Honest box art

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tepples
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Honest box art

Post by tepples » Sat Jun 20, 2020 8:06 am

I made a preemptive split because I was curious as to how important an honest box and label are to a game's presentation.
DRW wrote:
Sat Jun 20, 2020 6:30 am
[Cover art of swordsmen fighting an octopus-like sea monster] is so misleading. It literally has nothing to do with the [game's Tetris-clone] gameplay, even if you include garbage blocks to represent the kraken's tentacles.
It looks like an action game. And even if I knew it's a puzzle game, I would still expect it to be some game where you have to place people on tiles or whatever and there appears a kraken now and then who removes all the people from the screen that are placed in certain locations or something like that.

I applaud the guy who made "Retroid" for the Game Boy because he created an honest box:
https://www.vintageisthenewold.com/wp-c ... 00x334.jpg

But the box of the NES homebrew "UXO - Unexplored Ordnance" was more than once the target of some inside jokes between me and my friends. It looks like the game would be similar to "Commando" or whatever:
https://i.ytimg.com/vi/AdCww68elRE/maxresdefault.jpg
And guess what: It's "Minesweeper". :roll:
Is my label art honest?
croom label.jpg
thwaite label.jpg
Is the Phalanx box art honest? I think not. Even if I give the benefit of the doubt, the best I can come up with is "The inhabitants living on the planet below the playfield are as confused as you are as to what's going on in the sky lately."

Image

Wikipedia's article summarizes an interview in Destructoid as the box essentially being clickbait:
Matt Guss, an advertiser who worked on Phalanx's cover, stated that the idea for the art came from coworker Keith Campbell. Campbell, who didn't find anything in Phalanx that stood out, decided to make the packaging eye-catching, hoping a potential buyer would stare at the box art and wonder "what just happened".
Would an honest box for a Minesweeper clone look like a bunch of soldiers using metal detectors?

Image
Members of Zaytun Unit are searching for land mines in Arvil, Iraq.
Author: Republic of Korea Armed Forces

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DRW
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Re: Honest box art

Post by DRW » Sat Jun 20, 2020 8:34 am

tepples wrote:
Sat Jun 20, 2020 8:06 am
Is my label art honest?
Yes, I would say it's fine.

"Phalanx" is a pretty extreme case, but at least it's extreme the other way around: The box art doesn't present the game as more than it is.
Also, this one is so extremely strange that it's funny again. After all, that cover would probably fit no game.
But I fail to see any kind of humor or irony in a "Tetris" clone with a serious artwork that could come out of any action platformer or adventure game.

tepples wrote:
Sat Jun 20, 2020 8:06 am
Would an honest box for a Minesweeper clone look like a bunch of soldiers using metal detectors?
No. Because "Minesweeper" is not about walking along a field trying to detect mines. Likewise, real soldiers searching for mines don't dig up numbers that tell them how many mines are in the neighboring fields.

"Minesweeper" is a very abstract game and not nearly like an actual mine searching simulation. You could call it "Bear Cave" (avoid the caves that have bears in them) and the gameplay itself would still be exactly the same.

That's like giving "Connect Four" a Frankenstein motif: "The stones represent body parts and if you put four in a row, then the monster is complete." Yeah, whatever.

Even with chess, there should be a recognizable distinction between an actual war simulation and this game. You can display an action scene for a chess game, but only if the characters are clearly recognizable as the very specific types that chess has (pawn, king, bishop, etc.). Using the cover of the game "North & South" for a chess game would be misleading again.
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Re: Honest box art

Post by nocash » Sat Jun 20, 2020 2:10 pm

tepples wrote:
Sat Jun 20, 2020 8:06 am
Would an honest box for a Minesweeper clone look like a bunch of soldiers using metal detectors?
Yes, except that mine clearing is a painstaking decades-long task, more likely left to civilians, not to soldiers posing with machine guns (and whom are suspectable of having planted mines in the first place). This might be some more realistic pictures, https://www.theguardian.com/global-deve ... n-pictures
The typical minesweeper game is merely about searching/detecting/avoiding mines, not clearing them. But I like the idea of a minesweeper version that does point out the real-life longterm problems.
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Re: Honest box art

Post by rox_midge » Sat Jun 20, 2020 6:33 pm

Wasn't the classic "black box" style a result of exactly this? I seem to recall that after the crash of '83, Nintendo wanted to make sure that the consumer knew exactly what they were getting. It didn't last, of course, but I think consumers also became a bit more savvy over time. Before the internet, it was a lot harder to know how the game actually played, and the box was part of the consumer's purchasing decision. These days, for the games that still have boxes, it's less important, and the focus has been on boxes that look awesome instead of trying to be informative.

