Down to the Letter: The Importance of Typography in Video Games
May 12th, 2015
Typography can make or break the aesthetic of a game. As game designers, we use type to communicate with our players, not only in the words we use, but also in the way we present those words.
A player’s experience with a game can be directly affected by the way the typography is implemented. The wrong font choice can be jarring to a player, taking them out of the world that you have otherwise painstakingly created. Great typography, however, can tie loose ends together, put the player at ease, and reinforce the theme and aesthetic of the game.
Creating a great typographical experience can be relatively straightforward, as long as you’re conscious of some of the fundamentals of typographic style. As you select what fonts to use in your game, I would advise you to keep three key points in mind: readability, harmony, and purpose.
First and foremost, ensure that the fonts you select are easily legible, even on small screens. If the words are difficult for your player to read, they will ultimately struggle to understand what you’re trying to communicate.
Great typography does not mean having ornate lettering everywhere. Choosing a legible typeface often means that less is more; use “display” typefaces sparingly. Many people select overly ornate fonts in an attempt to emphasize a game’s aesthetic, but doing so can sacrifice impact for perceived style. Many people don’t realize that display fonts are designed to be used in small quantities; no more than a few words, often for titles or logos. When setting larger blocks of text, or small but important words like user interface elements, focus on classic and easy-to-read type styles like sans-serif, serif, or monospace.
Additionally, keep color and alignment in mind when setting your type. Ensure that there is enough contrast between the type and its background to allow the words to stand out, even for those with poor vision. Also, consider the way that your users read text, specifically for large blocks. Centered alignment of text is rarely, if ever, ideal for more than a few words at a time. In English, we read left-to-right, so aligning large blocks of text to the left makes it easiest for your player to progress from line to line without getting lost.
Consider your game’s overall theme. Is it soft or strong? Vibrant or dark? Use fonts that pair well with the game’s aesthetic. The art, narrative, and gameplay should all be considered when selecting appropriate typefaces for a game.
What kind of game are you creating? Take a moment to identify the emotions you’re trying to encourage through your narrative, gameplay, and art aesthetic. Fonts can do an excellent job in expressing feelings, so select the right one to portray the emotion and theme set by the game.
There are a few simple means by which the emotion of typefaces can vary. Serif type, for example, feels more formal and traditional than sans-serif type. Rounded or curvy type feels more playful than blocky or narrow type. Uppercase letters feel more powerful and purposeful than lowercase letters, which can feel soft and informal. Recognize and utilize these kinds of differences in order to strengthen the impact of the typography of your game.
As you select your game’s fonts, think about size, color, boldness, and style as each interacts with the other elements of the game. Utilize as few fonts as is reasonable; one to three typefaces should be sufficient for standard needs, each with its own consistent purpose. The use of too many different fonts can feel chaotic and poorly planned.
Avoid using engine-default fonts (commonly Arial, Times, or Courier), as the use of default typefaces often can imply that the game developer put little to no thought into the font selection. Also, avoid overused and easily recognizable fonts like Comic Sans or Papyrus; they feel distracting and amateur, and can undermine the desired aesthetic of the game.
Ultimately there aren’t hard rules, or “right” and “wrong” ways to display type. There are, however, ways that you can approach typography to make it work for your game rather than against it. It takes time and experience to garner a full understanding of what makes typography “feel” right, but I encourage you to put serious thought into your font choices as you design your game’s interface. I can assure you that your game will benefit from purposeful typography.