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R. T. F. M. (Please!!!)
One of the odd things I've noticed in all my years playing video games is the fact that most people hate to read instructions. For something that comes free with the packaging and is there to assist you somewhat, you'd figure people would get into the habit of spending a few minutes looking at the darn thing. But a few times a week, I'll see or hear someone complain about some aspect of a game that's explained far better in the instructions than by a dozen frustrating trial and error sessions. Or two dozen dumb questions. Sure, the best games are those that anyone can just pick up and play, but some more involved games demand a lot more than a glance at the back of the CD case or a scan of a review in a magazine. Ever try to play a Resident Evil game without looking at what the controls do? I'll bet you probably thought your controller was busted every time a zombie had its teeth in your backside. Some of you probably think the series is called "You Died" because that's all you ever see every time you play.

Rainbow Six is another good example- a lot of people who didn't play the PC version thought this was going to be a fast-paced game like Goldeneye, and were frustrated right away at the strategy needed to complete it and the fact that you're dead if you get shot once. Another one is the old Playstation game by Artdink, Carnage Heart. A few people bought this one thinking it was a fast-paced mech game, when instead it was a game for big-brained folks with a lot of time on their hands. Agetec's Fighter Maker is another one that had many scratching their heads at the plain-Jane gameplay and the steep learning curve in programming your own beat-em-up. Then again, the latter two games have manuals that you HAVE to sit down and spend time with before you can get any good at them. Which means that the folks who hate reading the short manuals ain't gonna be reading these novellas at all. At any rate, I'm sure those 1-900 operators at most game companies are driven nuts on a daily basis by people who just don't read the manuals of the games they buy and find it hard to do simple things like save or load a game. But these folks are also paid to be super polite and patient- so they can't tell folks to R.T.F.M. (even though it would save loads of time and money).

Then again, some manuals are written so sparsely that you kind of get the idea that you NEED to shell out that extra fifteen bucks for the "Official Strategy Guide", and a few of those guides are annoying because they have links to the game website for even more information! So it becomes an odd circle where you have people who buy games with manuals that they don't read buying strategy guides written by people who've basically played the game for them. And if you're one of those people who play games with a guide in one hand and a controller in the other, wondering why the game isn't much fun, well think about it for a second. Or two, if you're patient. On the other hand, when some games actually tell you what to do, it actually makes you want to bypass the whole "teach me how to play" thing. Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation is a classic example- if you've played all the other games, you pretty much have an idea of what you need to do, but fire up this one, and you have to play through an annoyingly long mandatory tutorial. And don't even think of dying during the training level either, or its back to the beginning (or a not-too convenient save spot).

Personally, I think instruction manuals should be easy to read yet make you interested enough to want to jump right into whatever it is you've bought. Shooters for example, should just say "shoot enemies- avoid getting shot" or something like that. But then again, try to find a good shooter these days. A good running demo is also good, but a lot of games don't even have that going for them. Some people think that there's nothing worse than renting or buying a game and there's no gameplay demo to show you what's what. Then again, you should R.T.F. M. anyway, just to be on the safe side. There's some help line operator out there that will thank you immensely. Now, you'll have to excuse me- I have to look up some Gameshark codes for Pac Man- jeez, that game is tough!

(I'm kidding, of course.)
Greg Wilcox

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