What video game box art would look like if it hadn't changed in 30 years
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if video game box art hadn't changed in 30 years? No. I don't suppose you have. Why would you? You've got more important things to think about. But I haven't.
After pondering this transparently inane hypothetical scenario, I decided to turn it into a thing on the internet. And this is it. A pictorial-based feature in which I have spliced old box art with new games just for the sake of it (while still retaining each game's modern logo and typography). In the grand scheme of things it's a pretty simple concept to grasp. So without further pointless explanation, please continue to browse my just-about-serviceable Photoshop handiwork at your leisure...
Grand Theft Auto V | Old box art taken from A.P.B. (1989)
The 80s were a decade when people didn't think straight. Their heads were a muddle with shoulder pads and Rubik's Cubes and hair-dos and Police Academy movies. It's no wonder that everyone thought it was totally fine to use kid-friendly cartoon box art for games that - looking back - probably weren't completely appropriate for kid-friendly cartoon box art.
It was the bewilderingly stupid age of stupid before some responsible grown-ups finally thought perhaps some kind of age-rating system for games might be a good idea. And it was glorious while it lasted. I love the idea that even with its mature themes of violence and sex and drugs and broken morality, a game like GTA could be visually represented with some dismissively goofy-looking box-art that essentially says "I'm a policeman. It is my job to chase you. WEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!"
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim | Old box art taken from Wing War (1983)
You could pay some shaven-headed, Apple-worshipping, thick-rimmed glasses wearing design guru wank specialist a small fortune to visualise your intellectual property via the medium of pictures and typography composed in an aesthetic frontage commonly referred to by plebs as 'box art'.
Alternatively, you could get your mate Brian who works Tuesday afternoons and all day Saturday in the Game Workshop at the top of town to knock together a three dimensional diorama of a dragon holding a diamond-shaped bit of plastic and then take a photo of it.
Battlefield 3 | Old box art taken from Armor Battle (1982)
This was the distinctive box-art design style for quite a few of Intellivision's games in the early 80s. It might lack the technical complexities of modern computer-facilitated design, but more than makes up for it with genuine artistic personality and the sense that it has been created by an individual artist (in this case an artist called Steve Huston) as opposed to a committee of graphic designers.
And it's got tanks and explosions and men strategising with binoculars and is consequently the perfect old-school box-art fit for Battlefield.
Fun fact: The art budget for Intellivision's boxes was approximately $800 per box.
Monster Hunter Tri | Old box art taken from Pool of Radiance (1988)
Really not too dissimilar in composition to the actual Monster Hunter Tri box art. It's an armour-clad warrior, sword in hand, about to go toe-to-toe with a belligerent lizard. The real difference is the art from 24 years ago is much more... restrained. For starters, we just don't get sensible-sized swords like that any more. Swords today have to be physically impossible to hold - humongously proportioned pizza slices of death capable of eviscerating entire skyscrapers in a single blow.
And the dragon looks wimpy. Enough to impress the easily impressed 8-bit kids at the time, but those kids were full of unregulated food additives and MTV so they were in no fit state to know any better. Put anything less than a 20 storeys high mega-beast on the cover of a game today and the kids would literally point and laugh and then go buy Call of Duty instead.
Virtua Tennis 4 | Old box art taken from Tennis (1981)
Before Activision became the ruthless mega-corporation we know today, it used to have a real thing for rainbows. Lovely friendly happy rainbows that were happy. It used rainbows to make some of the most colourful and memorable Atari 2600 game packaging ever made.
Take the box-art you see above. Remove the lovely happy rainbows and you're left with the most basic artistic representation of tennis you can possibly get before it devolves into Pong. But with the lovely happy rainbows it is a thing of beauty and much more lovely to look at than the actual Virtua Tennis 4 cover, which features the sweating, gurning faces of some of the sport's real-life stars. And no rainbows.
Soul Calibur V | Old box art taken from Barbarian (1987)
The combination of big sword and minimal boob coverage make this a perfect fit for Soul Calibur. And if the blatant sexualisation and objectifying of women was still completely fine and OK with everyone just like it was in the 80s, I've absolutely no doubt we'd still have game covers just like this. But we don't.
In fairness to the 80s, it was probably the shit-storm of controversy around the Barbarian cover that made some grown-ups re-think the idea that such imagery was totally cool to use when marketing to kids. Although nobody seemed to mind that the game featured decapitations. They were rubbish 8-bit decapitations. But still. Decapitations.
Red Dead Redemption | Old box art taken from Outlaw (1978)
The cowboy dude on this old Atari 2600 box-art even looks like Red Dead's John Marston. He's got a beard. And a hat. And guns. All the defining characteristics of a cowboy dude.
The old box-art could *almost* pass as new box-art. But not quite. It evokes the vibe of Red Dead, but the art is too flat. Too passive. The cowboy dude needs to stick out his arm and point the barrel of one of those guns right at us. BLAMMO. Eye-catching. Impact. Design objective completed.
Lesson: Perspective drawing is hard.
Demon's Souls | Old box art taken from Gateway to Apshai (1983)
Old game publisher Epyx favoured this distinctive neon-inspired psychotropic disco style for loads of its releases in the 80s. And this particular one works as a Demon's Souls cover rather nicely.
