Part 6 - Being in the drivers seat

Typography in Motion, Uncategorized -

Part 6 - Being in the drivers seat

The mode of story telling has for the most part remained the same for most of human history.

It has been a passive experience with the story teller doing all the work to a willing audience who consumes the themes, characters, and pathos and the only real input they have had is to either participate in the exchange or not. With the invention of computers, devices with untold potential in processing and memory, storing those stories became easier than ever before. We turned our attention then to another type of story telling then, interactive, where we say to the audience, you are in control of the events, the characters fate are in your hands. This is best personified in video games where complex stories can be told under the agency of a "player" who moves the story ahead. It changes the dynamic from passive to extremely active, we always felt like we were in the characters shoes in a well told story, but now we were actually telling his feet where to go. I though I'd examine a few of the better examples of story telling video games for how they use typography to support the communication of their titles.

Skyrim 2011, Bethesda Game Studios

What is most apparent already is the massive amount of typography present in presenting a video game at all. Their is menu type, loading screen support type and then the brief title itself, all serving very different functions. Already interactive entertainment is proving to be a more robust typographic landscape than I had previously assumed. Screenshot 2014-12-09 09.13.45 Beginning with the menu level typography it appears to be a heavily condensed geometric sans-serif. While it is likely to make use of smaller space later in the game during in game menu I actually think it is very effective in creating interesting negative space on this opening menu. The type creates a sense of pressure while the negative space creates a sense of vast space, this perfectly mirrors the main selling elements of the game, a high pressure story of a lone hero saving the world set against a vast open world where the player is free to explore and interact with nearly everything. Screenshot 2014-12-09 12.31.35 The main title typography is far more expressive than the utility menu type. It has a rough cut, chiseled profile that alludes to the nordic-runic setting of this game. It appears to be extremely well considered, especially in the R that has the interesting cut in its descending stroke that appears to be simulating the constraints of physically chiselling letterforms from stone. The wide tracking on the word also gives the word lots of presence and a very vast, large feeling. What I find most interesting is that the user can position the camera wherever they would like at this point putting the text in all sorts of interesting layout contexts, giving the player some agency in how things read and appear in the display. This back and forth communication between designer and user creates, in my opinion, a magical loop in process. The user takes raw tools given to them by a designer and creates a unique experience that works for them. This means designers become tool makers rather than tool users and that expands the thinking and process of what being a designer means into some very interesting territory.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves 2009, Naughty Dog

This opening was more challenging to examine for typography but I had to explore it for it's cinematic value. This opening scene is worthy of a summer blockbuster hit and has the added bonus of the player moving the protagonist through the scene itself, the fact that the scene is a train falling off a cliff is just a cherry on top of the action cake. Now what about the typography? It is sparse but how it is used is very effective in my opinion. Screenshot 2014-12-13 11.35.54 A quotation from Marco Polo fades slowly into screen, that action itself is very interesting because it does not fade into sight all at once it fades in line by line. This reveals a key element of typography, the way we read it. The first line "I did not tell half of what I saw" is our introduction, it is a withholding statement so already we are in the realm on intrigue and mystery. "for I knew I would not be believed...", the second line that we read heightens this sense of mystery immeasurably, the withheld information is now so much more tantalizing because it has the sense that it is unknowable. The third line, "Marco Polo" reveals the context, that one of the most famous explorers in history said this means that the mysteries involved have to truly worth knowing. And finally "on his deathbed, 1324" set in a far smaller point size gives this a sense of danger, by introducing the element that Marco held this information back even as he lay dying means that the information is now a little darker, a little scarier, tantalizing us the audience even more. The typeface used is an emulated letterpress style font, likely metal from the early, era of printing. The closest typeface usable today I would point to is "ITC Fell". This gives the whole presentation a gritty, tactile feeling, almost like chapter headings in a book, which supports the story-telling style of this game. By using this font the developers are saying, this is a story, you need to see the whole thing through and enjoy. This is enriched by having the player move through the scenes themselves but there are facts and plot devices hidden from the viewer, foreshadowed nicely by that opening quotation.   These two games show two very different styles of interactive story telling, one is open and robust the other narrow and finessed. The typography used supports these styles perfectly, for the open "build your own" story we are given a utilitarian, all purpose sans-serif and yet for the nuanced narrow "tell me a story" style we see a stylized serif with a lot of specific character. Again, the lesson here is typography is the voice you talk to your audience with, it can do a lot of the heavy lifting of communication for you. Choosing the right voice can make all the difference to effective communication. If you are trying to be soft and intimate, don't yell. If you are trying to get someones attention quickly, don't whisper. It's simple but hard to master.

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