Purchasing a video game these days frequently means clicking a button on a website, or buying a box off a shelf with only a code on a piece of paper inside it. But there was a time when buying a game used to mean you got a package of sweet sweet goodies. You could expect a well written manual at the very least, but often you would get maps, posters and fancy code wheels when you handed over your cash. And on the front cover – works of art.
In the 80s and 90s, the covers of games were a large part of the games marketing – after all, if the boxart wasn’t up to snuff, why would you even pick up that game off the shelf? Quite apart from that, the art often needed to tell the story, because the graphics – while having their own charm – wouldn’t necessarily look like the things they were meant to portray.
While the Amiga didn’t necessarily have any issues in the graphics department, it still needed to sell games. Professional artists made a career out of creating beautiful vistas for game covers, some coming directly from the cooling vinyl record art business. Unlike the photoshopped covers of today, many game covers were genuine bona-fide paintings – there’s a reason why collectors want to pick up the original big boxes, and people (including me) have Amiga posters on their walls to this day.
Recently I asked the lovely people of the Amigos Discord to vote on their favourite Amiga boxart. The competition was fierce, but the winners were clear. But before we look at the top of the table, let’s look at the honourable mentions that only got selected as a favourite by a single fan:
Best of the rest
14 games made it past that first hurdle. But rather that just gaze upon their opulent glory, let’s take a closer took at the people behind the easel/screen/scrap of paper. Unfortunately, some of the pieces pictured below have had to go uncredited – boxart credits weren’t common back in the day, and indeed, some artists didn’t even get the agreed payment for their work, let alone credit for it! Hopefully we can go some way to correcting this…
Note: where I can find a boxart from a different system in higher quality (and it’s the same as the Amiga art), I’ve used that. Don’t lynch me!
14 Infestation [Artist – Roger Dean]
The first of two people to feature more than once on our hit parade, Roger Dean is an English artist who is probably best known by the general public for his spectacular work on album covers for the classic rock bands Yes and Asia (amongst others). His artwork frequently focuses on exotic fantasy landscapes and structures – Roger himself said that he was fed up of seeing the future buildings depicted as ‘a box’. He wanted the future to be a bit more… futuristic. For me, there are strong ties to the inventive scenes on the covers of classic science fiction novels, and I believe this is what led to Psygnosis approaching him to provide art for the covers of their games after seeing his work in the music industry. They wanted “box art that was every bit as beautiful as the games they produced”. Roger Dean delivered, and even created the iconic logo that Psygnosis used for years afterward.
This particular cover for little-known but extremely innovative first person game Infestation depicts a futuristic insectoid robot resting on a leaf, barely distinguishable from a normal insect without close inspection. The detail is beautiful and hard to tear your eyes away from. Roger went on to produce many of Psygnosis’s covers throughout the 16-bit era, making their games a distinctive mainstay on the shelf of games stores around the world. His style became inseparable from the company itself.
13 Wizball [Artist – Bob Wakelin]
Sadly passing away earlier this year, Bob Wakelin was another prolific producer of game cover art in the 16 bit era. Growing up with a desire to become a comic artist (and indeed spending some time at Marvel), Bob was approached in 1983 to provide game covers and adverts for fledgling software house Spectrum Games. That software house would soon become Ocean Software, one of the biggest publishers of games in the 80s and 90s in the UK, and Bob played no small part in that success. Indeed, as with our No. 14 entry, Bob created the iconic Ocean logo, taking a rather dull blue and white emblem and transforming it into the shiny and chrome masterpiece anyone from that era would instantly recognise. If you look at an Ocean cover from that era, the likelihood is that it was penned by Bob Wakelin, his distinctive air-brush and pencil style becoming a key part of the company brand.
This particular cover is for the Sensible Software off-the-wall classic Wizball. Given the game itself is abstract in the extreme, it was important the cover had a similar feel. The main character is there in the middle, and has a lot more detail that he ever does in the game itself, almost grotesque in his wrinkled green appearance. Meanwhile the rest of the cover is a mish-mash of almost Escher-esque pipes and platforms, floating in space, while the evil Zark lingers malevolently, and Wiz’s cat Nifta bats at the passing ball form of herself, Catellite. It has a touch of the insane to it, which is exactly right for this insane game.
12 Pushover [Artist – Haslam(?)]
Researching boxart artists, especially those from over 20 years ago, is a challenging undertaking and sometimes you’re just going to come up empty. Such is the case with one of the best puzzle games on the platform, Pushover. The game is a relatively straightforward domino-rally puzzle game, with tiny ant G.I. Ant (oh ho) lugging dominoes around the map to place them in an order that will cause them all to topple before hitting a trigger domino to open the exit. As with many of the game covers of the era, the boxart is really just a cartoon representation of the game. Pushover is well known for the front-and-centre product placement for UK crispy snack Quavers, and the boxart features their mascot Colin Curly as well, wolfing down one of his favourite cheesy treats atop a hill, while he topples the dominoes that will soon crush our hero in the foreground. It’s clear thick lines and colourful airbrush shading make this a distinctive cover, and the lead character has just as much charisma as in the game itself. The boxart was created in the same era that Bob Wakelin was at Ocean, but given this one is simply signed ‘Haslam’, it’s clearly not one of his. Sadly that is all we know!
