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Judging a Game By Its Cover 65

1up has up a piece looking at the good and bad of gaming boxart. They cover some history of the art form, why things tend to change when they move from East to West, and some notables among the boxes of the past twenty-five-odd years. From the article: "After the American console market crashed in the early '80s, it was up to Japanese companies like Sega and Nintendo to pick up the slack. However, the cover artwork for many Japanese publishers' early games seemed to be lost in translation. The first generation of Nintendo Entertainment System cartridges were little more than enlarged screenshots showing off the main characters in all their pixelated glory. Sega Master System games were even worse: a plain grid on a barren white background, complete with a single, low-quality image." Relatedly, GameDaily is running an article on the history of game marketing, which I thought dovetailed nicely with this somewhat less serious examination of the subject.
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Judging a Game By Its Cover

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  • It's all about... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sdaemon ( 25357 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @04:49PM (#16297395)
    ...the boobies.

    EverQuest. WoW. And countless others.
  • With the graphics capability of today's consoles, there really is no reason why screenshots shouldn't play a more prominent role in gamebox art.
    • Well I would have to counter your point with anything at screen resolution converted to print resolution i.e. 72dpi to 300dpi just doesn't transition well. This is the reason that screen shots of games on the box never look as good no matter how good the game is. Very unfortunate. I think I would prefer to see a beautiful digital painting reflecting the style of the artwork in the game. If they put forth the effort for the box art I think I'd be more inclined to check the game out. When it really comes dow
      • >> "72dpi to 300dpi just doesn't transition well."

        (get ready for the +1 Obvious)

        The hardware plays a big factor in the quality of the in-game images - for PC anyway. When I'm looking for a PC game, first I look at the cover, then at the bottom of the box for the system requirements. I don't by low-end games - i tend to buy games where my current machine is 'minimum hardware'. That way, I know if I upgrade something (such as the video card) I will see some benefit.
        • I really hope that is not all you consider when choosing games. Not all new games push the envelope in hardware requirements. DEFCON for example:

          Recommended: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, P3-600-Geforce 2, 128 Mb RAM, 60 Mb Hard Disk, Internet connection for multiplayer games

          A 4 - 5 year old computer could meet those requirements. Now I haven't played it yet, but I do intend to at least download the demo, as it sounds like a really fun game.

          Now for a recent game that raises the hardware bar a little further,

          • by jadin ( 65295 )
            The big problem with using this to judge a game is that it could be deceptive... To me a game that requires top-end hardware was probably very poorly optimized. Which could point to bigger problems of a lot more of the game not completed properly.
    • there really is no reason why screenshots shouldn't play a more prominent role in gamebox art.

      The original Wing Commander box art was littered with "Actual Screenshot" disclaimers. That was 15-16 years ago.

      Here's the cover: -art/gameCoverId,43/ []

      The disclaimer is on the back, in the lower-left corner: -art/gameCoverId,84/ []

      • by mgblst ( 80109 )
        Wow, interesting definition of littered. I guess your post was littered with examples.
    • by Nizer ( 946398 )
      I'm no marketing expert, but your view isn't held by movie promoters despite having lifelike images to work with. Sometimes DVD covers are juxtaposed stills, but more often than not they're artistic portrayals of characters/scenes, etc.
    • by gaijin99 ( 143693 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @07:11PM (#16299145) Journal
      Much more important: use screenshots that aren't from cutscenes.

      Anytime I see a game using nothing but cutscene art I know the actual in game graphics will blow. Cutscenes aren't the game, and showing cutscenes is just pathetic.

      At Tokyo Game Show this year the preview of the new Metal Gear game was one of the more crowded areas, but no one got to see what the game would look like. We saw an impressive CG movie with all sort of nifty looking stuff, but I have no idea what actual gameplay will look like. Metal Gear has a pretty good history, so I'm sure the actual gameplay might be good. I *hope* that when it comes out the box will show what the game really looks like.
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        It is WIDELY known that all Metal Gear Solid games uses the in-game engine to render the cutscenes. It's been a 'trademark' of Kojima ever since MGS1. It's also been stated MANY times that all MGS4 footage is NOT CG. What was shown at E3 and TGS are all real-time in-engine running on the PS3.
        • Yes it was all rendered using the in-game engine, but it wasn't GAMEPLAY. How does the camo system work? Is there going to be a percentage system in the corner like in MGS3? How has the game adapted to the new PS3 controller (aka the Sixaxis)? Are different weapons going to have different recoil effects? (Aiming in the previous MGS games, sans MGS1 for PS1, was far too easy) How is the choking sneak attack going to work? Is Snake going to be able to roll around on the ground or in a barrel in game? Etc, etc
          • Those are all good questions, but they have nothing to do with the topic at hand. The visuals used to portray the game (not on a box, but in a 'trailer' movie in this instance) are the same quality as what's seen in-game.
    • Games are all about sound and packaging, baby! Advertising with screenshots just ruins the experience.
    • Using screenshots as boxart would be really really tricky, since you'd want to give the buyer a feel for the game, not necessarily an example of it. Besides, that's what the back of the box is for.
  • Sigh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @04:50PM (#16297399)
    I was really hoping this was a look at how the SCREENSHOTS often depicted on the front/back/inside flap of the box look nothing like one can get on a 3mo old gaming rig.

    • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Informative)

      by cliffski ( 65094 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @05:01PM (#16297541) Homepage
      or better still, how the screenshots in magazines and on websites look nothing like the game looks like on ANY rig. I'll never forget the first time I asked an artist what he was doing to hear him say "Touching up screenshots for a magazine." I had no idea that ever 'triple a' game developer runs its screenshots through the art department to touch up the particle effects and the shadows to make them look better. If you have a brand new alienware PC and the screenshots still look better, thats why, they arent really bare screenshots at all.
      • by peterpi ( 585134 )
        The sad situation is that putting 'Actual in-game footage' on a video of your game is something to be proud of.
      • ... you should get an art department in the PC to touch up your screencaps, too!

        "Dude, that C'Thun killshot was weak. It needs a lens flare! Get to it, graphics gnome!"
        "On it, boss! Can we interest you in paying another $4,000 for a $2000 Dell?"
        "Are you crazy?"
        "Its got a case mod."
        "Oh I'm so there!"
  • I want this [] game!
  • Sega Master System! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Buddy_DoQ ( 922706 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @04:52PM (#16297427) Homepage
    It may be the clouds of nostalgia, but I recall the Master System has having the best box art ever. When you walked into the store, you knew which games were for the Master System at a single glance. I dug the minimalist style, and the consistency of the box art. Each game had it's own flavor and yet the boxes could be displayed and not look tacky on your converted VHS rack.

    • Me too - I loved their style. It was unique, when so many games (and thus the box art) were so generic.
    • When you walked into the store, you knew which games were for the Master System at a single glance.

      The SNES and N64 boxes stood out in a similar way, but without using ugly box art. You can see Wikipedia's images of the art for the SNES and Super Famicom here []. Note how the border provided the necessary consistency, while genuine art was allowed to take up the rest of the space. Even the dimensions of the box set the games apart and made them very easy to find.

      In comparison, the SMS relied on a bit of generi

      • I was surprised when I recently saw that Microsoft is doing the same thing with the Games for Windows branding [] for PC games. Meet a certain set of requirements and you can put a special stripe across the top of your game's box. Seems like a bolder revision of the "MPC" and "MPC2" standards back when CD-ROM drives were in their infancy.
    • You could tell that the games were for the Sega Master System, but as to the contents of the game? The boxart offered little to no clue.

      Alex Kidd was a little monkeyman, fine. But what kind of experience would I have if I bought a game with his picture on the front? Don't know.

      And that's one of the BETTER examples of SMS box art.
  • as cover art looks better, truth in advertising fades away. There is another piece of the puzzle right around the corner, the rise of Digital Distribution. fuck cover art.
  • Ico (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Trashhalo ( 985371 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @05:00PM (#16297513) Homepage
    A great example of a game cover being lost in translation is Ico. First lets all go look at the japanese cover [] of the game.
    Not bad eh? Okay are you ready for the american cover []? I cringe every time I see it.
    • by Enoxice ( 993945 )
      Wow, I didn't realize that. And Ico is pretty much the ONE game that has the same name in the US and Japan where they could have used the EXACT same art.
    • by sconest ( 188729 )
      We lucky Europeans, we got the Japanese cover :)
    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      Oh my god that Japanese cover is ugly. The American cover is ugly too, but slightly less ugly for me.
    • We got the Japanese version of the Ico art in the UK. We get the Japanese Final Fantasy box art too, which is a lot classier than the American FF cover art IMHO -- just a plain white cover with the logo in the centre [].

    • Hah, that's interesting. I've heard people complaining about the Ico cover art before, and I was inclined to agree. Funny thing is, I never realised before that here in New Zealand we actually got the japanese box art. I thought the art sucked because it used a poorly drawn cartoon style and featured a large, boring open area. The game itself is one of the most visually impressive games ever released for the PS2 and has machinery and architecture of the design calibre you might expect from a Myst game.

