David “Dave” Bruce McMacken (1944–2019) spent over 50 years as an illustrator, including creating game box art for over a decade, beginning in 1983. In total, Dave illustrated the box art for more than 25 titles.
Dave was an established artist by the time the first home video games were being released and accordingly got early starts with formative gaming companies Electronic Arts, Broderbund, and Activision; in what may have been Dave’s first three boxes, he illustrated, for those companies respectively: Archon: The Light and the Dark (1983), Captain Goodnight and the Islands for Fear (1985), and Shanghai (1986). While Dave is perhaps best known for his illustrations for the music industry, beginning in the 1960s (see end), he illustrated for games until at least 1995 and his standout box art for Legacy of the Ancients (Electronic Arts, 1987), The Battle of Olympus (Broderbund, 1989), the Game Gear release of Ninja Gaiden (Sega, 1991), and Secret of Evermore (Squaresoft, 1995) firmly cement Dave’s inestimable video game box art legacy.
Perhaps a result of his decades of prior illustration experience, Dave was exceptionally versatile in his technique and execution for video game box art, a strength that shines through in the drastic contrast among boxes in Dave’s game art oeuvre. Without knowledge of Dave’s body of work, one would be hard-pressed to identify NES title Dusty Diamond's All-Star Softball (Broderbund, 1990) as having been created by the same hand as the home computer release of Archon (Electronic Arts, early 1980s), much less that the same person would also have illustrated the SNES game Total Carnage (Malibu Games, 1993) or Destiny of an Emperor for the NES (Capcom, 1990). The works are diverse, from separate publishers, and at first glance offer precious little to tie them together. Dusty Diamond's is highly rendered in a realistic style, where Archon is utterly minimalist. Total Carnage is bright and explodes with over-the-top cartoony action. Destiny of an Emperor by contrast is stylized, plays with perspective, and leans into a darker and more restrained palette. Exile for the Sega Genesis, as a single work of art that wraps around both the front and back of the box, perhaps highlights and exhibits Dave’s separate styles within a single piece. While the portion of the work that displays on the front of the box is well-rendered, painted in a style classically suited to fantasy subjects, with a lot of weight, dimension, and color to the figures, the back of the box is painted flatly with little detail or dimension (to allow for the text on the back of the box).
Dave could do it all, but that isn’t to say he didn’t have a style of his own. While Dave shared with us that utilizing many styles was a way to get more work, especially as clients across industries sought to distinguish their products from those of their competitors—many of his works do have clear stylistic commonalities. The heads of Dave’s monsters and animals seem to be somewhat squared off, often featuring eyes either large and more bug-like or angular and slanted. Teeth and claws were usually prominent. Dave’s greatest works often packed action into the back and fore grounds and evoked a touch of chaos. Legacy of the Ancients (1987), Deathlord (Electronic Arts, 1988), and Ninja Gaiden (1991) as well as Toki: Going Ape Spit (Sega, 1991) and Double Dragon III (Flying Edge, 1993) for the Sega Genesis all capture this chaos, with characteristics that extend to some of Dave’s non-game work, such as Warrant's Dog Eat Dog album cover. These are the works perhaps most evocative of his natural style.
Like many illustrators who have spent a lifetime creating images, Dave did not always remember the official title on which his images were reproduced, and therefore he attached personal titles for his works that at first seemed a bit jarring and humorous to collectors. The classic SNES role playing game Secret of Evermore was known by Dave as "Crab Attack" due to the image, and Dave referred to the Sega Genesis title Toki: Going Ape Spit as “Donkey Kong Play-Ball” 🙂
A sad note on preservation: Archon, which may very well have been Dave’s first box art, was created with cut construction paper. Dave uncovered the original years later in such poor shape that he threw it away.
While many of Dave’s contemporary video game box artists got involved in the industry at the relative starts of their careers, Dave had already illustrated album covers in the music industry in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. Working for design firm The Institute for Better Vision led Dave to his first big break, meeting highly regarded musician Frank Zappa and doing the artwork for "200 Motels," "Over-Nite Sensation" and a Rhino Records release of "Rare Meat." Thus began an extensive career in music and film illustration, working for the likes of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Roland Young and Norman Seeff. Dave further created album and promotional artwork for numerous bands including AC/DC, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Cat Stevens and Warrant. After 20 or so years working in the film and music space, Dave moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and worked with Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein on the Electronic Arts and Beaver Creek campaigns. He continued his freelance career after moving to Astoria, Oregon, and founded the Ratz and Company studio and gallery. He has been published in "Album Cover Album," "Phonographics" and "200 Best Illustrators Worldwide" and received numerous awards, including a Gold medal from the Society of Illustrators. In 2013 McMacken was inducted into the Album Cover Hall of Fame.
Dave passed away in Astoria, Oregon on October 29, 2019 (aged 75), leaving behind his wife of 43 years, Judy McMacken.
OVGA has included below Dave McMacken’s full known video game box art catalog:
- Archon: The Light and the Dark (Electronic Arts | Home Computers | 1983)
- Captain Goodnight and the Islands for Fear (Broderbund | Apple II | 1985)
- Shanghai (Activision | Home Computers | 1986)
- Paintworks (Activision | Atari ST | 1986)
- Legacy of the Ancients (Electronic Arts | Home Computers | 1987)
- Deathlord (Electronic Arts | Apple II, Commodore 64 | 1988)
- Sentinel Worlds I: Future Magic (Electronic Arts | DOS, Commodore 64 | September, 1988)
- Operation: Clean Streets (Broderbund | DOS | October, 1988)
- Mars Saga (Electronic Arts | Commodore 64 | November, 1988)
- Alien Syndrome (Sega | Commodore 64 | December, 1988)
- Swords of Twilight (Electronic Arts | Amiga |1989)
- The Battle of Olympus (Broderbund | NES | 1989)
- The Dark Heart of Uukrul (Broderbund | Apple II | October, 1989)
- Dusty Diamond’s All-Star Softball (Broderbund | NES | July, 1990)
- Destiny of an Emperor (Capcom | NES | September, 1990)
- Wings of Fury (Broderbund | DOS | 1991?)
- Double Dragon III (Acclaim | NES | February, 1991)
- Ninja Gaiden (Sega | Game Gear | 1991)
- Exile (Renovation | Genesis | 1991)
- Toki: Going Ape Spit (Sega | Genesis | 1991)
- Aerial Assault (Sega | Game Gear | 1992)
- Chase HQ II (Taito | Genesis | 1992)
- Simon the Sorcerer (Infocom/Activision | Home Computers | 1993)
- Double Dragon III (Flying Edge | Genesis | 1993)
- Dungeon Master (JVC Musical Industries | SNES | June, 1993)
- Total Carnage (Malibu Games | SNES | 1993)
- Shanghai: Triple-Threat (Activision | 3DO | 1994)
- Fury 3 (Microsoft | Windows | 1995)
- Secret of Evermore (Squaresoft | SNES | October, 1995)
A compilation image of Dave’s video game box art (see Additional Images) includes two images not yet identified: one that appears to be unused art related to the Buster Bros / Pang series and another marked 2010 Lucas Games; the same “2010 Lucas Games” image appears on an archived version of Dave’s site instead with the text “Sting San Francisco 2050.” While not fully confirmed, Dave likely illustrated not-yet-documented educational titles for Broderbund, including Math Workshop around 1994.