From old school arcade games to modern gaming
Arcade games are very simple and straightforward experiences, unlike modern gaming where there is now more information to convey; think of games with branching narratives such as Quantic Dreams’ Heavy Rain, or long, quest driven games such as Ubisoft’s Farcry series. These games hold added mechanics and complexities that arcade games do not have, being much shorter experiences.
– Pacman –
In arcade games, bitmap typography was used, where type is much more simplistic, due to both technical limitations, and the lack of need for advanced type; there is less information to convey, and therefore no need for a large amount of type. There is a lower screen resolution as well, therefore type could not be too small, lest it be unreadable.
Much of these bitmap fonts were designed on an 8×8 grid, which then pushed designers to create both attractive and readable fonts on a small canvas (Wong).
This is seen in Pacman, released by Namco, where only the score is all the information needed for players (Wong). The glyphs could be large because less space was needed for them. However, type was still possible to be attractive and accessible even with technical limitations, where colour was also an extra aspect of type available to developers/designers. Colour contrasts became another available avenue for increased typography integration into a game’s style. This pixelated style became a trademark of old style, retro gaming, harkening back to its low screen resolution roots, seen in games such as the Metroid series, or the Sonic and Mario franchises, all games that have developed its type. it has gone on to influence future developers, especially indie studios where resources (money, manpower) become limited, and pixel art provides as both an attractive and cheaper alternative to high fidelity graphics.
– Mortal Kombat –
Mortal Kombat is another arcade game that only uses type when necessary. It is mainly used to display character names and the score. The game does not rely on its typography which leads to the type being quite simple and just enough to be legible. Most of the space is used for images and visuals instead of focusing on the type. Even though the type was not the focus of the game, it has made Mortal Kombat iconic. At the end of the match, players can perform a fatality which then displays a font that can be associated with blood. Mortal Kombat is mainly known because of the fatality option players have. After Mortal Kombat 1, the game focused more on the fatality segment and throughout the years, the type has improved to enhance the gameplay.
– Pokemon –
The original Pokemon games were released on the Nintendo Game Boy with a screen dimension of 2.6inch x 1.9inch, and a screen resolution of 160 x 144 pixels. The medium in which we consume games has largely influenced the development of type used, prioritizing both attractiveness and usability.
On such a small screen, the original Pokemon games made sure the type was large and easily distinct. The lack of colour also stressed the importance of contrast, making it easier for the player to read layouts and text. As screen resolution improved onto the Nintendo DS, the UI shifted to being more compressed, as more elements, especially text became less pixelated. More information could be fitted on the screen, meaning more type could be fitted! The games also advanced with more mechanics such as a pocket watch system named the Poketch that mimicked a low resolution screen, where type contrasted that of its successor. This provided both an extra level of gameplay, as well as graphical and typographical contest to the player.
In later generations of Pokemon, (Gen VI) its typography transitioned to sans serif, becoming much smoother and more similar to other games of its generation. It still calls back to the simplified forms of the bitmap fonts. Pokemon shows a great transition from retro consoles to modern consoles through its long franchise history, originating from wide, large type, to higher resolution
The modern game industry holds even more potential for type; it is not a bigger priority as it contributes to a game’s genre, as well as enjoyability. Advancing technology allows for new ways for typography to be incorporated into games in creative ways; type becomes diagetic (505 Games’, Control’s navigation system, where much of the game can be navigated through in game signage, reflecting that of regular office buildings, even drawing architectural inspiration from that of brutalism), or even serves simply as an interesting stylistic experience for players (also 505 Games’ Alan Wake, where typography can make up in-game objects in the form of shadows based on player interaction).
– The Last of Us Part II –
The Last of Us Part II from Naughty Dog, is a third person action adventure taking place in a post-apocalyptic America. The game has been widely recognized for its plethora of accessibility options, which are only possible with the development of technology and type. Not only that, but the game holds more advanced mechanics that require more information to be conveyed.
Visual impairment is a large issue in gaming that is constantly prioritized and addressed, with many solutions available. With more advanced technology, type is now easily resized (OpenType allows for scalability), depending on the preference of a player (in this game, you are able to adjust the UI to suit your preferences). Older games would not be able to achieve this as once type decreases to a certain size, the type would become unreadable. Contrast in type is also important, as it allows an establishment of hierarchy in gaming elements, which allows players to see the most important information related to their gameplay. It also allows for higher accessibility as the type is easier to see.
Menus in the game are required to be readable as well fitting of the style of the game. There’s a greater variety of typography available to developers that they can now make use of more complex uses of type.
– Observation –
Another game that makes interesting use of typography is Observation, where both aesthetics and usability is of great priority. The game is an adventure-puzzle game developed by No Code.; you take the role of a space station’s onboard AI names Sam, who is in charge of assisting Dr. Emma Fisher, and navigate ship cameras and systems. The UI and typography of this game needed to be carefully considered in order to fit the style of the game. To give the player the experience of embodying an advanced AI system, its type is sans-serif and clean, reminiscent of no-nonsense interfaces focussed purely on accessibility, as electronic beings were rarely concerned with aesthetic notions.
The game does not provide instructions for how to complete tasks, so players must depend on the typography and UI layout to navigate the puzzles and interface. Using contrast provides both aesthetic and insight to the player; for example, if one piece of text is brighter than others, that indicates activation. Every aspect of the type must be considered, visual hierarchy and understanding of player instinct must be understood and taken into account, along with colour, size, and type structure/form. The player must make use of their intuition and rely on the careful design strategy developers use in order to navigate each interface.
– Overwatch –
Overwatch is an online team-based multiplayer first-shooter game created and developed by Blizzard Entertainment. The game is loved by many because of its bright use of colour and the in-game typography. The type brings the whole game together and makes the time playing Overwatch much more enjoyable.
Overwatch is one of the first games to have a segment called Play of the Game. During this segment, the game chooses the best player between both teams and shows a recap of that player’s best moment. It showcases the character but most importantly, in large text, the player’s username. Many video game players were excited to play Overwatch because of the Play of the Game segment which lead to the game taking off and becoming one of the best selling video games in 2016. Also during the game, it constantly informs players of the events that happen during the match. On the right side of the screen, it continuously displays when characters die, kill, or use their special abilities.
Another part of Overwatch that heavily relies on its typography is at the end of each game’s match. A player’s game will either display Victory or Defeat. These will display on the whole screen either in red or yellow and will have a bright animation along side it. This aspect enhances the gameplay and brings the whole game together.
It is in this way that typography has become an integral part of gaming, becoming essential to the experience as well. The menu design and typographical considerations contribute to and enhance the experience that players have.
With a greater amount of menus and information to convey, the use of type has become increasingly more important and takes a larger role in gaming.
As technology has developed, games have grown much more complex as a medium. With better technology, games can employ intricate mechanics, which comes with more information to convey.
In simplistic arcade gaming, typography could be simplified with bitmap fonts, with not a lot of text needed onscreen. In modern gaming, a more advanced, or rather, high resolution and thoughtful type was needed, to take into account accessibility, usability, as well as aesthetics. The rise of innovative technology allowed for typography to take a much more vital role in the gaming experience.
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“Last of Us II Screenshot.” Playstation, Playstation, www.playstation.com/en-ca/games/the-last-of-us-part-ii-ps4/accessibility/.
@lillydev_ (Lilly Devon). “The UI in this game does things to me #Observation #PS4share.” Twitter, 27 May. 2019, 1:55 p.m., twitter.com/reallyvirtual/status/64780730286358528?lang=en.
Moore, Ewan. “Play of the Game.” Blizzard Explain How Overwatch Picks Play of the Game Moments, 30 May 2016, www.unilad.co.uk/gaming/blizzard-explain-how-overwatch-picks-play-of-the-game-moments/.
“Mortal Kombat 1 Screenshot.” Pinterest, www.pinterest.ca/pin/546554104759794533/.
“Observation Screenshot.” Pinterest, www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/300685712623355885/.
“Overwatch – Victory Animation HD Screenshot.” Youtube, 6 Feb. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZfqRUgFSnU.
Scott. “A Pacman Screenshot.” Home Leisure Direct, 10 Aug. 2015, www.homeleisuredirect.com/blog/arcade-games/arcade-machines-pacman-35th-anniversary.html.
Wong, Henry. “How Did Arcade Games Impact Typography?” Design Week, Design Week, 23 Oct. 2019, www.designweek.co.uk/issues/21-27-october-2019/arcade-game-typography/.