Have You Played… Reading The Manual On The Way Home From The Shop?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

In this digital age, there are probably hundreds of people who’ve never experienced the joy of sitting on public transport with a boxed game in their lap. I lament for those people and strongly advise them to recreate the experience of reading a manual on the way home from the shops, hype and anticipation building during the short trip in a way that a six month multi-million dollar marketing campaign could never replicate. Maybe print off pages and pages of patch notes for your favourite game, and read them on the train or the bus, only applying the update once you’re home and hyped.

For me, the king of this particular genre – the Reading A Manual On The Way Home From The Shop genre – will always be Master of Magic. I’d been visiting my dad in hospital (cancer) and my mum clearly thought a fantasy strategy game would be the perfect thing to divert and occupy my mind.

It worked, which meant that the trip home involved picking at the plastic wrapping around the cardboard box, still in a carrier bag, hoping to slip the manual out quietly. I always got in trouble for reading manuals on the bus; not because there was anything wrong with the reading, but because I’d once lost a disc from a brand new game when I’d accidentally dropped it on the way home while digging through the box. I can’t remember which game that was, possibly because it was lost to me forever.

I did manage to get into the Master of Magic box though, somewhere near Manchester city centre and still a good half hour from home. The manual was enormous and it promised worlds of magic. Loads of pages at the back were devoted to tables showing the stats of every creature in the game, and there were so many creatures.

On that bus journey I probably read more about Master of Magic than I’ve ever read since. The entire game was in those pages and I already knew that I loved it.

90 Comments

  1. Syt says:

    Played that a lot, actually. :) I would also install a game, dabble with it, head to bed, and read the manual there. :)

  2. Plastic Legs says:

    The last game I remember doing this with was Company of Heroes.

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    Risingson says:

    Ok, that was simply magical. The first computer shop I knew that rented games had many many moments like these, and reading the flight combat manuals or the strategy games ones on the way home, in the bus, was a hype building of the first class.

    But what I remember most is doing that with Spectrum cassettes (I am nearly 40 now). Once the teacher stopped me in class and humilliated me because I was reading the manual for “Arctic Fox” under the table. That was cool science fiction. And those were mean teachers.

    Now what I find more interesting about old games is making them run. Once I make it, I lose interest. It is like it happened when I got the Wii: I spent a week looking on how to install homebrew in it, tried DosBox, tried a couple of other emulators, and then got bored.

  4. BobbyDylan says:

    My fondest memory was receiving Star Control 2 for Christmas (I think back in 1992) and after opening box on Christmas morning, we were all carted off to the grandparents house for Lunch. Spent the whole afternoon reading about the SC2 history and lore. I can still see the ship art in my head.

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    The Almighty Moo says:

    Two weeks in New Zealand reading the manual for Vampire: The Masquerade aged fifteen before I got home to actually play it. I know it was never as well received as bloodlines but by heavens the anticipation made it really good.

  6. PopeInnocent says:

    Purchased Baldur’s Gate on a Sunday trip to The City as a young lad. Was too late to play when I got home spent the entire evening and next day at school devouring the manual. What a manual

  7. StevieW says:

    It was Baldurs Gate for me. Between the prospect of reading this huge manual on the way home, and the thought of how big the game must be to be on 5 discs, I felt like I’d found the greatest game in the world.

    (Arguably, I did)

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    CrackedMandible says:

    I still have that MoM manual, dog eared in a box with the disks.

    Homeworld was the last manual I remember reading and absolutely loving. The drawings, the lore, the pictures of ship formations. So good.

    • Archonsod says:

      Me too. What made MoM particularly good for the bus journey home though was that it had the manual and a book containing all the spells.

    • Grimlar says:

      Yeah I think I still have the box + contents too. To be honest I might even still have the T-shirt that came with the game. Needless to say it doesn’t fit any more.

  9. lamontagne says:

    Mine was Theme Park. Happy days.

  10. Thirith says:

    Man, this game passed me by because I can probably count the number of games I bought at a shop on two hands. Most of the games I bought before digital downloads were mail orders, going all the way back to Interceptor Micros’ C64 games on tape.

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    Drib says:

    My biggest one was Daggerfall, actually.

    My uncle gave it to me, as he didn’t like the game. So at a boring family function, I got hold of a boxed copy with the strategy guide as well. I was… maybe ten (edit, probably 12 actually)?

