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Why box art
Why Box Art?

 

"Study the box art of a video game to know its character, for as a picture is worth a thousand words, so too is the cover of a game a glimpse into its soul." - Confucius

Step into a time machine, where pixelated wonders and nostalgia-drenched memories await. In the realm of retro video game box art, a symphony of vibrant hues, bold compositions, and imaginative characters unfolds. It is a testament to an era when creativity knew no boundaries and game covers were vivid tapestries that transported players to realms of pure imagination.

Retro video game box art is a mesmerizing journey into a bygone era, a kaleidoscope of 8-bit masterpieces that captured the essence of gaming's golden age. With limited graphical capabilities, artists transformed mere pixels into breathtaking vistas, evocative of epic quests and daring escapades. Every stroke of the brush, every meticulously placed pixel, imbued the covers with a sense of wonder and discovery.

These artistic time capsules are more than mere marketing tools; they are portals to a cherished past, summoning memories of huddling around CRT televisions, clutching chunky controllers, and embarking on pixelated odysseys. Each box art tells a story, a snapshot of the gaming landscape that shaped countless childhoods and ignited a lifelong passion for gaming.

But it is not just the imagery that captivates; it is the art of suggestion. Retro video game box art teased the imagination, leaving players yearning to uncover the secrets hidden within. It was a promise of epic battles, treacherous dungeons, and heroic triumphs. These covers held the power to ignite the spark of adventure within, urging gamers to dive headfirst into the unknown.

In an age dominated by photorealistic graphics and sleek marketing campaigns, retro video game box art stands as a testament to the power of simplicity and imagination. It serves as a gentle reminder that the allure of a game lies not in its graphical fidelity but in the boundless depths of creativity it inspires. These artistic relics deserve to be cherished, admired, and celebrated as timeless treasures that continue to inspire generations of gamers.

So let us gaze upon these relics of the past, these artistic marvels that adorned the shelves of video game stores. Let us bask in the warm glow of nostalgia and appreciate the artistry that transcended technical limitations. Retro video game box art is a tribute to a bygone era, a testament to the indelible impact of pixelated dreams and the eternal charm of a simpler time in gaming history.

Box Art in Your Gaming Frontend

Most every gaming frontend (the interface from which you browse your gaming collection and launch games) has the abilty to display box art, often with the capability to manage multiple covers and other game related media. Launchbox for example, promises to "emulate, organise and beautify your game collection".

 

Browsing by box art enhances the user experience and enriches the gaming frontend, adding visual appeal and allowing the games to be visually identifiable. This leads to a more cohesive and immersive experience, engaging users in the gaming world. You can also read the blurb and look at the screenshots on the rear of the box. It can create a personal attachment to the game, and trigger nostalgia or curiosity. If done well, having complete box art for a game can lead to a sense of tangibility and ownership, making the game more real and substantial. Again, Launchbox has a feature where it will create a rotatable 3D model box from the front, spine and rear box images, allowing a more direct interaction with the box and further enhancing this sense of tangibility (but please Launchbox, implement the feature that allows us to add both left and right spines - and if you're feeling generous, top and bottom too - or else add a vertical rotation lock)!

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For what pupose
Quality of box art
Quality of Box Art

 

Now well embarked on our quest to beautify our collection with box art, we turn to the area of box art quality. There are many sources of box art available online - for more on this, see the "Game Database Comparison" project on this site. Some box art images are duplicated from other sites, some are unique. There is a lot of variation in term of  the image size, resolution, quality, imperfections, watermarks and general realism.

 

There is some debate online on what the best approach is to obtaining the ideal box art - whether we should aim for pristine pixel-perfect box art renditions, with all the imperfections and aberrations Photoshopped out, or box art which embraces imperfections and other unique attributes. In some ways, it's similar to whether we want a depiction of the art that was on the box, or the box itself, art, warts and all.

I put forward the argument to support the latter - the box itself.

The box art was never divorced from the box. It was on the box; and the box adds to it. There's a certain charm to embracing the imperfections in the box art; they can add depth, character and a sense of nostalgia to the overall experience. They create an element of authenticity - harking back to days when technology was limited, and reminding us of the early years of gaming, where imperfect graphics and rough edges were the norm. They can humanise the artwork, infusing it with warmth and personality and making it feel more relatable. It just looks more like the original box, rather than a clean computer-generated representation of what was on it. The beauty of imperfection.

And the alternative - clean and pristine box art - loses much of the above. Details can be lost, artefacts introduced, bias in the process introduced, and context lost.

This approach comes into it's own when utilising the 3D box model feature within the Launchbox gaming frontend; if authentic art is used for all the sides, then when rotating it it looks like the actual old box in front of you.

So where do we draw the line on the imperfections on the box art? We don't necessarily want a battered-up box where some of the text and images are unreadable due to excess dents, scuffs, creases and rips to the box! I would say that some image editing/correction is OK - for example basic stuff like fixing rotation, adjusting colour/contrast to ensure it resembles the original box as much as possible, fixing particularly large imperfections (e.g. rips and tears), etc. What is not OK would be removing all imperfections altogether, unifying the colour gradients to remove any variation that may be due to the box or weathering over time, or any box reconstruction from constituent parts (sometimes referred to as "reconstructed" box art). We would be left with an image that is too clean and perfect, lacking all of the positive attributes associated with the imperfections as described above.

2.5D Box Art

This is also where the idea of "2.5D" box art comes in (credit to ABeezy1388 for coining the term). Most box art images tend to be available as 2D images, or static 3D images. 2D refers to just the cover, front view; 3D refers to the static 3D view (not the rotatable 3D model). 2.5D refers to the 2D front view, though with the case/box itself also displayed. See the Super Mario Bos. Wii cover image below for an example:

Personally the 2.5D is my preferred image to display when browsing the games; 3D is nice but 2.5D looks a bit cleaner as you see just the front and not the spines, which can be distracting when many boxes are seen in a grid. When the box is a cardboard box, creating the 2.5D image can be a bit trickier. Below is an example from the Nintendo NES 2.5D box art set that I did, where I applied box stigmata to the flat image:

 

Although I'm not 100% happy with this particular conversion as it stands, as an example you can see how a simple .jpg of the cover art (left image) doesn't look much like a box - whereas the image on the right, with stigmata of a physical box, looks like it does. So we're not looking to create a messy, battered and unclear box image, but we are looking to create something that approximates the original physical box as much as possible. 

Here is a nice example of 3 "real" 3D box set from @Kondorito:

https://hyperspin-fe.com/files/file/15636-super-nintendo-entertainment-system-realistic-3d-boxes-hq-hi-res-complete/

And here's a post on the Launchbox forums on the matter:

https://forums.launchbox-app.com/topic/60984-please-do-not-destroy-original-authentic-box-images-with-photoshop-edits-upload-them-separately/

There is actually a separate image category in Launchbox for games that have been cleaned, but I don't know how strictly this is adhered to:

https://forums.launchbox-app.com/topic/37569-box-front-reconstructed-vs-fanart-box-front/

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