Since there wasn't much memory in old consoles, video game fonts are very efficient when it comes to storage space.
Phrases and words used in classic video games inspire modern-day lingo.
There are many ways to implement the video game font into creative personal projects.
If you’ve ever played classic arcade games such as Pac-Man, Space Invaders, or Donkey Kong, you’re probably familiar with the feel of the joystick, the sound of the music, and the look of the game. Adorable little 8-bit characters shuffle horizontally through a limited map as the words “GAME OVER” flash in the center of the screen in that classic video game font.
But what makes these pixelated letters so recognizable? And how do you implement these retro fonts in your own work? Here is the complete history of video game fonts and how to find and download replicas.
Retro Video Game Fonts
Before the days of Photoshop or high-tech computers, designers made their art on a 32 x 28 grid in order to display it on a cathode-ray tube. These early screens could display only a few characters and colors at a time, and smaller boxes of eight-by-eight grids were the designer’s limited space they were able to create artwork and lettering.
With such little space to work with, designers had to get creative about how to portray characters, objects and letters on the screens. Thus 8-bit art was born.
Artists created artwork for these classic video games in the name of efficiency. The more blocks of color on the screen at a time meant the more memory a computer needed for the game to run smoothly. Early 8-bit and 16-bit games used pixelated characters known as “sprites” that would quickly flash blocks of color across the screen to give the illusion of movement.
Arcade lettering stayed consistent until around 1980 when the Atari company released the first 3D game Battlezone thus beginning the era of games developed with vector graphics, a smoother, sharper system that creates a much clearer display.
Before the modernization of computer graphics changed the look of video games, developers found creative and interesting ways to alter the lettering of the games to make them unique and visually appealing.
History of Video Game Fonts
Atari font became the signature original font for video games. Since the simplistic, first-generation games prioritized efficiency, Atari worked perfectly. With the Atari 2600 only holding 126 bytes of RAM for memory, only so many sprites, colors, and objects can be on the screen before the console freezes up. With console memory and storage space in mind, developers limited early game typography to numbers for the scoreboard, player ID, and title screens for early games such as Mario Bros (1983), and Pitfall! (1982).
Over time, 8-bit games began to make small changes to the original Atari font to make the games more visually pleasing. Changing the visual appeal by adding bolded or italicized lettering could drastically change the look of the game, and players enjoyed the change of colors, font size, and placement to make each game look unique.
Clever coloring effects and the use of more pixel grids per letter meant that the graphics look much smoother and clearer and less blocky and blurry. Many games on consoles such as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) are extremely colorful and beautifully designed as developers took full advantage of shading with a wider variety of colors to make the characters pop on the screen. The SNES revolutionized the video game industry with its advanced processor and attention to detail in graphics making it a true marker for game development that isn’t just efficient, but beautiful as well.
From humble beginnings came an infinite number of fonts, shapes, colors, and letterings that not only display numbers or title screens but add visual appeal and life to hundreds of video games. Letters ranging from simple black blocks to intricate gradient graphics are all a part of the history of the video games we know and love.
"Game Over" and Other Arcade Idioms
A huge part of video game culture is knowing classic arcade idioms and phrases. Simple gaming phrases work themselves into pop culture, social media, and modern lingo, so it would be very difficult to navigate online culture without knowing some of the most used idioms. From movie titles such as “Ready Player One,” to songs such as “Video Games,” knowing the context of popular video game sayings helps you to understand the culture of gaming better.
Here are 10 common video game terms to know that are classics in the gaming community.
Glitch – a glitch or a bug is an unintended issue in the game code that causes a game to not work properly. When having trouble concentrating or losing your train of thought, you would say that your brain “glitched” to properly use this word in a real-life context.
Noob – a noob is someone new to a video game. It is often used as an insult as being new to a video game often means you are bad at it. Gamers might call their friends a noob when being unsuccessful in sports or not understanding the rules of a board game.
NPC – an NPC is a non-playable character whose entire existence was just filling in the background of your video game. NPCs in older games often stood still and did not act very lifelike, so if someone is acting awkward or zoning out, it is common for a gamer to ask them why they are acting like an NPC.
OP – OP stands for “overpowered.” When something is OP, it can't lose in battle. As a gamer, your character may be OP meaning you defeat all your enemies with ease. In real life, gamers may tell you that you are OP if you have a natural talent for something or are beating them in a challenging activity.
Level Up – to level up in a video game, a player must defeat their current level or earn enough XP to move up. Leveling up means that you advance to a more difficult stage in the game because the current level does not offer you enough of a challenge. Gamers may say they have “leveled up” things such as their wardrobe, workout routine, or room decor to tell friends they are improving themselves.