    Anyway, reading it on the way home, with the strategy guide full of pictures of dungeons, and stories, and quest lines… holy crap was I looking forward to it!

    Of course Daggerfall isn’t great. But built up like that, and for the time period, it was super amazing.

    I ought to reinstall that sometime.

  12. Ny24 says:

    The best manual was probably for Starsiege: Tribes. It contained a whole story with comics that were actually screenshots from the game. This was really a lot of effort for a game without any campaign. I loved reading that because my internet was really bad at that time and this way I at least had something from the game. Also: Jazz Jackrabbit 2.

  13. shrieki says:

    oh yes the manuals were big part of the experience. age of wonders manual was really a small book if i remember right.

    but the best thing were the maps !!!

  14. CelticPixel says:

    Took me a good hour and fifteen minutes to get the bus home from the nearest Electronics Boutique. I remember buying the first Splinter Cell and it was this beautiful cardboard fold-out box with beautiful art, glossy manual and a free sticker. Makes me feel a little nostalgic but I’m happy it’s all digital now and I no longer have stacks of physical boxes to move around everywhere I go.

  15. Treners says:

    Lots of good memories, and one terrible one.

    As a young’un I got Armed and Dangerous, which, with its shark-guns and promise of endless fun looked AMAZING to my 10-year-old mind. I read the entire manual twice on the way home, learned about all the weapons, the characters, the story… I was incredibly excited. I got home, popped the disc in, and… nothing. It didn’t work. I had a faulty disc.

    It’s on GOG now, and I haven’t quite been able to bring myself to play it. It will never live up to my childhood fantasy of this game that could have been, if only I was not left with a malfunctioning copy.

    • gou says:

      same, only it did work and proved to be a huge letdown. luckily i also got scrapland as well, which was a real gem

  16. Stargazer86 says:

    Ah yes. There’s was nothing quite like cracking open a new game, smelling the plastic of the brand new manual, flipping through it as you prolong the experience. Take a look at the Super Mario World manual sometime. It had actual drawings and illustrations inside it. Actual EFFORT was put into it, more than just telling you what the buttons did.

    And I remember the much, much bigger manuals too. Starcraft and Star Wars Rebellion in particular had HUGE manuals detailing every single unit and building. Digital variations just aren’t the same. Scrolling through a PDF of button listings isn’t as engaging or neat as flipping through the pages of a well-made manual.

  17. mpk says:

    I was recently clearing out my box of PC bits and bobs* and found all the manuals for all the CD & DVD based games I still have, sitting in a CD case on top of one of my bookcase. Now, I haven’t had any form of disk (or disc) drive in my PC for what must be at least five years, so all those discs are useless to me – although I did once pillage both disc and manual collection for CD-keys to enter into Steam/Battle.net etc.

    I spent a good couple of hours going through all those manuals again, mostly cos it’d been so long that it was like the first time all over again. Baldur’s Gate, in all its glory. First edition World of Warcraft. Oblivion, GTA III, the mighty tome of Civilisation IV, and many, many others. It was a lovely stroll down memory lane.

    So then I chucked them all in the bin. Who reads manuals these days anyway?

    *y’know the one – spare serial cables in case someone with a dot matrix printer needs help, male-to-female adaptors for all sorts of archaic cables, old hard drives you might one day want to pillage for your, *ahem*, “art” collection and enough of those tiny PC case screws to make you wonder why any machine you ever owned didn’t fall apart.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      I swear that physically hurt me.

    • corinoco says:

      Thats a pretty foolish thing to do – they were all probably worth at least a couple of quid on E-Bay

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    tigerfort says:

    So, so many times. I’m not sure anything will ever top the first, which was Elite (on 5 1/4 inch floppy for our shiny new BBC micro). A huge complex manual and a novella. And the manual even had pictures showing a BBC – just like ours – in the cockpit of an actual spaceship in the game. I think it was a while before anything else that exciting (partly, I suppose, because most BBC games didn’t need much of a manual, and “reading the controls and one paragraph of backstory on the bus home” just didn’t build the same suspense).

