The Video Game Critic Banners Unplugged: The New Ones
With commentary by
Updated April 30, 2014
graphic artist Mark Jewell
and Dave the Video Game Critic
VGC: I owe a massive debt to Mark Jewell for providing the site with some much-needed eye candy. For many years Mark has freely contributed creative, artistic banners than cross all systems, genres, and eras. They reflect the evolution and diversity of the video game industry, from the the late 1970's all the way to the present. Normally these are displayed at random, with "seasonal" banners reserved for specific times of the year. This page lets you view the entire collection and gain some insight into what the thought process was behind each one.
Mark: I started doing this a few years ago when Dave offered up a challenge to make a replacement for the original banner. It's been a fun, creative outlet for me over the years, and I enjoy hearing feedback from folks who visit the VGC website.
I usually go into the creation of a banner with only a vague idea of what I'm trying to piece together. Usually I'll have only one image that I want to work with, the rest come from wherever/whatever I see in VGC reviews or around the Internet. Themed, genre, and seasonal banners are usually the easiest to put together, probably due to how they limit what I'm looking for (if that makes sense.)
Tools Used: I used to use Microsoft Image Composer, which came with an old version of MS Frontpage. Think of it as "Photoshop VERY Light." When my hard drive died a few years ago, I was left piecing things together with Powerpoint and Paint (yes, really.) A while back, I found the free Photoshop-type program Gimp, which has made banner creation a LOT easier. I still use Powerpoint and Paint, though, for recreating sprites and doing quick mock-ups.
VGC: This is the banner Mark proposed when we were in the process of redesigning the site. This not only helped us flesh out the header format, but helped us establish a fixed width for the site (990 pixels). It's not bad, but Mark came up with a better version so we unceremoniously ditched this prototype.
Mark: When Dave starting working on the new layout for the site, I cobbled together a rough banner to use for demo/mock-up purposes. When the final dimensions for the header were determined I put together the smoother version that you see here. Three game "girls" are represented: Lara Croft (Tomb Raider), Samus (Metroid), and GLADOS (Portal).
VGC: Notice the subtle transformation here? As you move to the left, the females become less human and more robotic. That's deep.
Mark: I started off just wanting to have Mario and Sonic on a banner. I decided to go full-mascot, and added Spyro and Crash. The Mario background seemed like a good way to tie it all together.
VGC: This banner should make gamers feel right at home. I love the vivid colors and in-your-face poses.
Mark: Just wanted to make a mix of shooters from different generations. Geometry Wars (Xbox, Wii, DS), Truxton (Genesis), Bangai-O (Dreamcast, DS) and R-Type (various) happened to make the cut.
VGC: "Shmup" is short for "shoot-em-up", in case you're wondering. This one may be too busy for its own good. It's hard to figure out where one image ends and the next begins. Still, I guess it reflects the sensory overload and unbridled chaos you tend to find in these kind of games.
Mark: This one started with the Panzer Dragoon Orta (Xbox) image, trying to get it to fit with the VGC title. Then I just tried to think of some different games from different systems. KC Munchkin (Odyssey 2) came to mind, as did Snake (Metal Gear - various). I also wanted to have an image from Wipeout (various), and found this fairly dynamic one.
VGC: I didn't catch the Panzer Dragon reference initially, but Mark did a fine job of gracefully blending together a series of images that have absolutely nothing in common.
"Winter" (Seasonal - displayed December thru February)
Mark: Since the redesign was happening during the winter, we needed a new winter-themed banner. Started with Empire Strikes Back (Atari 2600, Intellivision), which was a carry-over from the old banner. Added a snowy stage from Sega Rally (PSP), and stumbled across a wintery scene from Metal Slug (various). Added some snowflakes, and there you go.
VGC: The original winter banner was my favorite, so I was really concerned about how this one turned out. I asked Mark to revise it repeatedly. Originally the AT-AT walker wasn't prominent enough, so I requested he enlarge it to emphasize its pixelated glory. The result is a masterpiece. The banner is action-packed, yet its purple hues are somewhat soothing.
Mark: Another genre-themed banner, this one representing fighting games. Found an "interesting" image of Ivy (Soul Calibur) that fit well under the VGC title. Mortal Kombat (various) and Ken (Street Fighter) represented a couple of popular fighting series.
VGC: The hand-drawn look is unique, and I like how the banner incorporates two of my favorite fighters: Scorpion and Sub-Zero from Mortal Kombat. Ivy appears to be one "wardrobe malfunction" away from turning this into an adult site.