      Who w
    • i saw ico at EB many times and never picked it up becasue it looks like a kids game. Had i seen the japanese cover or known what it was i probably would have bought it. To this day i am still pissed about that.
  • Being a youngster as I was, it was easy for me to be taken in by flashy covers that seemed to promise more than the game could ever practically deliver. Which is why I found myself liking the first-gen NES titles so much, since if the cover looked cool (despite being low res and blocky) then I could be assured that the game itself would look cool. Mario Bros and Kung Fu stood out as promising exactly what they delivered: a little plumber dude hopping around blocks and anthropomorphic mushrooms, and a kun
    • by L-Train8 ( 70991 )
      Yeah, I think that the 2600 game covers that promised so much and enclosed a game that delivered so little were one of the reasons for the 80's video game crash. The covers frequently would have cool alien landscapes - stuff that looked like a Richard Dean* painting. But the game would have a few colored blocks that moved around. It was such a disconnect, and a disappointment. I think Nintendo's early NES covers were a calculated response to that.

      *for those too young, Richard Dean is an artist who does futu
      • Oops, I meant Roger Dean [], not Richard.
        • Roger Dean did many game covers for Psygnosis in the mid-to-late-eighties.
          • ... and I really love those NES covers with their superbly clean and consistant design philosophy. Although I must admit, at the other end of the spectrum, that the cover art for the Atari 400/800 version of Space Invaders, which is sitting on my desktop right now, looks awesome. True to the game in concept in a lot of creative ways, but with an over-blown, epic, pulp SF quality somewhere between Syd Mead and Ralph McQuarrie. The artist is Atari veteran Bob Flemate and you can see his cover art here: http: []
  • I remember that Infocom had the most awesome packaging.

    Also, the article slams the packaging for the Atari 400/800 version of PacMan, but I loved that packaging when I was a child. It was very nice. The Atari games often had elaborate stories and artwork that felt like it was adding to the game in a significant way.
  • Article Summary:
        - Not much has changed in the world of video game art over the past 20+ years.
        - Game companies tune their franchises from the "likes boobies" crowd to the "likes Barney" crowd depending on demand.

    And that's about it.
  • While I realize this is only a semi-serious article, I'm a bit baffled as to where the "consensus" they often cite comes from. I'm aware of small groups of people who obsess over these sorts of things, and you could have a consensus of them, but the majority of people (the consensus that matters), from what I can tell, really couldn't care less.
  • Gotta be honest: barring the occasional unique game, just about every game I've seen for the PC in the last few years has just featured an artist's impression of a key or common character from the game looking heroic on the front. Everything from Warcraft to Psychonauts to bloody Stronghold - even HL2 has Gordon looking steamy and marginally psychotic in close-up, dammit! Okay, it is an attractive cover, and it does give you a fairly accurate impression of the look and feel of the game (hardly standard prac
  • I loved the Yars' Revenge box art, in fact I loved most of Atari and Imagic's box art for their 2600 games. Cosmic Ark comes to mind, as do the various oil paintings done for Super Breakout, Superman, Outlaw, etc. I wonder if those paintings are in a gallery somewhere? The Activision box art was much more representative of the actual games but the Atari art really stoked the imagination. I guess it had to.
    • Yep they are. Their at the "Game On" Exhibition at the London Science Museum which runs Sat 21st October 2006 - Sun, 25th February 2007.
      • Wow that sounds great! Will they have them up on a web site, and do you know if the exhibit will come to the USA?
  • The aspect of games that most fools place first on their judging criteria is in-game graphics, which HAS to be even more retarded than judging by a game's box art.
    Look at Battlefield 2. EA didn't even fix their weapon draw bug (switching to secondary fire shows you holstering and drawing the same weapon), which has existed since BF1942.
    Look at Counter-Strike: Source. People who like Source better than 1.6 don't realize how in Source you can spray violently and land headshots, not to mention their new ma []
  • I always enjoyed looking at old game arts on covers. Some of them are weird and cheesy, but some of them are really cool.
  • The first real RPG I played was Ultima 3. The box art [] with the demon in fire was excellent. The box was solid with a nice glossy finish. The goodness didn't end on the outside. Inside the box you had a players manual, a wizard spell book, a priest spell book and the beautiful cloth map.
    Denis Loubet [] did the cover illustrations as well as much of the artwork inside the player's manual. I think those images really helped bring the world of Ultima alive in my imagination. Which, considering the simple 8bit grap
    • Agreed. Loubet's artwork is fantastic in those Ultima manuals. He had a big influence on my style. His illustrations taught me a lot about texture, light, and the use of intaglio style cross-hatching to define three dimensional forms. I'm so glad I bought them, or I'd have missed out on all the goodness; text dox just can't compete with the class act that is Ultima packaging.
  • C'mon, we all know what you need to have on a cover art. Look, think about the EverQuest cover art. Yes, there is a girl. Now, can you tell me what *else*that cover depicts?

    Didn't think so. Case closed.

    And even female artists agree [].

  • Dominos Pizza published the "Noid" game. That red, alien / rabbit looking thing that use to be the Mascot for Dominos. It was released on the NES []
  • Of course there's always the game box reviews of Doom 3 [], Far Cry [] and Freedom Force [] which are LOL.

Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?