Fans of classic rock and fantasy art will no doubt be familiar with the name Roger Dean. The British artist is as synonymous with 1970’s prog rock (especially the band Yes) as epic guitar tracks, and his bold, unique art style means you’ve probably seen and remembered his work, even if you’ve never remembered his name.
He also, if that’s not cool enough, drew some of the most badass video game covers I’ve ever seen. And then, just for good measure, came up with one of the strangest (yet most fascinating) ideas arcade gaming has ever seen.
Dean was born in England in 1944, and is a man of many talents: while a graduate of the Royal College of Art, he’s also received training in furniture design (with props featured in A Clockwork Orange) and architecture.
But it’s his fantasy and science fiction art that defines Dean, often focusing on alien landscapes with long, sweeping features and using bright colours that stand in stark contrast to the grim tones many other artists in the genres employ.
Having become somewhat famous with his work providing such pieces to bands for use as album covers in the 1960s and 1970s, Dean teamed up with British publisher Psygnosis in the mid-80s, and would be responsible for the iconic box art featured on games like Chrono Quest, Shadow of the Beast and, my personal favourite, 1987 fighting game Barbarian.
You can see the covers for those games in the Psygnosis gallery I published last year.
Yet his most interesting video game work has nothing to do with box art. And everything to do with vintage arcade machines.
When arcade gaming was first taking hold in the 1980s, the cabinets the games would be played on all looked the same: drab brown boxes. It’s a big reason awesome art had to be used to help differentiate them!
Dean (and his brother Martyn, who also worked in similar fields) saw a way around this, and drawing upon their skills in industrial design set about creating cabinets to house an arcade game that were as memorable and entertaining as the games themselves.
They came up with two designs, one a giant alien bug head, the other an enormous “robot knight”, which were sculpted to fit over the top of Taito’s Space Invaders cabinets of the time. They were certainly…unique, the bug coming off as maybe a little much while the robot knight, while looking much cooler, looked absolutely terrifying at the same time.
These two designs became known as the Taitans (owing to the publisher they were working with), and while it was hoped they’d be manufactured en masse and used all over the world, by the time the Deans had finished work on them Taito had changed the design of their Space Invaders cabinet and they could never be used.
Today, a few units survive. Since you’ll likely never see one in the flesh, take a look at the images in the gallery above instead, with all pictures courtesy of jamesg22’s great site.