the new Elite and it holds up remarkably well – it’s not Man Booker material, sure, but it’ll sit quite happily alongside any Asimov short story.

      • ThereIs0nly0ne says:

        I still have both the cassette and disk versions for the BBC Model B – my late mother had put them in a suitcase for me years ago. They’re in excellent condition too:

        link to imgur.com

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      phuzz says:

      Elite II (the Amiga was the better-than-PC of it’s day) came with three books as I recall, one manual, one book of short stories, and another one I can’t remember.

  3. Gorbachev says:

    I’m glad you put a Microprose game manual as your anchor image for the story. All of the Microprose game manuals were incredible. They’re definitely my favorites.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Seconded. Strategy games in the early-mid 90s were good for this in general, but Microprose (and Maxis) put so much into theirs, they became genuinely interesting reads in their own right. They often had long and well written sections at the end summarising their (often very thorough) research of the game’s subject or setting. I won a biology quiz because I’d spent the weekend before playing Sim Life!

      K240 had a great manual, too. Overflowing with completely unnecessary detail (most of which was separated out from the game-relevant stuff at a glance) that really tickled the imagination, and made the world feel a bit more alive even if it was all in your head.

    • Jason Lefkowitz says:

      Yup. I still remember one MicroProse manual in particular, the one for M1 Tank Platoon. Not so much for the manual itself, though it was a typically high-quality, fat MicroProse extravaganza, but for the designer’s notes at the beginning.

      I’ve long since lost my copy, so I’m paraphrasing here, but at one point in the notes it says something like “So you’re probably wondering why we only let you control one platoon — four tanks. Well, the short answer is that we did what we could within the constraints of the processing resources of the average home PC. But someday everyone will have a 386, and then the only limit will be our imaginations!”

      Here we are, 20+ years later, with gigabytes of RAM and CPUs that make the 386 look like a pocket calculator. But I’m still waiting for the game that M1 Tank Platoon’s designers were dreaming of making once technology caught up with their vision. (Sigh.)

      • guidom says:

        Yes! I remember it too. Particularly the smell, for some reason. On another note, I still have my manual for Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe. It is without a doubt my favourite manual. Like F4, filled anecdotes and stories, and a true love for the topic it was simulating.

        • Goodtwist says:

          A glimpse into what those developers were dreaming about was a template/draft with some pictures of a game encompassing tanks, choppers and infantry control. Almost something that Dynamics’ world is supposedly offering.

          Alas, Microprose went tits before they were able to bring such game to life.

          • KesMonkey says:

            DCS World is on its way to becoming that game.

            At the moment, its focus is on the simulation of aircraft including modern fighter jets, World War II and Korean war era aircraft, and attack and transport helicopters, but there’s also a module that allows you to control ground vehicles (although this aspect of the sim is far less detailed) and there is speculation that they’re working on a hardcore M1 Abrams module.

            I believe that the ability to directly control infantry is also part of their long-term goals.

            link to store.steampowered.com

            link to forums.eagle.ru

        • ryth says:

          Oh man, both the “Their Finest Hour: Battle of Britain 1942” and its successor “Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe” had absolutely amazing manuals. I remember doing a history presentation to my gradeschool class about the Battle of Britain that used that manual as its primary source :)

      • Premium User Badge

        Overload-J says:

        “But I’m still waiting for the game that M1 Tank Platoon’s designers were dreaming of making once technology caught up with their vision.”

        I believe the game you are looking for is Steel Beasts Pro PE – combined arms mechanized warfare from the gunner’s seat through at least the company commander’s HQ (it can handle more, the Australian Army used it in exercises involving a brigade vs a division…)

        link to esimgames.com
        link to steelbeasts.com

    • WladTapas says:

      Yes, Microprose in general gets my vote too. And as someone who creates (non-game) manuals and other documentation for a living, I love the fact that this discussion exists.

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    SuddenSight says:

    My favorite manual is definitely the manual for Dominions 3 (and now 4).

