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About BOX=ART

BOX=ART is a site dedicated to the history of video game box art/ cover art and the artists responsible for them.

Box arts are profiled from a variety of angles using high quality scans and with the intention of acknowledging the men and women who have played such a major role in shaping our gaming experiences.

Not only for video game enthusiasts, BOX=ART is for all who enjoy quality artwork.


BOX=ART publisher

 >Mastertronic

BOX=ART profiles one of Europe’s pioneering publishers who introduced the UK to budget gaming, the great Mastertronic.

the-demons-forge-APP-mastertronic-big.jpg

The Demon’s Forge| By Oliver Frey| 1987| Apple II| Mastertronic Inc. Would re-release Saber Software’s early text adventure with a very different cover - the 1981 game had a masterful box art by Vicente Segrelles, reviewed HERE.  A good example of covers from this period misrepresenting their games content. Frey’s artwork originally appeared on the cover of Zzap #13, 1986 and under the name Cauldron & Antiriad.

Formed in 1984 by Martin Alper, Frank Herman, Terry Medway and Alan Sharam, Mastertronic Ltd would offer the UK its first budget video game line, the 199 range. The line’s early games could be of varying quality but their box arts were arguably of a consistent high standard for the period.


Mastertronic Ltd would outsource its promo duties to fledgling London design studio Words & Pictures Ltd - an unusual move for the time. Words & Pictures Ltd would hire freelance artist’s Mark J. Brady and John Smyth to do the bulk of the publisher’s early output.  


If the game was sci-fi or fantastical, Mark’s Chris Foss inspired SF art would be used, and if the game was comedic or more childish then John’s cartoon art was preferred.  


Finders Keepers| By John Smyth|1985| Commodore 64| One of the more fondly remembered games from the publishers early days, and one of John’s most popular covers.

“If the game was sci-fi or fantastical, Mark’s Chris Foss inspired SF art would be used, and if the game was comedic or more childish then John’s cartoon art was preferred.

A black boarder then surrounded all artworks with ‘Mastertronic’ on the top and ‘M’ logo at the bottom.  In addition, covers had a colour-coded triangle in the top right corner stating the games format – a first for the industry.  


Even through the 199 range proved hugely successful the profit margins were still slight compared to full price titles, and so in response Mastertronic Ltd released a more expensive range M.A.D (Mastertronic. Added. Dimension) retailing at £2.99 for Christmas 1985.  







To make this range distinctive from the 199 range cover arts dropped the sci-fi realism and instead adopted a more comic book style of art, featuring large, bold character art on a white dotted background.


1986 saw Mastertronic setup its first overseas operation Mastertronic Inc. in the USA.  The ‘M’ logo would be become 3D and artworks were either redesigned or originals used depending on whether the game was first designed in the US or UK.


Notably, games Feud and The Demon’s Forge re-commissioned cover arts from video game magazine Crash by esteemed English illustrator Oliver Frey.


Alongside Mastertronic’s original games the company also become well known for re-releasing other publisher’s older games at budget prices under the UK Ricochet range. Box arts would always use the games original artwork and be surrounded by a M.A.D styled dotted background.  

Dark Star| By Mark J. Brady| 1984| Commodore 64| A good example of the 199 range sci-fi styled box arts.

The Last V8| 1985| Atari 8-bit| The first M.A.D published game and a great example of the efforts made to distinguish the M.A.D range from the 199 range.

the-last-v8-atari-8-BIT-big.jpg

Companies such as Ultimate Play the Game, Melbourne House, Virgin Games and Martech took advantage of Mastertronic’s expertise, with hit titles The Way of Exploding Fist (box art by David John Rowe), Ghost Busters and Aliens getting new leases of life under Ricochet.


By the end of 1987 Virgin had acquired 45% of Mastertronic and the company went through many changes towards a complete Virgin take over the following year (Virgins interest was down to the fact that Mastertronic in 1987 had acquired the rights to distribute Sega Master System games in Europe).  

1987 Cover arts had now dropped the original ‘M’ logo and in its place a new Mastertronic type – with small italic ‘i’ – emblazoned across the left side. Artworks throughout this period and when Virgin took over between 1988-1991 were varied and used many artists.


The newly coined Virgin Mastertronic label (1988) and the Mastertronic Plus range (replacing M.A.D in 1989) would however concentrate on budget 8-bit titles and re-releases, and their respective cover arts were looking tired and uninspired by the start of the 90’s.  




Notably, games Feud and The Demon’s Forge re-commissioned cover arts from video game magazine Crash by esteemed English illustrator Oliver Frey

For full price titles Virgin dropped the Virgin Mastertronic label, instead using its traditional red Virgin logo (likely not wanting its full price games to be associated with a budget line).  


Notably, this period saw comic book artist Dermot Power start in the video game industry, with box arts Wonderland, Golden Axe and Judge Dredd showcasing his talent in Virgins full price line.


