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These are some of the world's most iconic typefaces.
You've probably seen them on classic ads, newspapers, posters, even memes.
These typefaces were carefully crafted.
Every curve considered.
The legibility of their design paramount.
Oh, wait, I forgot one.
It's a little different than the others.
This one was likely designed on graph paper, converted into binary code then scanned sixty
times a second onto a cathode ray screen.
You probably recognize it when it says this:
This font had a big responsibility.
It needed to balance legibility and creativity, too, but it had to do it while taking up as
little computer memory as possible.
If I'm going to write a book, I want to know everything.
That's type designer Toshi Omagari, and that's the font for the arcade game Time
Pilot 84, one of many arcade fonts he catalogued, analyzed, and reviewed for his book: Arcade
Game Typography.
It took months and months of me checking a hundred games per night.
There were so many arcade games.
The book contains around 240 fonts,
and most of them were designed within this 8x8 grid.
Why this 8x8 grid?
Let's rewind to the golden age of arcade games.
Well they come, as if from outer space, in a variety of weird guises.
Defender, Pac-Man, Astroids...
It was space invaders, now all forms of video arcade games are storming the market.
Hundreds of circuits and computer chips, a city of electronic gadgetry and technology.
Here's the manual for Sprint 2, an 8-bit racing game released in 1976, right as arcade
games were taking over.
It explains a lot about why early video games looked the way they did.
The TV monitor display is divided into a 32 by 28 tile grid.
Each tile represents one byte of data. That's 8 bits.
If you zoom in more, you'll see the 8-bit tile is divided into its own 8x8 grid where
each cell can be turned on and off.
The more cells that are turned on, the more computer processing power required — which
was super limited back then.
The arcade game scanned this information line by line all the way down the screen with an
electron beam before it restarted the next frame.
This is what it looks like slowed down.
By today's standards, these tiles would be a tight constraint, but developers managed
to make race cars, aliens, spaceships, and robots.
These games looked the way they did because they were exercises in efficiency.
And nothing illustrates that precarious balance of conserving computer memory more than the
letters and numbers that guided players through the game.
Sprint 2's set of characters are sort of like the arcade font's earliest fossils,
and they can be traced back to another game from 1976.
It all started with a typeface from Atari, which first showed up in Quiz Show.
Being a quiz game, I think it needed all the alphabet letters.
These characters, like most arcade fonts, are monospaced.
As the name suggests, every letter fits within the same width.
And because every tile on the screen is locked together, that 8x8 grid also has to account
for the gap between characters.
The Quiz Show character set stands out, first and foremost, because of its proportions.
It had two pixels of vertical thickness and one pixel of horizontal thickness.
With those rules I would draw an 8 like this.
But the designers of this font also attempted to follow the calligraphic tradition of typography.
So if you hold a flat pen and write an 8 this way, there will be a thick stress in this
position.
This is the Quiz Show “8”
That stress is also how they differentiated the zero from the "O".
So there was a bit of a character in the design.
The Quiz Show font was designed in the US and variations of it showed up in a lot of
Atari games, but it didn't truly travel the globe until it jumped over to game developers
in Japan - who often weren't familiar with the Latin alphabet.
When they started making their own games, they just used the Atari Quiz Show font.
Those Japanese developers still couldn't resist putting their own spin on it, by adding
and subtracting a few pixels here and there.
You might recognize this modified W and Y from the hit game Galaxian.
The typeface variations also had their weird quirks, especially when lower case letters
entered the picture.
The biggest challenge was figuring out exactly what lowercase letters were supposed to look like.
Case in point - the lowercase characters for the Japanese-made game Roc 'N Rope.
Toshi found them saved within the code of the game, but they weren't actually used.
Probably for the best.
The a, c, and e are giant compared to the b and d.
Some of the letters are in cursive.
I think this is what they were told in Japan.
They didn't have as many points of reference when it came to lowercase design.
Would you say that it's harder to make lower case letters than upper case letters within
this system?
Yes, lowercase needs more space because of the parts called ascenders and descenders.
So you also see lowercase g kind of being pushed up quite a bit.
I think overall quality is probably best in Marble Madness.
That was released by Atari in 1984.
Marble madness has an R that's more rounded at the top.
Because it was also done by Atari,
it makes me wonder if the original R, this extra corner, was a mistake or not.
With incremental advancements in technology and a lot of ingenuity, arcade game designers
fit more and more detail into this little 8x8 grid.
They added more colors, outlines, and shadows.
The fonts got bolder and more adventurous.
There were some completely illegible designs too.
Sometimes there's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.
If you put a pixel it looks terrible, but if you don't, it looks worse.
Do you have a favorite that you call back to?
So, my go to favorite is Sky Fox.
It's based on the Copperplate script genre.
Sky fox has one of the most beautiful script faces.
Its use of grey is amazing.
By using grey It's trying to express the thickness of one pixel.
This shouldn't be possible, the entire set of letters.
The most fun part for me is the gap between the game content and the typeface.
Basically a spaceship takes aim at women in bikinis that are riding mythical creatures?
One of the most beautiful typeface, shows up in quite unacceptable games now a days.
By the end of the arcade's reign these pixelated typefaces came in all shapes and sizes.
But this one stood the test of time, showing up in hundreds of games including pac-man,
Donkey Kong, and Legends of Zelda.
Being confined to this small grid started as a technical challenge, but quickly became
an impressive exercise in creativity.
It's why this font deserves to be ranked among some of the greats.
You can do anything.
It's a very small grid, but the possibilities are endless.
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載入中…

The 8-bit arcade font, deconstructed

15 分類 收藏
nanako.kamiya 發佈於 2020 年 4 月 20 日
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