I recently read an article on artist Roger Dean, this article right here. A really good read it is too, if you’re interested to learn a bit about Roger. Though it only really lightly touches on his work, and only in the music business… well it is an article on a music site. Anyway, Roger is famed for working with prog-rock bands of the seventies. Bands like Yes, Osibisa and others had covers designed by Roger Dean, he even designed the logo for Virgin Records in 1972.
Typical Roger Dean, he has a unique style that lends itself perfectly to rock album covers. Chock full of floaty rocks, twisted trees, dragons, strange creatures and… well, prog-rock stuff. Roger’s work has influenced people for years, so much so that James Cameron outright
stole ‘borrowed’ Roger’s style for his movie Avatar (not the first time James Cameron has stolen ‘borrowed’ from someone else). The whole thing went to court and Roger inexplicably lost despite overwhelming evidence that James Cameron most definitely stole ‘borrowed’ Roger’s art without giving him any credit.
Anyway, as I said, the article linked to above is a great read, but it only covers a small part of Roger’s amazing work. Criminally, it doesn’t even give a passing mention to his work on video games. Oh yeah, Roger did video games too. In fact, I was first introduced to his art because of one very specific developer/publisher and one of my all time favourite studios to ever produce a game.
Yup, Psygnosis and yes, that logo was Roger Dean’s work too. Psygnosis was born form the utter disaster of a game studio that was Imagine Software. I could delve into the history of both of those studios, I won’t because I wrote a book doing just that and more (buy my book!). If there was anything to sell a game back then, then it was its box-art, in fact back then, that’s all we pretty much had to go on. We didn’t have the internet to spread the word of a game, no streamers to showcase new titles. Yeah we had review magazines, but it was the box-art that grabbed you when you were browsing for games on the shop shelves. And no other box-art slapped you in the face for attention harder than Psygnosis games of the eighties and nineties.
But Roger’s first foray into gaming was not actually with Psygnosis, but for a title called The Black Onyx from 1984 from Bullet-Proof Software. It was one of the first ever Japanese RPGs and even paved the way for titles such as Final Fantasy. Roger didn’t design the original cover for The Black Onyx, but he did for the Famicom port which was subtlety renamed Super Black Onyx and what a cover it was too.
That image there gives you the prefect introduction to Roger Dean’s style and Psygnosis fans should be able to see that beautiful imagery we all soon came to love. And that is exactly what this article is all about, me looking at some of my favourites of Roger Dean’s Psygnosis box-art and a quick look at the games themselves too.
Now this is a game with a lot of history (again, read my book, the link is up there ^^^), what started out as a doomed game at Imagine became the first ever Psygnosis game. The game itself was terrible, stiff and horrible controls in an action/adventure type thing that never really worked. Brataccas wasn’t a great game, but that art was stunning and that art is why the game is still so fresh in my mind. I have no idea what is going on there and the title is pretty hard to read, but that certainly is a striking image.
I always remember the intro to this game and the hulking, titular Barbarian cutting a chain with his sword… had nothing to do with the game itself, but it looked great at the time. As a game, this was typical early Psygnosis, it looked great but played terribly. A kind of action/platformer that relied heavily on trial and error gameplay. Plus it had a really obnoxious control scheme where you had to use the mouse to select an action from a menu at the bottom of the screen. This was actually the first Psygnosis game I ever played, hated it but it still has a special place in my gaming heart. Still, that box was pretty to look at. The almost muted and wonderful backdrop with that bright red dragon-thing in the foreground really stands out. Shame about the guy ruining a perfectly fine piece of art at the top.
So this title was a strange one. A kind of FPS/resource management/defence game thing. Look, I have no idea how to explain this title. I remember my older bother would play it and I’d just watch, confused as to what the hell was going on. I did play the game properly for the first time when I was researching my book. As an adult, I really enjoyed it. It took a lot of interwebs searching for how to play the damn thing, but when I got to grips with how to play it, I very much enjoyed it. But that cover art, I don’t mind admitting that I was scared of that cover as a kid. Scared, but I still loved to look at it. It has a very Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds feel about it. Anyone who has seen the art of that masterpiece of an album will know what I mean. I think this is my favourite Roger Dean/Psygnosis collaboration.
Pretty much the exact same game as the previously mentioned Barbarian… only in space! It also suffered from the same trial and error gameplay, same obnoxious control scheme too. It was a very pretty game at the time, but it wasn’t much fun to actually play. This art really puts me in mind of H.R. Giger with a very Alien-like thing going on. Yet it still has that Roger Dean trademark, prog-rock style that I adore so much.
Yes, a double Dean display here for Shadow of the Beast and it’s sequel. The first game was one of those showstoppers for the Amiga. It really was a stunning looking game with its moody graphics and parallax scrolling. Play-wise? It was scrolling beat ’em up/platform thing with pretty lax controls and a steep difficulty curve. The sequel was a lot better and features, perhaps my favourite game over screen on any Amiga game ever. But that art is just so… well it’s so Roger Dean. I have no idea what is going on in either cover, nor do I care either. I just know it looks amazing and I like it. Now, there was a Shadow of the Beast III but Roger didn’t do the art for that, and it really shows.
And that’s about it for Roger Dean’s Psygnosis box-art. He did do a couple of other things like the logo for the game Agony, but not the box-art itself. Well, there was one more box to look at I guess and one with a very interesting connection.
Originally released as The Killing Game Show on the Amiga, where it featured a rather bland and unimaginative cover featuring an eye. The game was a platform/shooter with a unique feature where you could rewind time if you died. But when it was ported to the Mega Drive, it was given a much better cover (ruined by the logo obscuring a good chunk of the art) and a cover from Roger Dean that has that War of the Worlds feel again… and there’s a very good reason why. If you look closely at the machine on that cover up there, pay attention to the head in particular. That is the same design as the one on the box-art of Terrorpods…
Same elongated nose on the machine, same shaped visor, same weed things growing out. Its the same machine but seen from a different angle and in a different colour. Yeah they are the same because they were drawn by the same man, Roger Dean. However, there’s also a good reason why they look and feel so War of the Worlds. Remember how I said the Terrorpods cover reminded me of the Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds album? Well, Roger actually pitched to design the art for that album (hence the birds flying around the machine’s head in Terrorpods) but was passed over for Peter Goodfellow, Geoff Taylor and Michael Trim, who ended up doing the art and illustrations of the album. So Roger just used his War of the Worlds art for the covers of those two games instead.
And just to finish up, here are a few of Roger Dean’s pitches for War of the Worlds that never ultimately made the cut.
It’s a shame Roger never got to be the artist for Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds. As much as I do like the art that was used, I think Roger Dean’s is so much better and would’ve loved to see his finalised designs. Still, we do have some amazing Psygnosis box-art to look at. I also recommend that you check out Roger’s official site, it’s full of beautiful art well worth a view or several.