Art of Atari

Book review by Deane Barker tags: gaming, art

This is a fun book that celebrates the packaging and advertising art of the early Atari video games of the 80s.

And this is important, because – let’s face it – those games sucked. The graphics were horrible and abstract, and what you were seeing on the screen had very little relation to…the dream. The art of these boxes were instructive. They showed you what you were supposed to be thinking while you were playing, which was important. The mental imagery mattered, because the actual gameplay was objectively pretty awful.

Also, it’s interesting to see how some of the abstract games were depicted. Like, how do you make an exciting image about Virtual Chess? Or Rubik’s Cube? Or some bizarre game like Tempest, that has no real-world analogue?

Some of the other art makes choices that significantly affect the game premise. The art from Centipede, for example, shows that you’re a little elf with a magic wand. I had no idea. Then, in the art from the sequel, Millipede, you’re now an archer with a bow and arrow. That’s a non-trivial transition, and it seemingly only existed in the art, not the actual game. Like, the artist made this decision alone.

The book covers at least 50 games, and reproduces the actual art, as well as concepts that didn’t make the final cut. Each page spread has a small blurb about the game, and many include quotes from the artist about the choices they made when illustrating it.

(Note: I’m actually a little confused about which version of this book I read. I got the “Capsule Edition,” which is smaller than what I remember as being a full-fledged coffee table book in the bookstore. Also, the cover of my version was blue-ish, not the red-orange in the picture.)

Book Info

Tim Lapetino
  • I have read this book. According to my records, I completed it on .
  • A hardcover copy of this book is currently in my home library.

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