Of Lazyness, Greed, and Image Searching...
by -Tx
March 2000
slightly edited by fravia+
Well, what should I say? This is quite interesting, I loved this essay, and I'm sure you'll like it as well. Enjoy!
Of Lazyness, Greed, and Image Searching...

These would all sound like bad attributes, right? Not necessarely. Depends on the angle, "the cut" you use to look at a given situation!


I am a self-titled gamer. I own or owned various consoles and collected too many games to count now. I discovered a while back a nice ressource when it comes to games: GameFAQs (www.gamefaqs.com - mind the last S or you'll end up looking at p0rn.). As the name indicates, the site is dedicated to collect FAQs about each and every game they can. Most material is submitted by users and you can find general info, faqs, walkthrus, hints, codes, cheats... for pretty much any game you can think of. Really nicely done, quick, fun. Ok, my plug is ended. :)

At the end of February the owner of the site lauched a contest. (try www.gamefaqs.com/features/contest/contest_0300.html, if the page doesn't disappear after the contest ends) He assembled an image representing the CD booklet cover of a Playstation game made from 25 different images he took from different games. You can see it here:

Original contest picture; 66k

The Contest

The premise is simple. Identify the 25 games and maybe win something. Hence the greed in the title :) I can always use extra money to shop for toys... But I digress. Other information included on the contest page:

- All 25 covers are from the North American release of the games.
- Each picture block is unique to that particular game.
- Each picture block is in the approximate location of its position on the original cover.
- There is a method to the madness. Once you figure out what it is, it should help a lot.

The first one is important. Given a game title you can often have a Japanese version, a US version, and a European version. These are very different markets on many levels.

The Markets

The level of interest here is creating an appealing (or appaling, you decide) image to boost sales specifically in your target population. First because the playstation is "region-coded" (like DVDs) differently in the three zones. A machine from one zone will only play games from the same zone. So you can't (in theory) play japanese imports on a US system. But there's always the modchip. Then the next marketing concern is the image itself. The covers on the same game in different zones will be extremely different. Marketing firms have been working on their techniques for years and they have long learned that what works in Japan won't necesseraly work elsewhere. Here are some guidelines on cover art and attributes:

Japanese games. Easiest giveaway: Japanese writing. Hiragana, Katakana, Kanjis, they're usually in plain view. But sometimes you will have lots of english too. It can be 'cool' or 'trendy' to have english in a game in Japan. Then there's the whole 'cuteness factor', something that is rather unknown in other markets. Cover art looking cartoonish, childish, simplistic to US and EU fans can be a big hit in Japan. If you have a chance, look at the cover of a game called Vib-Ribbon. (you should learn how to hunt for covers after reading this.) Most Japanese CD will also have a 'spine' - a little piece of carton over the left side. NTSC is the video standard in Japan.

US games. Make a list of all the cliches you know about the US. Most of them will apply to cover art; we're in pure marketing territory now. Big titles. Flashy graphics. Name dropping if there's even a hint of a celebrity involved in making the game. Trying to use a previous game (related directly to the game, or even just from the same company..) to boost sales. Something unique to US games: most will have an ESRB rating. (See A5 in the contest. More about the ratings later.) "Playstation" will be written verticaly on the left side. The video standard is NTSC, just like Japan.

European games. "Playstation" is most often written horizontaly at the bottom of the cover. Will sometimes have text in many languages, often including flags to indicate the country. This will happen mostly on the back cover. Easiest way to spot them: PAL will be written somewhere, being the video standard in Europe.

They could easily have created one machine that worked in all three regions the same, even handling both NTSC and PAL standards (in fact you can find ways to modify the machine to do exactly this.). But again, money is speaking.

Back to the contest. Here we're hunting for US covers, as indicated by the instructions and confirmed in the target picture in A1: "NTSC U/C". NTSC indicates Japan or US, U/C indicates the US (maybe it stands for US/Canada ?).

The Hunt

I'm lazy. As mentionned at the beginning, lazyness is good. It will make me want to find ways to find what I'm looking for using the (hopefully) quickest way. The quickest way to find information, of course, is to already know it. I knew a good quantity of answers from the beginning:

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage Dino Crisis Um Jammer Lammy
N20: Nitrous Oxide
Wipeout 3 Hot Shots Golf Intelligent Qube Q*Bert
Point Blank 2
Legend Of Legaia Bust A Move 4

It was interesting to analyze where the recognition came from. Some of the games are in my library, some (like Q*Bert) are classic and known icons, but for many of them, it was the mere exposure to the marketing efforts!! I own the japanese version of Dino Crisis, but I knew the red hair in B1 from somewhere... most probably from online ads, previews and reviews (I visit psx.ign.com daily). The same for C5. I don't have this one, but the game has been around for so long... so I've seen the cover both online and offline.. rental stores are the perfect place to burn something on your retina while you repetitively scan the boxes hoping to find something interesting. The more the cover art stands out, the easiest it is to memorize. This is a basic marketing truth. Apparently it worked fine on me.

