Stolen Pixels #145: Re: Your Box Art

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Nov 24, 2009

Filed under: Column 44 comments

The new comic is up. It’s about the proposed box art for Mass Effect 2. Note that it borders on false advertising. I mean, look at it! It shows commander Shepard looking angry, when anyone who has played the game knows that he has the emotional range of Ben Stein at his own wake.

Below is some director’s commentary on why I’m not quite happy with this one.

This one is a rarity for me: The photoshop comic. Once I was done with it I was immediately and painfully reminded of why I don’t do these photoshop jobs very often: I’m never happy with them.

The first suggested cover just has a two written on it. Fine, although looking back I could have made that more funny by exaggerating the slapdash “2”. I think having the “2” on a yellow stickynote would have worked better. This is the problem when you’re trying to photoshop something that is supposed to look cheap: It looks like a hack job instead of satire.

The “Space Tits” one was also supposed to look cheap on purpose, but when I was done I was vexed at how it looked like I was just lazy. It was supposed to look like one of those terrible cheap B-movie posters / VHS covers. The kind of packaging which screams out “this product is of the lowest possible quality, but will afford the viewer with numerous occasions to see breasts”.

The final cover is supposed to be the “punchline” – it’s a remix of the original cover, replacing the Mass Effect characters with Master Chief, Cortana, and that Arbiter Dude Thing. To get the visual joke you have to understand who these characters are, and you have to get why this would be an insult to both games, and you have to have the real Mass Effect cover (from the top of the comic) fresh in mind so that the similarities hit home.

I fussed with this one a lot. The sad thing is that this took far, far longer than a Breen comic, and ended up looking like I barely spent any time on it at all.

I doubt we’ll see another photoshop comic until I once again forget how unsatisfied I usually am with the result.


From The Archives:

44 thoughts on “Stolen Pixels #145: Re: Your Box Art

  1. chabuhi says:

    I’m just surprised there isn’t a big splatter of blood in the shape of a dragon on the real box.

  2. Randy Johnson says:

    You are always too over analysing your work

  3. Alarion says:

    For what it’s worth, I chuckled when I saw Halo Effect 2.

  4. nilus says:

    Personally I don’t think the box art is that bad. I plan to buy the game regardless of its packaging. It could come in a brown paper bag for all I care.

    But I do wonder, for all those of a slightly older generation. Is it me or does the woman in the background kinda give you a little Buck Rogers(the 80s TV show version) nostalgia. Kinda reminds me a bit of Wilma Deering.

    1. Shamus says:

      Ah, Wilma Deering. Why did she excite me more than Buck?

      It would be years before I understood.

  5. Rutskarn says:

    I thought the 2 worked out pretty well, as did the Halo Effect one. The TE one only suffered from the model being too small–it was actually a little too subtle.

  6. Girl Gamer says:

    The 2 on a post-it would have been funny, but so what what you have here. You’re definitely your own worst critic. I never would have noticed a difference from the usual comics if you hadn’t said anything.

    Can’t decide if I want to play this game or not. I missed a few years of games, which included the original ME, and now I feel like I should catch up before playing sequels. It’s a never ending loop of catching up, though, at some point I’m going to have to just jump in.

  7. WILL says:

    I laughed at the last proposed cover. Awesome work, Shamus.

  8. neothoron says:

    I’m agreeing with Girl Gamer above; these photoshop jobs looked fine to me. After having read your criticism I expected much worse.

  9. Doc Fabulous says:

    Dragon Age made me lose all faith in Bioware, so the game will probably be just as shitty as the cover art.

  10. SteveDJ says:

    Just so you know – I DID recognize how similarly-placed the characters were in cover #3, as compared to the original at the top. …and had a good chuckle over it.

    And I don’t have either game, nor even an Xbox – and I still got the joke.

    Well done!

  11. Eruanno says:

    I don’t see why everyone presumes Commander Shepard is an aveerage-looking dude. I’ve played through Mass Effect a couple of times, and each time my Shepard was a woman with pretty crazy hair color / skin colors. (Red hair – darkest skin color possible for example)

  12. acronix says:

    I actually tought for a moment that the last cover was a real one, and that you just changed the title. Then I noticed the lack of stickers. How silly of me.

