Physical game manuals are hard to come by these days, especially as the industry starts to shift heavily towards cloud streaming and digital infrastructures. But if you remember those good old days when game boxes came with reams of brochures to peruse before jumping into your recent purchase, conservation games called Kirkland strive to preserve that nostalgia for posterity by creating high-quality scans of the manuals of the past. In fact, he just finished uploading his full set of 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 in history. With more than 4000 games released worldwide and sold approximately 158 million units worldwide, almost everyone had a PS2. Games like Jack and Daxter and Sly Cooper helped popularize the console among children and youth, while titles such as Metal Gear Solid 2 and Onimusha continued to develop a more “mature” market. Devil May Cry 3, Final Fantasy X, Kingdom Hearts, Ratchet & Clank, Silent Hill 2 (which is now being remade), Okami, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3— the list of PS2 hits goes on forever, all of them insane.
My favorite aspect of buying a new PS2 game was always reading the manual to see what tips, tricks and sometimes cheats I could use. While that time is long gone, Kirkland has now preserved just over 1,900 of them, uploading every US PS2 guide to Archive.org in full 4K resolution for your downloading and scrolling pleasure. The bundle comes with roughly 17GB – it was 230GB before compression. It’s chunky.
Each guide is just as cool as you might remember in the 2000s, with high-quality scans highlighting the often striking art. It really is a portal through time! I mean, surfing the Square Enix guide Musashi: A Samurai Legend (one of my favorite PS2 games, ever) fills me with nostalgia, transporting me back to my grandmother’s house when I’d stay up until 3 a.m. solving puzzles as the crop top-wearing protagonist Miyamoto Musashi. Apparently things haven’t changed much for me.
“The goal is to raise awareness of game conservation efforts,” Kirkland said Kotaku. “So many games growing up shaped the way we saw and experienced the world. Of course, as we “grow up” we move on to other things, but there are many of us who are nostalgic for those things and want our children to be able to enjoy what we did. The whole “read the books your father read” deal. And there was a big effort to save the games: VGHFon A strong museumand mass efforts such as MOM, redump.org, No introductionand Cowering’s good tools previously. Which I always thought, “This is great! We will have everything preserved. But without the manuals, we won’t know how to play them.”
Unfortunately for manuals, scanning can be quite a rough process. “My process is terrible. I pull the clamps and push almost everything through me Epson DS-870 sheet scanner. As an inveterate perfectionist, using a document scanner is frustrating for quality, but a necessity due to volume,” he said. I spent seven months scanning SNES manuals and only got down to the letter “E” using three flatbed scanners. With this setup, I’ve been able to scan almost 75,000 pages in the last year alone.”
After the tedious work of scanning each page, Kirkland used an array of applications—such as Adobe Acrobat Pro, Photoshop, Textpad, and PDF Combiner Pro—to make them as clean and pristine as possible before uploading them all to Archive.org in both 2K and 4K resolution. “I spent whole summers scanning manuals only to throw them away as I got better equipment or better machined,” he said. “Very late nights.”
Kirkland said he dropped about $40,000 on his US PS2 collection while methodically buying every US release over 22 years. “I grabbed new releases when they dropped to $20 for the first 800 or so, then started collecting used sports games in good condition, then hunted down the odd variant (which is never-ending).”
Kirkland’s 4K US PlayStation 2 Scan Kit is probably the largest, highest-quality collection of video game manual scans publicly available, but to him, that doesn’t constitute “archival” quality.
“I consider this ‘functional preservation’ for now,” he said. “Since I removed the clamps, I can always throw them flat to keep them properly. But then it goes back to my perfectionist nature. What is “good enough”? 2400 dpi at 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 task easier.
“In the future, I’d like to have AI that can truly reconstruct text and images as they were intended, correcting distortion and properly removing the screen without blurring the line art,” he said. “As it is, nobody really 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 work on the part of the archivist.
While completing over 1,900 PS2 manual scans might sound like a lifetime’s work, it’s actually just another milestone for Kirkland. It is now complete the complete US SNES manual set in 2K (collecting those to scan cost him $8000) and is in the process of spinning off a SNES 4K, Atari 2600and Game Boy. “I’ve scanned about 300 of the original PlayStation manuals over the last few weeks,” he casually drops like it’s nothing.
Kirkland says he has about 7,500 manuals, of which about 3,000 have already been preserved. He just wishes this job didn’t fall entirely on the backs of unusually motivated individuals like himself. “In a perfect world, companies would step up and release their original artwork sent to the press for storage,” he said. “But so many of them have been lost to history and hard drives over time.”
Yet collaboration brings its challenges.
“It’s mostly a solo effort at the moment – which I’m hoping to change as I move to systems I can’t 100%,” he said. “I’ve been burned by collaborations in the past, so I was a little wary of committing to other projects, hoping to have a little more control over quality and direction.”
The work is painstaking and many of the manuals most in need of preservation are stuck in private collections or to be raised in price by the “investors”. But Kirkland plans to continue his scanning projects because, he says, this work simply needs to be done before it becomes impossible.
“The internet has had 25 years to make it happen, and all we have are the same scanned manuals from 2004 that look like they came off a fax machine, or slanted NES manuals because NintendoAge old timers were so paranoid about counterfeiting their expensive holy grails that they themselves made $5 at a garage sale in the 90s. I just don’t like that you have to pay $200 for the privilege of reading Chrono Trigger a guide that is actually readable.