This cover art even featured on the cover of The Wild, The Weird & The Wicked A600 bundle that contained my very first Amiga, although it’s not clear if the same artist that created the boxart also produced the art for this bundle.
11 UFO Enemy Unknown [Artist – John Emory]
One of the quintessential strategy games of the era, Julian Gollop’s turn-based masterpiece (called XCOM: UFO Defense in the States) enthralled fans around the world, which is why this franchise persists to this day. The game itself deserved a cover to match, which is why John Emory crafted this beautiful work to adorn its box. It really recreates the feel of a sci-fi book cover, and while the somewhat grotesque insectoid alien depicted never features in the game itself (most of the aliens looking closer to the classic ‘greys’), this image is as synonymous with the XCOM series as anything else. We don’t know much more about John Emory, although he created many boxarts for classic games at Microprose during that era, including Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon, Fields of Glory and M1 Tank Platoon.
10 Lemmings [Artist – Adrian Powell]
For such an iconic cover, there is surprisingly little information available about the artist that created it. Adrian created the unique look of the Lemmings that adorns this cover from 1991, and also went on to create the similarly-styled cover of the expansion, Oh No! More Lemmings. Both covers capture the hectic feel of a Lemmings game, with hundreds of the little green-haired menaces stomping across a landscape, some demonstrating the skills from within the game – like the blockers and the floaters – and some using skills that are not even seen in the sequel, with Lemmings in planes and riding bicycles. It almost has the feel of a Where’s Wally/Waldo picture, with an exquisite level of detail that rewards multiple viewings. The cover even gives a (perfectly legitimate) health warning for your sanity.
As far as my research tells me, Adrian didn’t produce any more game covers after his Lemmings work, which is really a shame because the quality is superb. The cover for Oh No! More Lemmings is, in some ways, of even better quality that the original, but just isn’t as widely recognised. Oh No! is a lot closer to the look of the game itself than Powell’s first effort, with smashed pillars and platforms, and even the demonic head that provides an exit on some of the harder levels. Not only that, but it also made a beautiful cover for my school art sketchbook!
9 Turrican II [Artist – Celal Kandemiroglu]
Number 9 on the list of boxarts, but number 1 on the list of names I’m glad I’m typing not pronouncing – it’s Celal Kandemiroglu’s iconic Turrican II cover. The Turrican series is well known for its superlative soundtrack, composed by the talented Chris Huelsbeck, but the artwork is just as impressive. Celal is a prolific Turkish artist who, until 1988, mostly worked on video and movie covers. Most of his well known game cover work is with Rainbow Arts, including all three of the Turrican covers, X-Out and Z-Out, although he did work with other companies freelance, most notably creating the memorable cover for Psygnosis’s Atomino. Not content with just producing cover art, Celal also taught himself DPaint and a number of Amiga games also feature his graphics work ingame, including X-Out, The Patrician and Masterblazer. His artwork is everywhere, and you can see a lot of it for yourself on his website.
The Turrican cover brings the lead character to life and you can clearly see the Turrican fighting suit and its occupant Bren McGuire on his knees fighting hordes of aliens, in a very 80s action movie kind of way. The metal suit reflects his surroundings beautifully and the whole scene has a fantastically alien feel to it.
8 Simon the Sorcerer [Artist – Paul Drummond]
Point-and-click adventure games were ten-a-penny in the 16-bit era, but few outside of the Lucasarts stable held the attention like Simon the Sorcerer. Mixing a healthy dollop of British humour with some truly superlative ingame graphics, it was one of the best in its class. The ingame backgrounds were sketched in black and white by Paul Drummond and his team, before being digitised and colourised on computer. But it was Paul himself who created this beautiful cover. The game itself was heavily inspired by Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, and this artwork continues this inspiration. Many of the characters you meet in the game are pictured, including Simon’s troublesome dog Chippy, the rather annoying and pathetic Swampy, and a whole bunch of assorted bad guys, the evil wizard Sordid looming above all. Simon, clearly too small for his wizard’s robes wields a staff with dubious authority. It’s a beautiful piece of work.
7 The Secret of Monkey Island [Artist – Steve Purcell]
Speaking of point-and-click adventures, how about the big daddy of them all? Lucasarts’s seminal classic The Secret of Monkey Island was a huge title on the Amiga, and its boxart reflects that. Monkey Island is quite cinematic in style, having been inspired by both the historical fantasy novel On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers and the Pirates of the Carribean ride (which would later go on to inspire the films of the same name). It shouldn’t be surprising then that the box art for Monkey Island is quite so much like a movie poster. All the key characters from the game are featured and the beautiful style really draws you in, the central skull motif seeming to float above them all malevolently.
