The Liverpool-based video games studio Psygnosis was founded in 1984 and existed as a brand through 2001. (The studio was renamed SCE Studios Liverpool, and continued to operate until it was shut down by Sony in 2012.) But bring up Psygnosis with gaming aficionados and they’ll start waxing nostalgic about the mid- and late-80s Psygnosis, a company that pushed the envelope of visual excellence in gameplay for 8- and 16-bit home computers like the Spectrum ZX and Commodore Amiga. Psygnosis games had grand ambitions and influenced ideas about how games could look; whether the games were great to play is a matter of debate. In a blog post at How They Got Game, Eric Kaltman describes the Psygnosis formula as “a vast, complex world, at-the-curve graphics, big action, and incomprehensible controls.” (Of course, for everyone who claims the games were too difficult to play, there is likely to be a crusty old gamer who’ll say “No, the games were great, you probably just sucked at them.”)
As the brand pushed into the ’90s, it did publish some games that became classics for their playability, notably Lemmings and Wipeout, both of which were sequelized thoroughly. But we’re not looking at those.
What we are looking at is the packaging of ’80s fantasy and sci-fi games by Psygnosis (and that of Psyclapse, another label attached to games from the same studio). The tone was set by Roger Dean, famous cover artist of albums by Yes and Asia, who designed the company logo and covers for its first four games, Brataccas (1985), Deep Space (1986), Barbarian (1987) and Terrorpods (1987), and the 1988 release Obliterator. For more on Psygnosis, visit Psygnosis.org or The Purple Owl.
Roger Dean didn’t illustrate every great Psygnosis box cover, but the other artists who were tapped for the job did so in Dean-esque aplomb. Here are 15 of them, starting with Dean’s early ones: