VGBlogger’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guides for Geeks & Gamers: Art Books

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Happy Monday after Thanksgiving, also known in the shopping world as Cyber Monday, the day when online stores go nuts on a barrage of sales to lure in customers that were wise enough to stay home and avoid the Black Friday retail rush, but still gullible enough to buy into the marketing hype. For a lot of folks, especially procrastinators, penny-pinchers and generally lazy bastards, this is day one of a holiday shopping season that will go all the way up to Christmas Eve. The next few weeks are going to be a crazy time, so let’s see if we can help make things a little less crazy by kicking off our annual series of gift guides for gamers, tech enthusiasts, and pretty much anyone with at least some strand of geek coded into their DNA.

First up, we take a look at some of the year’s top art books, which make great gifts for fans and collectors who appreciate art and like to dig behind the scenes to learn more about how their favorite games or movies went from conception to finished product.

Read our other gift guides for more shopping and wish list ideas at these links:

VGBlogger’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guides for Geeks & Gamers: Toys and Collectibles
VGBlogger’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guides for Geeks & Gamers: Comics and Novels
VGBlogger’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guides for Geeks & Gamers: Accessories, Stocking Stuffers & Other Last Minute Gift Ideas

The Art of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow — By Titan Books — Buy From: Amazon.com – Standard Edition or Limited Edition

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I don’t think Mercury Steam has gotten enough credit for the monumental task and responsibility the Spanish studio took on to completely reinvent the fading but still beloved Castlevania series with a core fanbase resistant to change (as many video game fanbases are for some reason). A book like this puts that undertaking into perspective and helps build a greater appreciation for the work that went into producing the Lords of Shadow trilogy, starting with a fascinating Introduction chapter which provides detailed insight into the whole process behind the early development process, from Mercury Steam’s original prototype pitch to the story on how Hideo Kojima became involved in the project. Oh yeah, and there’s plenty of artwork to check out highlighting the characters, bestiaries and environments of all three Lords of Shadow games, including the two main PC/console titles as well as 3DS title Mirror of Fate (which was later HD-ed for PC and consoles). Appropriately, given Mercury Steam’s character-driven storytelling approach, much of the book focuses on the character building of protagonist Gabriel Belmont (one of the rare instances Kojima intervened to suggest a more human and relatable design) and the rewritten lore surrounding the Belmont family, complemented by truly stunning full-page character portraits and action poses. It’s also cool to see how the environments, artistically, grew darker and darker throughout Gabriel’s journey to reflect his descent from light into pure darkness, and to read little behind-the-scenes stories such as how Sir Patrick Stewart was cast as the voice of Zobek. Another Sir with a distinctive voice was the first choice, but I won’t spoil the whole story. You’ll have to get the book to find out the rest. Fortunately, it’s totally worth owning, whether you’re a fan of the series or an admirer of gothic artwork and creatures of supernatural origin.

The Art of Alien: Isolation — By Titan Books — Buy From: Amazon.com – Standard Edition or Limited Edition

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Every bit as challenging as Mercury Steam’s efforts to reboot Castlevania, the team at The Creative Assembly had the unenviably task of not only succeeding where other developers have failed at making a good Alien game, but building directly off of the legacy of Ridley Scott’s original film without wrecking the lore or breaking visual continuity. Luckily, The Creative Assembly was granted access to something like three terabytes of original production assets from the movie, some of which was never used until now. And it shows, because anyone who has played the game can vouch for just how authentic the tone, atmosphere and overall production values are to the 1979 sci-fi horror classic. As the book outlines, the developers sort of deconstructed the movie and built the game are the same core themes, staying true to the Alien vision while simultaneously expanding upon it with a larger world and new characters and equipment. Obviously some creative license had to be taken to flesh things out beyond the scale and length restrictions of film, but in general it’s remarkable to see just how faithful everything from props to door designs, costumes to weapons are to the source material. Of course, the heart of the Alien experience is the Alien itself, an extraterrestrial creature that is every bit as terrifying rendered in 3D or drawn on paper in quick pencil illustrations as it is on the Hollywood big screen. There’s a whole chapter of about 30 pages dedicated to the iconic xenomorph, and I imagine many readers will skip ahead to check out that chapter first (I know I did). Another nice touch is the book’s landscape page format. Every other art book from Titan Books that I’ve read has been traditional portrait format, but not this one. I’d like to think this was done intentionally to mimic the widescreen landscape orientation of movies. Small details like that really make a difference.

The Art of Assassin’s Creed: Unity — By Titan Books — Buy From: Amazon.com – Standard Edition or Limited Edition

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While the game itself launched to a mixed reception, as a work of fine video game art I think we can all agree that Assassin’s Creed: Unity is absolutely gorgeous to look at, a true showpiece for the capabilities of the new console generation and modern PC gaming tech. All that open world 3D beauty was brought to life thanks to the four long years of artistic development chronicled in this hardcover art book by Titan Books. Although Assassin Arno Dorian is the protagonist–he does get a chapter of face time as well as all the glory of appearing on the cover–the real star of Unity is the open world city of 18th century Paris, as evidenced by the fact that 80% of the book is environment art. And what lovely artwork it is. From the chaos of the French Revolution to the decadence of the Belle Époque era, from the bleak Nazi oppression of World War II to the mysticism of Medieval time, the world itself tells an artistic and historically rich story that comes to life without the need for any character dialogue or elaborate cutscenes. Each piece does a wonderful job simultaneously conveying the elegance and luxury of Paris and the turbulence and destruction of the time period. Parisian vistas are marred by rioting crowds and burning torches and flags, and the majesty of iconic landmarks such as Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower are blemished by fire, heavy clouds of smoke and the machines of war. As always, the series’ blend of fiction with real characters and events from world history is truly breathtaking to behold. This one’s a no-brainer for Assassin’s Creed fans. And if you haven’t done so already, complete the set by getting Titan’s previous art books for Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

The Art of John Alvin — By Titan Books — Buy From: Amazon.com

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John Alvin probably isn’t a household name for most people, because he’s rarely been openly credited or able to autograph his pieces, but without knowing it you have undoubtedly seen or been touched by the work of this masterful artist if you have followed the movie industry anytime over the past 40 years. Now, in his death, it’s time to honor the man behind the lost art of hand drawn and painted poster/key art illustration. Written by his wife, Andrea Alvin, this book is a celebration of all things “Alvinesque,” showcasing around 30 of the movie posters John Alvin created during his illustrious and mostly anonymous career. Remember the iconic image of the alien and human boy fingers touching tip to tip for the movie E.T.? Yup, that was all John Alvin. (His daughter even served as the model for the human hand used in the image, one of many fun anecdotes to be discovered.) Blazing Saddles. Empire of the Sun. The Godfather Part III. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Blade Runner. The Goonies. Short Circuit. Spaceballs. Willow. Tim Burton’s Batman series. The Lion King. Aladdin. The Little Mermaid. Jurassic Park. John Alvin made the posters for them all, his uncanny ability to capture the spirit of each of these films in a single image on display over the course of 160 pages. Movie buffs are going to love this.

The Art of Jim Burns: Hyperluminal — By Titan Books — Buy From: Amazon.com – Standard Edition or Limited Edition

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John Alvin is a legend of the movie biz. In the world of science fiction, Jim Burns is the Grand Master, particularly in the field of cover artwork found on many popular sci-fi and fantasy books, from The Forever War to A Song of Ice and Fire. If you’ve read novels by authors like George R. R. Martin, Peter F. Hamilton, Ian Livingston, Robert Silverberg, Greg Bear, you already know his work quite well, even if you never realized it before. While he dabbles in fantasy on commission, Jim Burns’ passion is sci-fi. He is especially known for his style of mixing technology with biological life spiced up with erotic elements, his paintings often depicting stunningly photo-realistic portraits of sexy women of sci-fi inside of or next to futuristic vehicles, interacting with alien creatures, or exploring imaginary realms of space. Within this book’s 160 pages, you will find a selection of artwork that has famously appeared on some of your favorite novels, as well as numerous works from the artist’s personal collection that you’ve never seen before, accompanied by commentary by Burns himself describing his process for certain pieces. There are enough gorgeous paintings of extraterrestrials, spacecraft, outer space vistas and landscapes, robots, dryads, dragons, wyverns and, of course, space-babes to give any sci-fi nerd a geek orgasm. Just be careful not to get the pages all sticky.

Undressing the Art of Playing Dress Up — By Schiffer Publishing — Buy From: Amazon.com

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This book isn’t an art book in the traditional sense of pencil and paper sketches and digital illustrations detailing the creation of a specific form of media entertainment. This is a book about the art of the growing cosplay phenomenon, as well as the art of the human female anatomy. Okay yes, this is a pin-up book filled with more than 360 pictures of naked women playing out nerd fantasies as iconic heroines and villainesses of anime, comic, gaming and sci-fi/fantasy culture. In simpler terms, it’s Playboy for cosplayers. The lovely models of Cosplay Deviants portray characters like Zelda, Princess Peach, Faith from Mirror’s Edge, various leading ladies of Final Fantasy (Yuna, Aeris, etc.), of course Lara Croft of Tomb Raider fame, Leeloo from The Fifth Element, Velma from the Scooby-Doo crew, Wonder Woman, Catwoman, the list goes on. While NSFW all the way, the nudity is tastefully photographed and more celebratory of the natural beauty of “real” women, far away from the booth babe stereotype. This is a great gift idea for adult gamer geeks not afraid to be a bit naughty, lump of coal be damned.

