I know this is an overhashed topic, but I am really fed up with what passes for a "manual" these days.
For the past week now I have been playing Dark Age of Camelot. I have been impressed with every aspect of the game...except for what passes as a "manual". This anemic stack of papers stapled between what passes for a cover provides exactly zero pieces of useful information. Sure, the internal artwork is nice, but where's the beef?
Statements like "Strength: This is the overall strength of your character. It also determines his carrying capacity". Wow, thanks for the information. Does a high strength increase how much damage my character will do? Will a low strength limit what weapons I cna effectively use? I have no idea because it doesn't even touch on those subjects. How about this quickness statistic? In most games this replaces the Dexterity statistic, but DAoC has both stats, so what does it do? According to our handy dandy notebook, Quickness "is a measure of how fast your character is able to move". Does it makes me run faster? Swing my weapon faster? Increase my odds of evading or parrying an attack? If this manual has its way, the player will never know. The biggest issue right now for players is the "Bonus %" listing on all weapons and armor. No one is sure if this increases the damage a weapon does, the speed of the weapon, a bonus to the skill the weapon uses, or what. Mythic hasn't even hinted to us what it is except to say that a bonus is a good thing. No kidding, thanks Mythic.
There are some things I can see not putting into a manual. Things like the exact mana cost for a spell, the damage of a weapon, or the amount of experience a given level of critter gives when slain. These things are constantly tweaked by the developers to balance the game and so it wouldn't make sense to publish them in a manual. Basic information that is set in stone, however, should be told to the player. Would it hurt to tell me that strength of 110 gives me a 15% bonus to my damage? It wouldn't hurt the immersion factor of the game any more than seeing "Damage: 11.6, Delay: 3.2" (which is currently shown in the game) when you look at a weapon.
Most players these days have realized that there are only two places to find out real information about a game; spoiler sites on the Web or independantly published "Game Guides" from companies like Prima. The Game Guides just kill me. I just laid down $40 for your game and now you tell me that if I want a manual I have to pay an addition $20? It's not like this is business as usual for corporate America. Imagine buying a toaster; you get it home, take it out of the box, and you see that it has 20 knobs, 3 levers, and 2 buttons. You flip through the manual to find out how to make the perfect piece of toast only to be told that you'll have to pay $20 extra if you want to know what all the knobs, levers, and buttons do.
DAoC isn't the only culprit, it's just the most recent example. Every Blizard manual contains 4 pages of story, 2 pages of flavor text for each character/race, and no specifics about the game. Emperor of Dune by Westwood Studios shows all of the units that come with the game, but gives no indication of the damage a unit inflicts, the armor a unit has, or how to do simple things like select all of your rocket infantry on the screen. It's not that there isn't a command to select all of one unit on the screen, it's just that they don't tell you how! A trained chimp could write a better manual with his own feces. Startopia didn't even bother providing a manual or useful ingame help. Want to know how to use the alien management screen? Too bad! Experiment and figure it out for yourself. Or perhaps you need to know which buildings keep which races happy? Guess you need to fire up the web browser and hope someone else figured it out already, because apparently Mucky Foot hasn't.
A few companies have managed to publish well written and truly useful manuals. Interplay's RPG divisions provide all of the information you'll need to play the game. Fallout I & II, Baulder's Gate I & II, Icewind Dale, and Planescape are all prime examples on how to write a manual. They have every spell, stat, skill, exp table, and race/class fleshed out and printed on paper for you. How much damage does a level 5 Magic Missile do? 2d4 + 2 damage. Now when you level you can decide which spell would be the most useful to you. No more having to save your game, pick a spell, experiment with the spell for an hour, restart from the save, try a new spell, and continue the process until you find what spell works best for your style.
Developers, if you need to know how to write a proper manual, just pick up anything ever written by Microprose. I suggest starting with Masters of Orion II. If you go by their template, you'll have much happier customers. It's worth the extra $1.84 per game to publish a useful manual. You'll establish a loyal customer base and get good word of mouth from your players.
Now I'd best get off my soapbox and see if I can figure out what this 9th level Regrowth spell does. I checked the manual, but apparently you don't get spells in this game.
By Jason McCullough on Tuesday, October 16, 2001 - 05:18 pm:
As much as recent manuals blow, for MMORPGs it's kind of supposed to be that way, at least for statistical information. I have no idea why, but MMORPG game designers have apparently reached a consensus that Letting People See The Numbers is a bad thing. You know, because people play these games for the plot.
Not putting in spell descriptions is amazingly silly, though.
By Jim Frazer on Tuesday, October 16, 2001 - 05:40 pm:
The DAoC manual has essentially no information at all. They have little blurbs about the races and the classes, but even that information is incomplete. They seem to have forgotten that they have a class called a Blademaster in Hibernia. Had to hunt down a website called Classes of Camelot to find out what a Blademaster was meant to be.
