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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 requiredwhich

  • 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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These are some of the world's most iconic typefaces.

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B2 US Vox arcade font ting grid atari

The 8-bit arcade font, deconstructed

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    nanako.kamiya posted on 2020/04/20
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