Mark: This was the first system-specific banner, similar to the old Atari 2600 banner. Though the games shown eventually went on to other systems, they all debuted on the Dreamcast. I felt Chu Chu Rocket, Shenmue, Rez, and Space Channel 5 represented the variety and uniqueness of the Dreamcast 1st-party library. Honorable mention goes to Crazy Taxi, Seaman, and Jet Grind Radio.
VGC: Wow, this banner practically screams "Dreamcast!!" The only image I'm not sold on is Rez (second from right), which is a little obscure and hard to make out.
Mark: Wanted to make a retro arcade themed banner, so just went with some favorites from my youth. Battlezone, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Joust ate a lot of my quarters in the early 80's... at least until I got the "arcade perfect" Atari 2600 versions!
VGC: Oh yeah! Oozing with nostalgia, this banner instantly transports me back to 1982! I recall asking Mark to enlarge the Joust birds to make them more prominent. Pixels are beautiful and should be celebrated, not shunned.
Mark: This one started with a Halo reference (Cortana) and a Half Life 2 reference (Gordan and Alyx). To fill in the gaps, I built a wall of Breakout blocks, and rolled-in a Katamari. Lots of rainbow goodness.
VGC: This one has a real sci-fi vibe. I love how the Breakout blocks blend into the Half Life scene in a subtle manner.
"Valentine" (Seasonal - displayed February 13-14)
Mark: First holiday-themed banner. Started with the Pac romance then added Nathan and Elena (Uncharted). Link and Zelda seemed like a good fit, and though I haven't played much of it, I believe Shepard and the blue chick - I don't know her name (Mass Effect) might have had some sort of... relationship.
VGC: I love how outrageously over-the-top this is. It really cracks me up! I can only imagine what a first-time visitor would be thinking upon seeing this image on top of his browser.
Mark: Another variety-pack. Abe (Oddworld), Attack of the Timelord (Odyssey 2), Gum (Jet Grind Radio), and Moonsweeper (Atari 2600) make up an eclectic batch of old and new.
VGC: Not unlike the Kellogg's cereal variety pack, this one is sugary sweet and fortified with 8 nutritious vitamins and minerals. A lot of bright colors and futuristic imagery make this appealing, despite Abe's suggestive pose.
Mark: A somewhat controversial banner, in that it depicts a game that the Critic has not (as of this time) reviewed - Kid Icarus (NES). Added the Jehuty mech from Zone of the Enders (PS2), and the bitchin' (?) box-art from Tempest 2000 (Jaguar).
VGC: Mark didn't think I'd want to use this just because I hadn't reviewed Kid Icarus. Who cares? I like the purple and green color scheme, and maybe this gives me some incentive to review the actual game. The left and right parts of this banner are great, but not sure what that thing in the center is supposed to be.
Mark: This banner ended up being a little busier than some. Kelly (GunValkyrie) and Cammy (Street Fighter) flank a batch of Galaga critters. F-Zero (Gamecube) and Nights (Saturn, Wii) round-out the banner.
VGC: Yeah it's busy - if by "busy" you mean awesome! Everything is so well defined and perfectly spaced. The Galaga aliens and Cammy really stand out. Bravo!
Mark: I realized that I hadn't made any reference to sports games in the other banners, so... problem solved! Boxing (Punch Out - Wii), baseball (Intellivision), and football (Madden - various) seemed like a good start. Will probably revisit this genre in the future.
VGC: I review a heck of a lot of sports games so a sports banner was mandatory. Perhaps one day Mark will throw me a bone and incorporate my beloved Ravens into one of these things.
Mark: Not quite sure how I thought this one up, except to say I remembered a painting by Andy Warhol of various colored Marilyn Monroes, and tried to adapt it to videogames. Ta-da, Peach Warhol. More than a little artsy-fartsy, I guess, but what the heck.
VGC: This is pure genius. Best. Banner. Ever.
Mark: Another potentially controversial banner, in that the star of the show (so to speak) hasn't been reviewed by the Critic. The image of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS) was just too tempting to skip. The weird red font is the same one used in the Ace Attorney games when he says "Objection!". It thought it was clever, but then again I'm easily amused. Music games hadn't been represented, so cue Guitar Hero. Finally, one of the colossi from Shadow of the Colossus (PS2, PS3) makes a return visit from an older banner.
VGC: You know Mark, people might not realize I hadn't reviewed these games if you didn't keep bringing it up! For the love of God man! Seriously though, this one doesn't make any sense but it grabs your attention, and I like that!
