Cover Art – 2011 (Part One)

So, we’re kind of halfway into the year, IntroComp is over and IF Comp is right around the corner. A great moment to browse IFDB and choose my 2011 (Part One) favorite covers for IF games. Also, since trying to save Hooks from being a complete mess upon release is becoming tiresome, this counts as a contextualized break (yes, I know I would be better off playing Apocolocyntosis, but I’m feeling remarkably chaste at the moment)

Top of the Pops

 

 

Indigo by Emily Short

Not everything simple makes good design, but Indigo pulls off a charming and simple square. That watery reflexion pushes the whole a notch to the cheesy side, but everything else works quite well.

 

 

 

 

New Cat by Poster

(And this time I even know the author’s name is just Poster! See? I do learn!)

I like (almost) everything about this one: from the simple sketch, to the tone, to the texture, to the lettering. The (almost) part: I wish it was a notch lighter, but that’s just plain nitpicking.

 

Almost There

 

 

Bonehead by Sean M. Shore

As with Alabaz, seeing this one in full size ruins it all. My problem is the title: the color is on the mark, the font is great, but I wish Sean had done something to smooth it with the photo, so that everything looks part of the same piece of paper. As it stands, it screams “I just threw a computer generated rectangle at an old photo!” in a way it’s impossible to ignore.

 

 

Love, Hate and the Mysterious Ocean Tower by C.E.J. Pacian

The same as with Bonehead.

 

 

 

 

 

Chunky Blues by Scott Hammack and Jessamin Yu

I think good things could be achieved with this image (which is really nice) and the vertical column concept, but at the end of the look it just feels clumsy. The title positioning works well to balance the column, but the font and that kind of “not that centered” formating ruins everything else.

(Oddly or not, this is the only IntroComp entry I’ve found in IFDB)

The Lost Islands of Alabaz by Michael Gentry

The idea of creating an old scrool-like cover only works at a distance. Enbigenning the square to its full size reveals a lot of crude work, namely in the frame, and all the elegance it promises falls a bit short.

 

 

 

 

Safe by Benjamin Wochinski

The original image has potential, but the lettering and its placement feels all wrong. The blurred side guides us to the sharp side, but once there only nothing awaits. Pity.

 

 

 

 

Something For The Road

 

 

Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis by One of the Bruces and Drunken Bastard

Is this Pompeii erotic piece well chosen? Yes it is, but when I do this thing of yelling “Yay! Cute covers!”, I do it not only to inform the Universe of my tastes, but to promote the interest in creating more of these things. Apocolocyntosis cover doesn’t create anything: it just chooses.

 

 

Finally, the ‘Please Don’t’ Awards

 

 

 

  1. Gravel says:

    What I find interesting is that very few of these works have the author’s name on them; if I just lucked across an image and didn’t know where it came from, I might be SOL finding the game it belonged to. (Versus, say, a book cover.) I think it might be okay with a tagline or a fairly distinctive name.

    I’d be interested in seeing a “cover art workshop” where you help someone, maybe a fictional someone, choose font and picture and tweak it.

    • leandro ribeiro says:

      Yes, I agree, which is more surprising than to see that many covers don’t even display the title of the work. When talking about books, that’s hardly the case, but that’s sometimes done with album covers, although it is rare and it does stand out when done properly (Ágætis Byrjun by Sigur Rós, No Line On The Horizon by U2, Abbey Road by Beatles, …) In IF I don’t think it carries the same punch, though, maybe because most of them are poorly chosen pictures.

      Another thing I found surprising was how hard it gets to know how much of the cover was done by whom. Who’s the author of the base picture? Who’s the author of the final cover? I think that’s interesting to know. Sometimes it is obvious by the copyright declaration, but others it is not. Take Pacian’s game: is the base painting his own work since all of the cover is under “Copyright 2011 C.E.J. Pacian”, or did he use a Public Domain image and the copyright refers to his work on that image?

      A cover art workshop, where a few authors brainstorm for a cover, sounds like a cool idea.

      • Emily Short says:

        A cover art workshop, where a few authors brainstorm for a cover, sounds like a cool idea.

        Agreed. Actually, I wonder whether something like iStockphoto’s old steel cage matches might work — they used to do a thing where designers would trade back and forth photoshop files and make adjustments to each other’s work, then post the new result.

        The reason I suggest that is that very often in these design discussions I feel like verbal critique gets the idea across much less well than one could by just repositioning and resizing a few elements oneself.

        • leandro ribeiro says:

          OpenSource Cover Art – me likes it :)

          I feel like verbal critique gets the idea across much less well than one could by just repositioning and resizing a few elements oneself.

          Yes. Visual design issues are very hard to explain. The question “What’s wrong with this?” is sometimes a hard and tricky one, since visual design suffers much from the “It’s all about taste” curse. Take this Akido poster example. This makes a good point showing what’s wrong with the left poster, a point hard to make just with words.

  2. Emily Short says:

    Thanks for the feedback!