  13. Legal Tender says:

    Wasn’t it here that someone (maybe it was you Shamus, my memory is akin to that of a senile goldfish) posted a link to a series of ‘re-designed’ video game covers?

    Maybe distributors could outsource cover art design to these people? I mean, some of them were this little bit of bona fide works of art.

  14. Bret says:

    That has been a bit odd.

    From my frequent reading of the gaming press (Have Mass Effect from Steam, but my computer’s a tad old to run it.) it seems the best anyone says about Male Shepard is “He’s not THAT bad.” while Female Shepard gets “Jennifer Hale has the best voice ever. Why is there a not Jennifer Hale voiced option?”

    So, it’s weird they’re acting like there’s just one Shep in the advertising, let alone the less popular one.

  15. krellen says:

    I don’t play Halo but I still recognised the characters, so I think that one goes over well enough.

  16. Macil says:

    @Doc Fabulous

    I feel your pain. So does my Dragon Age disc, which can now be used as a piece of modern art.

    However, I think the Mass Effect development team is different from the Dragon Age team (Austin vs. Montreal, although I could be mistaken).

  17. krellen says:

    While I fully admit that Dragon Age is pretty cliche and derivative, I hardly think it’s worth crushing all faith in BioWare. The execution is fairly brilliant, especially as you get to know the characters. And a twist near the end of my first play through in particular made the ending I chose particularly poignant.

    Of course, I also don’t think KOTOR was the best game ever, or even the best of the Old Republic series, so take that as you will.

  18. Binks says:

    The Halo Effect two punchline was great, both because it was funny and because it really drove home how generic this cover is. A good comic, you’re too hard on your own work :P.

  19. chabuhi says:

    Wow – I guess I should feel guilty for loving Dragon Age. I’m an old Baldur’s Gate et al. fan, and I was wary of EA’s marketing campaign for DA, but I am genuinely enjoying it. Guess I’m a sucker for derivative cliches. ;)

    I loved KOTOR, liked Jade Empire, loved Mass Effect, and I’m loving DA, but I do have to agree that Bioware’s dialog-tree thing is getting a bit tired.

  20. Kdansky says:

    The last one drove the point home perfectly. I read the comic first and then the commentary here, and I say you did a very fine job on the Halo-Conversion.

    Also, that original concept box art is horrible.

  21. Macil says:


    As far as Bioware games go, I loved BG1/2, KotOR, Jade Empire, NWN1, and Mass Effect. I also loved IWD 1/2, NWN2, and KotOR2, though these were made by different developers.

    I had no doubt in my mind Dragon Age would be a great game when I bought it and … hated it.

    I’m still looking forward to Mass Effect 2, though.

    p.s. — @Shamus: I think you’re too hard on yourself, Shamus. The comic, I think, does exactly what you intended, even if it doesn’t necessarily match how you envisioned it. I think that’s how most creative endeavors work out. :P

    Check out the “N7” cover Amazon lists for the ME2 Collector’s Edition. That one I dig for some reason.

  22. Josh says:

    I loved the Captain King cover. Great work, Shamus!

  23. Aven says:

    The real cover screams “bargain bin” – I really would like to know what they were going for.

    Somebody had to say something – glad you did this one. That’s what comics are for.

  24. chabuhi says:


    Not to start our own sub-thread here, but I’d be interested to know what turned you off of DA. Did you play all the way through? Or did you find it unbearable early on?

    As I was with DA, I have my doubts about ME2, so hopefully I’ll be pleasantly surprised again. And hopefully you won’t be disappointed again.