"Spring" (Seasonal - displayed March thru May)
Mark: This is a re-imagining of the old spring banner. The colorful flowers and mushrooms of Rayman (various) start things of. Springtime brings planting, which requires digging, which means... Dig-Dug(?) Sure, why not. Lastly, springtime means the return of baseball (at least in the U.S. of A.), so a little MLB 2K11 (various) completes the banner.
VGC: This is very faithful to the original Spring banner, which was one of my original favorites. I have always firmly believed that Dig Dug is the ultimate Spring game, combining all the key elements of the season: flowers, digging, and inflating creatures until they explode.
Mark: With the advent of laser-based media (LaserDiscs and CD-ROMs) in the 80's and early 90's, videogames took a trip to the world of Full Motion Video (FMV). Space Ace (various) and Daedalus Encounter (3DO) start off the banner. The granddaddy of them all, Dragon's Lair (various) makes a showing. Lastly, the controversial (at the time) Night Trap (various) finishes the banner.
VGC: This is a nice tribute to a genre that doesn't usually get much respect. Still, I would have liked to have seen a little more of these scantily-clad babes.
Mark: Something different. A banner based on a movie, based (loosely) on older games, that spawned various arcade and home videogames. Wrap your brain around that little nugget of knowledge...
VGC: I'm not a big Tron fan, but this looks pretty slick. I didn't realize I had been reviewing games since 1777, but I guess time flies when you're having fun.
"April Fools" (Seasonal - displays on April 1st)
Mark: Essentially a remake of the old "April Fools" banner. Bubsy (various), Zelda and Link (one of those CD-i games), Shaq-Fu (Genesis), E.T. (Atari 2600), and Superman 64 (N64) make return visits. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, I'll put you in the April Fools banner.
VGC: This banner is shamelessly cheesy and positively absurd. It's perfect for April Fools, but I'm glad I only have to see it once per year. That image of Link... it burns!!
Mark: An attempt to show what makes Japanese games so unique. Cute little critters that shock/drown/burn the crap out of each other(Pikachu - various Pokemon games), anime girls with big... eyes (Otomedius Excellent), brooding RPG heroes with spiky hair (Cloud - Final Fantasy VII), and mechs that shoot... hearts? (Virtual On - Saturn & Dreamcast.) Japanese games, gotta love 'em!
VGC: I really should have been born Japanese. I don't know what happened but I blame my parents.
Mark: This banner started out with the notion that I wanted to blend the isometric shooter Zaxxon with the isometric platformer Q*Bert. The cubes led to blocks (Tetris), the blocks led to logs (Frogger), and then I just chose Centipede and Pac-Man to fill things up. Probably should have gone with Ms Pac-Man, since I've already used Mr. Pac in a banner.
VGC: How much fun can Mark possibly cram into a single banner?! Quite a bit! This one is a veritable feast for the eyes. That classic Centipede artwork (from the side of the arcade machine) is indelibly etched into my brain. Originally Mark rendered "The Video Game Critic" in green, but that was blending into the cubes so I asked him to change it to the standard yellow.
"Summer" (Seasonal - displayed June-August)
Mark: Took some inspiration from the old summer banners, using Sonic hauling hedgehog tail through the "green hill" jungle, a California Games (Lynx) surfer, and Kasumi (DOA Beach Volleyball) lounging on the beach.
VGC: Mark incorporated all the elements you look for in a summer banner: jungle, water, and hot chicks. Love how the surfer blends perfectly into the beach, but I wish Sonic was facing forward because he's a little tough to make out.
"Postcard (Summer 2)" - Outtake
Mark: Tried making a banner that looked like one of those old-fashioned "Greetings from" postcards, where the letters had scenes from the place in question. Not sure it was entirely successful, the short/wide banner shape makes things like this... challenging. Plus, it ended up being brighter and busier than I thought it would be. Included in it are Bub (Bust a Move), Space Invaders (Atari 2600), Rouge (Powerstone), Ruiner Pinball (Jaguar), Sega Bass Fishing (Dreamcast), Frogger (Colecovision), Bayonetta (PS3/360), Ridge Racer Revolution (PS1), and Chun Li (Street Fighter series.) Sometimes you get an idea in your head that doesn't quite work the way you imagined.
VGC: I was really on the fence about this one. It's highly imaginative and summer-like, but those letters are a little too busy and hard to read. I decided to pass on this, but at least readers can enjoy this work-of-art here.
"Fall" (Seasonal - displayed September-November)
Mark: Borrowed some ideas from the old fall banner (leaves, Madden football, Ninja Gaiden), but found a good shot of Mario Kart Wii's "Maple Treeway" track to bring a little something different to the mix.
VGC: Fall is my favorite season, and Mark really nailed it! I had recommended Mario Kart Wii because it has one of the best fall stages of all time. As an added bonus, Mark included my beloved Ravens in the mix! The decorative leaves really evoke the tranquil feeling of Autumn.
Mark: Didn't really re-invent the wheel with this banner either, mixing scary (Resident Evil, House of the Dead 2) with silly (Renfield the Peggle pumpkin, Boo from various Mario games) with just a dash of Morrigan's... assets. Talk about things that go "bump" in the night...
VGC: This was very similar to the Halloween banner Mark created for the original site. The purple background is easy on the eyes, and the jack-o-lantern really pops out. The original draft of this was so frightening I actually asked Mark to tone it down.
Mark: Stop me if you've heard this one... A mummy (Metal Slug), a witch (Deathsmiles), a ghost (Shining Force), a skeleton (Golden Axe), a zombie (Plants Vs. Zombies), the Grim Reaper (Namco X Capcom), and a demon (Doom) walk into a graveyard. Seriously though, this has to be Luigi's worst nightmare.
VGC: I liked Mark's first Halloween banner, but really wanted one with a graveyard theme. Not only did he deliver in a big way, but he managed to make this a concept banner as well. Nintendo's famed ghost hunter Luigi is cowering on the left side as a gang of ghouls approaches. There was some controversy about the creature selection, as some felt the red Cacodemon (from Doom) looked out of place.
"Pirates & Monkeys"
Mark: You got your pirates in my monkeys! You got your monkeys in my pirates! Two great types of characters that often, for whatever reason, end up in the same game. Zak and Wiki, the Kaptain from Donkey Kong Country, and The Secret of Monkey Island are good examples. Sometimes the pirates stand alone (Pirates! Gold), sometimes they're from space (Ratchet and Clank), and sometimes it's nothing but monkeys (Monkey Ball.)
VGC: This banner perfectly embodies my long-held (and decidedly unhealthy) fascination with monkeys and pirates. Part of me believes this should probably be a summer seasonal banner, but it's shown all year round.
Mark: Another hodge-podge of games from various generations. Klonoa, Hydro Thunder, Marina (Mischief Makers - N64), and Berzerk (Atari 2600.)
VGC: Originally the Berzerk robots were different sizes, so I asked Mark to fix that. I really like the Hydro Thunder graphic, but the other characters are fairly obscure.
Mark: The Wipeout banner is based off the Japanese game cover-art. I liked the simple, futuristic, Designer's Republic-type aesthetic, and reworked it to fit the wide/short banner. Games like Wipeout (and the music they used) seemed to paint a picture of a cool, techno future. Instead, we got Facebook... go figure.
VGC: At the end of 2012 Mark sent me four of his "junk" banners he didn't think were up to snuff. I posted them on the message boards and people "gravitated" toward this one, forcing me to put it into rotation. There's not much to it, but the streamlined design is refreshing.
Mark: Just a little banner featuring the major consoles from the 70s: Channel F, Atari VCS, Astrocade, Odyssey 2, and Intellivision. Tried several "funky" (read: ugly) 70's backgrounds, but ended up going with green terminal characters, ala "The Matrix".
VGC: The original version of this made it appear like the systems were sitting on an ugly, old green carpet. I didn't like that, so I recommended the green terminal characters be used to fill the background instead. Although most people associate those with The Matrix films, they also represent how computer displays actually looked in the 1970's.
Mark: This one started out with just the GTA lollipop girl and the Mad Bomber (Kaboom!) Added Kirby and Chun Li because...they go so well together(?) Of course, Kirby needed to be sucking something in, so why not a lander and mutant from Defender? Some found this banner somewhat provocative, though that was certainly not my intent.
VGC: I thought this one was all over the place and frankly a little suggestive. But after I posted it on the message boards readers fell in love with it (literally I think), forcing me to place it into the normal rotation. I do appreciate the way it spans so many eras.
Mark: Almost an Xbox 360 banner, I wanted to make a gritty, "hardcore" banner. Granted, calling anything video game related "hardcore" is goofy, but anyhow... Bioshock, Halo, Call of Duty, and Gears of War are represented for your "hardcore" enjoyment.
VGC: Mark was originally pushing for a Halo-only banner, but I prefer this banner which kills three first-person "birds" with one stone.
