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Page last updated at 13:41 GMT, Monday, 11 January 2010
New life for retro gaming artwork
Bob designed for artwork for many of Ocean's games

For big kids of a certain age the computer game cover designs by Liverpool's Bob Wakelin evoke childhood memories of hours spent in front of a computer screen.

Bob created around 100 cover illustrations for north west based Ocean Software.

Between the early 1980s and 1993, when games were made of a few pixels, his designs sparked the imagination.

Now the work has a new lease of life as fans snap up prints of the covers.

Wakelin's involvement in the designs came about almost by accident when he started working with another artist for Ocean Software's co-founder Dave Ward, putting together cover designs for home computer games.

Ocean made games for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amiga and others.

In the early 1980s with the processing power of computers way below what it is now the majority of games were simplistic and pixelised.

Using screenshots for covers wasn't really an option in promoting games, so Bob was brought in to design artwork that would stand out on shop shelves.

"They were pretty straightforward in those days," he recalls.

"I tended to get a description of what the game was about in the early days, because you couldn't really get anything from looking at the pixels at that point, we're talking maybe 1983.

"It was like, 'A miner trying to find objects in a mine', so what was I going to do? A miner!"

"It gave you the opportunity to flesh the characters out, and I think what worked best in those days was it gave kids, or whoever was playing the game, something to imagine.

"It fleshed out their imagination as well as allowing me to imagine what these things might look like.

Bob Wakelin
Bob Wakelin had to save his work from being thrown out

"I've always been a big kid really, I've always known what kids like, the kind of things that fire their imagination, or I did in those days anyway.

"So really all I was doing was taking that knowledge and understanding and putting it down on a piece of board.

"I think I was successful because I did understand what kids wanted to see.

"I wasn't aware of it at the time, it just came naturally to me and its only in the last ten years or so when those kids have got back to me on how I tapped in to their imagination."

Despite his work promoting computer games Bob was never a big fan of them himself, "I only really enjoyed playing in the pub", he says.

"It always seemed like a pretty insular activity to me.

"It didn't appeal to me at all, I preferred social things."

Adults who were once the children who bought Ocean's games now want prints of Bob's artwork for their homes.

As part of FACT's Space Invaders exhibition Bob Wakelin will be taking part in a meet and greet on 13 January.

Bob thinks this renewed popularity of the covers is down to their evocation of a time in people's lives, "It's almost like a song, whatever you were doing it brings that back to you, so it brings part of your youth back to you when you hear that song.

"I think those covers and those images do that.

"It's difficult to separate it out from where your head was at at that particular time in your life.

"People buy prints of those covers and absolutely love them.

"I'm not sure if you can actually judge them now as pieces of commercial art or whether you're looking at it in terms of 'Wow, what that meant to me at the time'

"And I think that can be negative because some of the games are absolutely awful, and people bought them because they had a great cover.

"A couple of times the guys at Ocean said to me 'Look Bob, this game really isn't very good so we need an extra special cover.'

"I suppose I should feel guilty for it."

Operation Wolf
The artwork is popular with people who grew up playing the games

As computer power and graphics improved Bob began to get more of an idea of what the game would look like, "A lot of the time I just saw screenshots and got a brief on what the game was about, and occasionally would see a demo

"I would go over to Manchester to look at the demo game being played.

"But I never actually played them, I didn't have the time.

"I'd drive over there, somebody would play it, show me what the different characters do and then I'd have lunch and go home."

"It gave me an opportunity to do exactly what I wanted to do"

Much of Bob's artwork only still survives because he rescued it from being thrown out in the 1990s, "It was in a warehouse and Ocean were moving, I think.

"So they had a warehouse they were going to empty and the Art Director at the time phoned me and said, "Bob, your artworks going in the skip'.

"I had a mate with a small van so we immediately drove over and I rescued most of it, probably about 90% of the work I've done."

Looking back now Bob says he has differing views of the work, "My attitude to it varies.

"I think there are a few pieces of work that I did that I'm really still quite proud of when I look at them now, although there are always bits I'm not happy with.

"And there's a lot of the stuff I think, "Well that's just throwaway rubbish, and sometimes that is the stuff that is most popular."

Bob Wakelin is at FACT on Wednesday, 13 January, 2009 at 6pm. Entry is free.

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