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Why do so many modern games have short text? -By Fsk

Starting a tachia is an experience. The music starts, you realize the entire game is voiced in French and Drehu, and you know this is a game built on passion. If you’re like me, though, starting up Tchia also involves encountering unreadable text in its options menu.

It is unfair to single out Tachia. It offers a wealth of accessibility options. But it also represents the most recent example of a growing trend in video game UIs, with text becoming smaller and less legible.

To understand why this is happening, and to explore possible solutions, I spoke to accessibility consultant Ian Hamilton and lead designer at typeface studio Lettermatic, Riley Crain.

“Small text is by far the most common accessibility complaint,” Hamilton told me via email.


Tchia is hardly the worst offender, but it is the game that inspired this piece.

This lack of understanding of typography and its application is not exclusive to the video game industry. The erosion of basic design principles is causing typographic failures throughout the design industry and beyond. But it is especially attractive in games. Despite gaming’s focus on visuals, text is still a primary way in which games communicate. Yet, often that information is lost in an unreadable way.

Hamilton suggests that our performances are partly to blame. “In days gone by,” he says, “it wasn’t technically possible to design small text because the resolutions weren’t high enough; there just weren’t enough pixels.”

As screen resolutions improve, smaller type is able to render in sharper focus, which developers appear eager to take advantage of. However, it ignores minimum readable text sizes.


For example, Hamilton says, “For someone with perfect 20/20 vision on a typical screen in a typical living room viewing environment, text needs to be in an area of ​​at least 28px at 1080p.”

But reading is not an objective experience. 28px may be readable for visually impaired players, but visually impaired gamers may need to enlarge the text too much. For this reason, Crain tells me via email, “typography should be adjustable, just to fit the experiences that it can.”


Tachia’s menu.

You might think that this makes the answer as simple as making the text bigger – and, to an extent, it does. But changing the size, weight, tracking or leading of the text has major implications for the UI. Interface elements designed around small text may not necessarily scale up for larger or bolder text without affecting the balance of the UI.

During Double Fine’s collaboration on Psychonauts 2, Lettermatic’s solution was multiple choice fonts. These are typefaces that are not proportionally sized like traditional typefaces, but instead take up the same space whether bold or regular. Coupled with the ability to switch out the fancy type for something more readable—something that Techia also offers—Psychonauts 2’s text became remarkably accessible.

Crain says, “One of the things I love about the collaboration between Lettermatic and Double Fine is that we are seeing typography in games as a flexible experience that can change based on players’ preferences. , rather than an immutable aspect. Experience that never changes.”

Best game of 2022 Elden Ring - In the bottom left your character on horseback looks out over a land of ruins towards a giant, shining golden tree

Elden Ring has a large number of accessibility issues.

Unfortunately, collaboration between accessible typography and a grounding in developers appears to be rare, with short text in need of improvement rapidly becoming the norm in the development process. According to Hamilton, “the way game UIs are typically designed and built today is simply not fit for purpose.”

While the basic principles of typography are being ignored, the simple truth is that, says Hamilton, “the environment in which games are made bears little resemblance to the environment in which games are played.”

Developers create UIs on large, high-definition monitors right in front of them. This is a context in which only a few of us play.

“You have some players who are playing on Nintendo Switch or Steam decks,” Crain says. “PC players are probably a few feet away from a monitor that’s 4 times larger than a handheld device, and then you have console players who may be 10-15 feet away from a 70-inch television in their living room.”

But how often are these situations adequately tested? Even on the Switch, little is done to ensure that text remains readable when the console is handheld. Nor are we seeing evidence that games are tested in standard environments.

“Some studios have a ‘living room’ setup, but I’ve been in a lot of studios over the last few decades and in that time I’ve only seen one that was actually like a living room. Usually it’s whatever Small space is negotiable, but has a big fancy TV because the company is paying.”

This means that games fail to react to the conditions in which they are played. The text size is tested not during development, but at launch – by players.

This goes against everything I’ve learned as a designer, namely that you should consider the context in which designs are used, not the context in which you’re developing them. Yes, this mistake is being made in many industries. I’ve seen designers working in print, for example, who never actually print their work. But that other people don’t consider the end user is no excuse – no matter how many times we hear developers use it.

But how do we make things better? Game developers can learn a lesson from web developers. In the early 2010s, as mobile web browsing became more common, they struggled with how to make sites readable on smaller screens. Solution: Responsive Design.

“Visit some of your favorite sites on a PC and try changing the size of the window,” says Hamilton. “For most sites [oddly, Eurogamer isn’t one of them, but Hamilton provided this demonstration] As you maximize and minimize the window, you’ll see the layout change on the fly to work appropriately within the available space.”

This means that games can respond to the screens and resolutions on which they are played, not evolved – catering to a more subjective experience rather than a perceived objective readability.

However, it’s important to incorporate accessible and responsive type of ideas as early as possible into the process, says Crain, “rather than reworking things at the end to provide the kinds of features that are on the Jenga tower below.” Can feel like piece of visual design.”



But it’s not just developers who need to consider text size. Outlets can not only help inform players about whether sports will be accessible to them, but can also inspire change in the sports they play.

Even if a reviewer isn’t comfortable calling out the game on accessibility issues like small text,” you can still allow people to make sure that the UI text is shown in screenshots of your reviews. ,” says Hamilton. “This could easily be done for other major accessibility issues as well, such as showing what subtitles look like in their most prominent setting, or showing what the default controls are.”

We all have a duty to work towards a more accessible future: the community, the journalists, the outlets, everyone. For developers, doesn’t it make sense to make sure that the information you spend countless hours organizing and presenting can actually be read?

It’s challenging, no doubt about it. But the text sizes we are seeing right now are not sufficient. It’s a failure of design few are willing to admit, especially when they’re found in their favorite games (cough, Elden Ring, cough). But as Techia demonstrates, even some of the best games — games that have the best intentions around accessibility — can be clearly affected by not making sure players understand the information they provide. able to read.


Font/Typeface: A typeface is a set of characters and a font is how those characters are implemented. For example, Times New Roman is a typeface, while Times New Roman 12pt is a font, as is Times New Roman Bold. However, these terms are often used interchangeably and only the worst of pedants can correct you.

weight: There are categories of type weight fonts, such as bold, italic, semibold etc.

To keep an eye: Normalized space between letters. It is distinct from but related to kerning, which is the space between individual characters.

Chief: the space between the lines.

Proportional Type: The type that resizes in proportion to its weight, taking up more space the more it gets bolder.

Multiplexing Type: The type that occupies the same total space regardless of its weight.