  19. ChrisT1981 says:

    I did. My favorites clearly are Frontier Elite 2 and Amberstar. Whole short novels of background stories in those Manuals. Clearly more than a trip home needed to read those. In case of Frontier I remember how I had my Dad take me with him to the shop to pick it up and I didn’t Play the game until I had finished reading the stories 2 days later. I really miss that in modern gaming.

    • ChrisT1981 says:

      Actually i highly recoomend looking up the Amberstar Manual through Google and reading the Story as it is a well written fantasy Story, worth the read even without playing the game, though i reccomend that too.

  20. Chiller says:

    When I was about 14, I had my parents buy me Ultima Underworld 2 as a birthday present while we were on vacation in another city. It came on 4 floppies and with a couple of pieces of paper detailing a bit of the story and the game controls. I loved those to bits and kept reading them until we returned home.
    At the time I didn’t even have a PC capable of running the game so we installed it on a friend’s computer and played it there. Got stuck very quickly. I wouldn’t finish the game for the first time until much later. Still one of my favorite first person RPGs.

  21. Eraysor says:

    Used to always give myself a headache by reading the manual on my way home in the car…

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    Grizzly says:

    Yes! It’s why I in the current days love it when games allow you to acces a codex (or similar) outside the game.

  23. ShadowTiger says:

    If you think the Manual for MoM is good, you need to get a copy of the Prima Strategy Guide. It is just so great. Seriously, a must read.

    I keep all my video game manuals on my bookshelf and I still read them from time to time. I very much regret that the industry moved towards very simple manuals and eventually to no physical manuals at all (the digital manuals usually suck, if present).

  24. Robert The Rebuilder says:

    I haven’t done this for years until I did this with Shenzhen I/O’s manual: printed it out, put it in a 3-ring binder, reviewing all the commands and the parts specs.

    • phlebas says:

      I intend to do the same (well, maybe not the 3-ring binder but certainly printing out for perusal). Is it as good as the TIS-100 manual?

  25. Maxheadroom says:

    A few months before Guild Wars 2 launched there was a big ho-ah that while the US was getting a boxed version with a manual and CD and everything, the UK would be digital only.

    I actually sent the link with the story into RPS and got the reply (sorry, forget from who) saying “there’s no story here, no one uses discs or reads manuals anymore anyway”

    I guess that was the day boxed pc games died for me, when even RPS wouldn’t lament their withdrawal

  26. Fothers says:

    Ah yes, Ultima Online, such a beautiful manual, and a world map too if I recall. God I love a game with a map.

  27. Kaben says:

    I have such clear memories of reading the manual for DiD’s F22 Air Dominance Fighter whilst being dragged round the womens clothing department of M&S by my mum. What would normally have been a super dull experience of waiting for what felt like hours in a clothes shop was transformed into reading about detailed real life engagement maneuvres for aircraft, complete with diagrams for how to engage without being targeted in return etc. The manuals contained so much information ( that realistically you would never be able to pull off reliably in the game) i think they must have spent an insane amount of budget researching the information for its contents. I remember being so so hyped to play the game when i got home. I think i actually got more enjoyment from that manual than the actual game on reflection, but it still holds a spot in my heart when i think back to my childhood.

  28. slartibartfast says:

    Also loved the follow up Reading Manual on the Toilet While Having Excited About New Game Dump

  29. Rorschach617 says:

    Best manuals I’ve read?

    I’d recently got Master of Orion 3 and found it completely baffling. MoO 1 and 2 were almost self-explanatory to me, but I bounced hard off of 3. So I had a quick skim of the manual.

    That pdf file had a detailed explanation of the whole story line of the trilogy, how they all fit together, where the races came from and everything you needed to know to get into the right frame of mind to play the game. Pity that the manual was better than the game.

    Good games with a good manual? Homeworld and Homeworld Cataclysm (now Emergence). Those manuals filled their pages with the histories of the Kiiths and damned good writing.

    • CalvinCoolidge says:

      Wasn’t it Master of Orion 1 that had the images of the little ships on the corner of every page for Microprose’s attempt at low-tech DRM? My roommate played the game so much, he had memorized which ship corresponded to the proper page number.

      • Sin Vega says:

        Master of Orion 3 had an absurdly expansive back story. Even if it hadn’t been such a mess, it would have been a bit of a disappointment to anyone who read all that.

