Two months later, a IMHO very well written article about our hobby was published in PC Pro magazine (issue #338) featuring not only photos, screengrabs and quotes by yours truly but also from a bunch of other fellow collectors.
What was it about Castle Master that grabbed your attention — you mention the printed manual and cardboard box but what did you think about the art and the presentation?
Back then, cassettes in single jewel cases were the norm at the local shops in my area (and throughout Europe). Due to their size, cover artwork was rather limited and there wasn't any space for screenshots or descriptions either. Deciding what game to buy often came down to the cooler sounding title or tagline, a "#1"-sticker and who's the publisher (Codemasters never disappointed, Mastertronic were cheaper but were also often hit & miss). To be honest, most covers weren't that good looking but an attention seeking mess.
Seeing the Castle Master box on the shelf was quite a revelation: the ominous cover artwork presented boldly without any tag lines, slogans or stickers, the back listing the game's features and a couple of screenshots. It definitely felt a step up in quality and I'd even say boxes made games looking more mature and en-par with other media like books.
Did publishers make the most of the big boxes — what tricks would they pull on the covers (if any) to entice people in?
Here in Europe, the big box for PC games was standardized rather quickly within the industry in the early 90s which lead to sturdy two-part boxes with a glossy finish and to be honest, I'm quite happy with those. Sure, it was most likely a simple business decision to cut down production costs but it also allowed those who dared stepping out of line to shine even brighter. The possibilities of creating a unique box are endless, combining all the tricks the printing industry has up their sleeve including different finishes, die cut holes, irregular box shapes, gold letters and so on. In the US, one-piece boxes were more common featuring gate-fold covers and embossing but also resulted in a more flimsy box that required an inner cardboard for stability.
What makes a fine box?
All you'd need is a stunning cover art and enrich it with a good printing job. The minimalist MDK is as beautiful as the 7th Guest's elaborate "fake book" box. "American McGee's Alice" is a prime example of getting everything right too.
They also contained lots of goodies. Which were your favourites; the ones which stuck long in the mind?
Being a fan of CRPGs (Computer role-playing games), a game that included a good quality cloth map or coins always made me smile; little artefacts that link the virtual world with your own. Richard Garriott did a wonderful job with his Ultima series.
You now have 691 boxed games and you've digitised them? What motivated you to do this and how long has it taken you? They're in 3D too — was this to recreate the feel of the box? Do you only digitise your own games or have people lent some to you?
Last things first, bigboxcollection.com only includes games that I physically own, so it's a 1:1 representation of the shelf behind me. I rarely sell boxes, but if I do, I also remove the virtual one as well. The reason for starting this project was two-fold: a) I myself needed a visual catalogue that can be checked anytime anywhere, b) a big part of collecting is sharing what you've collected. The site allows me to link my boxes via social media as well as allowing other interested folks to dig through the whole collection as well.
I started out with photographs of my boxes but I wasn't satisfied with the varying quality of my pictures and thus started scanning them. Turning those flat scans into 3D was indeed my approach to recreate the feeling of browsing a shelf full of boxes in contrast to how we're scrolling through our digital purchases on Steam, GOG.com or consoles these days. We've lost the tangible nature of playing computer games, haven't we? It's similar to putting on a vinyl record compared to just hitting that play button on Spotify.
What are the biggest threats facing big box collectors?
The big box collectors don't face any real threats except scam. The whole "market" has inflated the past couple of years and the trends of "grading everything" coming from the US doesn't do anybody a favour either. The prospect of getting rich quick by selling your old games found in the cellar isn't really true. It's true though that fraud becomes a real possibility the more people are buying into this idea of retro games being a lucrative market. All in all, this isn't limited to games but applies to everything being traded with nostalgia and/or (artificial) rareness to it.
To me, it's just a hobby that I don't spend too much money on, so I don't see any threat. I'm not on a quest archiving and preserving computer gaming history nor do I have the money needed to join this club.
How can you spot fakes? What would stop someone grabbing recreating a box to sell — I see some people do sell recreated boxes (if it's clear they're doing this, is that ok?)?
There have been a handful of scandals in the past and this year's case surrounding Enrico Ricciardi was a big eye-opener for sure. The rarer a game, the harder it is to spot a fake because you can't compare it with verified copies that easily. The best way is reaching out to other collectors; the Big Box PC Game Collectors-group is the right place to start.
I love how you pit boxes against each other. Do you retain data showing which of the boxes are most popular?
Sure, the collection can be ordered by "Fight Club Ranking". There's also a fights won/lost info for each game viewable via PC (sry, mobile user) when using this ordering.
Boxes came in different sizes, didn't they? Which tended to be most common?
Despite some YouTube videos trying to give an absolute answer, there isn't really one here.
In the past 40+ years, the packaging of computer games changed a lot. At first, every publisher did their own thing, some more stream-lined (e.g. early Infocom titles), some just following the bigger players' lead and others being more adventurous (e.g. Origin). The computer market itself changed a lot too (PC as in Personal Computer does of course not only mean MS-DOS/Windows but also dozens of sometimes region specific 8-bit home computer systems) and the game packaging had to be in line with the various media (cassettes, cartridges, floppy discs, CDs,...) used. To make things even more complicated, worldwide publishing wasn't a thing and therefore the same game had different packaging in different regions of the world.
My summary would be: the US had a lot of variations while a big part of the European market informally agreed upon several "standard" sizes for the various computer platforms.