Guiding Light

As gamers grow and age, ripening with the industry, so too does their paraphernalia and it seems to me that gaming guides are becoming the sophisticated coffee-table book for our hobby.  Not quite ‘Pre-Raphaelite Curves’ or ‘The Little Big Book of Shite Modern Art’, but they aren’t far off.  If I wasn’t so rabidly possessive about my row of beauties, they would be stacked up on the table for sticky fingered loungers to page through.  The astounding beauty of the Fable 2 concept art book, the humorous bios in the Dungeon Keeper Guide and my hardback Prince of Persia Collector’s Edition would all be laid out to entice visitors into my hobby as if into a gingerbread house.  No dog-eared newspapers or golfing magazines here… let the non-gaming norms eat cake.  Just so long as they keep crumbs away from my precioussssses.

Naughty corner is merely the beginning...
Naughty corner is merely the beginning…

Guides have been a part of the industry for many years now, slipping from the tips pages of gaming magazines and onto the shelves but in an interesting turn, guides themselves are becoming collectable in their own right, often being presented as ‘Limited Edition’ or ‘Collectable’.  Matt-encapsulated, foil embossed, or spot varnished covers delight, seducing you past their price tag with their looks, while textured paper, in-theme styling, extensive backgrounds, maps and concept art are all must haves with an increasing number of guides offering more than just dry lists and blurry maps.

Sadly, not all that glitters is gold and while some of them look the part, often they disappoint or don’t go as far as they could do – regular guides in designer clothing if you like.  Mirror’s Edge, for example, led me on.  I sympathise that it isn’t the easiest game to write a guide about, especially when it comes to the tricksey time trials, but still, it was messy.  Sadly, due to the frenetic pace and style of the game, the advice it gives often just boils down to:  go left down there and jump over that thing in front of you… no, no, the other one – there that’s it, now head for the building with the blue stripe under the thing with the orange sign bit there… no, the other one… oops, you died.  Not ideal.  I managed to glean exactly ONE piece of useful shortcut advice from the poorly laid out mash, so aside from the (beautiful) concept art and the interesting behind the scenes pieces, it is little more than shelf candy.  A trophy guide if you like.

Practically pretty in every way...almost
Practically pretty in every way… almost

Others, such as the Fable 2 Limited Edition Guide also suffer from beauty over brain syndrome at times and whilst it comes paired with a stunningly beautiful art book, the main guide (while indeed very useful) is slightly flawed.  At least one silver key is marked down in the wrong location (a true crime for a collectable item relating to an achievement) and the maps are occasionally tricky to follow.  Fallout 3’s meaty tome suffers from no real index and has a rather cluttered feel, but this arguably suits the style of the game as it is almost presented like someone slipped a mine into a guide’s pocket and caught the resulting explosion in a hardback notebook (earning Psychotic Prankster 10G on the way).  Perhaps I just need to come to terms with it and not expect so much from special or limited editions.  After all, if I can import a DVD or game that I can’t play on a PAL machine just because it is a limited edition, why shouldn’t guides be the same?

So is it worth getting a collectable guide when a normal one would suffice?  Collectability aside, surely a regular one would do the job and do it well?  Not always.  Some guides, while doing the job of being useful and nothing more, can still prove problematic, with tiny greyscale maps and advice which doesn’t bear out under playing.  It has come to the point where I have actually re-written guides by scoring out inaccurate (or in my opinion) flawed advice and writing my own.

With a red biro, you can change the world...
With a red biro, you can change the world…

Other regular guides serve another purpose and while not collectable or overly useful, are still worth picking up.  The Sims (2 and 3) guides are more like reference books with lists; general gameplay hints which act as more of an extension of the inadequate manual.  Pokemon is the same, presenting a sort of catalogue of the game’s wares for you to browse and compare before you set off with a knapsack full of Pokeballs.

Aside from getting stuck, I mostly use guides for collectable items (such as the last teasing few in the Lego games) or for following quests that I know damn well I will never revisit and want to get everything picked up the first time… i.e the gargoyles and keys during Fable 2’s Wraithmarsh quests.  Practical use aside though, it’s always nice to have something a little more collectable to perhaps justify the clutter but now it has bred a certain expectation – thanks to the efforts of the few, I have an almost indignant expectation for the many to fall into line and make an effort with something more special.  I always get a tad disappointed when a game which would suit a fancy guide (and not all of them do) doesn’t bother.  RPGs, adventures, and games which either ooze character or make a song and dance about their stories would do well to make a decent stab at a special or limited edition guide.