  30. Carra says:

    Ah, the good old days when I had to physically go to the shop and I could read the manual on the bus on the way home.
    And back when games had actual manuals that had interesting info. I remember going home and reading the Anno 1602 manual. It was a wonderful game and time.

  31. jeeger says:

    I still do this (albeit digitally) with wargame manuals. Often, I spend more time reading the manual than actually playing the thing. There’s something incredibly satisfying about having a game’s mechanics explained in a structured fashion, even better when it’s interspersed with little historical tidbits or tactical advice.

    I also have a paper version of the Dominions 4 manual at home that I’ve greatly enjoyed reading for its frankly bizarrely extensive coverage of myths and monstars from all across the world.

  32. deiseach says:

    On the way home from the shop? On the way home for the weekend from college having bought the game on the Monday. Civ II’s manual, while not as fine a tome as that of its daddy, certainly whetted my appetite. And the meal was scrumptious.

  33. particlese says:

    I never did it much on the way home from shops since games came rarely and were usually gifts, but I know I did that with an SNES I bought myself, and later Uniracers. More recently, I sorta do that with the occasional console game (MGS4) or boxed computer game (Proteus, though the box came years after the order :) ), but up to now, I’ve had to sit at home reading before playing since I had to drive myself to the store…or to the front door to pick up a boxed box.

    Edit: Egad, Morrowind!! How did I forget that one? And the box containing Sim City, Sim Earth, and Sim Farm! That manual was the best brick I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

  34. phlebas says:

    Sudden memory of sitting in a sunny churchyard reading the Bard’s Tale manual (Spectrum version). I’d got the bus to town and back and was helping with a churchyard working party before getting a lift home. From what I remember the game was great but each area had to be loaded from tape, which proved a bit too cumbersome for me to get far. Reading through the manual with details of all the spells and summons built a lot of anticipation.

  35. SteveM74 says:

    Elite – for my 48k Speccy.

    Best game box and manual ever!

  36. Moneymancer Marklew says:

    When I was 12, I spent an entire day reading the Diablo manual. Edgy as hell, with two entire dark novels and enemy descriptions in it!
    Also, the massive tomes that accompanied Sim City 2000 Deluxe (the one with the Urban Renewal Kit where you customized buildings). So complex and detailed that I believe to this day that real-life mayors should be made to read it before entering office.

  37. DingDongDaddio says:

    The last one that really got my attention was Diablo 2. Both the original and xpac came with huge books, essentially the size of a novel. They had tons of info and all these stories about the characters spread through the manual. Very cool.

  38. SimonSays says:

    I bought Morrowind and the strategy guide at release and was unable to play it for another 2 months while I saved for a gfx card to (barely) run it. I read through the manual, the box art and the non spoilery bits of the strat guide daily in anticipation.

    • CalvinCoolidge says:

      I had a similar experience. When I was about thirteen, I bought The Bard’s Tale for my Commodore 64. I raced home from the software store on my bicycle (so no, I couldn’t read the manual on the way home) and when I started the Commodore up, the power supply blew. I combed through the phone book and finally found a shop that could order a new one…4-6 weeks later. It was torture for an impatient teenager. I read the manual everyday perfecting the the composition of my party, which race would belong to which class and so on. Starting on the fourth week of my wait, I called the shop everyday to see if the power supply had arrived yet. I’m sure I annoyed the hell out of them.

      I still have that manual. And the one for Master of Magic.

  39. Titler says:

    I grew up in a quiet village many miles from retail; we didn’t even have a supermarket at the time, only being able to the Post Office or newsagents for small things… so I remember those bus journeys especially fondly, as they were genuine adventures for me, to far off exotic places, like Nottingham…

    I can recall two times in particular; ever since I’d seen the home conversions covered by Computer & Video Games, I’d wanted to play R-Type. The arcade machine never turned up anywhere near me, but I finally got hold of a copy for the Sega Master System in a second hand store. I can’t recall why now, maybe I’d wanted to spend every possible penny I could on I’d earned from paper rounds on cartridges, so I decided to walk home with my loot… just under 6 miles google tells me now. And I can still remember walking along country lanes, and, when I thought no one would see me, holding the box up and going “nyeoooow nyewooow pew pew pew” and imagining the space ship on the cover flying and doing all the amazing things I would also do when I got home.

    Damn good conversion for the little Sega too; when I finally got to play the arcade, the skills and wave patterns I’d learned carried directly across.

