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How Atari box art turned 8-bit games into virtual wonderlands

posted Sep 25, 2013, 10:42 AM by Troy Cheek   [ updated Sep 25, 2013, 10:42 AM ]
Modern games have nothing on these cartridges...

Andrew Webster over at The Verge has a wonderful article about Atari 2600 cartridge and box art.  I remember this colorful images from my youth quite fondly.  To quote:

The cover for Adventure on the Atari looks nothing like the title it’s promoting. The game itself is essentially made of a series of rectangles, with a few blocky enemies prowling around, while the main adventurer is simply a square. You’re forced to imagine the fantasy world you’re meant to be exploring. But imagining it is a whole lot easier thanks to the vibrant artwork of Susan Jaekel. Because of her painting on the cover of the box, you knew that you were actually venturing through a hedge maze with three huge dragons lurking inside. It filled in the gaps left by the game’s rudimentary graphics — and Adventure was far from alone.

The original Atari featured a wealth of games with box art that was quite a bit more imaginative than the “grizzled man holding a gun” template that’s so popular today. The concept of playing a video game in your house, on your television, was still in its infancy in the late 1970s, and Atari needed a way to market its games. One solution was to commission intricately detailed covers that sold the idea of a game much better than any simple screenshot could. “The game-playing experience wasn’t 100 percent of the experience,” says Tim Lapetino, an artist and designer currently working on a book about the history of Atari cover art. “Part of what made the world complete was the artwork that conjured up this other place. I wasn’t sitting in my living room anymore; I was on this desolate planet or in space. And it was mostly because of that art.”

The full article contains interviews with actual artists and many examples of their art, including original pencil sketches like shown here, so be sure to check it out!