I understand some things not being published, as I said, because the information on spell damage, mana cost, duration, etc... for spells is most likely out dated before the manual is in the players hands. That information changes constantly.
But lets take the weapons for instance...
A weapon has 5 stats: Damage (in ##.# format) a delay (in ##.# format), a condition (in ###% format), a quality (in ###% format), and a Bonus (in ###% format). They already provide you with all the information in a numeric format, but they don't tell you what the hell the stats mean. When the quality goes down, do I do less damage? As a weapon's condition goes down, is my attack speed slowed? This kind of information should be published. I don't need to know that a weapon at 90% condition is 8% slower or whatever. I just want to know that yes, a damaged weapon is slower than a 100% conditioned weapon.
All this information is apparently in the Prima game guide, which received 100% cooperation from Mythic. Personally, I think the manual being this slim and useless was just another way to make some extra bucks. This information is too important not to have, so players have no choice but to buy the Game Guide if they want the info on hand while they're playing. It's not like you can Alt-Tab out of the game and check info on the web.
Ah well, maybe I'm just being too bitchy. I miss the good old days of useful manuals that I could take with me on my after work bathroom unwinding sessions. There is something about that room that promotes the absorption of read materials.
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Tuesday, October 16, 2001 - 10:20 pm:
Yeah, I remember that from UO way back in the day it first came out, too. You had to buy the Prima guide to get much information on pretty much everything.
That's certainly a crappy thing to do. No doubt about it.
By Phinneas Phallus on Tuesday, October 16, 2001 - 11:22 pm:
Don't know if this is the case with the manuals you're describing here, but I know that when I worked at a graphic design software publisher that the manuals were always finished before the software was. This led to outright misinformation being printed in some cases, and vague documentation all around (so as to avoid specifics that might change at the last minute). When I inquired as to why it was done this way, I was given this answer: the publisher wanted to pump out software titles as quickly as possible, and if they waited until after the software had gone gold to finish the manual then the accounting dept. would be pissed because no new software was on the shelf, ready to be bought. The highest priority was having new titles on the shelf at a rapid clip, to keep stockholders happy. So, this urge to get products on the shelf ASAP after the software has been completed may be the top priority at the game publishers you're talking about, rather than keeping serious gamers happy with detailed, accurate, and well-written manuals that the average moron might not bother reading.
By Desslock on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 02:47 am:
>remember that from UO way back in the day it first came out, too. You had to buy the Prima guide to get much information on pretty much everything
Yeah, that was very annoying. Origin was on a real bad streak then, which was just a sign of what was to come (although the packaging certainly improved for other Origin products -- all 3 of them, after that). Origin's manual for Wing Commander 4 was a shadow of the manual for WC3 as well. Origin played a significant role in that trend.
By Gordon Cameron on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 03:01 am:
Too bad, when you think of the brilliant documentation Origin bundled with games like Ultima 3, Ultima 4, Ultima 5...
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 03:13 am:
Yeah, it's sad that things are taking more and more that trend. I sincerely hope that this doesn't infect non-MMORPGs -- although, my wife certianly likes the Sims Strategy guides. There's certainly some stuff in there that could have been in the manual, but it seems less "cheap" of them to leave it out. The manuals are acceptable without the strategy guides. That wasn't the case for UO. And this was in '98.
By Brian Rubin (Veloxi) on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 01:39 pm:
The only MMORPG I've ever owned was Asheron's Call, and I thought the manual for that game was barely adequate. It's not just MMORPG's that suffer from bad manuals, however. Has anyone seen the manual for Age of Sail II. That thirty-nine page pamphlet was horrific for a game as complex as AOS II. Talonsoft has been rather mean with their manuals of late.
My favorite manuals were the old Microprose manuals for games like Railroad Tycoon, F-14 Fleet Defender, Master of Magic, 1942: Pacific Air War, and so on. Those manuals were not only well written, but had genuine touches of humor as well. Ah, I miss the olden days sometimes...
By Gordon Cameron on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 02:20 pm:
Speaking of Microprose manuals, Sid Meier's Pirates! had a great one.
By Brian Rubin (Veloxi) on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 04:42 pm:
Yeah, I remember that one well. Microprose had a knack of making great manuals for a very long time.
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 06:18 pm:
Did you guys play any of the Quest for Glory games? The first one had a pretty great manual -- as helpful as you'd want it to be, and pretty funny. I'd like to see more of its sort.
By Supertanker on Thursday, October 18, 2001 - 12:52 am:
Microprose manuals were great, especially the background material they would include. I learned to ID silhouettes of the T-55/62/64/72 from the M1TP1 manual (and copy protection scheme). Dynamix was pretty good about that, too. Do you remember all of the ace bios in the Red Baron manual, or the story of the invasion of Japan that was in the AotP:1946 manual?
By Alan Au (Itsatrap) on Thursday, October 18, 2001 - 04:44 pm:
Story is all fine and good, as long as they don't leave out the part dealing with the game mechanics. Of course, even a good manual can't save a bad interface.