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Classic Video Game Art vol. II

Bryan takes another look into the super-charged world of classic video game art! Terrified one-eyed mammoths, octopi with eyebrows, and more! PLAY RETRO - STAY RETRO!

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It’s time to round out September with some more unbelievably lush and unforgettable art from our favorite classic games. I chose a few more, and I’ve even got some videos this time, because I got all nerd-excited over some of the choices. I also made an earnest effort to find out as much as possible about the individual artists who created these visual masterpieces… that information is oddly difficult to find – or maybe I’m just dumb as hell and don’t know where to look. If you see one I credit incorrectly or that doesn’t have an artist credit, and you’ve got that information, PLEASE TELL ME! Without any further unnecessarily wordy prefacing bullshit, let’s get right to it! Feast your eyes!!!


Salamander/Lifeforce (Konami)

Year: 1986

Artist: Uncertain, my guess is either Kenji Shimoide or Naoke Satō

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The cover of the official OST, perhaps the least intruded-upon version of the base image. Back in early days, at the rental store… this snake scared me so stupid I HAD to try Lifeforce. Just to see if I could teach that snake a lesson.

You are looking into the face of galactic evil. Are you even remotely ready for this shit? Do you even know what “ready for this shit” means?

I don’t think you do, ese. I think you’re gonna get schooled into little fragments.

This one always entranced me as a kid. I originally saw it on the US NES cover, and later on in life I was awed at the detail lost in shrinking it from the original arcade flyer. I know it’s just a space snake, but it’s a fucking scary space snake, man. That perfectly coiled length behind it, framed by the yawning star-speckled nothingness of outer space.

I hope you said your space prayers, kiddo.


Space Harrier (Sega)

Year: 1985

Artist: Sega doesn’t even denote who did what in their game credits, everyone just gets lumped in as “STAFF”

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I managed to find this one without the retail trim, so you could soak in the moment of visceral chaos. There’s so much going on… there is a gigantic floating brain back there. It’s got a city on top of it. Yeah, everything’s normal here.

There is a lot going on here, and you’d benefit from a close look. Soaring through planetary atmospheres destroying shit with a gun as big as you are? AMAZING career path. Let him show you.

Our dude is so unspeakably cool that he is point-blank nuking the ouroboros dragon thing without even folding p his shades and putting them somewhere safe. He knows the space babes are watching, and Space Harrier never disappoints. The stone heads just sort of toodle by; it seems like they’re either used to this shit by now or just so sullen and insular that they dare Space Harrier to destroy them.

My favorite touch is the light panic on Space Cyclops Elephant’s face. He is not even sure how he’s getting by in this ecosystem, but he sure as hell didn’t sign up for this. He’s got kids.

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Meanwhile, a gleaming futuristic metropolis stands majestic against the sublime sunset in the background.

The space babes are definitely there.


DOOM (id Software)

Year: 1993

Artist: Gregor Punchatz

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“I don’t need any support, advice, or compassion, because even if I am the most ruinous man, I still feel so powerful, so strong and fierce. For I am the only one that lives without hope.” -Emil Cioran

I had to come here. Had to tread the blood-red sands of Hell once more. A UAC space marine’s job is never done. It’s a good thing someone tossed med-kits and boxes of bullets all over the place.

This one image defines my late childhood/early adolescence, at least in part. I still have the 11×17 poster that I framed and hung in my room as a preteen. I just don’t keep it hung up anymore because wherever you put that thing, it sucks the eye away from everything else near it.

Here we see a man who’s pretty certain he’s about to die. He’s bleeding, the sneering legions of Hell are grasping at hims limbs, and you can see the stark animal fear building on his face beneath the visor of his helmet. He drops one, maybe two, but like a pissed-off Satanic swarm of fire ants, the demons simply pile on. His buddy’s running up, shouting that he’ll help cover a retreat. Our man doesn’t even have the breath to say what he’s thinking: you’d better turn right back around, private, or this is gonna be you about twelve seconds after I hit the ground.

That’s the thing that really nailed me to the genre and the aesthetic of games like DOOM when I was younger. I was nihilistic, full of existential terror, and coming to terms with my own mortality at an age when I should have been basking in the bucolic sunshine of oblivion. Doom grabbed me because it was not only action packed and no-holds-barred, but because it really did have this nuance of hopelessness to it. The imagery, the implied storyline, and even certain pieces of music from the game are enough to invoke images of humanity’s twilight. This cover art is no exception. We have stumbled upon a fictional future man about to die, just like billions have before him… except he’s fighting demons and it fucking rules.


Anything Yoshitaka Amano Has Done for the Final Fantasy Series (Squaresoft)

Year: So many, and it’s awesome

Artist: Yoshitaka “World-Crafting Visual Arts Deity” Amano

I’m not one of those people who gushes over shit just because it’s Japanese. Don’t get me wrong; I deeply appreciate what Japanese creators and innovators have contributed to video games throughout the history of the industry. I just tend to sift through my consumption of anything a bit more than it seems… some people do. I’m not judging them. Anyway, I WILL gush over this, because every piece of this man’s art is like Hellenic Greece and ancient Rome collided with the hyperbolic world of JRPGs and created an alternate reality where literally everyone was a god.

Left: The crew from FFII, the Japanese II that was so hard they second-guessed releasing it Stateside but relented eventually; and on the right we have FFIV’s Twin Pimp Squad, Cecil and Kain.

I have a confession to make: the latest Final Fantasy game in the series that I’ve played is IX. I just couldn’t stay interested, plus I stopped doing the console thing around the time the Dreamcast went the way of the dodo. My two favorites, both of which mark me as a minority among FF fans, are I and IV. They are the two that I grew up chewing through, that helped shape my sensibilities about RPGs. I also enjoyed VI very much because it had an even richer story than IV had, and once I got to play them in an intelligible format I fell in love with II and III.

Left: the gang from III, all grown up and jobbed out. Right: Some fabulously crazy shit from VI.

Seeing Amano render those characters in such a graceful, hyper-human style takes me back every time. There’s something deeply Classical as well as something very Art Noveau about everything he illustrates, and it depicts these characters as both visually striking and starkly human.


Splatterhouse 2 (Namco)

Year: 1992

Artist: Probably one of the following – A. Chan, Gyoee~! Miyachan, or Taiji Nagayama (again, they just pile names together in these things)

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I just realized while preparing to publish: the fucking octopus has eyebrows. Click for larger version.

I finished with this one because October’s right around the corner. Horror in classic video games is one of my favorite topics to swim around in. Usually the end result of such efforts ends up either painfully cool (but not scary) or laughably shitty. The Splatterhouse series (at least, the original three) are painfully cool. This cover is so 1990s cool I can’t even look at it without muttering “yeah dude” under my breath reflexively.

He is battling the SHIT out of a massive purple mutant and an absolutely FURIOUS land octopus with what appears to be an oversized slot machine lever. You can tell he’s been busy, because that knob is nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, an army of the living dead shuffles forth under the guidance of the shittiest little Eddie Haskell ghost I’ve ever seen. One look at Rick’s face tells you all you need to know: he’s HAD IT, and every single thing he can physically reach tonight is going to die.

What’s even more amazing than this is the little intro movie from the game. We’re treated to parallaxing horizons, an almost legitimately moving vision of Jennifer begging to be rescued and then PLUMMETING back into the gullet-anus of some unthinkable creature, and some really driving music that consider the best track out all three OSTs. Look on.

All right, RetroFiends. Put on your hockey masks and go get your pillow cases. I will see you in October!

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