    Though there wasn’t much illustration, the manual hit every other high note. There were fun little stories about the background of the world. The manual explained numerous complex and obscure mechanics that litter the complex and obscure game. There were individualized strategy tips for all 50+ nations. There were multiple tables for every unit, spell, and weapon. And there was an excellent index. A delightful thing.

    • mgardner says:

      Dominions 3 was the first that popped into my mind after reading the title of this article, for the same reasons you mention. Plus, it includes tables and tables of real and important data from the game, which would be found only on a wiki as an afterthought for most similar games today. VERY well done.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      I haven’t played Dominions 3, but I’m hooked on 4, and its manual is, yes, bloody terrific. The sheer amount of character the game has once you start looking past the numbers (and sometimes just into them) is wonderful, and the manual’s full of even more of that.

    • Dingbatwhirr says:

      Agreed. I must have spent hours reading that manual – each of the factions is so well fleshed out, and I love their ‘historical’, in-character explanations of why the world has changed between games (e.g. something like ‘we now know that magical training took longer than previously thought’ etc. ) Combined with Dom4 Mod Inspector, for pictures and information about each individual unit, it’s quite wonderful.

  5. TehK says:

    I still remember the manual for WarCraft 2 (my first ever game purchase for my first ever PC) with its (pretty extensive) backstory.

    Also, Indiana Jones and the last Crusade actually included the famous diary, which was incredible.

    • ZPG Lazarus says:

      Same here. I’ve still got mine in a box somewhere.

      The art was the best part in my opinion. Amazing artwork from the developers that really captured the gothic feel of the game. I preferred it over the cartoonish feel of Warcraft 3 really.

      For those not in the know:

      link to orig12.deviantart.net

      link to bccasteel.files.wordpress.com

      And the classic: link to media.blizzard.com

      • Reapy says:

        Was in the book store a few weeks ago and saw a book “The Artwork of Blizzard” in the bargain area and instantly picked it up, has a bunch of the pictures from the manuals and more with a few anecdotes about the artists, really great read if you enjoy the artwork coming out of blizzard over the years.

  6. velber says:

    My favorite manual Robinson’s Requem Awe White Booklet.

  7. Vagrant says:

    There was a DS game called ‘Contact’ that had a fantastic manual. If I remember correct, it was set up like a scientist’s journal on his new experiences.

  8. piphil says:

    The manual for SimCity 2000 had some nice articles on cities and city planning in the “Gallery” section at the end of the booklet, which was something that was unusual at the time.

    My favourite probably isn’t strictly a manual, but a booklet entitled “Four Wheel Drift” that came alongside the Grand Prix Legends manual. I think the developers realised that GPL was somewhat more of a sim than most gamers were used to, so FWD was written to give you a hand through the process of learning somewhat more tricky cars than the average arcade racer.

  9. Noc says:

    The one that sticks in my head is always the original Homeworld, which has a small book devoted to fleshing out the history and culture of a planet that gets blown up in the third mission.

    • Cinek says:

      Aye. In fact: Every Homeworld game had a manual in a similar style. Peak was IMHO in Homeworld 2 when from a small bits of lore that existed in HW and HW:C they created a whole sci-fi universe.

      I also enjoyed WingCommander 4 manual, the game itself came with a printed book that was an outstanding introduction into the game world. WC4 got also some great coverage on weapons and even things like formation flying. It was really a joy to read.

      • DevilishEggs says:

        Wing Commander 1-2 manuals were my first introductions to seriously detailed PC game worlds. And yet star citizen leaves me cold …

  10. NonCavemanDan says:

    Arcanum: of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. The full title alone creates more of a sense of place that many games do throughout your whole experience with them, but the manual for Arcanum sits on my bookshelf alongside novels.
    Arcanum is what happens when you get D&D roleplay games, the industrial revolution of the Victorian era and accelerate them together at high speed.
    The manual is a beautiful mixture of excerpts from fictional essays about the nature of magic versus technology, evolutionary scientific enquiry applied to traditional fantasy races and a Victorian travelogue as a walk-through to the first section of the game.
    It did that wonderful thing of drawing you into the game by its style and making you forget that you were about to sit in front of a computer and pretend to be a musket-wielding elf.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Arcanum’s explanation for the opposing natures of science and technology is the best of its kind, and the manual’s worth a read for that alone.

