The Anatomy of an Instruction Manual

This post is for the countless product designers in the game industry that read my blog, so the rest of you can just sit back and watch a concise tutorial in action.

We all know TV game instruction manuals are boring, and there’s rarely a reason to read them considering most games have their own built-in tutorials now. But still, years ago they were worth saving. I used to pile them up after throwing away the boxes (though now, as a graduated Super Nerd, I wish I had all my boxes). However, there are some key elements that can not be ignored while making the manual for your Next Big Game™.

First of all, and I cannot stress this enough, the instructions need to be in color.

Next, make sure you open with some eye-grabbing artwork and a cool logo (see example below). If you have a story synopsis to tell, either put it here or after the general game start page. If it’s a long intro, make sure you give us some cool pictures!

Now that you have a memorable image, you need to describe how the game works for all the retarded people that will buy it. Spend as little time as possible describing how to turn your system on, or how to curb epileptic seizures. If a customer somehow dies during this process, it was simply their time.

Here’s one of the most important factors to a proper manual. Make sure you show us all of the character’s abilities! Pictures are absolutely crucial. Take this for example:

Beautiful. Now I know what it’s going to look like when I’m being awesome. Your work’s not done yet, though, boys (and girls? Okay, whatever). I, the consumer, demand to see all of the weapons and items I might procure throughout the game. Typing them out is no good, no one’s going to actually read it. Here’s an example from Silent Hill 2.

But the most crucial addition to a manual is, without a doubt, the following. This can cancel out huge mistakes such as omitting any of the rules above or making the manual black & white. You have to show us the enemies we’ll be facing. Images are mandatory, because nothing is worse than being caught unawares by some sewer-dwelling pteranodon or the elusive “Guy with Knife”! Here is an example from the Ghouls ‘N’ Ghosts booklet that fulfills this qualification while also breaking one of my cardinal rules:

At the same time, Capcom makes up for its error by providing descriptions that both forewarn and entertain! On the rogues gallery page before this one, the description for the Skeleton Murderer (catchy name!) reads as follows, “Carries a scythe and can cut your life short.” I just felt a shiver. Note how the brevity still carries the weight of menace, emphasizing that they are indeed ne’erdowells!

These are all simple rules that, amazingly, almost no one obeys anymore. There was a time when at least 75% of these features were expected, nay, demanded from us all. Now we sit complacent with our B&W 5-page mini-rag that tells us how to safely turn on our fun boxes.

Instead of a long-winded reiteration of these tips, I leave you with the very call-to-arms that preceded Arthur’s trek into the unknown. Perhaps, one day, you will be so bold!

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