Tech #18: Video Game Ads

Looking at old sci-fi movies from the 1950s, I wonder how people could have taken those cheesy special effects seriously.  Yet they did.  You brain runs on autopilot and use its imagination to compensate for any lack of realism.  Once your brain has become acclimated to more realistic technologies, it can't go back in time and automatically compensate for antiquated effects.  Does this make sense?

The same principle holds for video games.  I loved these old games from the early 1980s, and could become fully immersed in them.  However, the graphics by today's standards are woefully poor, and I find I just can't go back.  I can appreciate them for nostalgic reasons, but full-on immersion simply ain't gonna happen.

And before you get too cocky, remember that as technology continues to improve, our current movies and video games will seem just as ridiculous and cheesy in the coming decades.

Let's look at a bunch of video game ads from old magazines, shall we? Let me know if you remember any of these...

One thing you'll notice is that the advertisements typically focus on an illustration or some graphic other than the actual video game screen shots, which were generally quite shitty. Unlike today's games, which proudly display their graphics - indeed, the amazing graphics are their selling point.  Back in the eighties, it was probably best to sell your game based on two roller-babes rather than spoil the interest with your lousy screen shots.

This is basically the same marketing layout as the first ad in this post.  At least in the Spider Man game, the dude had a girlfriend - this guy is just freaking scary.  Here's a better Jedi Arena ad from a different magazine...

Ahhh. Now that's better.  I actually played this game.  It was basically Pong, with a barely detectable Star Wars element.  Terrible graphics even for its time.

I played Dungeons & Dragons around the same time PC video games were becoming popular. I wanted so bad to like them, but they were so clunky, awkward and frustrating, they were impossible to enjoy.  If they would've be a tenth as good as the packaging promised, we would've been in paradise.

Do you realize how ubiquitous Jack Davis' artwork was?  His stuff was in MAD, on the cover TIME and TV Guide, Slim Jim ads, movie posters, album covers, comic books..... the guy was prolific, to say the least.

If memory serves, Intellivision was a step-up from the standard Atari 2600.  It was more expensive and the games were marginally better.  Coleco-Vision wasn't long after, and it had even better graphics and was more affordable. Intellivision soon went bye-bye. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Never played this one.  Does anyone remember the old box for Corel Draw (or was it Photoshop?) that had King Tut on the cover? I've Googled it, and came up empty - but I distinctly remember it and it's driving me nuts.

I enjoyed the TRON arcade game.  The lightcycle and spider levels were cool.  The TRON home game - not so much.

Bally-Midway was smart enough not to include any screenshots of the actual game.  I remember playing it and hating it almost as much as the infamous E.T. Atari game.

I guess you could say I was a jittery child.  I used to have mild heart attacks playing Perfection - when that timer ran out and the pieces exploded in your face, it took years off of my life.  The same was true for Frogger.  I would inevitably get to that last log and 'croak'.  Infinitely frustrating.



  1. I wonder how much Kool-Aid you had to drink to get 125 Proof of Purchase points?

  2. Hi, Gill,

    I think the program you're thinking of was called "Degas" with the Tut on the cover (or a version of Mona Lisa?). I can't find a reference easily either but I bet you'll find one in old Commodore or Atari magazines.

    Good luck@!

  3. The e thing to remember about the Journey game is that some will win and some will lose and some are born to sing the blues.

    1. Well, if that's the way you need it. Any way you want it.

    2. I saw them in Fresno in '83...lotsa chicks.

  4. The Tut program is Deluxe Paint (I,II,III,etc.) by Electronic Arts for the Commodore Amiga.


    1. YES!!!! (tears streaming down face) Mystery solved!

    2. Yeah, I remember that..... and that's awesome how he got in running in the browser; I still can't get the tools to load right though....

  5. I remember the TV commercial for the Spider-Man game; live-action actors in costumes that looked a lot more like the comic book Spidey and Green Goblin than the 2002 movie did.

  6. The Tutakhamen Game was one of the 2600's best games. You were a yellow splotch that represented an archaeologist, and you went through a maze gathering treasures and shooting monsters.

  7. Still love the old games. As most contemporary gamers know, good graphics do not substitute poor game play. Same goes for movies. Great special effects will not save a terrible movie. Galaga, although dated technologically speaking, is still a great game. And the original Star Wars trilogy is far superior to the prequels that followed 20-25 years later.

  8. Your point that the digital media of today, with their all but photo-realistic
    visuals, will, in coming decades, seem as antiquated as the crude graphics of
    yesteryear reminded me of all the anticipation with which, back in the nineties,
    so many looked forward to what they expected to be the immanent arrival of VR technology. The development of true virtuality would seem to be the next logical progression in the evolution of digital media but hopes for it seemed to fade
    with the turn of the millennium.

    What was once the subject of dozens of movies and TV shows, as well as serious consideration among experts, just stopped being talked about, or so it seems to
    me, looking back. Perhaps the high hopes for VR proved to be ill founded and we
    may, in fact, have reached a plateau in the development of digitally generated
    visual media?

  9. Talking of games that promised more than they could deliver I bet many readers recall this ad:


  10. Ah, the era of "Dig Dug" "QBert" and "Star Trek" which you could only get at Sears for your Atari.

    Yes, the graphics were poor, but the games were good. And as you play the games, and not the graphics, that is what counts. I was always amazed at how the programmers pushed the abilities of my little Atari console (later called 2600). All the switches were used for something during play.