In the eye of the beholder

It's always said that we "should never judge a book by its cover", but that only applies to people and...books. True, the contents are sometimes never reflective of what the outside looks like. But what's on the outside damn well helps to catch the eye.
This month's topic of Gaming Banter is "How important is cover art to you?" To be honest, I've never really focused or been drawn to what's on the cover of the videogames I buy, as it's the content I've read about that completely wins me over. Does the cover help? Sure it does. It gives me a small glimpse as to what to expect in the game.

The "Tales of" games developed by Namco have always been my favourite in videogame cover arts because they are beautiful yet simple: it's a logo with either the main character or an amalgamation of the different characters from the game. That's it. They're beautifully hand-drawn (digitally or traditional), and always have an air of adventure while still having fun, despite whatever bad thing may happen.

The third and final game in the series is probably my favourite out of all 3. Halo 1 and 2 depict scenes of war, fighting, and Master Chief with guns held up (CE: assault rifle at the viewer; 2: duel-wielding SMGs), ready for whatever may come. Here, the assault rifle is aimed down, as in rest, a sunrise/sunrest in the background depicting either the beginning of something new or the end of a long hard day. It's the peaceful end to a trilogy, where everyone can finally just take a break.

Mass Effect was probably the best game to catch my intrigue about the story, simply from the cover art alone. I took a quick guess that the overseeing eyes in the background were probably those of the main enemy I had to face...but why does his facial structure look similiar to the alien standing on the left? Are they related? IS he the bad guy, defying the main character behind his back?

Not my most favourite of covers of games I own, simply because it's obvious in what it's about: hyper-testosterone males in war with chainsaw guns. "....chainsaw guns?" was my reaction when I took a double-take at the above image, and I could only imagine the kind of gore that could take place once one ran out of bullets. Besides that, my hyper-testosterone guess was pretty accurate.

Ah, Bayonetta. A game I'm ashamed to say I actually sort of enjoy, despite the over-sexualization of absolutely everything. Button-smashing aside, the cover also basically covered what I was expecting: tits and ass with a little bit of convoluted story and humour. Sure, she's showing you her ass. But there's also a gun on her foot that she'll shoot you in the face with.

A game I knew nothing about before I saw this cover...and it still doesn't grab me. It simply looks uninteresting and boring. White and white with red in a somewhat jungle scene? Kind of lost me somewhere. This certainly wouldn't catch my eye amongst the other brilliant covers unless I was specifically looking for it.

Instead of uninteresting, how about a little confusion? The above boxart for the XBox version is when I first heard of Darksiders and I was thoroughly confused. Is it a strategy war game, with fire-footed horses? And why is everything glowing an awful puke yellow-green colour? Is that guy with the big sword some kind of general?
It was after I tried the demo that I understood what the story was: playing War, one of the Horsemen of Apocalypse. Which is what the PS3 cover actually looks like below:

What a difference a bit of actual colour can make. This is certainly more interesting and eye-catching for someone that wants to add another button-smasher to his/her collection. I can see the character, his big-ass gauntlet and that he's a lot flashier than just some general on a battlefield. Kick-ass horse too, by the way.
To sum it up, cover art has never really played an important part in what I do and do not buy, but what marketing and graphics designers do is vital to attracting audiences to their games in the first place. An important aspect of video game production that most people forget about and don't give these hardworking people enough credit for.
(I also apologize for subjecting everyone to that Cho Aniki cover art)

This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part of this, please email him for details.
Other takes:

The Average Gamer: Cover Art

Aim for the Head: Browsing the Aisles

SnipingMizzy: In the eye of the beholder

Extra Guy: On Books and Covers

Zath: How Important Is A Game’s Cover Art?

carocat.co.uk: Cover Art? No Thanks!

Pioneer Project: The game box's big moment

Man Fat: How Important Is A Game’s Cover Art?


Sean said...

What about those older games (just about every game before the 360) that were made in Japan and had really nice anime-style artwork... and when they came out here, they had really crappy American artists draw new covers that usually looked nothing like the characters, and often depicted a totally different story? They even spoofed the old Mega Man boxart in Mega Man 10. Ugh.

SnipingMizzy said...

When those games came out, I wasn't able to get games then (being in a 3rd world country and all), and therefore wasn't influence by them at all.

Robert C. Kalajian Jr. said...

Old SNES games had some amazing cover art. I think the wide nature of the boxes helped out with this. There was a lot of real estate on the box for art.

SnipingMizzy said...

Sadly, I must have missed out on those awesome covers, as I was a Genesis girl growing up, and was subjected to slightly awful covers, like Shining Force and Phantasy Star 4. =(

Jason said...

Back in Ye Olde Days of Atari, the box art was all they had, because the game art certainly didn't sell the game. Look! Blocks! The game box art and the manual could craft a story in your mind that you could project onto the simply block graphics.

SnipingMizzy said...

I felt the same way when I bought Q-Bert. That game was frustrating and didn't even work!

Terry (@GameCouch) said...

Fun post! That Bayonetta cover actually hurts my eyes -- it's like they don't know what to focus on.

SnipingMizzy said...

Yeah, all that darkness and her black outfit, it was hard to tell what was what at first.

Weefz said...

Who are the weirdly happy strangling guys at the top? That's just disturbing...

Love your collection of pictures in this post. It's good to look over such familiar images with a fresh eye and yes, that Xbox Darksiders picture is just Terrible! Who approved that for publication??

SnipingMizzy said...

The two guys at the top are from a series of weird Japanese games called "Cho Aniki". Youtube it, and expect to be greatly disturbed.

Higher-ups who "approve" things usually never really have much common sense to begin with, or we wouldn't have terrible advertising such as that "Dante's Inferno" fiasco.

Michelle said...

A completely agree that the simple game design boxes are the ones that work best, less distracting on the side, understated and yet impactful, definitely true for all the boxes you've chosen.

SnipingMizzy said...

Thanks! I really had to wittle down what covers I was going to show in this post, and left out some really good ones.

Juda said...

I liked the comparison of cover arts- Darksiders in particular was interesting - the PS3 version intrigues me much more, though the 360 version has a mysterious touch to it. Nice post! :)

SnipingMizzy said...

Thanks! I was a bit confused as to why they had such beautiful colour for the PS3 version, and then allowed that wreck to be on the 360 cover. =/

Tom Larson said...

With regards to the Darksiders cover -
I had never thought about how bad the Xbox cover really was.. And the PS3 one looks awesome?!
Not fair.

The box art has to sell the game from the shelves.
I'd say a fair amount of each game's sales is people walking into the store and going "ooooh that looks cool" and buying it.

Its clear to see which games make the effort, and others that rely purely on their name and reputation.

Great post, good job :)