For homebrew, whether or not the box should be "honest" depends on what the author's goals are. If you're aiming for period accuracy, then you'd either go with the black box look, or with some sort of cartoon (badly drawn is just fine, apparently). Very few NES games use photographs (Tecmo, mostly), some games use really excellent artwork, but most use a cartoon style.

For some genres, puzzle games specifically, it's hard to really capture the spirit in a still image. All three installments of "Adventures of Lolo" make the game appear to be some kind of action platformer, which it's not; "Solomon's Key" is especially egregious in that regard. "Shadowgate" and "Uninvited" don't imply gameplay, but they also don't reveal that those games are puzzles at their core. Oddly (given the genesis of this thread), both Nintendo's and Tengen's Tetris do a pretty decent job at showing what the gameplay is actually like.

Other genres occasionally get it wrong, too. "Dragon Warrior"'s box makes it seem like it'll have epic battles with fire-breathing dragons - which it does, I guess, but none of the battles are even animated. "Goonies 2" makes it seem like you'll have a team of people, when in reality it's just Mikey. "Lode Runner" literally shows the runner firing a weapon, which is not part of the game at all.

IMHO, put whatever you want to on your box, but err on the side of something that looks awesome.

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Re: Honest box art

Post by Goose2k » Sat Jun 20, 2020 9:24 pm

For me the box art serves only 2 purposes:
  • Catch a consumers attention, and invite them to learn more (traditionally flip over the box and see screenshots, or today watch a trailer).
  • Fill in abstract technical/artistic gaps (especially important pre-NES where it was really hard to tell what stuff in game actually was).
Saying a game's cover art needs to match one's own subjective expectations of what type of game that art represents seems like an impossible and unnecessary standard.

It seems to me, that every piece of box art attempts to make the game more exciting/interesting than it really is. It attempts to cast the game in the best light, and capture the feeling of playing the game, rather than what is actually on screen. Even the Black Box games. And yes, even Tetris!
the-famous-game-tetris-from-russia-21760148.jpg
the-famous-game-tetris-from-russia-21760148.jpg (34.52 KiB) Viewed 1338 times
(noticed the space theme, tilted perspective, multiple blocks active at the same time, additional colors, etc)

There are tropes which we can use to help communicate more complex ideas with less effort (eg. blood dripping text means horror, soldiers means action, etc), but breaking from those tropes isn't being dishonest. It's just different, and sometimes leads to setting a standard for those that follow.

I do think it's also a double edged sword. Someone who actually loves Tetris-like games might skip over FROM BELOW if all they did was look at the concept art at the top of the page from day 1 of the game's development. Or the canonical example of Phalanx, which no one ever played because of that box art. :lol:
rox_midge wrote:
Sat Jun 20, 2020 6:33 pm
Wasn't the classic "black box" style a result of exactly this?
I'd never heard that! Very interesting if true!

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Re: Honest box art

Post by DRW » Sun Jun 21, 2020 5:10 am

rox_midge wrote:
Sat Jun 20, 2020 6:33 pm
For homebrew, whether or not the box should be "honest" depends on what the author's goals are. If you're aiming for period accuracy, then you'd either go with the black box look, or with some sort of cartoon (badly drawn is just fine, apparently).
I want to point out: If you are aiming for period accuracy, then you would not use the black box look, not even for single screen arcade games. Because that look was only used for games published by Nintendo itself. No third party publisher ever used this style. Black boxart doesn't mean "early NES game", it means "early first party NES game".

Goose2k wrote:
Sat Jun 20, 2020 9:24 pm
It seems to me, that every piece of box art attempts to make the game more exciting/interesting than it really is. It attempts to cast the game in the best light, and capture the feeling of playing the game, rather than what is actually on screen. Even the Black Box games. And yes, even Tetris!
Sure, boxarts are exaggerations of the actual games. But it depends on how much you exaggerate.

The "Tetris" boxart still presents a falling blocks game, so it's pretty much honest.

Likewise, my own game, "City Trouble", uses a complete anime artwork, even though the gameplay has 1985-era graphics.
However, apart from the little gag with the nuggets ad (which is actually a drawing of a younger version of myself), there's nothing you see on that artwork that isn't also in the game in one way or the other:
The protagonist really is a woman with a taser and her artwork look and her sprite look match each other.
You really do walk over roofs.
And the other characters (woman in black, guy with the parachute, guy with the flamethrower and that little flying thing) really are in the game.