    • Erlend M says:

      It even had setting-appropriate cooking recipes, just like the Fallout manuals had.

      • int says:

        Yeah I loved that. For those who don’t know, Pillars of Eternity comes with a cookbook with more recipes from Tim Cain. It’s under DLC so I don’t know if it’s there for people who didn’t pre-order.

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      Aerothorn says:

      I came here to say this.

      I recently acquired a box of stuff abandoned on the side of the road, and the Arcanum manual was in it. Couldn’t believe my luck.

    • Kemuel says:

      I wish I knew where my copy of this went. It used to sit on my shelf with the Baldurs Gate 2, Worms 2 and Jazz Jackrabbit manuals that somehow found their way from the study to my bedroom. Think I must have let someone borrow it and never got it back. :/

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      gritz says:

      I came here to say the opposite of this. While the manual had plenty of content, the complete absence of an index and a mostly useless table of contents completely ruined any chance of the manual being a helpful reference.

      Like most things Troika made: great content, terrible follow-through.

  11. WarderDragon says:

    The best manual is without a doubt the Book of Mystic Wisdom from Ultima 4. It’s dedicated entirely to the spells of the game, and every single spell has two whole pages dedicated to it – first one page with an illustration, then an entire page of text describing what the spell does combined with flavor text and the reagents required to mix it. It looks beautiful too, with golden runic text on the faux leather cover.

    link to wiki.ultimacodex.com

    If you have a minute, check out the PDF from the replacementdocs link on that page. It’s a wonderful reminder of what physical games used to come packaged with.

    • ansionnach says:

      Yes! The Ultima games came with some fantastic manuals, with bestiaries and the whole lot. Regrettably, I was more into action games back then so I my versions came in digital form, but they’re still impressive. There often seemed to be more than one manual and a map of Britannia. Fantastic game, Ultima IV, and it was closer to 2005 than 1985 when I played it!

  12. asmodemus says:

    The original Kings Bounty manual had a giant storyline involving all of the baddies and the various roles they played in destroying the kingdom. In fact all of the old New World Computing games also had great maps that you could study for hours with friends at school while planning what you’d do when allowed back on a computer ;)

  13. Hunchback says:

    Dungeon Master’s Guide 3.5
    erm, oops.

    Didn’t Fallout 2 have a nice manual? And maybe Arcanum? Hmm

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      phuzz says:

      The Warhammer 40000 second edition manual kept me engrossed for many an hour. Rules interspersed with fantastic illustrations and background material.
      I didn’t understand much of it, but I loved it none the less.

  14. lagiacrux says:

    my favorite was probably star tropics. not because of the manual itself, but because of the letter that was included.
    at first glance it seemed like a normal letter written by the protagonists uncle, but later in the game the letter becomes important otherwise.
    to activate a submarine you need a 3 digit code which could be found in the letter. but only after you dip it in water.
    back in the days, i was so excited to finally find the code and be able to progress, the code will forever be embedded in my memory

  15. melerski says:

    My favorite is Mechwarrior 2.
    It has doodles and fingerprints all over the place.

    • Imaginary Llamas says:

      Mechwarrior 4 also had a cool manual with technical details for every Mech, vehicle and weapon in the game.

    • Skontrodude says:

      Ah, Mw2 manual was so fascinating, I sold the game box and CD because I needed money to buy a new game but secretely kept the manual. After 19 years is still waiting in the drawer for the game to come out on GOG!

  16. phlebas says:

    I’m currently a bit smitten with the manual for TIS-100. A love letter to old tech, it comes as a PDF recreation of a photocopied manual for the eponymous machine. Complete with highlighed sentences, text rubbed off from adjacent pages and scribbled notes in the margins. It sets the scene, builds atmosphere and gives instructions for operating the machine without ever saying “this is a game”. Beautiful.

