Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Best Game Cover Art?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 16, 2010

One annoying tendency I’ve discovered with some  indie digital download games is that there’s a depressing lack of cover art sometimes. It seems this is more often an issue with newer indies on their first release, as they tend to be far more willing to invest in an impressive cover piece on their second or third releases. As a digital download, indie games don’t have box covers like their shelf-bound brethren, but the art does serve the same purpose as it would on a box. And it can usually double for main screen art.

The fact that second and subsequent games by successful indies tend to have cover art indicates that it does have value to sellers.

Several different kinds of box art styles emerged over the years, from the old Atari cartridges offering some idealized representation of what the action of the game might represent (as some say, pretty dang misleading), to Activision’s faked-up screenshots with things like motion-blurred monocolor rectangles.  Then you’ve got Ultima VII Part 1: The Black Gate, which was, like, a black box with the title on the front.

Some of my favorites included:

The Secret of Monkey Island: The box art for this one looked a lot like a movie poster, circa early 80s. Think Indiana Jones. Which is, I’m sure, not a coincidence as this game was by LucasArts.

Grim Fandango: Ditto, but even better. It looked like a film noir movie poster. With stylized skeletons.  That’s, like, triple the awesome.

F.E.A.R. – More like a modern movie poster, except it’s got freaky Alma front-and-center. Man, can you imagine this on an old Atari cartridge back in the day? We would have had parental freak-outs much earlier. Oh, wait, we had this crap.  Never mind.

Akalabeth: World of Doom. I don’t know if I was out of elementary school yet when this game came out. I never played this game until much, much later (like, two years ago), but I just loved the box art used for magazine ads. But I wasn’t even out of elementary school when this game was released. So I couldn’t afford it. Nor did I have an Apple computer to play it on – I think a few months later we’d actually get a Sinclair ZX80 with 1K of RAM which could run nothing. But even if we were proud Apple owners, there was no way I would have been able to convince my parents to get me this game with a cover like that. So I just imagined what it could have been like based on the cover. From what little I’ve played – well, it was pretty much nothing like the cover. I would have been very disappointed.

However, the box art from Ultima VI: The False Prophet really looked like this same demon-dude (now a smaller gargoyle) vanquished by a hero.  So there’s some kind of continuity. The game scored extra cool points for having an instruction book cover showing the opposite – said knight being vanquished by a heroic-looking gargoyle.

Karateka: This one wasn’t misleading – the artwork was pretty much about the game, but boy everything looked cooler on the box cover.

Everquest: Okay, any artwork by Keith Parkinson was pretty much awesome by default. All of the series had some outstanding cover art, but as I still have the original poster hanging over my desk, it’s still my favorite of the bunch.

Alone in the Dark: Man, they had their whole H.P. Lovecraft thing going on with this one. Actually, the cover reminded me  lot of the original Call of Cthulhu pen-and-paper RPG cover art. What do you think?

Aveyond 2: Ean’s Quest – possibly my favorite indie game “box art.” As frequently happens, the art style is not like that of the actual game, but it’s still some incredible artwork for an outstanding RPG.

So there are some of my favorites. What are yours?

Incidentally, the fake Frayed Knights Atari Cartridge image was made by this convenient tool.

And indies: Please don’t neglect your cover art!

Filed Under: Art, General - Comments: 9 Comments to Read

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    Amazing how close the Aklabeth box art looks to a certain part near the end of Ultima 8…

    Always loved the Ultima ones, they really gave a good sense of what the game was about.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yeah, I wonder if LB was driven to measure up to the imagery used to sell his first commercial game.

    I also wonder if the artwork for Akalabeth was actually ever intended to be used in a game, or if the publisher just licensed something they thought looked fantasy-like and called it good.

  • Flux said,

    Wasteland. Probably my favorite box art ever.

  • Calibrator said,

    Most of Origin’s cover art was done by inhouse artist Denis Loubet:

    The genesis of the Akalabeth artwork you show above, which by the way wasn’t the actual box cover art, is described by Loubet on his home page (in the gallery entry) – it was originally done for a magazine by Steve Jackson Games and it was Loubet’s first professional sale:

    The original “cover art” for the game looks a bit less spectacular 😉 as the game was sold in ziploc-bags (they usually had a b&w manual cover doubling as the game cover):

  • Milkman Dan said,

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that someone beat me to Wasteland.

  • Bad Sector said,

    Who does the FK sketch art btw? It looks very good 🙂

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    A fellow by the name of Shawn Boyles. You’ll see more of his work at NinjaBee.com. He’s definitely awesome. Doesn’t answer his email too promptly, though… ;P

  • sascha/hdrs said,

    Interesting topic! Some of my favorites are that of a Shoot’Em’Up called Disposable Hero (http://www.exotica.org.uk/mediawiki/files/thumb/7/74/DisposableHero.jpg/471px-DisposableHero.jpg), no wonder, the picture on it was drawn by John Berkey Then there’s Starflight 2 and Supremacy whose I found very intriguing.

    Many old, boxed games, in particular RPGs came with lots of additional stuff besides their box. Elaborate manuals, clue books, novels and gimmicks. It’s a pity that such valuables are almost lost today. Digital downloads are very convenient but I think there’s something missing. Maybe there need to be boxed editions of indie games, take for example Knights Of The Chalice. How would it be if you could buy a boxed game of that which includes a beautiful manual, maps etc.?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I did buy the boxed copy of Eschalon: Book II, but it didn’t come with any physical bennies other than the CD-ROM. Although the high-res map and music on the CD were quite cool.

    But yeah. I hear ya. I kinda miss all that stuff. It’s still fun to pull that stuff out from older games and browse through them. I even framed that old cloth map from Ultima V. It’s hanging right above my chair in my office. I look up at it and remember what I’m doing and why I am doing it.