Farewell, Game Instruction Booklet - NekuRulez Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Farewell, Game Instruction Booklet

After purchasing a 3DS system this past August, and buying some new Nintendo titles, I noticed a disturbing change with every game case I opened...  Gone are the traditional instruction booklets of games past, replaced by what is essentially a "moves pamphlet".  I have found this with EVERY Nintendo-made game released for 3DS so far!  Including: Super Mario 3-DLand, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3-D, and Paper Mario: Sticker Star.  Check the sample pics below...  (all pics were taken myself, poorly, using my iPod camera.  Please save your photo award nominations for the end of the blog... lol)

Kid Icarus: Uprising had a decent pamphlet with some weapons info (kick-@ss total weapons inventory btw....  Must play!  Awesome game!), while 3-DLand really limited the print info to just Mario's moves!  It was a four-fold pamphlet square!  Now, thus far, I have only seen this practice with Nintendo-IP titles.  Mario, Zelda, Kid Icarus and the like.  Third party developers like Square-Enix (Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy: Theatrhythm) and Namco/Bandai (Pac-Man Party 3-D......  don't judge.....!) seem to still provide traditional instruction booklets for their new releases.

After getting over my initial (old-skool) disappointment of "What!? No instruction booklet!?"  and Stage 2 pessimism of "This must be what Nintendo is doing now to try and push downloading titles instead of buying the physical game cards..."  I started thinking a little about instruction booklets, what they meant to me when playing a new game, and whether or not they really have a needed place in gaming today outside of classic gamers' demands for nostalgia....  And while my generational alliance may demand I side with gamers insisting we will always need instruction booklets and poo-pooing the Industry for trying to increase profit margins at the expense of shrinking and eliminating said booklets; my heart secretly understands that much like virtual pets (Tamagotchi/Digimon), pagers and (eventually) exclusive portable gaming devices (Nintendo/Sony/Sega/Atari).... ::sigh::  instruction booklets have served their purpose which may now be better served in-game.  Generation X-ers....  hear me out....  I hate myself for saying this too...  What started as a rant on constant cost-cutting and quality degradation in gaming instruction booklets slowly turned into a revealing, sad farewell to one of the coolest parts of buying/owning a video game ever... the awesome instruction booklet!

Instruction booklets laid-out a complex story...  In the age of 8 and 16-bit graphics, the instruction booklet played a HUGE role in outlining the opening of a game's story.  Older systems, with their graphical limitations, placed a huge demand on gamers' imagination to fill-in the pixels 8 and 16-bit systems just couldn't.  In light of these hardware limitations, it was always amazing how vivid a world designers could make with the simplest of graphics, color gradation (where available) and music.  The instruction booklet let the designers take the gamer by-the-hand and say "this is the world we were picturing when we made this game."  Naturally, every gamers' imagination would fill-in the blanks individually but the story through pictures in the instruction booklet gave us all a common framework in which to collectively imagine the game.

The instruction booklet also served a natural transition from literary to electronic entertainment.  Prior to gaming, most adventures came through books (or movies and television).  Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books were popular, having readers choose from 3 or 4 possible actions the character in the book could take and then flip to the corresponding page to read-on, with really only one happy ending and you'd die along all the others paths.  The stories in the instruction booklet took us from book to video game by saying "This is what happened, this is what's going on, here's a controller and take it from here."

Aside from the storytelling, instruction booklets would use wonderful artwork not only to instruct the gamer on how to play, but also add more life and vibrancy to the title.

Instruction booklets made enemies look more menacing.. or less... depending on the artist...

Instruction booklets made tools and items look cool...

The art in instruction booklets made worlds and levels look more lush and real than hardware technology could ever allow at that time...


Instruction booklets often provided ad space for related products, fan clubs and collectibles...

Instruction booklets would help explain some of the more difficult or unique features of the game...

Finally...  instruction booklets would give us confidence in our purchase...

