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December 18, 2011 / jwaxo

Theme Park (Manuals, and Reading Them)

One of these days, my drawing hand is going to kill me.

As has been established over and over and over again, I love reading manuals. I love it. I love it so gosh-darn much. It’s one of the things that makes me so sad about today’s games, and the way technology is moving: things are explained so well in-game, and the cost of manuals is apparently so much, that game companies are neglecting that bastion of imagination and information more and more. When I cracked open my brand new copy of Batman: Arkham City a few months ago, I experienced the ultimate chagrin that the manual consisted of no more than two slips of paper, involving safety warnings and information on how to unlock my special Catwoman downloadable content. Sure, having no manual in Half-Life 2 made some sort of sense: that game was all about immersive storytelling. But Arkham City, a fighting and gadget-based game, with tons of characters and moves and backstory, with nothing for me to peruse prior to picking the game back up a few years later? Shameful! Sure, all of that information is located in-game (which is how companies justify not having manuals), but there’s just something about that feel.

This is all a tangent, of course, to my main point: I love manuals. Love love love them.

And it was not always so.

Flashback to 1995, summer of love. Through one of our many means, we have found a new game: Bullfrog’s Theme Park.

Like I told you that one time, while I was a scared little kid, frightened of cars even going too fast, I was in love with the concept of roller coasters and amusement parks. And this game, well. It let you freaking make one. An imaginary one, but one nonetheless.

The alternative was attempting to make our own roller coasters.

We found it at a local Fred Meyer, sitting atop one of those lovely bargain bins, paid for it with precious, precious allowance, and carted it home to try it out.

Several hours later found both of us frustrated beyond belief.

First of all, it was a very difficult game. Let’s meditate on that for a moment: this was before the massive influx of Tycoon-flavored games. Heck, this was the spiritual predecessor to the giant Rollercoaster Tycoon, and we got our hands on it before we had ever experienced that crazy SimCity 2000, meaning this was also our first dip in a simulation of that scale. Taking care of staff, prices on individual rides, mapping out walking paths and queues. It was a tricky, complex game.

There was one major problem: our parks consisted of about three rides and two concession stands and that was it. No matter what we did, no matter how long we played, we could never figure out how to unlock more.

My brother eventually got fed up with it, looked up cheats, and soon was mapping out giant, awesome parks, with everything unlocked and unlimited money. He had the coolest rollercoasters, awesomely complicated water rides, the works. We would cluster around the monitor and watch the cheesy 3D animations for those rides and drool over them.

Yet the puzzle of how to legally get those attractions haunted me. How?

Huge theme parks of Bouncy Castles got boring after a while.

Finally, maybe after a month of toying with Theme Park every once in a while, we visited our friend’s house, the friend who had introduced us to this game, and he showed something we had been missing: the research screen.

A complete screen where you could allocate points to areas you wished to unlock more things in! How could you have known this existed?

“Um,” our friend asked us, “did you look in the manual?”

Of course. The manual. That folded collection of papers in the front of the jewel case, one which we had maybe glanced over prior to shoving back into place and frantically installing the game.

We had fallen for the classic trap, one which all customer service reps have to deal with on a daily basis. There’s even a common acronym thrown around: RTFM, which stands for Read the Manual (of course). And we, being overexcited kids, had overlooked it in our haste to play a stupidly complicated game.

And now look at me: obsessed with the stupid things. I collect them. I adore them. And it’s not just because they’re fun and extend enjoyment, but because sometimes they’re necessary.

“Dear Warner Brothers Entertainment, you have ruined my gaming experience due to …”

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