"Black & White"
Mark: This banner started with a desire to put Limbo in a banner. Ended up going full black and white, adding Madworld and the kick-butt (ha!) Game.Com version of Resident Evil 2. Finally, reduced the logo and text colors to just shades of red, for added effect.
VGC: This is sheer artistic brilliance on Mark's part, but I believe I was the one who suggested the blood red accents. This final version is visually striking.
Mark: One of the old banners had included Cats ("All your base are belong to us") from Zero Wing. When trying to make an updated banner with that character, I came up with the notion of adding other video game cliches (known more commonly on the Internet as "memes"), so added the NES Pro Wrestling phrase "A Winner is You", Skyrim's "then I took an arrow in the knee", the cake (is it a lie?) from Portal, and finally, "Error" from Zelda II.
VGC: This banner exudes a sense of humor only gamers can relate to. In the original version the guy named "Error" (on the right) appeared to have a leaky appendage hanging out. That's not exactly the image I'm trying to project (not even close, really), so I had Mark "fix" him.
Mark: Another console-specific banner, this time Wii themed. Had to include Mario Galaxy and Wii Sports (the bowling is my favorite.) Added a couple of other fun/different Wii exclusives with Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and Excite Truck. It turned out pretty colorful and varied, much like the Wii library.
VGC: The original draft of this was way too busy in the middle section, but this final version is well-balanced and makes you want to waggle a Wii-mote. No? Maybe it's just me.
Mark: I could have called this one "Miscellaneous 7", but the working title was "Something." Clever, huh? Anyhow...threw together a little Pole Position, Guilty Gear's guitar-toting witch I-No, Mega Man, and Boom Blox.
VGC: Mark couldn't decide what to put on the right side of this one. Early versions used Sackboy (too creepy) and a green face from a pinball game (too obscure), so Boom Blox was really the lesser of three evils. I was glad to see an icon like Mega Man finally make an appearance, but it's the bright arcade visuals of Pole Position that really steal the show.
Mark: A remake of the old Atari VCS banner, this time with Phoenix, Space Invaders, Yar's Revenge, and some controllers. I still say that Space Invaders box art looks like a Boston album cover...
VGC: I actually owned this poster of Phoenix as a youth which I proudly displayed on the wall of my room. The Yars' Revenge image is yet another example of the fantastic artwork associated with classic Atari games.
Mark: A veritable cornucopia of gaming goodness! I tried making a banner like this before, but the old format was too short to fit much detail in. Let's see if I can name all of the games referenced...Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Catherine, Berzerk, Pokemon, Atlantis, Halo, generic Intellivision guy, War (Astrocade), Street Fighter II, Castlevania, Kaboom!, Echo, Streets of Rage, Call of Duty, 1942, and Final Fantasy. I don't know about you, but I'm stuffed!
VGC: I believe I came up with the whole cornucopia concept, but this was a tricky banner to execute. Mark had to mix the food images with the game icons, making it appear like a generous outpouring of both games and food. I remember we went back and forth several times before achieving the right balance. I think it turned out pretty well and the orange background gives the banner a distinctive Autumn vibe.
Mark: Perhaps the last holiday banner (unless someone really wants a Ground Hog Day one...) This banner includes Sonic (from one of his old cartoon series), Stella's Stocking (Atari 2600) and Christmas Carol (Intellivision) fighting over a present, Batman about to take a Yule-rocket in the face (Batman Returns - SNES), and good old Mario with a present.
VGC: I waited forever for Mark to make a Christmas banner, but this was worth the wait. This is brimming with holiday spirit, and the snowflakes really pull everything together.
Mark: Another movie-video game cross over, this time highlighting a few of the many Star Wars themed games. Starting with one of the best (and first) is the Star Wars arcade game, Darth Vader from Soul Calibur IV, Episode 1 Pod Racing, and finally the Doom-clone Dark Forces.
VGC: As a Star Wars guy, I was thrilled with this one. Vader looks really imposing.
Mark: I came up with this one while playing a bunch of shmups one night. I always get a kick out of how the screen flashes (often with a bunch of red hexagons) a warning that "a huge something-or-other is approaching." Well, thanks for the heads-up! In honor of that, I used a pic of the first boss from Mars Matrix with a paraphrased version of that warning.
VGC: This is a great take-off on the 2D shooter genre. This banner is so in-your-face, it's almost alarming! I hope people don't think they have a computer virus when they see this!
MORE TO COME...
Also check out
Video Game Critic Banners Unplugged: The Originals