Fable 2 showing how it should be done
Fable 2 showing how it should be done

The few that do step up are the guiding light for this unfurling niche and long may it continue… because when Elder Scrolls 5 (if ever) finally arrives, I want a leather bound, parchment stuffed tome so heavy that I could use it to beat planets to death before placing it in a glass display case beside Fable 3’s Normanomicon, Tomb Raider: Afterlife’s suede journal guide, and Bully: The College Years’ school dossier style book.  Hope is a fine thing.







7 responses to “Guiding Light”

  1. Darach avatar

    😀 Ohh, you’ve got some really nice stuff there, L.

    And I’m really impressed with the way you photoshopped those chocolate muffin/cake crumbs onto your Fallout 3 Guide. 🙂

    You did, ermm, photoshop them, right?

    😀 Also, I would like to proclaim my love for all things Piggyback <3 🙂

  2. Lorna avatar

    Thanks 🙂 And you’re damn right the crumbs were photoshopped on there! Sticky fingers will be removed with scissors!

  3. Ben avatar

    Nice post Lorna 🙂

    I have a bit of a soft spot for guides, although not bought one in what seems like a lifetime.

    I think probably the best guide I’ve picked up was for Final Fantasy X, not only does it look fantastic, but the way its laid out just works brilliantly. The Pokemon guides (yes I went there) were awesome back in the day, detailed lists of various bits and bobs, it was like a glossy Excel spreadsheet without the anoying paper clip – my version had stickers that you could put onto each individual Pokemon’s page once you had “captured” it, great stuff.

    Talking of art books, I’ve not seen the Fable 2 one myself, but if you like that sort of thing then any of the World of Warcraft ones will have you dribbling like a baby.

    I picked up a copy of the “Art of Half Life 2” back when the game was first released, back when it was the big phenominal game pushing PC tech to its limits, it’s aged since then obviously, but the art book still looks fantastic.

    I want my Star Wars: The Old Republic guide to come as a life size R2-D2 that projects pages via its blue 3D output display…well, one can dream.

  4. dante76 avatar

    I think the limited editions are more of a hark back to the old packaging of the PC days, before slipcase packaging and cds. A standard release of Ultima: Pagen included cloth map, gold coin, guide book and others. F19 Stealth Fighter had keyboard layouts, 200 page booklet on airplanes, whilst Frontier 2, had a essay on the theory of interspace travel and quantum mechanics.

    Whilst I don’t mourn the gigantic boxes they came in, its good to see a slow return to unnecessary but beautiful paraphernalia.

  5. MarkuzR avatar

    Personally speaking, I’d rather fork out the money for a lavish item even if it IS useless (and I don’t mean the Wii) and you could matt encapsulate and spot varnish a dog shit and I’d buy it. I remember selling my Omen Trilogy VHS set on eBay many years ago and spent more time discussing the matt encapsulation and blood red foiling than anything else.

    Fable II guide was purely wank fodder though and had absolutely no purpose in terms of helping anyone along… much like the menu system of the game itself really. Beautiful packaging though, daaaaamn! If I had the choice of a bog standard version that helped, or a gorgeous package that left you guessing I’d go for the gorgeous packaging… as long as it was wipe clean, just in case.

    I’m with Ben on the Star Wars guide… I’d buy that. Just as long as it doesn’t come with c3PO as I couldn’t put up with all his twaddle!

  6. Lorna avatar

    I used to love the big box games, dante76 but they would damage so easily and swallow shelf space…looked damn good though!

  7. The Rook avatar
    The Rook

    I never bothered with guides much, there’s this thing called the internet for that. And people’s personal experiences sometimes are more valuable that what the guides print.

    Can’t say I’ve seen a collector’s edition guide thou. And I will always consider the special edition, depending what extras come with it and the price difference.

    I’m just not one for books. Maybe if I see a really nice one, I’ll change my mind.

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