What are your favorite video game manuals?

As the digital age becomes universal and turns us all upside down, the beauty of the video game manual – that tactile, essential document that often sold you a franchise as much as the video game itself – has faded.

It’s not a completely lost art, and some developers and publishers understand that special collector’s editions should come with a book you can cherish and keep. But because these are not things that are printed en masse, the need and emphasis to create beautiful, sprawling, detailed little Bibles just isn’t there.

And that’s a real shame, because the textbooks themselves have often been a work of art. Civilization 2The manual is one that I remember growing up with. This was often essential because it was faster to go through the hard copy of the Tech Tree than in the game. Civgot a bit better on that front, and PCs are more powerful than ever, but there was still a special joy in having this book handy. (And the manual had other uses: It was comprehensive enough that an AI would achieve a 79% win rate just by going through the instructions.)

But it is a deeply personal anecdote, and one which does not even allow to appreciate how some of the textbooks were superb. To take Metal Gear Solid 2, which contained an entire manga of instructions explaining the controls and stealth mechanics:

Image: Reddit

I have always had a weakness for sketch drawings in the Heroes of Might and Magic 3 Manual. The detailed lines of angels, demons, dark dragons, and other mystical creatures were incredibly well done, but unfortunately Ubisoft didn’t incorporate that shine into the manual of the HD reissue. Fortunately, GOG still has the manual for the original and its two expansions.

I know a lot of artists would take a look at this and think how much further these designs could be taken – but I absolutely loved it back when I was a kid. And it’s a great use of all that concept art that would have just been tucked away on a drive or drawer somewhere.

Going back further, the original manual for The Hobbit – one of the first games outside Australia and one of the most successful – was something else for the time.

Image: Museum of the History of Computer Adventure Game

The Hobbit was a text-based adventure, so the manual itself didn’t have a lot of actual art. But what was good was the precision with which he explained things.

Image: Museum of the History of Computer Adventure Game

And then you have companies like Nintendo, which have a history – a history that is rapidly receding, unfortunately – of producing outstanding illustrations and manuals for their proprietary games. here is one of New Super Mario Brothers U:

Image: Kotaku

I could go on and on. But I’m curious about your own memories. What were your favorite video game books, whether growing up or all time?


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