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The Power of Fonts

October 19, 2009

Creating a video game is not a short process, and while some areas of the project can overshadow others (like, maybe, the programming), it’s important to remember that every part ends up contributing something. Even something so “simple” as choosing a font. What seems to be a good process for choosing a font for your game? Whatever looks cool? Whatever sticks out? If web design has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is ever that simple. Never.

Now where have I seen this font before?

Here’s a font everybody’s familiar with: Comic Sans MS. Now, This is a fun font. I like it, I use it. Well, here’s the thing: So does everybody else on the planet. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not starting a ban on Comic Sans, not by any means. Using it in a just-for-fun article, or on a personal website, or maybe a blog is great; it’s all about personal preference, and if you like Comic Sans, be my guest. But when creating a game, there are other things you need to think about.  A lot of people use fonts that they like, but they are missing a few things:

  • Some fonts are overused, and could represent any game, not just yours.
  • Some fonts may look cool, but don’t stay in theme with the mood or style of the game
  • Some fonts might be great up close, but when zoomed out become nearly illegible
  • Some fonts really suck.

Here’s an example:

A cool font that is begging to be misused.

A cool font that is begging to be misused.

This font is called abandon. Somebody might see this font and say “Woah! Cool!” and slap it into the game. What if the game was a falling-blocks puzzle game? Or a Mario game? It wouldn’t fit very well, now would it? Resist the urge to use bizzare but cool fonts when they don’t add meaning to the game in any way.

I scoured the internet, and found a couple examples of fonts you never want to use:

Damn right it's a mess!

Damn right it's a mess!

what does that even SAY??

what does that even SAY??

Trust me on this one: Stay away from weird but unique fonts. It can be tempting to use a font that is “uniquely for your game”, but I can bet that using any of these would get annoying very quickly. Like, five seconds quickly.

Take a look at this:

Would you recognize this if it wasn't Braid? I'm betting on "Yes".

Here’s the best example I can think of regarding fonts used well. This is the logo for Braid, an independent puzzle-platformer game created by Johnathan Blow. This font, Karmina, isn’t overly flashy. It isn’t spiked, or melting, or twisted, or jagged or anything else like that. Yet somehow, it’s unique, fits the style of the game, and is instantly recognizable as the “Braid” font. If you saw this font somewhere else, I’m willing to bet Braid would come to mind (assuming you’ve played the game). Simple. Unique. Creative. Fitting. Awesome.

Here are a couple of fonts I found that I think illustrate my point:

classy!

classy!

This is a really nice font, I’d say. Simple, but stands out from the crowd just enough to be noticed. Used in the right context, this font could be very powerful.

This is a pretty nice font, when used correctly

This is a pretty nice font, when used correctly

This one is called Chelsea. It’s a little bit of an extreme example, but in the right game, this font could say a lot. It might not be as legible in, say, 12 pt, but I haven’t tried. Could be interesting if used for a game’s title. It depends entirely on the mood you’r trying to convey, and  the style/genre of the game. Choose wisely…

So, choosing a good font isn’t as easy as picking one that looks cool. It takes a lot of careful consideration: Does it convey the purpose? Is it meaningful? Does it leave the right impression? These are question for the developer/designer to consider carefully. Even a non-developer can get some use out of this information! Of course, there is no formula to deciding if a font fits. Use your outstanding powers of discrimination to decide what’s best. And for gods sake, don’t use Papyrus.

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