Guiding Light

As gamers grow and age, ripening with the industry, so too does the paraphernalia that accompanies them. 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 ‘Collectible’.  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 while 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 collectible 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 collectible 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 – scoring out inaccurate (or in my opinion), flawed advice and writing in 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 collectible 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 collectible 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 collectible 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.


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.

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