The Video Game Critic Banners Unplugged: The New Ones
With commentary by
Updated January 2, 2013
graphic artist Mark Jewell
and Dave the Video Game Critic
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 provided me when we were still toying around with a new look for the site. It 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 one.
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. Trippy.
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: Just a glance at this banner and gamers should feel right at home. Vivid colors and plenty of eye candy.
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", for those not in-the-know. 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, there's something appealing about the chaos.
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, but Mark did a good job of gracefully blending 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: I love the winter, so I was very particular about how this one turned out. I asked Mark to go back and revise it several times. I insisted he incorporate the AT-AT walker (from Empire Strikes Back), since it looked so good on the old winter banner. Mark used it, but it wasn't prominent enough. I encouraged him to enlarge it so people could appreciate it in all of its pixelated glory. The result is a masterpiece of a banner. Action-packed, yet easy on the eyes.
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 interesting, and I like how the banner incorporates two of my favorite fighters: Scorpion and Sub-Zero of Mortal Kombat fame. Ivy appears to be one "wardrobe malfunction" away from making this 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. Perhaps a sequel Dreamcast banner is in the cards...?
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! This banner instantly transports me back to 1982! It oozes with nostalgia. 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 7-14)
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 on top of the screen.
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 is in the center.
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 well defined and nicely 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 it was nice to see this banner. Maybe 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! Sheesh! Seriously though, this one doesn't make much sense but it really grabs your attention.
"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 always one of my favorites.
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 game genre that doesn't usually get much respect.
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 times flies when you're having fun.
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.
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!
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: Vibrant with color and jam-packed with action, this has got to be the ultimate retro banner. That Centipede image (from the side of the arcade machine) is indelibly etched into my brain. That's some amazing artwork. Originally Mark made "The Video Game Critic" text green, but that was blending into the cubes so he changed it to the standard yellow.
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 I look for in a summer banner: jungle, water, and chicks. There are many appealing elements in this one, but I wish Sonic was facing forward because he's a little tough to make out at first glance.
"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 on the fence about using this one. It's very imaginative and summer-like, but the letters are a little too busy. It's a little hard to read the "Video Game" part. I decided to leave it out of the banner rotation, but at least readers can enjoy this work-of-art here.
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 Ravens in the mix! The decorative leaves really evoke the feeling of Fall.
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. I believe this original version was a lot scarier and I 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 I went back and asked him to do a graveyard-themed one (since I love graveyards). Not only did he find a nice graveyard backdrop, he made it a high concept banner. Nintendo's famed ghost hunter Luigi is cowering on the left side as a gang of ghouls approaches. There was some controversy about the selection of creatures, 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 fascination with monkeys, pirates, and any combination of the two. Part of me believes this should probably be a summer seasonal banner, but I show it 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, and I asked Mark to fix that. I really like the Hydro Thunder graphic, but I suspect few will recognize the other characters.
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 seemed to gravitate toward this one, so I put it into rotation. There's not much to it, but the slick, clean look is appealing.
MORE TO COME...
Also check out
Video Game Critic Banners Unplugged: The Originals