    And the other time that really stays with me, I remember was buying only my second ever RPG, Ultima IV also for the SMS. I had to go all the way to Nottingham, a 40 minute or 1 hour 30 bus journey away, and in those days we didn’t necessarily know what stock they’d have before you went; if the number wasn’t in the Yellow Pages you couldn’t even call. But I went determined to find Ultima IV after a Mean Machines review, and I found it in the Virgin Megastore in the centre; It’s long gone, but I can still see it in my mind’s eye, even to this day. Down the stairs on the left to the games, racks of cartridges on the right as you arrive, checkout ahead of the stairs… Ahh memories.

    Anyway, catch the bus back home from the old Victoria station, also long gone (it’s a car park now); I can still remember the bay numbers, take the 12 or 13 to get home. New albums, games, ideal teenage romantic dreams, I’d sit there waiting for a bus with so much anticipation over the years, it’s almost like the little yellow bay sign got imprinted with those hopes… I know I did a little bit of graffiti on it late one night in the hopes someone else focusing their emotions on the same thing might notice it and wonder who I was.

    Get on the bus, unwrap the game; two manuals stuck to the back because they’re too big to fit into the box. There’s an image of them here. Game map and basic instructions guide inside the case too. By the time I’d got home, I’d become completely fascinated by the world of Brittania, I knew not just the shape of the world, but it’s lore and history too.

    Get home about 3pm, stick the cartridge straight in for a Saturday evening’s play and… oh no, the battery backed save is broken, and there was no other way to save progress. Disaster! I can’t recall if it was a school week or not, or I just wasn’t going to even wait until Monday… although I couldn’t be sure I’d make it before Virgin closed, I ran back to the bus stop and crossed my fingers.

    It’s odd how certain moments stick with you; I was reading the manual again all the way back to the city; but every time I see a particular street now I remember looking up from the manual and realising I wasn’t there yet, and quietly trying to wish the bus into moving faster, faster, faster! Lots of nausea too… Will they have spare copies to replace this one? What if they don’t believe me?

    Ran as fast as I could across the city centre; made it with only a few minutes to spare, at least, that’s how I remember it. 4:50 and change. Maybe they didn’t close at 5 but that wasn’t the story I thought I was part of. Don’t remember a thing about the exchange itself, I was flying in a cartridge based high.

    Get back on the bus, open the new packaging, sit reading the manuals on the bus for the third time today. Get home, insert cartridge, this time it works and… wow. What a game.

    It lead to a life long love of Ultima; I even worked on UO myself for a bit, as an EM. Which is what makes it all the more heartbreaking that the supposed “spiritual successor” to Ultima today is a badly coded Real Money Trading driven disaster… One where even the novel which describes the lore was used to double dip backers, by adding 4 extra chapters you didn’t get if you were a Kickstarter, and then being expanded out by two books which they expected you to pay $12 for again, each. Where once the printed material was used to not just give you value for money, but inspire in you love for the game world, now it’s bastardised under the justification that it’s only the Whales who are true fans and should get the whole package.

    Oh, and they’ve promised tens of thousands of physical rewards, and already taken $15 for international postage for them… but have wasted so much money on the project unless a SeedInvest comes off, they can’t even afford to produce them, much less post them as they’ve spent that money too. I’ve still got my Ultima V silver coin, cloth map and Ultima IX gypsy cards etc. I’ll be amazed if anyone gets their modern equivalent at all.

    Where did gaming today go so terribly wrong? At least crap games would sometimes come with a manual back then…

    • floogles says:

      Thanks for taking the time to write this, I love that you actually made it back in the same day to exchange.

    • Lieutenant_Scrotes says:

      I enjoyed reading this; I remember doing a similar thing when I got home after a 2 hour walk to the shop and back only to find the disc was cracked and I had to make the trip all over again.

    • Someoldguy says:

      I couldn’t agree more. Games that put genuine love and effort into their manuals were something very special.

  40. Kaeoschassis says:

    Did this so many times. Instances I remember clearly even now include Dungeon Keeper and Terror from the Deep, both of which had excellent manuals. Back in the day a good manual was a work of art in itself and there was very little like it for hyping you up for a game.

    I still feel a little warm glow on the rare occasions when I come across a modern game with a big, satisfying manual (even a digital one) to read.