  25. Macil says:


    A lot of reasons, but I will attempt to summarize as best I can (will keep the following in one paragraph to conserve some space):

    I played through until the end. I made a mistake getting this for the 360, as no isometric/overhead camera is awful (the 360 can handle an overhead cam. and it was lazy not having it). Level-scaling = always bad and destroys any sense of character advancement. Tying the tactics slots to a tactics skill was braindead. The world felt dull and lifeless, both in visual and story design (with some exceptions). The game seems to use a deluge of codex/written entries as a crutch for interesting quests/environments/people. I didn’t care for the MMO-style of combat (tank holds aggro while party DPSes). Combat in general = unsatisfying (played a warrior). No action queue and no pause-on-event options. What I did like: Alistair, party banter (some were hilarious), the elf(woods)-quest area, landsmeet.

  26. Jenx says:


    Waitwaitwaitwait waaaaait. Dragon Age has level scaling? Yeah, ok – this game is now dead to me. And I was so hoping I would go and get to play Baldur’s Gate 3: Dragon Age. :/ Seems not.

  27. nilus says:


    It has a type of level scaling. Its not like Morrowind where you could run to the end and beat the game. Basically the first time you enter an area the game levels the enemies to you. So things get tougher as you find more places but old areas stay at your old level. You can metagame that out and try to visit as much as you can before leveling at all, but if you just play through normally you will never notice it.

    Many of the battles are still very tough(The High Dragon and the end guy both were not easy, and at the end I was around level 22). I do agree the MMO style play was not my favorite and the game didn’t look as great as it could. But overall I think it had a very good story and a lot of cool characters. I liked the Baldurs Gate series but I think people put it up on a high horse. It was good, true but it was also cliche and had a lot of problems(Does anyone remember how slow Baldur Gate was to get started, took like 6 hours to gain a level and you fought Kobols for what seemed like ages)

    I have yet to see an RPG that was as through provoking and enjoyable as Planescape Torment.

    Anyways I thought Dragon Age was really fun. Beat it once as a Warrior now I am going through as a Rogue. Plan to go through as a Mage as well eventually. YMMV of course

  28. Miral says:

    The marketing was silly, and the tactics are broken, but everything else about Dragon Age is top-notch (though admittedly not to PS:T levels). I love it (especially the codex). Just don’t make the mistake of getting it for the Xbox. (The PC version is the best, if you have a good PC.)

  29. JKjoker says:

    is it possible to make a good box cover with that xbox360 banner on top ? just like the games for windows one it just cheapens it, and any feeling i have about the game is tainted by “arggg games for windows again ?! bleh”

  30. chabuhi says:


    I’ve derailed the conversation enough (sorry, Shamus et al.!), so I’ll just say thanks for your insight, and while the combat mechanics don’t bother me so much, I agree with you about the codex. If I want to read a novel, I’ll read a novel.

  31. Jabor says:

    (the 360 can handle an overhead cam. and it was lazy not having it)

    Not really. Remembering that the 360 has a paltry 512 meg shared, there just isn’t enough memory to hold the entirety of the level as well as rendering a large swath of it with the overhead camera.

    Memory concerns is also why the console versions have enemies coming in waves rather than all at once.

    But of course, the PC version is the way to go if you have a choice. What with the toolset and all.

  32. Macil says:


    Hrm, I’m not sure I agree.

    There are a variety of ways it may have been solved, but it could have been done with a little imagination.

    You can already “see” the whole battlefield from the 3rd person on the 360, but the angle is useless. Looking “down” would also remove the need to render things in the distance — even if you restricted what the player could see and allowed them to “scan” the field. If memory is a real problem, then allow an overhead camera only when the game is paused to issue orders.

    More of a concern is the inability to issue free-movement commands. Moving the camera up a few feet above a character’s head and mapping the right analog stick to move freely on the battlefield so you could position party members, while the left selected NPCs/party members (and moved the camera to an isolated vantage point) would have been a massive improvement.

    Anyway — its kind of moot. My own experience was already soiled. Sorry Shamus/everyone, I’m done derailing too. :)

  33. LintMan says:

    @nilus & Jenx: I had heard that the DA level scaling was on a fixed sliding scale per area, so that each area has a minimum and maximum difficulty. So certain areas will cap out if you’re high level, or be a bit over your head if you’re low level.