The Hint

So I started with 11 games out of 25. Not bad. After I compiled my first list I looked again at the instructions page. "There is method to this madness". Several other details stood out: "igana" (again) "tscnteo" (contest) "lpimes" (simple) "oG fro ti!" (Go for it!) and in the title: "yltaoSantPi" (PlayStation). Someone is obviously trying to mention something about scrambling letters.. but hey, this is a game site, not a crypto site. Shouldn't be that hard. Scrambled letters.. 25 entries.. Alphabet letters ? Looking at the 11 titles I had so far, I noticed the first letters didn't repeat. So I guessed that meant each title would beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. That would of course leave one out, but still, it's a big hint to make the search quicker !

The Depots

For those who didn't know, playstation games are frequently copied (gasp!). They use normal CDs (the Dreamcast uses GDRoms, about 1G on the same physical support. Since they are no burners for these, they are pretty much safe from copies) and protections are easily done away with by means of the modchip. You go rent the latest game, bring it back home, make a copy. You are now the happy owner of a CDR with your handwriting on it. Not very pretty on a bookshelf. So most copiers are also interested in getting the original cover to include with their copies. Many sites are devoted to collections of psx (amongst others) covers. For the contest I mainly used:

The last one includes a search engine and links to other cover depots. The first two are indexed. The ads aren't too bad and you don't get _any_ popups, which is excellent. Of course if you don't find what you need simply look for +psx +covers in any search engine and you should get other such sites. These came from the first result page in altavista. We now have ample resources to use as reference. Time to start the actual work.

Matching - Looking for Clues

We now have a group of fragments, and an image bank to compare them to. Without any thought, you could go away and try to 'brute force' the search: looking at all the covers you can find online and test them against the fragments. With some luck, maybe you'll be finished by the contest's deadline. If you quit your day job. So we need to identify unique characteristics in each fragment we're looking for. Some immediately come to our attention:

Words. Text is easy to deal with. At least more than pixels. We have text in many fragments: D1, D2, B4, C4, A5, B5, D5, E5. Two of them were found already: Um Jammer Lammy and Bust A Move 4. Um Jammer Lammy is a quite unique name and has been publicized widely, even on bus stops. "Fun (tm)" and "SUME" are part of gaming lore: "Serious Fun(tm)" is owned by NATSUME, a japanese game company. This pastel green is Bob (or is it Bub?) of Bubble Bobble fame :) It would have been possible to lookup a list of playstation games from Natsume and then look for their covers.

Let's look at the others. D2 contains "EVOLUT". A list of game titles "evolution" and then "revolution" can be looked up (see link #3) easily and compared against our cover database. This is ECW Hardcore Revolution. A wrestling game. No wonder I didn't know. :) B4 contains "muska" and "reynolds". A search turned up mainly sites related to skateboarding. We get a list of games containing "skate" in their title and verify. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. C4 must be eliminated from the words search; this is too general. "super-fast" "slash ac(tion)" are both marketing mumbo-jumbo. This won't show up in most game data sheet and understandably so - who wants to spare bytes on keeping ads ? A5 and B5 will be treated separatly, it's obviously not part of a title. This leaves us wih D5. "OO". Mr Magoo ? or is that "00" ? Just like PC software, many game producers like to name their products with a year. I guessed this was a 00 and probably part of "2000". Again, we get a list of games not only containing, but _ending_ (when you can anchor search terms with certainty, do so!) in 2000. The winner is Knockout Kings 2000.

Recognizable People. We have two human faces here. C1 and B2. C1 is well known to football fans, or to gamers who have been around for a while. This is John Madden. He's been on (too?) many football games ever since the first SEGA consoles. (The SEGA Genesis had so many sports titles..!) Since 'Madden' is a more precise search terms than 'football' (ie - it's a good bet all 'Madden' games will be about football, but not that every football game will be related to Madden), we get a list and check the results. We identify the face as being the one on Madden NFL 2000. B2 was identified immediately by a friend. This is the actress playing Xena Warrior Princess, and the game is titled the same. (To quote my friend: "Oooh, that's the girl with the sword!")

We also have cartoon faces. B1, B3, D3, E4, C5. Again, marketing ploys want to program us to recognize them and thus be attracted to known faces over unknown characters. B3 isn't really a 'mascott' but the club and hat were enough to hint about a golf game. These are not legion.