  17. mgardner says:

    Any of the Infocom interactive fiction games. These games were text-only, but the manuals, trinkets, maps, flyers, pamphlets, etc. really immersed you into the world of the game like none other!

  18. Ureshi says:

    The best for me is the manual for X-Com Terror from the Deep
    Two manuals, one for how to play and another with lore.
    Sorry for my english :P
    link to i59.tinypic.com
    link to i57.tinypic.com

  19. giei says:

    Microprose’s UMS II – Amiga 500

  20. YogSo says:

    System Shock (the original) had a very nice manual sprinkled with several “in-universe” quotes about all kind of stuff: the nature of man, AIs, cyberspace, hackers…

  21. CookPassBabtridge says:

    I’ll just leave these links to the DCS A-10C Warthog 677 page Manual:

    link to digitalcombatsimulator.com

    Doesn’t quite compete with the 710 page compendium, but there is a ton of other stuff you will end up reading when flying the hog

  22. Alien says:

    The best manuals are those that try to immerse you even more into the games “world”… (Ultima 8, Falcon 4.0, the X-Com TFTD Guide from Ellis)

  23. birdhill50 says:

    Been playing PC games 23 years now and with out doubt the best manual I ever had was for the flight sim TORNADO. It was about a million pages thick, all glossy and smelt lovely. A close second was the microprose game F15 Strike eagle 3 manual and third was the Falcon 4 manual. The flight sims always seemed to have the beat manuals. The kids of today are really missing out, by not going to a shop and buying a lovely heavy box of digital gaming goodness! Ah, the memories.

  24. TomxJ says:

    I had inherited my dads old PC when he upgraded. I remember going to a computer fair shortly after with him and buying Privateer 2. I still vividly remember the car journey home just flicking through the gorgeous manuals in the oversized box and being totally engrossed in the world before i’d even booted up the game.

  25. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    I threw out all my game CDs and manuals in a fit of anti-gaming insanity years ago. Now I have all the old games again courtesy of Gog and Steam. But I really miss those great old manuals – most of all BG2.

    Stupid things done when young – only matched by getting rid of my complete Heavy Metal magazine collection for $20.

    • Richard_from_Winnipeg says:

      May I ask what prompted the insanity? Was it simply a rebalancing of priorities as you found yourself playing far too many hours?

      I ask as I did the same thing.

      • Premium User Badge

        teije says:

        Yes, back in the day when I thought growing up meant shedding all those “immature” habits – like staying up until 3 AM playing a game. I actually did a complete purge twice. Slow learner I guess :)

        Now I’ve learned to balance it with all my other interests – and that occasional bingeing on a new game doesn’t mean I’m turning into a basement dweller again.

  26. gbrading says:

    The SimCity 2000 manual. It’s still an amazing “book”. At 140 pages, it’s basically a full guide on how to play the game, but comes with all sorts of added details like interesting quotes about the philosophical aspects of city building, and an entire section at the back with short stories, poems and artwork about cities. It’s a marvellous achievement and I still have fun looking at it today.

  27. Kefren says:

    All the lovely, lovely manuals that came with Hired Guns on the Amiga! I kept reading them when not playing the game. Character descriptions, world details, technology and so on. link to i.ebayimg.com,!k8E3G)l9s5OBOBhzSRY(Q~~_35.JPG

  28. TinkiYuki says:

    Gary Grigsby’s ‘War in the West'(which only came out at Xmas) was quite a tome; so much so in fact, that the manual was also the box.

    Also, the manuals for the old VforVictory titles were wonderfully informative reads.

  29. Kefren says:

    Oh, and the manual/novella with Starglider 2 (Amiga) – it gave me a new perspective on “Use the force, Luke!” link to retrogames.co.uk

  30. Qwentle says:

    Without a doubt I’d have to say Clawmarks, the onboard magazine of the TCS Tiger’s Claw. It was the manual for the original Wing Commander, and was almost entirely in-character as a magazine, featuring interviews with the crew, war stories, blueprints and loadouts for all the ships, and biographies on the potential enemy aces you could expect to fight (and of course you’d fight all of them in the course of the campaign). It’s the only manual I’ve deliberately kept despite the box disintegrating ages ago.

