I’m still getting the hang of this new site. Trying to see what I can do, actually attempting to follow through on making my site’s Twitter more, er, “twitty”, and apparently getting feedback from a lot of people who simultaneously love my website, yet seem to feel that I either need to lose more weight, earn more money now, or find an attractive bride from a third-world country.

….

I just can’t seem to please everyone.

But here I am regardless to talk about gaming, and more in this aspect, classic gaming. I’ve focused a lot on modern consoles and upcoming releases, but my real fondness does lie in the realm of classic gaming, and one of those aspects that I greatly enjoy collecting:

The video game catalog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The collage that you see here is actually a small sampling from my personal collection. I’ve amassed a number of these over the years from buying unopened games, eBay, and other classic gaming venues. It’s an interesting look at how early gamers got a taste of what was to come for our favorite consoles and computers before the internet was even a remote factor in our gaming lives.

I would like to say not much has changed from then to now. These catalogs were commonplace from gaming companies back in the 1970’s, 1980’s, and almost all the way through the 1990’s. They were the perfect marketing tool to get kids excited (and in trouble in class), as it wasn’t uncommon to take one over to a friend’s house to drool over what was to come. If you had the newest catalog, you were instantly cool.

But they truly are interesting reads, even today. There was always this magical sense of wonder, because the first page or two would welcome you warmly for buying the company’s games for your system of choice. Atari did this very well. So did companies like Mattel/Intellivision and Activision. Because it usually wasn’t just games. It was a greeting, a description of all the exciting new games that had just come out, the games that were on their way, and how lucky you were to be a part of it all. It might include a little bit of the company’s history, or some designer interviews, or an in-depth profile of some upcoming new game. You felt like you were getting an insider view of the company and how everything worked. You could all but get coffee from the break room and get an invite to the company’s Friday barbecue from these books.

Even then, there might also be sections devoted just to console accessories, a chance to join the company’s fanclub and get their newsletter, and lavish, exciting descriptions of every game available. These catalogs did an amazing job of making these primitive blips of color and sound into fully-realized experiences that not only had an epic backstory, but helped your mind’s eye envision the worlds found in those illustrations someone clearly spent a lot of time creating. I still find them so much cooler than the quick and easy pre-rendered CG that primarily focuses on the game’s protagonist like we have today. Seriously, look at some of these old box art illustrations.

Once you got past the games is where it got a little more interesting. Atari, in addition to their games, may include a little story of what the game is about with those lavish illustrations. Even more amusing that the illustrations didn’t stop at the box art. It also might also substitute as the actual screenshot. A lot of companies did this, whether it was pressed for time, or an artist could easily whip up something comparable to the blocky graphics. It may have simply just been harder to perform screen captures back then. But it didn’t matter. You got a general idea of what the game would look like. These illustrations got even more interesting, especially during “The Great Crash”. Companies like Parker Bros. would highlight their new Lord of the Rings game for Atari 2600, or Atari was promoting the fourth entry in their SwordQuest series. Obviously, these titles and many others never came to pass.

After the “Crash”, such extravagances became more rare, but were not extinct. Nintendo and Sega would put out their own “coming soon” hype for their NES and Master System games, as did their third-party companies. But there were a few differences now. All the extra stuff was gone. These promotions focused exclusively on screenshots, and lots of them. But the catalogs of old were gone. Now you could hang hundreds of screenshots on your wall in the form of posters, full of all sorts of “radical” and “tubular” game info., and even the occasional fan club nod from some of the bigger companies (remember, this is still pre-internet).

This promotional style continued through the Genesis, Turbografx-16, and Super Nintendo, though gaming magazines were starting to do a lot more of the promotional work now, and by the time Playstation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64 came out, the video game poster finally began to breathe its last before the time that generation was over. The internet was the new promotion, and has remained as such ever since. Even today, the instruction manual found in every game is starting to enter the “endangered species” list as we go more digital.

But even today, the old gaming catalogs were awesome reads and a level of marketing and company directness that we really don’t see today. Some of my personal favorites were the various Atari and Sierra catalogs (noted in these links), and they remain timeless due to their unbridled enthusiasm of that moment in history.

So now that you know one of my favorite aspects of collecting, what do you enjoy collecting outside of the games themselves?

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Filed under: apple gamingatari gamingclassic gamingcollectingsierra