Best backstory manuals

Nocturne. Not the recent, acclaimed console game, but the horribly received PC game of a few years back. Great manual and box and stuff.

Man, I hope the manual was entertaining cause the game was pure shit.

The Bard’s Tale games had some pretty sweet manuals, as I recall, and the hint books were even better. They were written out as journals of people actually going on the quests. As an 11 year old I thought they were pretty keen.

Elite’s novella… also the multiple manuals and spellbooks in Ultima III and Ultima IV. Those two in particular really set the stage for their respective games and helped draw you into the world before you even booted them up. Illustrations were as important as the writing – the quasi-medieval drawings on the Ultima III spellbook were particularly effective in creating a mood.

Midwinter had a pretty sweet backstory, chock full of pseudoscience and the like. It was cool.

And Gordon’s mentioned the Elite novellas (which the two later games had as well).

Across the Rhine’s manual was amazing. Spend more time reading it than playing the shitty game.

A couple instantly come to mind:

-I’m not which King’s Quest it was, maybe it was three. But it came with a fairy tale-like multiple page story of the tales that spread out in the earlier games to explain the backstory about what you would find out about Gwydion. It was beautifully written to sound like the continuation of a pleasant bedtime story.

-King’s Field, the original, has that extra manual on top of the huge playing manual and both of them have intricate backstory information. Apparently, before the events in King’s Field, a whole shitload of things happened in the world. Its well worth reading because it lends the first person experience of exploring the King’s Field world much more atmosphere when you know the when and why of such things. I remember the illustrations and art being brilliantly evocative.

-Metal Gear Solid 2, the manga that comes in the manual and MGS3, that included the separate novel.

-Does anyone remember the drama CD that came with Loom? I do. It has a beautifully acted radio drama of things about the Loom world.

-In the same manner, I like the prologue radio drama CD that came with Atelier Erie, that helps explain how she wanted to become an alchemist and her first days at the academy before you start to play.

-I forgot which game it was, it might have been Divine Divinity, but it included a PDF novella that had what seemed to be like an unrelated story, but as you played the game you realize it was the explanation for the villain and the trouble in the land and how that came about.

-It wasn’t real in-depth like some of these others, but I liked how the original Shadow Hearts’ “manual” was a collection of criptic notes about random aspects of the plot and game-mechanic-related story points, fit very well with the atmosphere of the actual game.

-Contact! That has one very cool manual related to the story and told in a unique way. I’m keeping it a secret until it releases elsewhere though. I hope Atlus has the sense to keep the manual in the same style as the Japanese version.


It was. The whole idea was that some boneheaded knight in search of “glory” or something decided to go out and kill the last living dragon and after a long and bloody struggle he succeeded. Because the gods of this world created the dragon people first (and apparently liked them more) this had the unfortunate side effect of setting in motion their great plan whereby all of the dragon people were resurrected on a faraway island where all of the magic in the world was slowly draining towards. Much of the novella is told as part of the diary of one of the few survivors of the first ill-fated expedition to this island. Pity the game didn’t live up to the story.

Not a manual, but the Hint/Walthrough Book for Bard’s Tale II was written from the perspective of a party of adventurers that actually went through the game, with an additional backstory weaved through and between each chapter. I thought it was totally cool at the time.


Fallout was a great manual, but for setting up the actual back story, I haven’t seen anything beat Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. I totally bought into the whole story, and it dramatically increased my enjoyment of the game. By the time I put down the manual I knew every faction leader, their strength’s and weakness, and already I either loved or hated them. Actually I don’t think I really loved any of them, but I definitely had an opinion.

The Baldur’s Gate Adventurer was Volo, which was done pretty well, if it a bit dry I thought, but miles better than the Diablo I and II introductions. If you liked Blizzard’s work then check out any Infinity Engine game, including the Icewind Dale’s, and definately check out SMAC. It’s the king as far as I am concerned.

And of course the Ultima’s. In their case it wasn’t so much the writing as the books themselves. You had faux aged spell books, history books, cloth maps, ankh’s, etc. It went a long way into drawing you into the game world. Needed to find out the ingredients for a spell? Duh. Grab your spell book.

My personal favorite manuals are the Fallout and Fallout 2 manuals, which are written as vault dweller survival guide publications. They even have the occasional scribble in the margins, not to mention the little recipes in the back.

Some of the Impressions city-builders also had interesting manuals. I think a couple sections were written as “interviews” of citizens from the era.

Yeah, Alpha Centauri had that book.

  • Alan

I know this has been asked untold times but is that Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe decent?

I thought about mentioning Alpha Centauri, but actually the story in the manual didn’t really do much for me. The story in the game, and all the quotes with the technologies and such, were far more compelling to me.


Flashback’s manual had a lot of different stuff, articles, advertisements, diary entries etc which all pieced together nicely a little backstory to the game.

The Eidolon had a fairly cool manual as well, if memory serves, with a sort of H.G. Wellesian backstory. Also, Psygnosis’s Deep Space bundled with an amusing comic book, though the game itself was pretty lousy from what I recall.

Battlezone (1998) the action/RTS hybrid had an awesome manual that looked like a US Govt. field manual, complete with fake coffee cup ring stain on the cover. It was a pretty good setup for the game too-- what with the whole “secret” space race before the official one.

Crimson Skies

While I was looking for the alice journal, I found the manual for tropico and Pirates!. Tropico had descriptions of numerous dicators and what happened to them. Pirates(collector’s edition) had some historical info about real pirates.

It’s only out a unrelenting sense of duty that I feel compelled to add “Every Infocom game ever made” to the list.

  1. In what year was the Intergalactic Commerce Act passed?

  1. Who invented the light deceleration process known as slow glass?

  1. Name the act passed in 11,205 GY to strengthen the Planetary Commerce Act.

  1. Name the year in which Arnold Guunuf invented slow glass.

  1. The Intergalactic Commerce Act, passed in 11,205 GY, strengthened what earlier act?

  1. In 11,210, a glazier named Arnold Guunuf invented a light deceleration process. Name it.

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Collectors Edition manual for World of Warcraft has a lot of good backstories in it, although I believe most of the stories can also be found ingame around the game world.

It’s been and interesting process seeing Ms. Dembo work through the development of SotS. She’s filled in a lot of the backstory of each race by simply answering fan questions posted on the developer forums for almost a year now:

Elite for C64