An Overview of Graphic Design 30 Years Ago

A lot of people ask me “What got you into video games?” and “How do you think of all these ideas for articles?”. Usually, my answer is “My dad.” Ever since I was little, my dad has passed on several of his hobbies to me, gaming being one of them – I attribute my love for video games and creativity to him. 

We have played all sorts of games together. I remember coming home from primary school and playing Sonic the Hedgehog and Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise on his Xbox 360. We both share a love of Skyrim and have spent many hours playing this and other titles across several consoles. In celebration of Concrete’s 30th birthday, I had a chat with the man himself about his previous career working in the gaming industry, which he started just over 30 years ago when he was around my age (20). 

I asked him how he got into the gaming industry as a graphics designer. He described how he was initially working in a shop and enjoyed creating things using an art package on his computer. He sent some of his artwork off to a computer magazine and his work was soon plastered across its middle pages. He then contacted a firm in Covent Garden, offering to work for them on a video game. They asked him to come in for an hour, where he drew a picture and was sent home with a cheque in his pocket and told they would soon be in touch. He recalled opening the envelope on the tube home and realising he’d earnt more money in that hour than he would’ve earnt at his job within a week and a half. On closer inspection, he noticed an extra ‘0’ on the end and was amazed to find he’d been given more than he would have earnt in four entire months at the shop. Of course, I asked what he did with this money, to which he responded he “bought every single gadget available” and “had a very fast car with a phone in it” (this was unusual back in his day when phones were still enormous). 

He designed graphics and loading screens made for games on a console called the Commodore 64. His favourite game on this console is Mission Impossible, as it featured digitised speech and animation. Of course, there was no 3D back then, so he would spend hours drawing the background graphic, then meticulously animating the characters by drawing them then slightly changing them for the next frame (onion skinning). He met up with other creators for video game conferences two to three times a year. He said he had to choose a console/machine he was invested in to specialise in, as technological skills weren’t so easily transferable in the late 80s. As technology progressed, he drifted into normal graphic design, as new automated software began to mean pretty much anyone could learn to design games. He also told me how at times, income was unreliable, and there could be big gaps where you didn’t earn much at all. Other times, he worked around just five hours a week and made a lot of money.

However, he still very much enjoys gaming. As I previously mentioned, his favourite modern video game is Skyrim, and we realised we have owned pretty much every edition of it alongside some merchandise and what we refer to as ‘The nerd bible’ (The official Skyrim guide). He is also very happy to discover that he can mod it as he pleases on the Xbox Series X without it crashing (so far). He believes Battlefield I is the best online game because people don’t generally get angry and are just there to play and have a laugh. 

Several of his pictures were featured in Zapp! 64, a gaming magazine, which I have included here. It’s interesting to see how different video games looked in the 80s, and how each image is composed of hundreds of tiny little squares. 

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Holly Jackson

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June 2022
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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