Reconizable objects. I'm talking about E2 and D4. A dinosaur or reptile, and a dirt bike. Think _marketing_. Your concept must be carried across to the title _and_ the cover art. A dinosaur.. Name a big franchise (remember it's a US game: big flashy titles, cross marketing of products..) involving dinosaurs ? Jurassic Park. Look them up. Bingo: Jurassic Park Warpath. The other one, what words do we pick ? "moto" "cross" "bike" are all good. We get Championship Motocross featuring Ricky Carmichael.

So far we have the following grid filled in:

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage Dino Crisis Madden NFL 2000 Um Jammer Lammy
Xena Warrior Princess N20: Nitrous Oxide ECW Hardcore Revolution Jurassic Park Warpath
Wipeout 3 Hot Shots Golf Intelligent Qube Q*Bert
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater Championship Motocross feat. R. Carmichael Point Blank 2
Legend Of Legaia Knockout Kings 2000 Bust A Move 4

So far so good, we're only missing 8 out of the 25. Notice also that we still have no repetition in first letters, which seem to say my theory about the alphabet hint was right. With 68% of the grid working that way, it sounds good enough to actually use.

A Smaller Pool

If we looked at the letters not used so far, we get AFGORVYZ. This can be used on every cross reference we do between a title list and our cover database to get a subset of possible results.

Letter Frequency. In this set something should be obvious: Y probably isn't really common to start a title. I scanned covers for "Y" games and found A2 was You Don't Know Jack. Some will call this a bit lucky, but with some thinking and method any odds can be upped in your favor. There are only a handful of "Z" titles so there are quickly ruled out (remember we had 25 fragments and 26 letters?). It's good to be logical and lazy. We now know which letter isn't used. We have7 fragments and 7 letters. After a quick browsing of our databases I applied the same thinking to the letter V. C4 is a game called "Vs." Talk about a generic sounding game. Generic advertising blurbs, meaningless title and characters, standard fence links in the background. I'll keep away.

The Oddballs

If someone stands out in a crowd, it's easy to pick on him in perticular. We have two oddballs here: A5 and B5. B5 is a standard warning label found mostly on Audio CDs to warn parents of the evils found inside the package. Useless if you ask me. In the background it looks like buildings. A City ? Who knows. Look for pages including all terms: playstation explicit contents. From memory I couldn't remember ever seeing this label on a game. If japanese games were sold here maybe they would be more commons. But Hentai CDs are very rare here, at least to my knowledge. Turns out the game is Grand Theft Auto. Maybe the label is there because the game is named after a felony in the US...

The second one is an age-related rating. It says this has been evaluated as ok for all ages, kids to adults. It mentions this was rated by the ESRB. Well well. A little search tells us this is the Entertainment Software Rating Board, and they have a site at www.esrb.org. They are nice enough to give us a search engine to their ratings. With it parents can look for games suitable for their kids. Head for the power search and ask for all playstation games with a KA rating. The list isn't that long, but still we like to conserve bandwidth and check if we can save us some loading time. We are lucky enough to have a list of letters to look for....

This ESRB logo will be the same on all games. So it is not enough to give us a unique match. What else is on the fragment? "SLUS-000467" and some other little logo to the right. If you search for SLUS pages related to playstation titles, you'll learn this is a product code. SL means it's a 3rd party developer (not Sony) and US the zone (SC: Sony Computer SL: Sony Licensee). 000467 is a number given to a perticular game. Good, good. I ran in the problem where some cover scans were too bad to read those tiny numbers. Some sites like GameFAQs actually have some part numbers included in the data sheets of the games. But it's in no way complete, and the search function there doesn't include part numbers. We could always apply classic methods: have an external search engine index the site and then consult the results, or teleport the whole thing home and grep it locally. But here it's just not worth it.

What else in the fragment... Something round with a red 1 under it. I though it would be a publishing company logo at first. Many covers have them. But looking elsewhere I found it again. The round thing is the depiction of a CD and the caption is "1 disc". I found similar information on the Final Fantasy series. They seemed to be put there by company following more closely 'standards' used on covers. Standard info placement goes against the individualist, flashy approach. Japanese love standards. A japanese game? We're looking for a US game.. Must be a japanese translation for the US market. (many games fall in this category) Browsing the "KA" list in the remaining letters choices and looking for the 1 Disc logo I quickly found Ogre Battle Limited Edition.

More of that "Luck" Thing

E1 and E3 were given to me by a friend. Final Fantasy 8 and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. He has both games and recognized them. In retrospective I thought the red in E3 was a S. I could have looked for titles ending in S (remember: anchor!) and starting with A F or R.