Although, admittedly, the monster appears to be waving its insectoid appendage at the brave warrior in a manner not entirely befitting a game like Demon's Souls, suggesting something along the lines of "Please enter my dominion so we may watch the game and drink cool brewskis together" rather than "My intention is to kill you immediately". But whatever. Personally I'm all in favour of friendly neon-inspired psychotropic disco monsters.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 | Old box art taken from Bazooka Bill (1985)
Nondescript man with weapon.
Wipeout 2048 | Old box art taken from Gridrunner (1982)
By today's standard of box-art this could justifiably be described as 'a bit ropey'. It's not glossy or polished or dynamic or exciting or even particularly well drawn. But there's still *something* about this 30 year old image that has endured and inexplicably makes it not completely crap when parading as a Wipeout cover. In fact I quite like it. The parallel lines of the ship (which could easily be a vintage Feisar) from the lasers to the vapour trail give it a satisfying sense of perspective depth and as a composition it all fits together nicely.
It would also be the ultimate reverse psychology box-art. With such lo-fi artistry, the modern consumer would expect a product of equally primitive standards. But they'd get super sexy Wipeout and be all like 'Holy shit amazing' and tell all their friends and then they'd go and buy a copy and then they'd tell all their friends and it would go on like that for a while and then eventually everyone would be millionaires for some reason and get swimming pools and have gorgeous wives who were 20 years younger than them and go horse-riding on the beach at sunset.
Mass Effect 3 | Old box art taken from Space War (1978)
Man, this is so funky. Sure when you look at it there's not really anything happening in this picture at all - it looks like there is but it's just some dudes messing with buttons and levers, a few space ships, a bunch of planets and a couple of astronauts leaning a bit - but it's still got way more charm and character and excitement than the actual Mass Effect 3 cover with its moody-faced Shepard looking moody-faced.
Thinking about it, BioWare missed a trick by not setting Mass Effect in a funky 1970s version of futuristic outer space. They should definitely change it. Maybe I'll start a petition.
FIFA 12 | Old box art taken from Kick Off (1989)
Rubbish drawing of football is way better than annual updates of Wayne Rooney and his stupid wide open mouth.
Rainbow 6 | Old box art taken from Hostages (1988)
Fair enough the gun pointing out of the cover looks a bit wrong and out of proportion and the end appears to be a bit bent, but at least they had a go. That's what matters. As we learnt earlier - perspective drawing is hard.
But still, with all the men in balaclavas and crash helmets dangling from ropes and smashing through windows and looking through sniper scopes, this is a perfect bit of artwork for Rainbow Six. The men have even got little rainbow patches for their uniforms. Which is sweet. I expect they are patches you iron on as I doubt special forces would have time to do much sewing.
L.A. Noire | Old box art taken from The Detective (1986)
Intrigue. Shadowy figures. Hats. This cover ticks all the noir boxes and is 100% pertinent for a game called L.A. Noire. It's also got a cigarette that can best be described as 'large'.
I know at first it's easy to look at and say 'Holy crap that is some crap looking box-art right there' but the more I look at it the more I think it actually looks OK and wonder if something hand drawn and a bit rough-around-the-edges that bucks the modern trend of hyper-polished box-art compositions would really be such a terrible thing. And then I think that maybe I'm suffering from prolonged exposure to this feature and it is seriously impairing my artistic judgement.
Dead Space | Old box art taken from Demon Attack (1982)
You might be wondering what a photo of some plastic dinosaurs with rockets glued to their backs and sprayed silver have to do with Dead Space (beside the fact they are clearly meant to be in space). The answer is they have absolutely nothing to do with Dead Space. But that's the point.
Back in 1982 a photo of some plastic dinosaurs with rockets glued to their backs and sprayed silver had absolutely nothing to do with Demon Attack either. But it didn't matter. When your art budget could only stretch as far as some extinct toy lizards and a can of spray paint, worrying about whether or not it made perfect sense didn't exactly factor into the artistic process.
Skate 3 | Old box art taken from Metro Cross (1987)
The only rational explanation for this cover is that it was a joke. Somebody was joking. Having a funny. The 80s weren't really this messed up. Skaters didn't really wear one-piece polyester skin-tight superhero unitards (sans cape) like this doofus. Not even in the decade renowned for its epic sartorial misfirings could such an abomination of decency happen unless it was a joke.
That said, it does rather nicely buck the trend of skating being portrayed as edgystreeturbancool in a self-deprecating way that skaters would probably find totally ironic and therefore laud it as being edgystreeturbancool anyway, paradoxically turning this box-art into the very thing that it most definitely is not.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune | Old box art taken from Rick Dangerous (1989)
The character model photo-shoot is truly a relic of video game box-art that we hardly see any more. This particular one from Indiana Jones wannabe and platform-based adventurer, Rick Dangerous (love that name), really captures the adventuring spirit of Uncharted. It's also a bit cheesy and is in absolutely no danger of taking itself too seriously - two other endearing traits I'd associate with Naughty Dog's game.
Fun fact: Rick Dangerous was made by Core Design - the UK developer that eventually went on to create the Tomb Raider series.
And that's it. We are at journey's end. I hope you enjoyed this whimsical little feature. Do you like old box-art - do you think it has a certain charm or je ne sais quoi that is absent from modern game packaging? Or do you think it's all shit? Either way, if there is something you would like to comment on, please direct yourselves to the aptly-named 'comments' section below...