    I’m still on my first playthrough (about 80% done) and while I don’t really care for autoscaling, I’d say that it hasn’t been a problem. The first Ogre I fought was a huge boss battle that was a TPK on my first attempt. Recently I fought a battle with 2 Ogres plus multiple other enemies with no party deaths (while I still see other battles that are still quite challenging, though TPK’s are rare). Nothing like Oblivion where you can feel like you’re never gaining any ground on the bad guys.

    To some extent, I find the autoleveling forgiveable because the it enables the main quest order to be extremely open-ended. If they had fixed levels for the areas, you’d mostly be forced to do them in a certain order.

  34. Just download the “25 Tactics unlocked” mod for DA.

    I love DA. Also Mass Effect. I tend to not worry about little flaws, and just, you know, enjoy myself. On the flip side, I give up quickly on games, since I don’t have that much time to play. And I still have Fallout 1-3, Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, XCom:TFTD and Wizardry 7 or 8 on my hard drive. So I’m the target audience, and still liked ’em.

    Girl Gamer: Despite some of the above, you should totally get ME, especially since it’s $20 nowadays. Keep in mind that a ton of people enjoyed it a lot.

  35. Jabor says:

    You can already “see” the whole battlefield from the 3rd person on the 360,

    Keep in mind that you can cull a whole lot more polygons from the third-person perspective (and in fact, if you keep an eye on stuff in the distance while running around, you’ll notice that a lot of scenery isn’t drawn at all until you’re closer to it) – while from an isometric camera, you pretty much have to draw everything.

    The real problem is the lack of free-movement stuff on the console, and I agree with you there.

    But then again, the real real problem with the console versions is that they’re not the PC version and don’t have the toolset.

  36. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Beside the master chief,I dont recognize any of the characters from halo.But I still found the joke funny.

    And I dont think that many RPG fans wont know about mass effect 2.Not that RPG fans are all that smart,but there arent that many games for them,so they have to dig around to find a new fix.

    Also,mass effects gameplay is not really that complicated.Many new shooters have inventories,skills and dialogue.It even has a simpler dialogue represantation than some shooters.That doesnt mean it is dumber or worse,though.I love the radial panel,its so easy to learn and use.

  37. Someboringguy says:

    Maybe the second one would have been better if you exagerated a bit?Like a starship made out of breasts?
    Mass Effect 2-now with twice as more hints towards lesbian sex (that’s 2 in total).
    Or Mass Effect 2-now with shorter loading time (70% instead of 75%).

  38. Sam says:

    I thought it was quite thoroughly hilarious. I’d definitely buy “Space Tits” and I don’t even own a 360.

  39. Frank says:

    Love the Evony jibe. :)

  40. Adam says:

    Heh. I complain (well, perhaps that’s too strong a word) about the Breen visuals, Shamus graciously tosses us something new, and now he’s sad.

    This is why I lurk.

  41. Amarsir says:

    I read it unburdened by ever having seen any of these covers before. And yet given the premise, I memorized the first panel sufficiently that the punchline totally worked. (OK I didn’t recognize the Arbiter, but figured Halo characters in ME2 positions.)

    However, I must agree that a post-it 2 would have worked better. Because I hadn’t seen the cover before, it took me a second to realize the “2” had been added. Hindsight, I guess. But again it didn’t hurt the punchline.

  42. Sauron says:

    To anyone concerned with auto-scaling in Dragon Age:

    As one of the biggest haters of auto-scaling, I’d say it was necessary and well executed. They have hard caps on how low and high areas can be leveled, and once you visit an area it is set in stone for the rest of the game. This means that they don’t force you to take a certain path through the game via means of level, which is good (different characters will benefit highly from taking different first paths), and it’s not anything near Oblivion’s catastrophe. Plus, if a fight is too hard, you can go grind and come back and it will get easier.

    Trust me, this is the _good_ kind of auto-scaling, where it increases your choices, rather than decreasing.

  43. Alex says:

    The sad thing is, I’d probably buy any game that promised space tits AND The Arbiter on the cover.

    What? Keith David’s awesome.

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