Updated: a day ago
Hi again everyone! Let's take a look into how video game developer brands have shaped gaming.
If you have any experience in sales, you will probably have sat through a mind-numbing presentation about 'the power of the brand.'
I know I have. At the time I was thinking "Well, that's three hours of my life I'm not going to get back" but as tedious as it was, they had a point.
Brand recognition matters - and this applies to the entertainment industry too.
You can spot a Tim Burton film a mile off, as they all share a common aesthetic theme. You can usually identify Tarantino films by their style, dialogue, music and non-linear storytelling. And if a film has too-many-CENSORED-explosions it's probably by Michael Bay. Personally, I have always liked this, as you know what you will be getting in advance, and thus can choose what to watch accordingly.
There were several video game developers and publishers whose games had a distinctive look and feel. You could tell if a game was made by Team-17, Bitmap Brothers or Psygnosis just by glancing at it. These ‘signature’ visual themes were often backed up by signature soundscapes and music styles, creating a clear ‘brand identity.’
Example 1: Team 17
Alien Breed Special Edition 1992 - Amiga
Project-X Special Edition 1993 Amiga
Assassin - Amiga
Superfrog - Amiga
Example 2: The Bitmap Brothers
Games by the Bitmap Brothers too had a signature silver-grey metallic look, often mixed with organic elements and distinctive 'fleshy tones' of orange and peach.
What's more, games by the Bitmap Brothers frequently used music based on commercial songs of the time.
Magic Pockets - Amiga
Xenon 2 Megablast - Amiga
Gods - Amiga
Speedball 2:Brutal Deluxe - Amiga
The exception to this was The Chaos Engine, which instead used Dynamic Music, i.e. music that changes depending on what is happening on screen at the time. This was one of the first games to do this outside of boss battles, and this further cemented their reputation as the kings of sound.
The Chaos Engine - Amiga
Example 3: Psygnosis
Psygnosis games were often created using a muted, organic ‘high fantasy’ aesthetic, backed up with orchestral and panpipe infused music.
Agony - Amiga
Shadow of the Beast - Amiga
Leander - Amiga
Psygnosis took this unified aesthetic still further, with the artwork and fonts used on their game’s boxes creating a very distinctive feel. You could tell a game was by Psygnosis just by glancing at its box art. And this box art was genuinely impressive.
In my humble opinion, one of the main downsides of today's era of digital downloads, be they video games, music or films, is the disappearance of box art and album covers.
These brand aesthetics may have been the result of the technical limitations of the time, limitations such as limited colour palettes and the number of sound channels available. These limitations are not a problem today, which is perhaps why these ‘brand aesthetics’ appear to be a thing of the past… with one exception.
Nintendo games are something else you can tell a mile off, even the titles that do not include the staple ‘Mario Universe’ characters. Their bright, cartoony graphics, upbeat soundscapes and memorably catchy music are all instantly recognisable, and a Nintendo game feels like a Nintendo game.
This philosophy applies to every aspect of Nintendo's products, from the graphics, sounds, music, level design and box art of their games, to the interface, dashboards and menus of their consoles, all the way up to the physical designs of their hardware.
It all screams Nintendo and I for one like this. This is why.
Imagine an experiment where video games were running on three identical TVs, where all identifying features, such as the consoles themselves, their controllers, on-screen logos, loading screens etc. have been hidden, and a randomly selected crowd were invited to view a selection of games. Their task, to identify which games were running on a PlayStation 4, which were running on an Xbox One and which on a Nintendo Wii U and or Switch.
The uninitiated - i.e. those who do not know their Halo from their Uncharted, would be hard-pressed to tell which first-party game was running on the PS4 and which was running on the Xbox One.
Those who were experienced gamers, video game journalists and video game developers would be able to tell - due to the prior knowledge of which franchises are unique to which consoles. However, even they may have difficulty in telling which console a cross-platform third party game, such as one of the Call of Duty titles - was running on.
However, if a first-party game for the Wii U or Nintendo Switch was on display, most people, whether they are gamers or not, will have no doubt that it is a Nintendo game, and running on a Nintendo Console.
Perhaps once everyone has got bored of chasing after photorealistic graphics, we may see a return to these brand aesthetics. I hope so, since graphics and aesthetics are not necessarily the same, and great graphics do not always equal great aesthetics, as the video below illustrates perfectly.
What are your thoughts on this? Are there any other video game developers that have a distinctive brand aesthetic that could be included? If so, does this aesthetic continue to this day? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36 years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to online multiplayer. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/IainBaker17, and contacted via email at email@example.com
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'Brand' Image from: http://www.picserver.org/b/brand.html
Shadow of the Beast box art by By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17751002
All YouTube gameplay videos by Al82: Retrogaming Longplays & Reviews