Through a good part of the 1980s, my family was a little bit behind the times. When everyone else had an Atari 2600, we were marveling over Pong. The Atari 2600 only came when everyone else graduated to the 5400. When Nintendo showed up, I was psyched for my Vectrex (which, looking back, was a damn fine machine!).
Anyway, this persistent state of affairs helped keep me intrigued by the unending flow of video game advertisements that showed up in comic books.
The flood of these particular ads really opened up when the Atari 2600 hit stores, and really hasn’t stopped since then. Looking back over the last 30 years of mainstream comics, you can bet there’s at least one full-color ad in every one of them.
But back in the 1980s, there was a peculiar disconnect between the advertisement and the game itself. Often times, the advert would feature some glorious artwork and then in a tiny inset window you’d see a screenshot from the actual game, which was hardly thrilling.
Case in point is “Star Wars Jedi Arena,” which features a rugged Luke Skywalker, lightsaber ablaze. It’s a dynamic, exciting and iconic image.
… but …
Then you look at the screen shot. A room, two “Jedis,” and a floating ball.
Yep. That pretty much sums up the game.
No, it’s not a crafty advertising team trying to temp you with a little tease. That’s the whole game. And if you don’t believe me, watch this video . Really, try watching it all the way through.
Now things did start picking up on the graphics-end of video games. And correspondingly, the screen shots grew in proportion. Today, the ads are almost entirely direct-from-the-game images.
Games, of course, are a lot more exciting too, and you can’t help but wonder what the ad guys thought way back then when Parker Bros. and all the other licensees pooped out this stuff.
Collins: “We’ve got a new game to sell, boys. It’s about these two janitors stuck in closets across from each other. A vacuum cleaner is on the fritz and is shooting out electric sparks. They use their brooms to hold the sparks back.”
Bumore: “Geez, first the stupid plumber and the gorilla. Now a killer vacuum cleaner! What is it with these video game programmers and the service industry?”
Decatur: “Aw, they get going on one thing and they can’t stop. Next thing you know they’ll be making games where you fight each other instead of the computer. Yeah, like you’re gonna find two dweebs in the same neighborhood who will sit around and do nothing all day!”
Collins: “Let’s focus guys, how are we gonna sell this?”
Bumore: “Janitors?!? I mean we could scare them. Play this or you might be a janitor yourself!”
Decatur: “Speaking of dweebs, my nephew’s still into this ‘Star Wars,’ maybe we could do something with that. You know, rebrand the whole thing.”
Collins: “Oh yeah! That wouldn’t be half bad. I hear that George Mucas practically gives the license away.”
Decatur: “George Lucas, the guy who did the ‘Star Wars’ stuff — and one helluva holiday special. Who knew Bigfeets celebrated Christmas?”
Collins: “Lucas-schmookis! That guy will never amount to anything. Let’s face it if we do this right, we might get the attention of Atari! Now that’s a company that’s going places! But until then, we’re gonna take advantage of this ‘Star War’ fad! It’ll never last, so lets get it while people even remember what it is”
… And thus “Star Wars: Jedi Arena” was born.