Ys The Art Book — By Udon Entertainment — Buy From: Amazon.com

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More than 25 years of Nihon Falcom’s flagship role-playing series have been salvaged and stuffed into 280 pages overflowing with artwork from around a dozen games between and including the original classic up to the most recent installment, Memories of Celceta. The book is divided into chapters by game, with a timeline running across the top of every page allowing you to keep track of where you are in the series’ continuity. Each chapter contains a variety of pieces, including but not limited to character concepts and poses, cutscene storyboards and ending stills, cover/key art, and a wide range of art that appeared in or on instruction manuals, calendars, soundtracks, magazines, postcards and wallpapers, many things Western gamers have never been privy to given the series’ cult, niche status outside of Japan. As an Ys fan, it’s fun to flip through the pages and see how the art style has changed and yet remained similar in tone over the years, particularly as it relates to iconic red-haired hero Adol Christin’s evolution from sort of a cute, chibi-style character to the tall, fiery swordsman seen today. Just don’t expect any behind the scenes insight from the developers or practically any text at all; this is an art book in the purest sense. It would have been even better in hardcover format, but the heavy duty page stock and pristine print quality is as impressive as I have ever seen in a video game art book. You don’t even need to be a fan of Ys to be able to appreciate artwork of this high standard.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity Abstergo Entertainment Employee Handbook — By Insight Editions — Buy From: Amazon.com

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Similar in layout to previous Insight Editions books like the Assassin’s Creed IV Blackbeard: The Lost Journal and The Dark Knight Manual, this companion book to Assassin’s Creed: Unity features franchise artwork and lore presented in a way that immerses the reader deeper into the war between the Assassins and Templars by taking on the perspective of an agent working for Abstergo Industries. Reading through the book provides background details about the company’s origins and mission statement, as well as documentation about significant artifacts, characters, environments, and events. Chapters are tabbed like folders in a filing cabinet, and information is presented like a collection of case files, internal memos and letters, comments on sticky notes, and character dossiers. The case file’s main focus is on Arno Dorian and the French Revolution setting of Unity — letters Arno wrote to his deceased father and other interesting elements are sprinkled throughout the book — but the compiled research also offers insight into past characters and events, as well as hints for what’s to come in the future. Some of my favorite parts are the section charting the evolution of the hidden blade as used by each of the main Assassin protagonists, and a fold-out replica of the sealed letter Arno was supposed to deliver to François de la Serre warning of the impending betrayal. As both a bound art gallery and a lore builder, the Abstergo Entertainment Employee Handbook is something that every Assassin’s Creed fan needs to have on his or her bookshelf.

The Art of Titanfall — By Titan Books — Buy From: Amazon.com – Standard Edition

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Haters are quick to shrug Titanfall off as “Call of Duty with giant robots,” but a book like this goes a long way toward squashing such claims like a pesky grunt stomped on by an Ogre-class Titan. Yes, this game is another military multiplayer shooter, but at least from an artistic perspective it appears to be a whole lot more creative, inspired, and unexpected than you may have previously anticipated. Titanfall is not part of an existing universe or a sequel to a previous game or franchise. It is a completely new universe built from scratch by the resurrected ex-Infinity Ward developers at Respawn Entertainment. This is your first chance at a more detailed look at the creative process that went into birthing the world known as The Frontier, its diverse range of planetary systems, its architecture, its technology, its weaponry, and its inhabitants of all life forms. Flipping through the pages is like exploring an uncharted world for the first time; everything is fresh and exciting because it hasn’t been seen before. Read our full review here.

The Art of Watch Dogs — By Titan Books — Buy From: Amazon.com – Standard Edition or Limited Edition

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Titan once again comes through strong with a hardbound compilation of video game concepts and renders revealing the artistic vision and inspiration behind the Ubisoft production which has already sold over 4 million copies in a week. The book’s artwork is categorized into four main sections, beginning with the first chapter, Dramatis Personae, which introduces the key players in the Watch Dogs cast. Of course, that means you’ll get to see stylish poses of vigilante hero Aiden Pearce rocking his iconic mask and wing-tailed trench coat, and gain insight into how details such as the autumnal setting and inclement weather of the game’s environment influence character design and costuming. This game takes place in the Windy City, after all, so Aiden needed a coat that would look bad ass flapping in the wind. It probably won’t spark a video game fashion trend like Nathan Drake’s half-tuck, but it’s still pretty cool. The Art of Watch Dogs is one of the smallest of the Titan Books art books at only 144 pages, but thankfully Titan and Ubisoft don’t waste a shred of the limited page count, offering Watch Dogs fans a stylish gallery of concept art, sketches, 3D renders and screenshots that fully showcase the game’s edgy, high tech hacker theme. The running developer commentary only helps to enrich the experience of playing the game. Read our full review here.

The Art of Thief — By Titan Books — Buy From: Amazon.com – Standard Edition or Limited Edition

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Containing environmental portraits, pose and animation sketches, weapon and gadget concepts, architectural blueprints, costume material swatch boards, propaganda banners and posters, and even a full two-page map of The City, The Art of Thief is brimming with concept art and design commentary that is every bit as insightful as it is visually stimulating. The narrow color palette and depressing atmosphere may not hit the spot for everyone’s artistic sensibilities, but there definitely is a dark, gothic beauty to the Victorian architecture and medieval themes that Thief fans and art book collectors will appreciate. Read our full review here.

Other Art Books to Consider:

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Disclosure: Free copies of the books featured in this gift guide were provided to VGBlogger.com for review, except for Ys The Art Book, which was purchased by the writer.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!