Monday, March 7, 2011

War Games and Flight Simulators Manuals Need to Catch Up with the Times

I'm looking at my Falcon 4.0 printed manual as I write this. Hundreds of pages of quality writing for ubiquitous enjoyment: the lap of the virtual pilot while he flies, the table of the lunch room at work, the bed during those last minutes of consciousness before succumbing to sleep. Games and flight simulators have an extended life beyond the computer that runs them, and reading the manuals is a big part of it.

If we were to speak of a non-disputed death in the gaming genres we entertain ourselves with, that would be the death of the printed manual delivered along with the game.

We now get pdf files for manuals and while they are convenient in some aspects (searchability and reduced physical/shelf storage space), they are attrocious in others. In my case, I really don't like alt-tabing out of my flight simulators to check the manual.

Right now, the sim du-jour is DCS A-10C and many fellow simmers have chosen to print the 600+ pages of the manual. I read somewhere that in the near future the DCS A-10C printed manual will be available for sale somewhere. I will probably order a copy when it comes out, but I am not overly enthused at the prospect of buying or printing a copy of manuals that I already have in other format.

A solution for reading the manuals without alt-tabing from your game/sim is to have another computer showing the manual. A laptop is a natural choice, but it lacks in the portability department. Comfortable reading portability, I mean: it feels like cumbersome web browsing instead of actually book reading.

In this brave new digital world, there are now ultra-portable readers for digital media: the tablets and the e-book readers. If you are in the market for one, please make sure that the device can display native pdfs. In the limited research I have done, pdf manuals can be shown and read decently in only two devices: the Amazon Kindle DX and the iPad. These cost $379 and $500 respectively (although now that the iPad 2 is around the corner you can get 1st generation iPads for $350 from the Apple store).

Can't afford those but if I would have the money, I would aim for the iPad because in the long run is more bang for the buck (internet browsing and the other super-duper apps). In addition, I have a sizeable collection of technical papers in pdf format that I would love to have ready without having to boot up a laptop. Ey! This is actually a great excuse to present to the wife ("See? Its for work!). :)

Another choice would be the now cheaper e-book readers. But again, not all of them can show native pdfs in a decent way. If it's not the screen size (a screen real estate of 7" is a tad small to read a pdf document that was intended to be printed and read at double that size), it's the native pdf issue (not all devices read native pdfs and need to be converted/re-flowed resulting in loss of figures or even text). E-book readers are intended for reading things formatted as e-books from scratch, after all.

So, here is to hope that someday our beloved game/sim developers will someday publish their manuals in a format that can be read into inexpensive e-book readers.



Sean said...

This post made me realize I'm an idiot. I never thought of loading the pdf manual on my iPad to reference while playing.

I had been printing select pages to thumb through.

Doh. Thanks for the tip!

Sean said...

This post made me realize I'm an idiot. I never thought of loading the pdf manual on my iPad to reference while playing.

I had been printing select pages to thumb through.

Doh. Thanks for the tip!

Jomni said...

I have been loading PDF's in my iPad ever since and I find it convenient.

Jerry said...

We are planning on getting one of the new iPads in the near future, and this will be one of the main uses for me.

GregP said...

I had the manual printed out in B&W, double-sided, 2 pages per side, and it came out to a manageable 150-page-thick spiral-bound manual for $38. Sure, I'll probably buy the printed manual when it comes out, but making my own for less than 40 bucks works for me in the mean time.

Stefan said...

I couldn't agree more with your post.
I currently use my iPad mostly for reading manuals for War in the East and War in the Pacific.
I miss the days of thick printed manuals that Microprose or EA (Janes) used to give us.


JC said...

Thanks for your comments, guys.

Glad to see the iPad users around here. :) As much as I try to stay away from anything Apple, the iPad is THE gadget. Maybe in the future ... On the meantime I will stick with GregP and print the manual. ;)