But now look at the US box of "Castlequest": For a "Castlevania"- or "Ghosts 'n Goblins"-like game or for something like "The Legend of Zelda", this artwork would be honest. But not for the game as it is.

And an artwork of soldiers in an explosion doesn't even capture the feeling of playing a "Minesweeper" clone because "Minesweeper" has nothing really to do with mines, except that they chose that specific theme for their abstract number game.
If you play "Donkey Kong", you really see a gorilla who kidnapped a woman. The same effect wouldn't be there if the game's sprites were all just rectangles and the cutscenes would be missing.
But how many of you, when they play "Minesweeper", really have the mindset: "I'm playing a game where I neutralize mines in a war zone" instead of "opening the correct blocks on a playfield, checking the numbers and avoiding the bad blocks"?
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Re: Honest box art

Post by strat » Sun Jun 21, 2020 8:04 pm

Screw box art, watch the intro to this game and try to guess what genre it will be.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCwvVpfhi7k&t=30s

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Re: Honest box art

Post by Goose2k » Sun Jun 21, 2020 9:30 pm

strat wrote:
Sun Jun 21, 2020 8:04 pm
Screw box art, watch the intro to this game and try to guess what genre it will be.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCwvVpfhi7k&t=30s
HAHA

5 minute melodramatic adventure story intro... oh and in the last 5 seconds... I can turn into a bee...

The post game credits alone are worth a detailed analysis!
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credits.png

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Re: Honest box art

Post by rox_midge » Mon Jun 22, 2020 4:45 pm

strat wrote:
Sun Jun 21, 2020 8:04 pm
Screw box art, watch the intro to this game and try to guess what genre it will be.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCwvVpfhi7k&t=30s
I mean, the whole thing is tongue-in-cheek, surely, along the lines of Parodius? The production values are crazy good, but it seems almost purposely nonsensical. German studio, Kanji in the title, marked as the second in the series even though there's no other game, and the ridiculous credits. I don't know whether or not it's a joke - I guess it's some variant of Poe's law.

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Re: Honest box art

Post by Pokun » Wed Jun 24, 2020 2:52 am

DRW wrote:
Sun Jun 21, 2020 5:10 am
And an artwork of soldiers in an explosion doesn't even capture the feeling of playing a "Minesweeper" clone because "Minesweeper" has nothing really to do with mines, except that they chose that specific theme for their abstract number game.
If you play "Donkey Kong", you really see a gorilla who kidnapped a woman. The same effect wouldn't be there if the game's sprites were all just rectangles and the cutscenes would be missing.
But how many of you, when they play "Minesweeper", really have the mindset: "I'm playing a game where I neutralize mines in a war zone" instead of "opening the correct blocks on a playfield, checking the numbers and avoiding the bad blocks"?
Although I agree with most of what you say, I don't find an abstract game being very inspiring if I can't have some kind of fun scenario to imagine while playing it. In minesweeper that is a minesweeper guy or ship that puts flags on the spots he deduced the mines to be at (no matter if it's realistic or not), in chess I imagine warring armies fighting it out and even in backgammon I would imagine something outside from what you see on the board.

This is especially true for those older Windows minesweepers since Microsoft had a very bad sense of colour when designing their older OS:es and programs.

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Re: Honest box art

Post by Goose2k » Tue Jun 30, 2020 4:58 pm

Goose2k wrote:
Sat Jun 20, 2020 9:24 pm
It seems to me, that every piece of box art attempts to make the game more exciting/interesting than it really is. It attempts to cast the game in the best light, and capture the feeling of playing the game, rather than what is actually on screen. Even the Black Box games. And yes, even Tetris!
the-famous-game-tetris-from-russia-21760148.jpg
the-famous-game-tetris-from-russia-21760148.jpg (34.52 KiB) Viewed 782 times
Since I can't go back and change the Tetris box art to be more honest, I've updated Tetris to be accurate to the box art. :D (via 3dSen)
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honest_tetris.png

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Re: Honest box art

Post by rox_midge » Wed Jul 01, 2020 6:58 am

Goose2k wrote:
Tue Jun 30, 2020 4:58 pm
Since I can't go back and change the Tetris box art to be more honest, I've updated Tetris to be accurate to the box art. :D (via 3dSen)
There are no stars in the background, and the pieces aren't leaving trails. Literally unplayable!

j/k I love it :D

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Re: Honest box art

Post by M_Tee » Fri Jul 03, 2020 3:53 am

I addressed this briefly in my Project Blue interview for VGS.
... the world being depicted is much larger than as seen through the lens of the gameplay screen, which very well might be only one of many abstracted interpretations of it.
I wasn't quite thinking about thematic interpretations of purely abstract gameplay, but I have been known to depict puzzle games in such a way, such as in my Chunkout 2 postcard.

