As I've said before on this blog, I consider myself to be very fortunate to have lived through the early years of video games. I remember a time when the distribution cycle of a video game title would begin in coin-op arcades and continue through ports to PCs and home consoles. Now, the Internet, PCs, home consoles and portable media devices rule most of the video game world, while the few surviving coin-op arcades feature titles that will (probably) never appear in any other medium. The same is true about how the video games appear: Most current games are so beautifully designed that they largely sell themselves through clips of game play footage. Yet when video games had nothing but blocky graphics and clunky sounds to offer, they needed a little extra help to convince people to play them.
In honor of the artwork produced during early years of video game advertising, Dynamite Entertainment is publishing The Art of Atari by Robert V. Conte and Tim Lapetino. According to the book's official site, “The Art of Atari is the first official collection of such artwork. Sourced from private collections worldwide, this book spans over 40 years of the company’s unique illustrations used in packaging, advertisements, catalogs, and more. ... (The book) includes a comprehensive retrospective, collecting game production and concept artwork, photos, and marketing art, with insight from key people involved in Atari’s rich history, and behind-the-scenes details on how dozens of games featured within were conceived, illustrated, approved (or rejected), and brought to life!”
In terms of both form and function, the cover art of early home console video games bears many similarities to the cover art of low-budget VHS releases during the early years of home video rentals. Many of the box covers for the videos distributed by companies such as Wizard Video and Paragon Video Productions were much more interesting than the films themselves, in order to entice the curiosity of potential viewers; likewise, the cover art of Atari 2600 games stirred the imaginations of players in ways that the primitive graphics and game play couldn't manage on their own. For example, an astronaut never appeared during the game in Super Breakout, armored knights never arrived in Warlords, and the dragon in Adventure looked more like a duck than the serpentine creature that appears on the cover. Yet that was OK--all the art had to do was put gamers in the right frame to project details into the games that the technology at that time couldn't provide.
The cover art for the Adventure and Warlords games* for the Atari 2600 home console.
(*Note: The cover art may not accurately depict the actual game content.)
The Art of Atari is scheduled for release this October. Judging from the preview pages that have already been released, this book will be a treat for classic video game aficionados of all ages.