Steve Purcell, the artist, is probably one of the bigger names on this list. He is an American artist, cartoonist and game designer and is well known as the creator of the Sam & Max comic book series, which later became another of Lucasarts’s big games. Since then he has worked briefly for Industrial Light and Magic, and is now employed at Pixar. You might not have realised when you were watching it that the guy who painted one of your favourite game covers also co-directed that Pixar film about that Scottish lass (Brave, for those aren’t cottoning on)! He has also written and directed a number of Pixar shorts and specials, including Toy Story That Time Forgot. Back in games land, he was also responsible for the artwork on Pipe Dream/Pipemania, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, and maybe one more game we’ll mention shortly…
6 It Came From The Desert [Artist – Unknown]
Speaking of games inspired by movies, Cinemaware’s It Came From The Desert wanted to be one. Taking its cues from classic 50s B-movies, ICFTD was almost a mini-movie in itself, and an utterly unique gameplay experience. So it’s hardly surprising that the boxart goes for that 50s schlocky style too, complete with oversized ant literally tearing the logo from the cover, screaming woman, and sensationalist slogans. Unfortunately, we have no idea who put this piece together, but it will forever live on in our hearts.
5 Flashback [Artist – Unknown]
Flashback‘s cover is an interesting one. We don’t know who created it, or even if it is strictly artwork or some sort of elaborate film/photo editing production, but it certainly is striking. Presumably this represents the wiping of Conrad B. Hart’s memory before the start of the game, with a lurid yellow beam striking him in the forehead. The image itself strongly brings to mind the monolith sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, with a side order of the digitising sequence from Tron as his head becomes wireframe towards the top of the picture. It certainly stood out on the shelf at time (and even now).
4 Alien Breed [Artist – Rico Holmes]
Alien Breed has a questionable history. No-one could argue that it is very clearly inspired by the movie series of a very similar name, but equally no-one could argue that it is one of the Amiga’s royal family of games, when it comes down to it. A Team 17 classic. And its cover doesn’t beat around the bush either, aping the game’s sci-fi horror cousin, but giving it a unique spin. The alien face emerging out of the darkness of the cover leaves you under no illusions of what to expect.
Cover artist Rico Holmes was one of the founding fathers of the amazing Team 17, and his sublime art can be seen throughout their library both on covers and in the games themselves. His graphics are in such classics as Superfrog, Project-X and Worms. These days he is a freelance artist again and dabbles in the lucrative world of Photoshop extensions. You can see some of his more modern endeavours on his website.
3 Shadow of the Beast [Artist – Roger Dean]
Well, here we are again in the house of Roger Dean with another astounding cover. The box for this game was landscape and I think that may have been just to fit this exquisite work of art on the front! It’s abstract compared to the game’s content, but no-one really cared – the dreamscape of almost mechanical beasts running across some future Serengeti was more than enough to fire our imaginations.
2 Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge [Artist – Steve Purcell]
Here we are again with Mr Purcell at number 2. Dread pirate LeChuck didn’t appear at all on the original game’s cover – presumably to keep the surprise baddy a secret – but now the cat is out of the bag and he is the lead character on the cover for the sequel, stabbing a doll Guybrush (much to his dismay). The jury is out which one is the better cover, but this one certain got the votes in our survey! It’s a beautifully painted cover and carries on the cinematic style of the original, but the deep blues of the sky in contrast to the reds of LeChuck’s coat really make this cover leap off the box.
1 Another World [Artist – Eric Chahi]
And the winner is… not by a professional artist! The cover to Another World is actually by the game’s developer, Eric Chahi. And boy does it capture the mood of the game! Indeed, Eric Chahi doesn’t like to talk about Another World as he likes the images in the game to do the talking, so his personalised cover could be said to be the epitome of that belief. While Chahi is not an artist by trade, he is a talented illustrator and painter nonetheless, and created concept sketches for the whole game during development. He had always wanted to illustrate the box for one of his games, and with Another World, he went ahead and did it. It’s a beautiful painting featuring the main character, his alien buddy, the alien world you see at the end of the game, and the shadowy beast that chases you at the start. You can tell that the man who did the cover also created the art style of the whole game as it all fits together so beautifully. A classic (and also on my wall!)
And that’s it!
So there we go, a walkthrough of some of the best boxart on the Amiga. Quite the variety, I think you’ll agree! If your absolute favourite isn’t here, let us know in the comments, it’ll be great to see what other stunning works of art were available on our favourite platform.
And for you stats nerds, you can see the final results of the poll in handy chart form below.