In the same post that criticized dramatic interpretations in cover art, the value of theme within games was questioned as well.

In videogames, I feel the heavy presence of theme helps. Gameplay-wise, Gruniożerca 3's player sprite could be entirely replaced with a static arrow cursor without consequence, but the theme provides character, charm, and fun. As such, the presentation of a game like Rampart greatly improves the gameplay experience (even more noticeable in the Konami version for Famicom).

*Ignoring the endlessly debatable relationship between theme and abstraction, i.e. aren't platformers just the strategic movement of pixel clusters?

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Re: Honest box art

Post by DRW » Fri Jul 03, 2020 7:03 am

At least the "Chunkout" postcard still depicts block work. I would still consider this an honest depiction. Unlike an Indiana Jones-type adventurer with a whip when the game is still just tile matching.


About abstraction and themes within games:

Yes, on a purely technical level, everything is just moving pixels. But there are several differences.

One of the most important questions is: What was there first? The theme or the gameplay mechanics?

For example, a gun in a game doesn't start out as the abstract concept of "game element that moves in a horizontal line".
And a knife doesn't start out as "game element that moves three pixels forward, then three pixels backward, then disappears."
Instead, the developers intended for the character to have a gun and a knife first. And then they modeled the game logic to have the objects look and behave like that.

That's why even if you replaced videogame graphics with single-colored blocks, you would still see that this was originally supposed to represent some kind of world. Jump physics alone are clearly modeled after the real world and not after the idea "n pixels in the first frame, n2 pixels in the next frame".


In "Minesweeper" on the other hand, the mine searching motif is totally unnecessary. It's a numbers game.
I'm pretty sure the inventor came up with the the numbers and the safe and unsafe blocks first and gave it a mine searching theme later on. I can't imagine he started with: "I want to do something about finding mines in a warzone" and went from there.


In "Minesweeper", the theme is 100 % dislocated from the gameplay. You could pretend that you're a sailor who is searching for new land, but you need to avoid the islands with cannibals on them.

The same doesn't work equally for "Super Mario Bros." Sure, you can replace the Mario characters with the Mega Man characters. But it would still be a guy in a world fighting against other guys. But it would be hard to change Mario into a flying bird and the Goombas into the lava of a volcano. And yet, this very theme would still work for "Minesweeper".


And "Tetris" doesn't even pretend that it's anything other than pure gameplay. Unlike "Dr. Mario" with its viruses and pills, the blocks are just that: Blocks. Game units that you need to align accordingly. So, any cover artwork for "Tetris" that's about anything else but falling blocks is deceptive.

(O.k., there are those covers with Russian buildings on it. That's an exception. In this case, the cover doesn't try to pretend that the game is more than it is. Instead, it simply alludes to the fact that "Tetris" is a game invented in Russia.)


And for everybody who wants to claim that the theme of "Minesweeper" is actually part of the game's fun and that they actually emerge into the mine searching narrative, here's a test:

Sudoku doesn't have a narrative or a theme. Does this mean you get less enjoyment out of it because the theme could be that you're bulding houses that have to stand next to each other in a visually pleasing way? Do you really consider it a loss that Sudoku doesn't pretend to be the story about a city planner?

"The Legend of Zelda" surely would lose a lot of its appeal if it was just blocks, with a bomb not being a bomb, but "block that destroys other blocks after a few seconds".
But does anybody really bemoan the fact that "Ckeckers" isn't supposed to be kangaroos?
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Re: Honest box art

Post by zzo38 » Fri Jul 03, 2020 12:39 pm

Goose2k wrote:
Sat Jun 20, 2020 9:24 pm
And yes, even Tetris!
...
(noticed the space theme, tilted perspective, multiple blocks active at the same time, additional colors, etc)
The part that I dislike is the box art shows multiple blocks falling at the same time even though the game is only one at a time. Other than that, I can forgive them.

(But, maybe it can be made up, the game, that it is multiple blocks falling at the same time, but that is a different game, I think.)
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