Monday, November 21, 2011

Chrono Trigger on iOS: Choices in Typeface

So, Chrono Trigger is getting an iOS port. I saw one of the screenshots from it, this one:

And immediately realized that whomever's porting this game is making a really huge, awful decision about the typesetting and font choice. Full disclosure: I'm a graphic design student, and I know on the internet, people tend to get fed up with graphic designers constantly screaming about fonts and how terrible Comic Sans is, etc etc. A lot of the time it comes across as getting worked up over something meaningless. So what I'd like to do is offer some explanations as to why this is such a bad decision, and some alternatives.

The font being used here is (14-point, bold) Arial, which is a very widespread font, and has come packaged with every computer since what feels like the beginning of time. This in and of itself isn't a bad thing. Arial is a font that looks well in plenty of circumstances, and is formulated to be read easily on a screen: the curves are nice and full, very well-rounded, especially with the capital "C" and the "D." It's not a squished font, especially with the bold weight we have here. Considering how small iPod screens are, legibility is paramount. I think the designers here realize this, which is why they're using bold Arial in the first place.

But legibility isn't the problem here. The problem is way more glaring, actually: all the graphics are pixelated, but the text isn't! It looks totally out of place. It looks as if the text was just slapped down on top of a years-old, pre-existing game, which is exactly what's happened. There's no care put into it.

The second problem is a little harder to explain, but I'll try. This font has no character, at least in this setting. Chrono Trigger is a strong character- and plot-driven RPG that is one of the most critically acclaimed and well-loved games in existence. The font we have here doesn't live up to that. There's no pride, no drama, nothing to engage the eye. It's serviceable, and you can get used to it, but that's all, and if I were a designer working on Chrono Trigger of all games, I'd take a lot more pride in my work than that!

To demonstrate, I went on earlier and just took a look at a few pages of bitmap fonts. Within three or four minutes, I found several examples of pixelated fonts that would probably work way better than Arial does:

This was the first one I tried out. I was fond of how it reminded me of the font in the Super Nintendo version, but I'm not sure if I would go for it on an iPod screen. The x-height--the height of the lowercase letters, like "o," "e" and "n"--is a little too high, so it makes the text a little hard to process all at once. 

I like this one more instead. It's not quite as bold as 8bitoperator, but the smaller x-height makes the capital letters stand out more, and I'm really fond of how some of the pixelated "strokes" seem to taper off or get thinner at the ends (such as the top of the "G," the top and bottom of the "C," and the ends of the lowercase "s"). It gives this font a lot of character.

1 comment:

  1. Uuuugh so many things wrong with that screenshot.

    Thanks for the analysis, it was really enlightening for me since I don't know much about fonts. But I do know enough to say the iOS font looks UGH-LEY