To: The Game Industry
From: Gen Katz, Editor
Topic: Information Please
Date: Dec 2008

I grew up in the day when "Read the ------- manual" was the standard answer to cries for help. In reviewing games, I still read the manual to get the scope of the game. In far too many cases they are woefully deplorable, inadequate and casually ignore the needs of the player.

Take for example, including a labeled image of the console in the manual. Why does the Wii have the sparsest of the info? A relatively new console, geared towards the casual player, one that has the complexity of two controllers, it provides manuals with no images and with a list which doesn't even specify which controller the buttons are on. Meanwhile - the old and familiar PS2 - out since 2000, always includes an informational image in its manuals. The DS is not absolved from being stingy with information. As games for a this handheld move away from simple arcade games to become deeper and more intricate, players need and deserve adequate instruction. Simply, as a reviewer, I pop games into the DS like Chiclets - it would be handy, indeed crucial to know where the saves are.

In-game instruction is an attempt to makeup for the dearth of information in manuals. That too needs work. In-game instructions should not be patterned after flash cards. Testing with three different age groups with varying levels of reading ability - I found that instructions disappeared from the screen too quickly, plus they were irretrievable. Instructions should stay on the screen until dismissed by the "A" button and they must be retrievable somehow in the game.

Text on screen demands extra special care to make sure that it is legible. Blocky-arty letters melt into blobs and light gray text on dark gray may look great on party invitations but it is lousy both on the screen and in manuals. And while we're at it - consider those who are color-blind.

Save seems to be a dirty word, often not appearing at all or almost as an afterthought. In the opening list of the game choices, New Game/Load Game/Multiplayer, Save belongs right after Load Game! Before I set a kid up with a game - I tell him/her how the game saves - it helps avoid tears and flying controllers. For adults, informed saves are at least a courtesy for those who don't have the luxury to play for 20 hours straight.

On the other hand, I think that there is a game playing gene. How else can I explain my five year old grandson, holding onto his Christmas DS as though it were an extension of his hands, refusing any help and completing five levels before dessert.

And I just found out that used DS games are being sold with neither the original box and cover information nor the manual! Oh, well!