    I can tell you what you’re curious about for my own image: the indigo picture was an isolated photo from iStockphoto, not by me; I wasn’t crazy about the water ripple either, but it was otherwise hard to get appropriate flowers framed against white, and I was working under the additional constraint of trying to make a cover that was consistent with the other pieces in this series (Bronze, Glass, Alabaster all have isolated objects on white). I played with photoshopping that out, but it looked weird, so I left it as is and just added the text.

    I’m curious what you would have suggested doing with the Bonehead title. A semi-transparent layer of some kind of aged/paper texture over the orange portion?

    Another point that comes up for me when I’m designing these things: cover art is likely to be seen at a range of different sizes, from the full size displayed on a laptop or tablet before the game begins to little thumbnail versions in databases and blog posts. Getting a title to look sensible in that wide a range of conditions sometimes turns out to be kind of tricky. Do you have thoughts about that?

    • leandro ribeiro says:

      I was working under the additional constraint of trying to make a cover that was consistent with the other pieces in this series

      I love the idea of consistent cover art throughout a series (or even throughout an author; Graham Nelson’s games all have the same cover structure, which ends up helping building some sense of identity), and your fractured fairy tales have a great principle that is hard to screw up, the only weakness being the choice of white. Most of the time we’re seeing them in white backgrounds, and some of the punch is lost, but that’s not the cover’s fault. FWIW, Bronze is my favorite cover of the series; Alabaster is the least favorite (that apple is too big), although the game’s illustrations are breathtaking, and one forgives everything after looking at them.

      I also like when an author works under constraints to achieve something. That’s probably the reason I like The Five Obstructions so damn much.

      cover art is likely to be seen at a range of different sizes, from the full size displayed on a laptop or tablet before the game begins to little thumbnail versions in databases and blog posts. Getting a title to look sensible in that wide a range of conditions sometimes turns out to be kind of tricky. Do you have thoughts about that?

      Hmmm… not many thoughts, sorry. Album covers suffer from the same these days. From iPods to Amarok playlists, they will be seen in all sorts of sizes, but I don’t see album cover designers taking that much into account. Many times great covers have the smalish lettering, or the title is “hidden” in the image paraphernalia. I think they’re more concerned about things like promotion street posters, and mainly how that square is gonna look on your hand and what impact will it make. IF doesn’t have that, so that maybe something of concern. Or no. I don’t know.

      A semi-transparent layer of some kind of aged/paper texture over the orange portion?

      Something like that, yes, but maybe over the overall image. But that’s remarkably easy to mess up with Gimp or Photoshop. Many times it looks as what it is: a special effect. Alabaz suffers from this. With Bonehead there may be a simpler, old school solution: print the image, as it is, in some rough paper, and then scan it (or photograph it, if you don’t have a scanner). That could work in some degree.

  3. Sorry to hear that you think my cover is a ‘Please Don’t’. I thought it fit the b-rated mood of the game. The image is a photograph of a jack-o-lantern I had carved the previous Halloween. I only wanted the glow from the holes in the pumpkin visible because I felt that a picture of the entire pumpkin would be too similar to John Carpenter’s Halloween movie poster.

    Like gravel mentioned, I too wonder why more people don’t put their name on their cover art.

    • leandro ribeiro says:

      I’m glad you mentioned Halloween. If you go here, you’ll see multiple versions of the same concept, using the same base image. Some of them make great posters, some of them are garbage – and many times the differences are in the nano region. What I’m trying to say is a great image can be ruined by bad design calls. Take D-Day, for example (also in the Please Don’t drawer): the photo is awesome, all that sweetness, and creaminess, and loveliness, completely murdered (in a good way) by the painfully numb expression in the bride’s face, but all that is completely murdered (in a bad way) by twenty three little and simple characters.

    • Emily Short says:

      I include my name sometimes, but I haven’t gotten into a consistent habit of it, and don’t have a personal brand per se. When I was first starting to design covers (the cover for Savoir-Faire was one of the first I did, if I recall correctly), I was in the mode of trying to emulate Infocom cover art — which was all about evoking a particular setting or genre rather than promoting the game author specifically. Graham’s covers belong to a later sort of concept about what cover art should be for (and I like them too, incidentally).

      In the case of the Hallow Eve cover, I’d say there’s nothing wrong with the concept — cheesy horror text for the title, jack o’lantern image — but what stands out to me is that it’s too tightly packed: there isn’t enough open space around each element and not enough space between the text and the edges of the art. A sharper, less blurred photo wouldn’t have hurt either, in my opinion, but that’s less important than giving the text its space.

      • leandro ribeiro says:

        I’ll recommend this delicious list for some high quality, old school, classy, cheesy, visual treats to one’s eyes, a list that proves something that is many times ignored: good, cheesy art is hard to do right; even harder when done on purpose. Beside what Emily pointed out, Hallow Eve’s cover suffers from being to plain to be hard-core cheesy, but too cheesy to be elegant and strong. Every single poster on that list looks like it was done on steroids, exaggerating every detail.

        Edited for a confession: I don’t think I would ever try to do a cheesy cover/poster. It’s hard as hell and so easy to screw up completely.

  4. namekuseijin says:

    why people insist on always judging a book for its cover?

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