This leaves us with (IMHO) the two toughest identifications. Both E1 and A4 contain very little visual information. But we're in luck. So far the alphabet theory held its grounds, and E1 is solved by a nice email. We have to scan "A" games for NTSC titles... It's still a bit brute-force, but it's a lot better than doing the whole grid this way! The culprit is Animaniacs Ten Pin Alley. Maybe someone with a better eye than mine could have discerned the curves in the patterns and find it a bit quicker, who knows.

All Filled In

This is what we get in the end:

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage Dino Crisis Madden NFL 2000 Um Jammer Lammy Final Fantasy 8
You Don't Know Jack Xena Warrior Princess N20: Nitrous Oxide ECW Hardcore Revolution Jurassic Park Warpath
Wipeout 3 Hot Shots Golf Intelligent Qube Q*Bert Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
Animaniacs Ten Pin Alley Tony Hawk's Pro Skater Vs. Championship Motocross feat. R. Carmichael Point Blank 2
Ogre Battle Limited Edition Grand Theft Auto Legend Of Legaia Knockout Kings 2000 Bust A Move 4


I have all the titles I needed for the contest. But if that had been all I accomplished, that would have been pretty sad. There are a number of things which could be applied to other image searches or general searching methods.

Define your information domain. It has to be not too wide and not too narrow. We're interested in finding the 25 covers of this contest. That is too narrow to search. We don't simply want to look for CD covers; that's too wide. Looking for playstation covers released in the US gives us the right targets to look at. By defining clearly what kind of results you're looking for you will be able to determine more quickly if a possible match is indeed a possibility or if it can be rejected immediately.

Look for depots. The most efficient ones are information depots driven by a hobby or passion. These will usually be maintained by people who know their stuff and know also what's important to record or not. You need to gauge its scope too; there's only so much a site can give in efficiency given its ressources. If there was only one person maintaining Webster's dictionary I bet it would be a lot smaller. You probably experienced this online, looking for something. You get all kind of results and load an amateur-looking page advertising it has everything related to any topics you could 'wish' for. You'll be looking at an empty site with p0rn ads, of course. If you want another nice game-related depot, look at mobygames.com.

Restrict your criterias. When you can, use specific targets. Madden is more precise than football. Ends in 00 is more precise than contains 00. Every little bit will save you time. But you must not overdo it; using a wrong criteria following a false assumption will get you nowhere. (example: The red hair in B1. If you think it must be a Barbie's hair, you'll find nothing.)

Use Cross-References. Relying on only one source of information is taking risks. Mind you, if you're the victim of a propaganda machine maybe the same information will be everywhere. But anyways. If not, to confirm a piece of information, cross-references will be good to eliminate possible results. That's exactly what I did when I considered my first-letter list and the list of KA rated games from the ESRB.

Indexes Are Text. You can't look for "something with a blue spot in the middle" and even less upload a jpg to a search engine and ask for similar images elsewhere (althought that WOULD be nice! :)). Most people will use word to describe an image in some way to catalog and reference it. You can either have descriptive name or functional names. Descriptive would be pic_of_my_Cat.jpg while functional would be pic_to_put_on_milk_carton.jpg. Learn to recognize description and functions and use the right terms in your search. Words related to images is a whole other chapter... Learn to recognize themes and words that describe them in both general and topic-specific terminology.

Convert. To buddhism ? Nah. Convert graphical information to textual information and concepts. Think. Analyze. Make relations. For an example still about covers: I have FIFA 99. Then there's that guy on it. Graphically there's a guy wearing a shirt. Convert that to information. It's a soccer (I use american terms ;)) game. This is not a referee, you can tell by the colors of the uniform. What else does that tell you ? A set of colors usually is related to a team. So I could lookup soccer information depots and find a match on a team name. Then they surely wouldn't use a nobody on a cover? Find the stars on the team. Find pics. Compare. Voila! Instead of a guy there you have knowledge about who the heck that is. I still don't know anything about soccer. But the search was a lot more interesting than calling up the marketing dept of the game producers and ask who's on their cover ;)

Learn Marketing Patterns. As mentionned before, you would get no results hunting for a generic advertising blurb. Learn to reverse images to get to the goal of the people who designed the picture. That's why I concluded Vs. must be a pretty boring game.

Find What's Unique. Are you looking simply at a scenic view or is there a sign post indicating a location name? Any type of information that could be perticular to your desired target can help eliminate duds.

Parting Words

Still reading? Damn. This thing is quite long now. Anyways, that's it for my first essay. Long time lurker, but a first at submitting. ;) And it was lots of fun! Comments corrections and critics are welcome. Drop me a line at tx(at)altern(dot)org.

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