Design in the Wild – The Art of Video Game Covers

By: Kirk Nazar- 3164965

Video game box art is simultaneously the most important and most easily overlooked aspect of the industry. It is the identifying face of a game and tasked with conveying what the game is, and has to offer. Over the past 30 years, Cover art has evolved just as drastically as the games themselves, and arguably not for the better. Most game covers today all follow a similar safe design formula and fail to accomplish the most crucial thing required of them. With an era of digital distribution threatening the role of physical boxed copies in general, there has never been a better time to look back at the journey of an underappreciated facet of art, its shift, and its place among graphic design.

Today, utilizing an in-game asset for cover art and marketing is standard procedure, but that wasn’t always the case. In the late 70’s, Cabinets and consoles had nowhere near the hardware capabilities they have now and relied almost entirely on the imagination of the player. Publishers therefore relied on artists such as George Opperman and Rick Guidiceboth with conceptual and commercial art experience, to create imagery that would spark and excite the players imagination. All with identical boxes, the Atari 2600 generation put all emphasis on the illustration with flat monotone backgrounds, symmetrical composition and Atari sans serif cover text. While the artwork work was undoubtedly beautiful, controversy arose for misleading the consumer due to the imagery being more interpretive rather than representational.

Asteroids (1979)                            Berzerk (1980)

asteroidsbox-jpg_618x0_ berzerkboxart-jpg_618x0_   asteroidsgameplay-jpg_618x0_ berzerkgameplay-jpg_618x0_1


These trends shifted in subsequent years with companies like Nintendo utilizing more screen accurate imagery in their cover art. With consoles still being limited to 8-bit processing capabilities, enticing buyers, while also being transparent about the product, just wasn’t a marketable option. So a medium between the two extremes was established with artists beginning to experiment with dynamic ways to incorporate title text fonts and creative imagery that would not mislead the consumer.

NES Golf (1984)                                                  NES Open Tournament (1991)     

nes_golf                       nes_nesopenturnamentgolf_gb

Super Mario Bros. (1985)                               Super Mario Bros.  3 (1988) 

nes_supermariobros                      nes_supermariobros3


This Precedent was maintained into the next generation of consoles in 1991. With graphical improvements, artists now had more identifiable source material to work with, illustrating scenes from the games themselves rather than what a game was meant to represent. The cover designs that came out of this generation by artists such as Tom dubois, maintained just the right amount of artistic freedom, and did so without overly misrepresenting the product. Original fonts styles, experimental compositions and beautiful illustrations made a generation of cover art that is widely considered to be the most iconic and aesthetically diverse of all time.


snes_thelegendofzeldaalinktothepast-1 snes_supermetroid snes_supermarioworld

A Link to the Past (1991)    Super Metroid (1994)    Super Mario World (1990)

snes_secretofmana snes_streetfighterii snes_castlevaniaiv

Secret of Mana (1993)        Street Fighter II (1992)      Super Castlevania IV (1991)


Tomb Raider (1996)
Crash Bandicoot (1996)

With the jump from 2D to 3D in 1996, Publishers saw the new visual fidelity as impressive enough to use in-game assets as marketing material, and subsequently illustrators no were longer necessary.

Sonic 3D Blast (1996)

Similar to shifts from illustration to photography in advertising throughout history, the public seemed to prefer it; Regardless of its comparable lacking of detail to previous hand drawn covers. This need for 3D was initiated by western publishers and started the unfortunate trend of box art feeling designed by marketing teams rather than passionate artists. Most covers began following the same formulaic approach to their designs with a central in game character asset, symmetrical text composition and recycled font style. This and other standard design formulae became a normality that sadly continues to occupy the vast majority of store shelves today. Doing more to represent the current market zeitgeist rather than a digital work of  interactive art.

1477922617-the-single-figure 1477928944-the-car 1477926004-the-hand 1477924200-the-big-face 1477924092-the-montage

Video game cover art by its definition is its own form of poster art. Visual imagery and marketing coming together with the goal of winning the interest of potential consumers. Like a lot of poster art of the 19th and 20th century, themes of mysticism, sex, masculinity and fantastical elements are commonplace among box covers, and while beautiful, they sadly do little to represent the products they are advertising. This  is something that has re surged quietly among video game covers over the past 20 years. While graphically the visuals displayed on cases today look impressive, and their compositions are in fact well executed, there is a clear bias in the division of it’s two jobs, the passion and appreciation for representing a piece of art, and it’s role as a marketing tool.