  41. hantheman says:

    I remember struggling to comprehend the Baldur’s Gate manual when I was 13. Never played DnD, didn’t really understand the game, but utterly loved it nonetheless

  42. Ghostwise says:

    I still have my favs, from the Ultima III box. The blue Ancient Liturgy Of Truth (cleric spells), the gold Book Of Amber Runes (mage spells), the off-white Book Of Play with the serpent rune, and the grey Player Reference Card.

    The art was excellent, and the texts were evocative.

  43. Dlarit says:

    Oh my, 2 best memories are Fallout 1 on the bus on my way from Virgin Megastores and Elite 2 frontiers in my Mums car on way back, I can smell the manuals now when I think about it.

  44. Archonsod says:

    The one I always remember reading on the way home was the original Fallout (it had an essay on how nuclear bombs actually worked!) and Planescape Torment (written entirely in cant)

  45. bokkibear says:

    Got so engrossed reading the manual for Master of Orion 1 that I missed my stop on the bus. Good times.

  46. RoboTesla says:

    Silent Hunter II and Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 1 and 2 all had thick softcover manuals that I spent hours poring over. All of them fed my interest in the Second World War and pushed me to read other nonfiction, even though I must have been in elementary school at the time.

  47. Rinox says:

    Oh man, this article brings back so many memories…particularly for the Arcanum and Alpha Centauri manuals. They were both pieces of art in their own right, mixing technical and game info with lore and artwork. Hell, the Alpha Centauri manual had a section with scifi works that inspired the devs (‘suggested reading’). I remember taking that manual along to boring family get-togethers and getting ever so excited from reading it.

    Even now I still print out manuals for older games (like on GoG) if they are worth it. Then I read them while taking a bath. Yes, I’m a decadent old bastard.

    • Rainshine says:

      Huh, I don’t remember replying to this article already…
      110% on both those games. AC in particular, I thumbed through that thing so many times… I still have the Alpha Centauri manual — admittedly, not the copy from the first time I bought the game, as evidenced by the fact you can still read the pages and it still has a binding. So much referring to the keymaps and tech trees and secret project reqs and everything else…. Admittedly though, I ordered mine online, so I didn’t have quite the same experience.

      Morrowind was the one that I bought at the start of a trip, and thusly had to content myself with reading the manual for the three weeks until I got back. So much fun, if not for the absolutely terrible skill mechanics in those games. Yay for Skyrim.

      • Rinox says:

        Oh yeah, that tech tree poster was sweet as hell too! I gave it to a friend of mine (also an AC afficionado) and he framed it and hung it on the wall. Looks great, just mildly jealous I never got around to doing it myself. ;-)

  48. Sin Vega says:

    The bus ride home with the manual was how games got you back then. Grab you straight by the imagination. Even some quite shitey games seemed full of possibilities when they had a good manual.

    Microprose were the kings of it, although you’d need to be on the bus for about two days to get through some of them. Like many of the best ones, they were products of active research and thoughtful reflection about settings and themes as much as they were about imagination and design. The Sim Ant/Life/City triple pack one was full of really educational and interesting stuff (I once won a biology quiz after reading it instead of doing any homework ever). Wing Commander’s was fashioned after a ship’s magazine sold on the carrier the game was set aboard.

    For Christmas in 1994 I got K240, and we stayed at a relative’s, so I didn’t get to play it. But I read the manual from cover to cover, and did several times later. A lot of love went into that, and it did a lot to bring the game to life for me.

    I still remember the smell of the Syndicate manual. The speficic paper/ink combination never quite comes up again, but anything similar enough takes me straight back. Lovely things, they were. I was sad when I had to chuck mine years ago.

    • jezcentral says:

      Microprose were kings of this. So many manuals, so many memories.

  49. RobbieTrout says:

    Infocom adventure games!! You didn’t just get a manual, but any given box probably also had a newspaper, a magazine, a map, a diary, a couple of “authentic” documents, and two or three actual objects. You could spend weeks just going through the box contents and dreaming.

    The little-known but pretty darn good RPG Stonekeep (by Interplay) included its backstory as a hardback novel.

  50. left1000 says:

    master of magic might just have the best manual ever printed.
    think cilvopedia for civ5, only they printed it all out.

    that said fallout1/2 had great manuals too.