A lot is made, and rightly so, of the plight of retro video games once they succumb to the passage of time. But while we focus on preserving the games themselves, what happens to the instruction manuals that used to come with them?
In some cases, they’re lost forever! Other times, we’re lucky to have folks like Peebs, who devote an incredible amount of time to collecting, cataloguing and then ensuring manuals to every Super Nintendo game ever released are scanned and uploaded, so that future generations can enjoy them as much as we did.
An American in his mid-30s, Peebs tells me he’s “led a crazy wild and varied life, from working in the IT industry and being an independent professional wrestler, to working in a failed restaurant, then being homeless and fighting my way out of it.”
For the last six years he’s also been hosting a Twitch channel, where he’s been slowly trying to beat every single Super Nintendo game. A lot of the time, in order to complete a section or just look something up, he’d need to consult the manual. “It didn’t take long to realize that most of the time when I went to look for a scan of a manual for control schemes or just backstory, they mostly either didn’t exist or they were all scattered to the far corners of the Internet,” Peebs says. “There was a severe lack of organization: mislabeled files/links, old defunct websites with broken interface/files, incomplete scans, etc.”
“There is a ton of invaluable information in some of these manuals. Sküljagger is a great example of this because the manual’s first 75 pages are a storybook that contains tons of hints on how to find secret rooms. Other manuals just contain really useful information for games like Wing Commander or A.S.P. Air Strike Patrol when they use weird button combinations for in-game commands. Knowing just how to be able to save the game is a huge difference maker. That’s the sort of thing if someone can’t figure it out, they might just quickly lose interest in the game.”
“Then there are RPGs like the Might and Magic games where the manuals contain tons of information on items and what all the spells do. When I was a kid, we did a lot of rentals and you were lucky if you got a sheet of paper glued to the inside of the plastic case with the controls on it. Same with buying second-hand games from FuncoLand: often you just got a loose cart and if you couldn’t find help in a magazine or a friend that knew something, you would just have to experiment with things.”
Since all those options suck, Peebs decided to do something about it. “I wanted to put it all together so that if anyone wants to play any of the weirder games they don’t have to struggle to find a manual scan,” he says of the SNES Manual Archive, a site he’s built to host scanned copies of every Super Nintendo instruction booklet he can get his hands on. “It’s my hope we can just save people some of that headache.”
While Peebs starting casually looking for manual scans years ago, it was only in 2018 that he started getting serious about collecting and archiving them. Having downloaded existing manuals and comparing that with master release lists, he had an idea of which ones to target next, and set to work trying to track them down in the real world. Sports games can be some of the easiest to track down—often you can pick them up for a dollar or two.” Peebs’ friend BuffaloJoe, based in Australia, has also been instrumental as he was able to scan “A ridiculous amount of PAL manuals,” which “helped immensely because PAL games are things that I would have to otherwise import to scan.”
That scanning isn’t as straightforward as it may seem, because the project has two goals. The first is obviously to preserve the platform’s instruction manuals, no matter how obscure the game, but the other is to ensure that those manuals are available to everyone. “A big key to the project is to make the scans are user-friendly and accessible to anyone with the worst possible internet connection,” Peebs tells me, recognising that while there are already some SNES manual collections available online, they’re “archival quality”.
“We’re talking about each page being at crazy high DPI and like 1GB each. While great for archives, people just can’t open that on their phone and browse it real quick, so we try to keep the file sizes low and the readability high.”
There were around 600 manual scans available on the SNES Manual Archive when it opened to the public in September 2020. Since then, a community has sprung up around the project, with fans around the world eager to help out with their own submissions.
“I got approximately 20 scans sent in on the first day, and since then I’ve received about one per day,” Peebs says. “People have started letting me know when they buy a manual so I can mark it off as incoming so other people don’t buy the same thing. I’d say we probably have a total of another 15-20 manuals in the mail from people around the world right now that will be scanned and uploaded when we get them.”
That leaves just over 100 manuals, at least for Western games or versions of games. Though the project is looking to expand its Super Famicom collection in the future. “The support of people contributing to the project has been super surprising and I’m very thankful for every manual that has been submitted.”