  31. Great Cthulhu says:

    I fondly remember the Diablo manual, but the one I enjoyed most was the one for the original Fallout. Almost worth the price of the game by itself. (Not really, but it was still very good. :-))

    I was super pissed when Fallout 2 came with a tiny, butchered localized version of the manual. :-(

  32. King in Winter says:

    One manual I remeber that hasn’t been mentioned yet was for C-64’s Silent Service, which I recall went into quite a detail how to engage in submarine warfare in WWII Pacific.

    In regard to other prose that came with games, there was The Dark Wheel novella that came with Elite that’s already been mentioned, and also the Lords of Midnight game that came with an audio (c-cassette of course) version of the manual’s short story… But I don’t think anything has the Lord of the Rings text adventure beat, which came with The Fellowship of the Rings book. The box was suitably thick.

  33. Mud says:

    Still in my collection since 1990 Their finest hour: battle of Britain.
    God I feel old lol

  34. Cropduster says:

    Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri had one of the best Manuals I’ve ever seen. 200+ pages of well written lore and game info. Like the best and cheapest strategy guide ever.

    I sadly dropped it in the bath age 12, but still have the mulchy wreckage in a plastic bag somewhere in the hope that future technology can restore it.

    • Rinox says:

      Similar story for me. Loved it to death, read it a million times. Then my little brother tore it up in a fit of revenge rage directed at me. It worked. :-(

    • Fenix says:

      Same here, must have read mine 10 times at least.

      Unlike you two though, mine is intact, I just dont know where it is..

  35. Jefferthefrog says:

    I loved reading the original Heavy Gear manual back in the day…I was blown away by the variety of guns I could potentially install on my Gear…ahh memories.

  36. internisus says:

    Another vote here for Homeworld’s Historical and Technical Briefing.

  37. aksen says:

    still own these 3 to this day…

    link to members.iinet.net.au

  38. Volcanu says:

    Age of Empires II had a great manual. Packed full of little sketches and with every unit and technology having a section with historical colour and context provided for it. I used to love reading that and it definitely lead to my interest in the history of Byzantium (which later became a sizeable chunk of my History degree). So who says games are a waste of time hey?

    Also remember a group of us poring over the original C&C manual at breaktime in primary school.

    Baldurs gate series had very good, rich manuals too. Along with maps. Im a sucker for a good fold out map. Morrowind had a good one if I recall.

    • ZPG Lazarus says:

      Teacher: “How do you know so much about the Byzantines?”

      Me: “…I like to read?”

      • TheRaptorFence says:

        I’ve never shared this with anyone so I hope someone reads it.

        I became a history teacher and soon-to-be professor because of AoE 1 and 2. I always give excuses like “Oh, I always loved history.” The reality is it started on early mornings before school as a kindergartner watching some of the older boys play AoE and being in awe of the troops, the defenses, the stories. Then, when I realized these were real civilizations I wanted to know more. I took it upon myself to learn more, starting with playing AoE and reading the blurbs and manuals, and progressed to buying books from our local bookstore.

        My journey to a PhD is rife with video games that were steeped in history: Total War, Assassin’s Creed, Europa, an ungodly amount of simulator games. Historical games have taught me so much, but more importantly they’ve inspired a passion in me.

        Who says video games can’t teach you anything?

        • vlonk says:

          Idiots, Idiots and the uninformed say these things about computer games in my experience. It is never to early to put an interested child in front of Civ, EU, AoE and their brethren. Just be ready for the unusual questions and guide them a little before they embrace the machiavellian and autocratic ways a little to much.

        • Scandalon says:

          Just replying (rather late) to say that I read it, and hope you track down at least the project lead(s) and tell them your story. :)

  39. Glubber says:

    Dynamix flight sims, such as Aces of the Pacific, Red Baron, etc. Informative, full if anecdotes from their respective eras, and included plane profiles and data. All very nicely put together. Wish I’d kept them.

