Terry Hoff is an American illustrator known for his Atari and NES box art. An Artist Profile for Terry was featured on pages 208–209 of Tim Lapetino’s Art of Atari, with images of his work included on more than a dozen pages throughout the book. The bulk of this biography is adapted from that profile.
Terry found work with Atari right out of the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California. Terry had been shopping his portfolio around in search of freelance work which led to a referral to Atari, who then had a finder’s fee of $400 for new hires. Terry did one freelance job for Atari—box art for Asteroids (5200), a game that was ultimately unreleased—and was hired shortly after to work in-house, full-time.
The majority of video game box art from the NES-era onward—including NES work Terry later did—was handled through external design firms and freelance talent. While Atari also hired artists on a freelance basis, in Art of Atari, Terry describes an art process at Atari where artists that worked on packaging art, like Terry, perhaps by virtue of being in-house, seemed much closer to a game’s development.
Describing the importance of research in his process, he explained: “I’m not a gamer, and I wasn’t a gamer then. A tech writer would explain the gameplay, and I developed a storyline, almost treating it like a fantasy or sci-fi story. Usually you were just on one game at a time. It was rewarding in that sense, to stay focused on one project. The fun of it was researching, being a private investigator. Illustrators today, they all that info and inspiration at their fingertips, but I think that if something is harder to obtain, it’s more valuable and memorable. Without research, you’re losing touch with the source, and you don’t spend time contemplating.”
Terry added, “It was rewarding because of the response from the programmers when they saw your visual solution—they were excited. To create these worlds that opened up—the game was just beginning, and the art opened it up to people somehow, capturing the storyline. Making an exciting thing was hard. It was just fun work.”
After more than a year as a staff artist, more than a dozen game covers and 10 interior illustrations, Hoff moved on from Atari. He continued creating video game box art for companies like Broderbund, Nintendo, and LucasArts, and then transitioned into movie posters, other types of illustration, and eventually into fine art. But even as it unfolded, Terry realized the influence that Atari—and his team—had made in the larger culture. “Atari resonated with so many people,” he said, “and it had such an incredible impact in such a short amount of time.”
“I later got out of doing game art because I didn't want to get pigeonholed,” he said. “As the animation got better, the artwork got worse. It wasn’t that rewarding, because it was still the same amount of work.” Terry currently paints in an approach he calls “thoughtful play,” and does commissions, while also teaching at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, his alma mater.
OVGA has included below Terry Hoff’s full known box art catalog:
- Star Raiders (Atari, Inc. | Atari 2600 | 1982)
- RealSports Volleyball (Atari, Inc. | Atari 2600 | 1982)
- Vanguard (Atari, Inc. | Atari 5200 | 1983)
- RealSports Tennis (Atari, Inc. | Atari 2600 | 1983)
- Pole Position (Atari, Inc. | Atari 2600 | 1983)
- Pole Position (Atari, Inc. | Atari 5200 | 1983) different art
- Countermeasure (Atari, Inc. | Atari 5200 | 1983)
- Koronis Rift (Epyx, Inc. | Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum | 1985)
- Solaris (Atari, Inc. | Atari 2600| 1986) repeat use of Star Raiders art
- BreakThru (Data East | NES | 1987)
- Ikari Warriors (SNK | NES | 1987)
- Iron Tank (SNK | NES | 1988)
- Star Soldier (Taxan | NES | 1990)
- River City Ransom (American Technos | NES | 1990)
- Super Asteroids and Missile Command (Atari Corporation | Lynx | 1995) this box art combines Terry’s unreleased Asteroids (5200) art with Chris Kenyon’s Missile Command (5200) art
Atari of Art included several promotional, interior, or unused examples of Terry’s Atari work. OVGA has listed those below:
- Unused box art for Superman III (400/800) - page 93
- Unused artwork for Phoenix - page 174
- Two different versions of box art for unreleased RealSports Basketball (5200) - pages 184–185
- Unused interior manual illustration for Vanguard (5200) - page 203
- Interior manual art and production art for Moon Patrol (2600) - page 238
- Promotional art for SwordQuest Waterworld - page 264
- Promotional art of Philosopher’s Stone competition prize for SwordQuest Airworld (2600) - page 266