Physical game manuals are hard to come by these days, especially as the industry starts to lean heavily towards cloud streaming and digital-first infrastructures. But if you remember those good old days when game boxes came with huge brochures for you to read before making your final purchase, A gamekeeper named Kirkland is trying to preserve that nostalgia for posterity by creating high-quality scans of old textbooks. In fact, it just finished downloading a complete set of his US PlayStation 2 hand scans.
Launched in the US in October 2000 – 22 years ago this Wednesday – Sony’s PlayStation 2 was one of the most popular consoles ever. With over 4000 games released worldwide and sales of approximately 158 million units worldwide, almost everyone had a PS2. games like Jacques and Daxter and Sly Cooper and titles such as helped popularize the console among children and adults Metal Gear Solid 2 and Onimusha the more “mature” market continued to grow. Devil May Cry 3, Final Fantasy X, King of hearts, Ratchet & Clank, Silent Hill 2 (now being remade), Okami, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3—The list of PS2 hits goes on forever, all bangers.
My favorite part of buying a new PS2 game was always reading the manual to see tips, tricks and sometimes cheats that I could use. Although that time has long since passed, Kirkland now preserves and uploads more than 1,900 of them. Every US PS2 manual on Archive.org in full 4K resolution for your downloading and scrolling pleasure. The set comes in at around 17GB – it was 230GB before compression. This is crazy.
Read more: Every English Language SNES Manual Is Now Online
Each textbook is as beautiful as you remember it in the 1900s, with high-quality scans highlighting the often striking art. It really is a portal through time! That is, browsing Instructions for Square Enix Musashi: Legend of the Samurai (one of my favorite PS2 games from before) fills me with nostalgia, takes me back to my grandma’s house when I stayed up until 3am beating up monsters like the protagonist Miyamoto Musashi. Obviously, things haven’t changed much for me.
“The goal is to raise some awareness for game conservation efforts,” Kirkland said Kotaku. “Growing up, many games have shaped how we view and experience the world. Of course we move on to other things as we “grow up”, but there are many of us who long for those things and want our children to enjoy what we do. The whole ‘read the books your father read’ deal. And great efforts have been made to preserve the games: VGHFthe Strong Museumand grassroots efforts like MAME, redump.org, No inputand Good Tools of Cowering before that. I always thought that was great! We will have it everything preserved. But without the instructions, we won’t know how to play them.'”
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Unfortunately, scanning for instructions can be quite a difficult process. “My process is terrible. I’m pulling the punches and taking it all in Epson DS-870 sheet scanner. As a perfectionist, using a document scanner is disappointing in terms of quality, but necessary in terms of volume.” I spent seven months scanning the SNES manuals and only got to the letter “E” using three straight scanners. With this setup, I’ve been able to scan almost 75,000 pages in the last year alone.”
After the tedious task of scanning each page, Kirkland used multiple programs like Adobe Acrobat Pro, Photoshop, Textpad and PDF Combiner Pro to get them as clean and crisp as possible before uploading them all to Archive.org in both 2K formats. and 4K resolution. “I spent entire summers scanning manuals, only to throw them away because I got better gear or got a better handle on it,” he said. “Very late nights.”
Kirkland said he lost about $40,000 to his US PS2 collection as he methodically bought every US release over 22 years. “I got new releases for $20 for the first 800 issues, then I started buying used sports games in good condition, then I started looking for weird options (it never ends).”
Kirkland’s 4K US PlayStation 2 scan kit it’s probably the largest, highest-quality collection of scans of video game manuals available to the public, but it doesn’t quite constitute “archival” quality, in his opinion.
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“I consider this ‘functional protection’ for now,” he said. “Since I throw away the staples, I can always tie them flat to the bed to keep them straight. But then it goes back to my perfectionist nature. What is “good enough”? 2400 dpi in 48-bit color (over one gigabyte per page). At what point do we archive ink instead of images? There is no easy answer.”
Perhaps further advances in technology will eventually make the job easier.
“In the future, I’d love to have an AI that can actually reconstruct text and images as intended, correct warping, and render line art correctly without blurring,” he said. “As it is, nobody wants a 600 dpi scan with staple holes and black edges, they just want a polished, finished project.”
Of course, getting there requires an incredible amount of hard work on the part of the archivist.
While completing over 1,900 PS2 hand scans might sound like a good life’s work to you, it’s actually just another milestone for Kirkland. It was completed earlier Complete set of US SNES manuals in 2K (it cost him $8,000 to collect them to scan) and is in the process of being torn down in SNES 4K, Atari 2600and Game Boy. “I’ve scanned about 300 original PlayStation manuals over the past few weeks,” he casually drops.
Kirkland says he has about 7,500 manuals, about 3,000 of which have already been preserved. I wish this work would not fall on the shoulders of extraordinarily motivated people like him. “In a perfect world, companies would display original artwork sent to the press for protection,” he said. “But most of it has been lost to history and hard drives over time.”
However, collaboration brings its own challenges.
“It’s mostly a solo effort at the moment – I’m hoping to change as we move into systems, I can’t 100%,” he said. “I’ve been burned by collaborations in the past, so I’ve been a little hesitant to join other projects in hopes of having a little more control over quality and direction.”
The work is laborious, and many of the textbooks most in need of preservation are in private collections or appreciation by “investors”. But Kirkland plans to continue his scanning projects because, in his view, the work simply needs to be done before it becomes impossible.
“The internet has had 25 years to do this and all we have are the same scanned manuals from 2004 that look like they came off a fax machine or NES manuals because NintendoAge old timers people so paranoid were going to fake their expensive holy grails that they made $5 themselves at a garage sale in the 90s. It doesn’t sit well with me that you have to pay $200 for the privilege of reading a book. Chrono Trigger really readable manual.”
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