The loudest complaint I hear from fellow gamers reluctant to buy games from an online store like Steam, Direct 2 Drive or Impulse is the lack of a physical manual to flip through. Making matters worse for these guys, even some boxed copies no longer come with a paper manual . Me? I've never been a manual guy. In most cases, I'm of the opinion that games shouldn't be tests that I have to study for ahead of time—when I get a new one, I want to jump in and start having fun as I learn to play by exploding mutant heads with laser beams.
However, even I admit that every so often a manual is necessary. In those rare cases, the a PDF manual will do the job, but it has its drawbacks. But like most of life's problems, many of these issues can be solved with gadgetry.
Right now I'm playing the beta for Stardock's fantasy strategy game Elemental: War of Magic , (available to anyone who preorders the game) and whoa momma does it require some reading. (At least, it does in its uncompleted state. Tutorials are often one of the last things added to a game.) I expect this'll be one of those cases where it's worth my time to read up, though, since there's some serious depth here. Between the city and resource management, research trees, RPG heroes (complete with their own weaponry and equipment), quests, combat, marriage, children, magic and a bunch of stuff I haven't even gotten to yet, there's more to this game than could reasonably be crammed into a tutorial.
But, since I'd downloaded the Elemental beta through Impulse, the manual came in PDF form. It's not the end of the world, but alt-tabbing out to look through the PDF every time I run into something I can't figure out gets old quick. I could print out all 30 pages myself on my trusty inkjet, but with printer ink more valuable than human blood , I tend to avoid printing large tomes whenever possible. This is why people like their pre-printed reference materials.
Fortunately, I recently picked up an iPad, and PDFs are supported by Apple's iBooks app as well as any number of third-party reader apps. A quick loading procedure later, and I was flipping through pages with one hand while building my empire with the other. You may not have the physical sensation of flipping through the paper, but it's the next best thing. Arguably better, since you never have to worry about losing or destroying your manuals again.
This isn't limited to Apple products, if you're allergic—nearly any e-reader or smartphone can handle PDFs these days, and they're a fantastic way to read downloaded game manuals. I'm not suggesting that all of you run out and buy an expensive eReader just to read game manuals. (Well, maybe I am, if you have the means.) But today, the six-inch Amazon Kindle is less than $200 , and the way prices are falling on these things, it's only a matter of time before everyone and their mom (literally) has something along these lines in their home. When that time comes, one of the last disadvantages of digital distribution versus boxed copies might finally be removed.
Extra tip of the day: If you've misplaced the manual for a game you have on disc, Steam is a fantastic resource for free manual PDFs. Just visit the Steam store page of any game you're interested in and click the "View manual link" to download the PDF.
And, if you're looking for an easy way to load PDFs onto an iOS or Android device, I can't recommend Dropbox enough .