Ancient history is one of my stronger subjects and the study of times long past is fascinating to me. For video game ‘ancient’ history, the end of this period would be ushered in with the release of the behemoth that was Commodore’s ‘64’.
As any retro game fan/computer historian will tell you, the Commodore 64 broke ground when it came to having a computer in the home affordable for everyone. Roughly, the C64 was about ⅕ the price of the contemporary Apple Mac, it was able to do colour and was sold with video game peripherals. Its affordability, capabilities and eventually huge software range would make the C64 the first true mass market computer. It was a very important piece of hardware, as the video game industry had crashed in the USA back in 1983. The C64 filled the gap, by providing a mix of games and office applications. A household could feel that they were buying more than some video console fad.
My experiences with the Commodore 64 ran well into the 1990s and I often found myself wanting to use this older machine, and not my much newer Amiga 500. Perhaps it was an early wish to be more ‘retro’ on my part, but I remember being slightly disappointed when Dad told me he’d decided to get an Amiga over the older Commodore. As you, dear reader, would be aware, this was not a choice either of us regretted.
So it was that my C64 playing would be limited to at my cousin’s, and at a school friend’s house. All in all, I think I’ve spent less than 20 hours playing on a C64, which is not very much at all! Sadly, about 10% of that time would be consumed with waiting for games to load. Yeah, it’s slow.
Two fantastic games I remember were Platoon and Impossible Mission. They had in common a very high level of difficulty! Although Platoon was released on the Amiga, as was the Impossible Mission 2, the C64’s version had a special charm. The step from C64 to Amiga is similar to that of the NES to SNES. The crisp chiptune sounds were generally traded in for a higher quality but still rudimentary set of digital effects. It’s hard to explain, but although the Amiga and SNES are technically far superior, the result is often less lovable.
Pit Stop 2 was also fantastic, although I always blew out my tires and only rarely could I beat my cousin. I have mentioned this before, but the Epyx games on the C64 had some fantastic covers, some of the best of all time in my opinion.
I may end up buying a C64 in the mid term because I feel like I missed out on this formative part of video game playing history. I had better make sure to get a disk drive version or the loading times will have me pulling my hair out!
For its thirty year life, the video game industry has gone through innumerable changes. Changes that I’ll be listing over the coming years as I try to remember the ‘good old days’ as my senility rapidly sets in.
It’s surprising that more isn’t made of the changes that box art has gone through over the life of the industry. You’re always told not to judge a book by its cover, and the same should be said of any video game. But today it’s what I’ll do! For much of the 8bit era, Sega, kept to a very rigid box art formula.
For whatever reason Sega elected to use a very austere grid background for much of their catalogue. It certainly is a product of its time, when the grids were the way to say ‘hey, electronics!’. Sadly, except for a select few covers, the grid background has aged poorly and makes Master System games look like anything but a collector’s item. This game was Rambo in the US, but Sega forgot to buy the rights in Europe and Australia. Terrible stuff.
The clear winner of the 8bit era, Nintendo had very different ideas when it came to Box Art.
Nintendo and their ‘Entertainment System’ catalogue show a far less restricted choice of styles in their box art. While many of the early releases (for the US market at least) have the diagonal writing and real graphics theme, there really isn’t much of a set style once most of the later third-party releases come out.
The eventual difference between early and later NES are quite remarkable. It seems Nintendo did not enforce much in the way of box art guidelines to Konami here. Some of the later Master System releases moved away from the simple cartoon images for some of the third-party releases for their console. But still, with the grid lines behind the picture. It isn’t a good look. It’s a CATastrophe!
A smaller player during this time is the game publisher and developer Epyx. Well known for their Impossible Mission and Pit Stop series, Epyx also created some of the more memorable box art of the era. With a highly distinctive wire frame neon style, their game boxes stand out even today.
Great colours and very distinctive covers. You still have my heart Epyx.
On the left we have Impossible Mission. I know I’d be staying forever with a fantastic cover like that. Every version of that game used this cover-art. Except one. Yes, Mr. Sega Master System on the right, instead of missiles and explosions and a cool neon effect you choose a gay gymnast jumping a broken fire hydrant.
It’s completely unfair of me since this is from about fifteen years later, but I’ll throw in one of my all time favourites. Circle of the Moon Japanese person version.
So what’s the verdict on a good 80’s ish cover? It doesn’t matter if your cover art lies about what the game looks like, but it should be something fairly simple and not too mired in the contemporary. Avoid the semi realistic cartoon style, unless you’re making a He-Man game.
Also don’t make a He-Man Game.