With it’s budget game range dwindling in place of its full price range Virgin would lay to rest the Mastertronic label in around 1991, selling it to Sega.  Effectively, Mastertronic formed the basis of today’s Sega of Europe, and with it came the end of one of Europe’s early pioneering publishers.



Posted - 12/08/17 by Adam Gidney

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Captain Zapp (Flash Gordon in UK)| By Alex Raymond| 1987| Commodore 64| M.A.D would design a game around one of Flash Gordon creator Raymond’s Zapp character.  The M.A.D logo at the bottom was the revised one used post 1985.

Way of the Exploding Fist| By David John Rowe| 1988| ZX Spectrum| Rowe’s box art originally appeared in 1986 under publisher Melbourne House.

Other early European box art related articles…

Bob Wakelin box art artist page| BOX=ART

Bob Wakelin

The designer of many beloved box arts from the 16-bit period and Ocean Software’s main promotional artist.

Ocean Software

BOX=ART profiles the legendary UK software pulisher Ocean, responsible for such hits as Lemmings.

Box art from publisher Ocean page| BOX=ART

Steinar Lund

BOX=ART profiles an early European box art pioneer, Steinar Lund.

Steinar Lund box art artist page| BOX=ART

Wonderland| By Dermot Power| 1991| Commodore Amiga| Dermot would start his short lived box art career at Virgin in 1989 producing the cover for the Judge Dredd game (1990).  This cover would eventually take him across to comic 2000 AD where he would make his name as a comic book artist.

The Ninja Warriors| 1989| ZX Spectrum.

1984

>Alcatraz Harry (EU) ZX Spectrum. (JS)

>BMX Racers (EU) Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum. (MJB)

>Dark Star (EU) Commodore 64. (MJB)

>Neutron Zapper (EU) VIC-20. (MJB)

>Vegas Jackpot (EU) Atari 8-bit, BBC Micro, Commodore 16, Commodore 64,   DOS, Dragon 32/64, Electron, VIC-20, ZX Spectrum.

1985

>Finders Keepers (EU) Amstrad CPC, Commodore 16, Commodore 64,   Enterprise, MSX, ZX Spectrum. (JS)

>The Last V8 (EU) Amstrad CPC, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64.

>Spellbound (EU) Amstrad CPC, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum. (JS)

1986

>Ninja (EU/ NA) Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST,Commodore 64, DOS,   ZX Spectrum.  

>Knight Games (NA) Amiga, Commodore 64, DOS.  

1987

>Captain Zapp (EU) Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, MSX, ZX Spectrum.

>Feud (NA) Commodore 64, DOS. (OF)

>Kobyashi Naru (EU/ NA) Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, PC Booter, ZX   Spectrum.

>The Demon’s Forge (NA) Apple II. (OF)



1988

>Way of the Exploding Fist (EU) Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, Commodore 16,   Commodore 64, Electron, ZX Spectrum.

1989


>Ninja warriors (EU) Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX   Spectrum.

1990

>Golden Axe (EU) Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum.   (DP)

>Judge Dredd (EU) Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64. (DP)

>Spirit of Excaliber (EU/ NA) Amiga, Atari ST, DOS, Macintosh. (MJF)

>Spot (EU/ NA) Amiga, Atari ST, DOS, Game Boy, NES.

>Supremacy (EU/ NA) Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, NES. (DP)

1991

>Realms (EU/ NA) Amiga, Atari ST, DOS. (DP)

>Sarakon (EU) Amiga, Atari ST, DOS. (DP)

>Wonderland (EU/ NA) Acorn 32-bit, Amiga, Atari ST, DOS. (DP)



Notable box arts published by Mastertronic

Notable Mastertronic box artists (first-party)

>Dermot Power (DP)

>John Smyth (JS)

>Mark J. Brady (MJB)








Sources and further reading:

>http://www.aguter.plus.com/mastertronic/index.htm

>http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/cgi/archive.pl?type=Games&platform=Commodore%2064&author=&publisher=mastertronic&order=Publisher

>https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mastertronic

>http://www.wizwords.net/a-tale-of-two-artists/#.WYYLWhiZP-a

>http://mjb-graphics.co.uk/artwork/mastertronic/

>http://www.worldofspectrum.org/infoseekpub.cgi?regexp=^Virgin+Mastertronic+Ltd$&loadpics=1

>http://www.lemonamiga.com

>https://segaretro.org/Mastertronic













Related BOX=ART pages






>Mark J. Ferrari (MJF)

>Oliver Frey (OF)





Categories:

Dermot Power box art artist page| BOX=ART

Dermot Power artist page

European box art page| BOX=ART

Europe gallery page

David John Rowe box art artist page| BOX=ART

David John Rowe artist page

80's gallery page| BOX=ART

80’s gallery page

One from the archive

Dermot Power box art artist page| BOX=ART

BOX=ART profiles artist and comic book legend Dermot Power