    • ansionnach says:

      Yes! I read the Aces of the Pacific manual cover to cover and loved it, even though I didn’t have as much success with the actual game! In particular, I really enjoyed its history of the Pacific air war. Read it within a year of studying it in secondary school and I knew a lot more than the teacher about the subject, who seemed limited to the text book. Didn’t have loads of bad teachers but I found those out quite quickly. Innocent enough on my part, but some of the more mischievous lads would look on in glee when they sensed some form of disagreement that might lead to egg on the teacher’s (or my) face!

  40. Maxheadroom says:

    No one will read this far down but whatever..

    Dreamweb. Came with a ‘handwritten’ diary that chronicled the main characters decent into madness and the handwriting got more shaky as it went on. The last entry simply said “today was not a good day” in a barely legible scribble

    Also the collectors edition of Alan Wake had some excellent short stories and scene setting bits and bobs like the case notes of the FBI guy

    • Premium User Badge

      teije says:

      I read this far. Thank you for commenting :)

    • finc says:

      I not only read this far, but I went through the entire Lost Your Password process to log in and comment in hearty agreement at your mention of the Dreamweb manual. My other favourite is Beneath A Steel Sky fwiw

  41. JFS says:

    Baldur’s Gate and StarCraft are both works of art. And their manuals as well :)

  42. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Age of Empires also had a rather nice manual. It had a quite a lot of actual historical information (I think, it’s been a while).

  43. fuggles says:

    Leather goddess of phobos had a scratch and sniff manual, I think! Really liked the weird dreams manual, although it was up there with the barbarian manual for being a Novella which did not help at all.

  44. Chiron says:

    I had a version of X-Com: Terror from the Deep, it came with a magnificent array of manuals and material, it had a diary and bio of the X-Com efforts to eradicate the menace, with stories about what it was like to be a rookie in X-Com, how hard it was to fight the aliens.

    It was awesome.

    Homeworld also had a pretty good manual, first part was full of world-building and explanations of the discovery of the guide-stone and building the ship.

  45. Greg Wild says:

    Easily Starcraft.

    I don’t really mourn manuals (I for one like the reduced clutter of the digital only age), but that was one nice manual.

    • JFS says:

      A good friend of mine had it, and I used to basically read it as much as possible everytime I went there. And I went there often! The poor book got really worn out over the years.

  46. Στέλιος says:

    Can’t be the only one who thinks the manuals for Psygnosis’ “Hired Guns” on the Amiga was brilliant. Split in several pieces, beautiful illustrations and design…
    A piece by the writer responsible for them: link to dmadesign.net

  47. Kaben says:

    Best manual i remember growing up was DiD’s F-22 Air Dominance Fighter.
    I can remember poring over that for hours learning about flight maneuvres and how to dogfight, engage with a wingman etc. It was fantastic.

    Fallout 2 was another with great writing. The skill descriptions for character creation were S.P.E.C.I.A.L indeed! ;)

  48. ZPG Lazarus says:

    My first was the Wolfenstein 3d Manual. The cover featured an Arnold-looking, chaingun wielding badass bootkicking a Nazi down a flight of stairs.

    Also had lots of random trivia. I still remember one how Romero held the record for beating Episode 1 in less than 5 minutes. I wonder if anyone beat his time…

  49. ryth says:

    The original manual and cloth map for “Sid Meier’s Pirates!” was really good.

    Lucasarts “Their Finest Hour: Battle of Britain 1940” was essentially an encyclopedia of early WWII European theatre aircraft and was wonderful to pore over. Follow up of “Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe” was equally as good.

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      SoundDust says:

      There was a Pirates! cloth map?? Oh, the envy – my floppy PC version (bootable, even) only had a cheapo paper version of the map.

  50. Ginger Yellow says:

    Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix. Not just extremely detailed info on the (amazing) game, but also extensive instructions on racing theory and car tuning.

    • Skontrodude says:

      I enjoyed the game but not the manual as I only had the game disks. But I did buy all the Papyrus games, the manuals were also very detailed and immersive, with all the information on car setup, racing rules and tracks. The 1992 Indycar Racing manual is probably the best one.