Work Cited

  • Buffa, Christopher. “Video Game Box Art: How Beautiful Graphics Ruined Everything.” Prima Games, Prima Games, 19 June 2014,
  • Lapetino, Tim. Art of Atari. Edited by Shawna Gore, Dynamite Entertainment, 2016.
  • Webster, Andrew. “How Atari Box Art Turned 8-Bit Games into Virtual Wonderlands.” The Verge, 19 Sept. 2013,
  • “Album Art CD Covers and DVD Covers.” Cover Century,








Oreo Biscuit – An Everlasting Taste for Over A Century (1912-2012)_ Yunfangzhou Tan

Oreo Biscuit – An Everlasting Taste for Over A Century (1912-2012)

VISD2006-01 Graphic Design Hist-20th Cent 

Blog Post 1 – Design in the wild / personal obessions

By Yunfangzhou Tan (# 3166753)


2020, Oreo Latest Package
2020, Oreo Latest Package, Photo By Yunfangzhou Tan


William A. Turnier, the man who designed the Oreo cookie. (Photo courtesy of the Turnier family as published in Indyweek, Aug. 24, 2011)[4]
William A. Turnier, the man who designed the Oreo cookie. (Photo courtesy of the Turnier family as published in Indyweek, Aug. 24, 2011)[4]


1950, Oreo Ad Poster
1950, Oreo Ad Poster


1924, Oreo Ad Poster (Craft Foods)
1924, Oreo Ad Poster (Craft Foods)


After class as usual, I walked around the Rexall store near my home and bought a box of Oreo Double Stuf Biscuit at a discount price. I am fond of its easy-identifiable package design with a huge biscuit placing in the center of a pouring milk, inside which the product itself tastes the same. Certainly, Oreo is the most popular and best-selling cookies around the world. Its childlike ad shows how to eat and play with Oreo: “twist, lick and then drunk”. Myself, as a crazy snacks lover, find it is worthwhile to know the background history of Oreo.


1912, 1st Oreo Package
1912, the 1st Oreo Package


1915, Oreo Tin Package
1915, Oreo Tin Package


In 1898, there were many companies that came together to make what we now call Nabisco, which is the creator of the Oreo. It was in 1912 that they had the idea to start making a new cookie. The idea was to have two round biscuits made of chocolate flavor and filled with creme in between. The first Oreo is very alike to the one we have today only that the design on the biscuit is different.[1] The original design of the cookie featured a wreath around the edge of the cookie and the name “OREO” in the center. The name Oreo was first trademarked on March 14, 1912. In the United States, they were sold for 25 cents a pound (453 g) in novelty cans with clear glass tops, which is quite different from nowadays blue plastic packaging. The first Oreo was sold on March 6, 1912 to a grocer in Hoboken, New Jersey.[2] When the first box design in 1912 proved bulky, Oreo transitioned to this blue tin. The Oreo shows the design of cookie in its earliest days. Since then the chocolate wafer design has changed just twice.[3] The Oreo Biscuit was renamed in 1921, to “Oreo Sandwich”.[2] In 1923, Oreo cookies were available in packages, which were as opposed to boxes or tins for the first time. The package through 1940s prominently featured women enjoying Oreos and it was yellow as well. In the 1950s, Oreo started to use the see-through cellophane wrapper to package the cookies. Since then Oreo has released more than 30 different flavors worldwide, but original is still our favorite. In the 1960’s, Oreo started packaging several rows of cookies in a box. From 1975 to 1995, Oreo kept its package and changed it very little. After 1950, Oreo changed their packaging drastically, giving us the package we know today.[3]  


1923, Oreo Package
1923, Oreo Package


Changing Looks, Oreo Stamps
1912 to Today, Changing Looks of Oreo Stamps


1937, Oreo Package
1937, Oreo Package


1951, Oreo Package
1951, Oreo Package


1960, Oreo Package
1960, Oreo Package


1973, Oreo Package
1973, Oreo Package


1993, Oreo Package
1993, Oreo Package


The origin of the name Oreo is unknown, but there are many theories: including derivations from the French word ‘Or’, meaning gold (as early packaging was gold); or the Greek word ‘Oreo’, meaning beautiful, nice or well done. Others believe that the cookie was named Oreo because it was short and easy to pronounce.[2] Another fun truth of Oreo is 50 percent of Oreo eaters pull apart their cookies before they eat them and women are more likely to do the twist than men.[3] 



Works Cited 

“History of Oreos.” Oreo[1]

Smith, Ian. “Cool Photos Show the Evolution of Oreo Packaging within 100 Years! …” The Vintage News, 30 Mar. 2016,[2]

Russell, Mallory. “Celebrate 100 Years Of Oreo With A History Of Its Marketing.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 3 Mar. 2012,[3] 

“Tag Archives: Sam Porcello.” Northern[4]