Videogames and WiggleTech™️

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This weekend will be the first lazy one I’ve had in quite a while. There’ll be no rushing about sorting out my visa or flying across large bodies of water or working into the middle of the night on a side project. All I have to do for the next couple of days is drink an inhumane amount of coffee, type up a few notes that have been drifting about in my noggin’, and catch up on my backlog of video games.

One of those games I’ve returned to this weekend is Celeste – it’s a wonderful platformer from early 2018 and I could write endlessly about the difficulty of the game or its dialogue (which is perhaps the best of any game in recent memory). The entire game oozes with brilliant design, animations, and something else that I didn’t expect going in: weird typography.

There’s quite a bit of dialogue in Celeste and the thing is that it doesn’t use italics to denote emphasis in a sentence. Instead of using an italic variant of the geometric sans it uses in the captions, it has something that I call WiggleTech™ – letters that animate up and down to signify stress in different ways:

When a character is screaming a word these letters become hectic and violent, bouncing all over the place. And the nifty thing about these typographic animations in Celeste is that they never get in the way or distract you. Instead, they change the way you read the text and this effect gives the characters a language and style that’s unavailable to other games.

On this note of interesting video game typography, last week a friend invited me over to play Persona 5 and oh boy howdy if every screen isn’t the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen:

A mixture of lowercase and uppercase, striking colors, black and white shapes, and sans-serifs mixed with slab serifs mixed with serifs stretched at giant sizes or squished into the tiniest space – this weirdness plasters every inch of the screen, even in the most boring menus that you encounter in Persona 5.

And just when you think it couldn’t get any stranger, the game manages to out-do itself:

It looks as if everything has been set with wood type and printed incorrectly, or it looks like an old punk gig poster that was printed in someone’s garage in a hurry – it doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen in a digital UI before. And I think most typographers or designers would dunk on the UI and complain that all this is unnecessary but I think it’s part of the game’s charm. Persona 5 is a whacky, peculiar adventure with talking cats and that’s perfectly captured in every pixel of its interface.

The reason why I bring this up is because Persona 5 and Celeste tell us that typography in video games has the opportunity to do something entirely new and exciting. And that just because we’re used to UIs working in a specific way, with a certain style and typesetting, doesn’t mean we can’t explore fertile ground and experiment a little.

But wait – hang on – what’s this battle screen all about?

Okay, well, maybe there’s such a thing as too much experimentation.