Support when times went bad...

And the infamous back pages to scribble down passwords, special control combinations, your favorite pizza or whatever....


So with all this, why am I prepared to say farewell to the good 'ole instruction booklet?  For me, the graphically fun way instruction booklets were made was what made them such a great resource.  As games got more complicated, and many booklets became manuals with more text and less graphics, my interest in even looking at the instruction book began to wane.  Games and systems today have become so much more sophisticated and detailed (and continue to get better-and-better) that we don't really need the artistic crutch of the instruction booklet to show the gamer what the intended game world should look like anymore.  Think of it along the lines of Steven Spielburg's remakes of Star Wars.  The technology in the movie industry finally hit a point where he could visually put things in his movies that he had wanted to back in the '70s but the tech was just not there.  It's sort of like looking at the New Super Mario Bros. series today as a technologically revamped version of the original Super Mario Bros. of the '80s that just couldn't be made then.

Today, game graphics are precise and realistic enough to no longer need the artistic crutch of images in an instruction booklet to help visually build their world, and in-game tutorials (while often annoying) are basically filling the literal function of the booklet, often with specific levels that are basically designed to serve as the virtual instruction booklet.  With that said,  ::sniff sniff::  I think maybe we DON'T really need the instruction booklet anymore... and not simply for cost-cutting, but for real aesthetic reasons.  The Nintendo 3DS even offers a Game Notes program that lets you pause mid-game and open up a notebook where you can make notes with screenshots of where you are.  Basically, that's the function of those oddly numbered back "notes" pages that would even-out the printing needs of the instruction booklet.  Amazing! 

As much as I hate to say instruction booklets may have served their purpose and are no longer needed...  with their eventual (or in the case of Nintendo, current) absence I would like to make some demands of the gaming community in exchange for these instruction booklets:

(1) Smaller packaging.  I hate the bulk of DS and 3DS game cases.  I long for those good old Game Boy days where the game came in a small box.  And give us a dust jacket!  Handheld, the Virtual Boy was the only device that had a dust jacket to cover the exposed chip area of the cartridge at bottom.  Console, this all ended with the N-64.  Well, DS still has a game card with exposed chips so we deserve an actual little plastic case just to keep the game card in that seals.  Kind of like the old Game Boy plastics cartridge cases.  (2) Postcards in-lieu of a graphical instruction booklet.  Since there will be no more instruction booklets, I think gamers should get two or three small square or rectangle shaped postcards with some game art (complete, conceptual, sketch or whatever) included with purchase (or as a pre-order perk.)  and (3) more AR cards!  If dumping instruction booklets would secure some money for AR cards to be made for more games, or even for Nintendo to produce more cards for their 3DS AR Games app., I'd gladly say goodbye to printed instruction booklets.

On a related note, kudos to Nintendo for making pretty cool artistic changes to their 3DS game cases in general

The little square game shots built into the interior of the case are such a cool design.  But again, I want a little plastic case to hold my 3DS card, NOT a huge slot to put the card into within a big boxy case.

To those who really love instruction booklets like I do, think about why you love them and their real necessity for games today.  As someone who desperately misses cool designs and sketches in these books, I think pack-in game pic postcards for new games would be a great substitute, and let the actual instructions be give in-game with a specially designed tutorial level.  I close with a few shots (albeit blurry) of one of my favorite games, Electroplankton!  This game is so amazing because it's basically a big musical instrument for your Nintendo DS!  The software turns your hardware into an orchestra, graphically depicted as oceanic plankton!  Brilliant!  This title was released in 2005, through Nintendo only, not for sale in stores.  If you even come across a copy buy it, because I believe it WILL be a gamers' collectors' item someday!  Plus it is relaxing and fun to play with, it's magical!  Electroplankton (10-total variety) are sold individually through the Nintendo eShop.  The actual DS game, has all ten Electroplankton.  This was an instruction booklet made incredibly well!