Own – to “own” someone is to demolish them in a 2-player game. Winning by a significant margin would be the basis on which to “own” your opponent, so gamers may say they “owned you” after winning an argument or competition.
Game Over – this phrase marks the ending of something. A gamer might say it is “game over” for their career or relationship if they notice a scandal, or a movie character may tell the villain it is “game over” once they finally defeat them.
Power Up – generally a potion or food item a character takes gives them a temporary power-up that makes them more powerful with special abilities. Characters like Mario take power-ups in the form of mushrooms to defeat enemies. Gamers may tell you that drinking alcohol may be a “power-up” to encourage you to talk to someone at the bar.
Fatality – often spoken in a low, powerful voice, the phrase “fatality” became popular in the Mortal Kombat games. It is the final, hardest blow to your opponent that causes their defeat. A gamer may use this phrase as a joke when their friend trips and falls, or gets rejected by their crush as an indicator that their own actions have defeated them.
Player – a player is a person controlling the video game. Most retro games have up to four players able to play at once. Gamers may refer to their significant oPhrases and words used in classic video games inspire modern-day lingo.ther as “player 2” noting that they are on the same team working in tandem to navigate life together.
Recreating classic fonts from retro games opens up a whole world of creativity. Making shirts, building websites, or developing stylistic video games is why many people want to generate their own fonts.
Artists and typographers create thousands of new fonts using art programs such as Adobe Illustrator and hand-drawing each letter in stylistic ways. To make your own video game fonts from scratch, follow the steps below:
Set up your guides – you need one artboard per letter, number, and symbol. When using Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator, set up enough artboards for each symbol. The artboards need to be the same dimensions for each letter.
Draw the characters – this is the time to get creative! Many artists have a drawing pad that connects to their computers to make the lettering look smoother. Add colors and shading to make your video game letters pop.
Download each character – to get optimal graphics for every letter, download your characters as .svg files. Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) files are web-friendly. This makes your video game font look beautiful however you choose to use it. If you don’t want grainy graphics, an SVG file ensures that your letters shrink and enlarge without losing the quality of your work.
Use Font Forge – Font Forge compiles your artwork and converts the files into a usable typeface that works when installed on any computer. Congratulations! You just made your very own video game font from scratch.
What if you want to use a video game font right away without going through the tedious process of making your own? Don’t worry, there are plenty of free, usable video game fonts available at the click of a few buttons.
Downloading New Fonts on Your Device
Free websites such as dafont.com offer hundreds of fonts to download. Many of these fonts are free for personal use and are downloadable as a file and added to your word-processing platform. Downloads for video game fonts take only a few minutes to add to your computer and open up a new world of creativity for your projects.
To add a new font to your Canva account, you first need to purchase a Canva Pro account. The free version of Canva offers plenty of free-to-use fonts in a pinch, and fonts such as “Retropix,” “Cosmic Octo,” and “Arcade Gamer” may be the perfect font for you without the extra hassle.
To download a new font to your Canva Pro account, click the “Upload a Font” button under Brand Kits. Name your new font and wait a few minutes for your new font to upload into your Canva account. You are now able to use your video game font in all your Canva projects!
Unfortunately, Google Docs does not have an option for users to download a new font into their system. Users must choose a pre-existing font from their archive which limits creativity for projects.
Luckily, Google Docs has an Atari font option called “Press Start 2P” that gives users a fun option for retro video game typography. To use this font, click the font button to open the drop-down menu in the top left corner. Press “more fonts” and search for the name of this retro font to use in your document.
To add your font to Microsoft Word, it may be as easy as dragging your downloaded font file into the font tab. Extracted files automatically begin uploading and you'll be able to use your video game fonts within seconds.
To transfer files from .svg or .jpg, you may need to take an extra step by processing your letters in Font Forge before uploading them to Microsoft Word.
Microsoft Word also has a collection of video game fonts such as “OCR-A Extended” that are free to use and pre-installed.
Press Start Player One!
Now that you know how to add retro video game fonts to your documents, it is time for you to optimize these gorgeous letters for your projects. Video game fonts are not only unique, but they are also a critical piece of history.
From humble beginnings came simplistic, pixelated words optimized for efficiency in games with limited storage. Today, these iconic images add color and dimension to thousands of creative projects. Without the limitations of these eight-by-eight blocks, we would not have the impact of 8-bit art that has shaped video game culture to this day.
What do you envision creating with the Atari font?
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