Thursday, March 31, 2011

Box Art; Shmox Art

Fatal Frame Faux Pas
I'm going to just hop right into this one and see where it takes me. I have a huge problem with the box art of most video games in America. It seems that rather than hiring an artist from the department that made the game, the publishers decide to just get on Photoshop and play around with the faces and filter tools until they come up with the lamest, most ridiculous covers imaginable. Looking above at the example of Fatal Frame, one of my favorite games of all time, and you'll see my meaning. Calling it box art is generous. It seems like this portion of the game is mostly neglected, as if it were thrown together fix minutes before printing. Granted, there are some exceptions to this rule, but they are very few and much too far between.
And then we move on to the point of this article. My boyfriend and I were ecstatic when we heard the Amnesia: The Dark Descent was coming out with a retail box release. We both make a habit of actually wanting to possess the game in a physical sense. Digital copies are fine, but really we'd rather have something to have and to hold. Much like marriage, buying a video game is a sacred institution that we feel must be respected. Plus, I'm a horrifyingly paranoid person and I don't trust technology to not throw away things I worked and/or paid for. Many computer break-downs have confirmed that this fear is a correct and valid one. In sum, I want to be able to hold the things I buy.
When I first looked up the box art for Amnesia: The Dark Decent, I was extremely excited by how artfully done it was. A single rose sitting in an ethereal light while darkness creeps around behind it. While it may not have told me much about the game, I still enjoyed the artistic value of the box art.
Not bad, Fictional
For those who haven't played or heard about the game, Amnesia is a very special type of horror game. It's the horror we all had figured had died and been buried after Silent Hill 2. There are really two types of horror in video games. The first type is the kind we see in Dead Space and Resident Evil, or the 'BOO ARE YOU SCARED' type. The horror is very upfront with disturbing imagery jumping right into your face. It uses startling events, like monsters jumping out from behind you and loud noises in quiet rooms, and relies a lot on action/fighting. The second type is much harder to pull off, we see it in Silent Hill and Fatal Frame, it's the 'Subtle but I Pissed My Pants' type. This is where Amnesia: The Dark Descent falls. Subtly is key in these games. You barely see the monsters, and you can not fight back. Action barely exists in this type of game, besides the running and hiding. The scariest part of this game is truly that you are completely vulnerable, and that you can't even see what is after you. Nothing they show you can be half as terrifying as what your mind creates for you. For the record, I think both of these horror types have their merits, but the second type is so hard to pull off and the first type is so easy, it's no wonder BOO ARE YOU SCARED is so much easier to find on the shelves.
No game pulls this off quite as well as Amnesia. I literally played the demo for three minutes, fourteen seconds before I screamed and pushed the wheeled chair into the wall (and my boyfriend laughed at me so hard that his face turned red). I didn't see the monster, or die, or anything that would warrant a scream in your usual horror game. What happened? I door flew open. All. By. Itself. And I nearly peed myself.
So lets just sum it up as a damn scary game. So I was excited to finally own it myself, even though I had read about it to the point that I knew every plot point and surprise it contained, which is what I always do when I become interested in a game (Go on, quiz me on the zombies in Left 4 Dead. I know them all). But even though it came out February 22nd, it has yet to be carried in any of the video game stores near us, and we checked them all. The nearest GameStop that had it is reportedly somewhere in Texas, which is a bit of a drive for us here in Maine. So finally, we went to the last resort and went to to order it. And that's when I saw this monstrosity. Apparently, we who want to own the hard copy of Amnesia don't deserve the well-thought out artistic version of the cover. We get this.
Oh God.... Ugh... Eeew... ACK!!!
… WHAT THE HELL THQ? What is this?! Is that Scrooge McDuck gone awry, after going insane and ripping off his clothes? That's what my first impression was, for sure. You people are cruel, and stupid as hell. Why would anyone buy this, without already knowing how awesome the game is? I know I'm not the only one upset, because while looking for the release date of the retail box (for the above paragraph, I'm fairly short-minded), I found several threads dedicated completely to cursing the box 'art' to hell.
The worse part is, that's not even what the monster in the game actually looks like. Here's the thing; the monster in Amnesia is not often on-camera, and when he is you are often fleeing from him. This is a good thing, because the monster is quite... derpy. People, he is filled with herp with a happy layer of derp on top.
That monster is not scary. And the monster representing him on the box art isn't, either. If Amnesia: The Dark Descent were the first type of horror game where you could defend yourself and had to do more than turn tale and run whenever you see one of these guys, it would probably be one of the most unintentionally hilarious games on the market. I mean, I giggle whenever I look at that guy. Realistically, there has to be a lot of drool involved with this monster, as he obviously can not close that oversized mouth of his. And he is so cross-eyed, if he ever cried the tears would roll down his back. Then again, maybe that's how the monster finds you so easily in the darkness. He's looking two directions at once.
The point I am trying to make here is that just because you have a horror game involving monsters does not mean you have to put the monster on the cover, especially if the monster need to be turned into a scary duck to seem morefrightening. And for the record, to all box artists: THE BLUR TOOL IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. I hate that people can't seem to put together good box art for good games. I mean, there are some great ones out there. To prove my point, here are some rather good ones.
Awesome ShockRed Dead AwesomeShadow of the Freakin' Sweet
Bioshock, Red Dead Redemption, and Shadow of the Colossus. All freaking awesome games, all with really wonderful, informative and engaging box art. You pick up any of these, and you have a pretty good idea what the game is going to be about. Maybe not a complete storyline prepared in your head (if that were the case, the game would really suck), but a general genre and feeling of the game comes across. These truly deserve to be called box art. The others? The kind that copy and paste characters heads and overuse filter tools? Those are box monstrosities. 

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