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PC/Mac Game Review: And Yet It Moves
May 30th, 2009 by AlexWeldon

Gameplay: 8/10 Graphics: 7/10 Sound: 7/10 Originality: 9/10 Overall: 8/10

picture-8

Available for download on Greenhouse or direct from the developer (Broken Rules).

I bought And Yet It Moves without knowing anything about it, for four reasons. Firstly, it’s available for sale on Greenhouse, which is a site that I’ve learned to trust in terms of game selection; in general, they carry only indie games with good gameplay, and which are innovative in some way. Secondly, it’s priced at $9.99 instead of the ubiquitous $19.99 that most game developers seem to regard as an immutable fact of the industry. Thirdly, the logo is cool, and I’m a design nerd. Finally, I’ve been neglecting the blog for the past couple of weeks, and I figured I was about due for another review.

The game has turned out to be a very pleasant surprise in most ways, though technologically problematic for my outdated PowerPC Mac. The first thing one notices about it is the unique graphical style; the world is constructed out irregular chunks of photographs with torn paper edges, while the player character is a sketchy black and white line drawing. It’s a simple and aesthetically pleasing style, especially when seen in motion and suits the gameplay well. I think a lot of its charm comes from its originality, however; like the whole silhouettes thing (e.g. this and this and this), I’ll get tired of it quickly if others start emulating it.

The gameplay is likewise quite original. You move your little pencil-drawing character around with the WASD control scheme familiar to most players of indie action games; in this case, S is not used, but A and D are used to move left and right, while W jumps. The pace of the character’s movement seems quite sluggish compared to most platform games, but this is intentional, and necessary due to the other half of the gameplay, which would be overwhelming if the character moved at a more normal speed; using the arrow keys, you can rotate the entire world around the character, in increments of 90 degrees, allowing you to make turn floors into walls, walls into ceilings, and holes into tunnels, as well as making strange, loopy jumps possible.

At first glance, this mechanic seems equivalent to simply rotating the world’s gravity, and the camera along with it. This is not the case, however, as the character’s velocity is preserved relative to the screen, and not the world. Thus, when rotating the world, you’re also changing your character’s trajectory within it. This is helpful in some ways – allowing you to make 90 degree turns in mid-jump – but dangerous in others; in particular, it means that you’re always accelerating when in freefall… once travelling at sufficient speed for impact to be fatal, there’s no way of slowing yourself down for a safe landing.

Fortunately, checkpoints are abundant, and generally placed right after a particularly tough challenge, so you rarely have to repeat a frustrating part of a level after you’ve passed it once. Although some challenges rely on timing, reflexes and fine control, the majority are more puzzle-like in nature, requiring you to figure out the rules certain objects obey, and how to manipulate the world to take advantage of them. For instance, at one point, your path is barred by a (photograph of a) gorilla. Nearby, a tree produces bananas… but the bananas become bruised when striking a surface, and splatter after a few rough landings. Of course, the gorilla is at the far end of a small labyrinth, so you must attempt to rotate the world such that the banana falls cleanly through the labyrinth without striking the walls or floor, finally reaching the gorilla and convincing him to move out of your way.

Each level has its own theme or central mechanic in this way, and rarely are they reused. If, for instance, lighting things on fire is the key to one level, there will be several variations on that idea within the level, but you might never see it again in subsequent levels. This keeps the gameplay fresh, and makes you curious to see what’s coming next. It’s made possible by the graphical simplicity of the game; in games with more traditional art, the cost of producing art assets is such that a one-time gimmick or sprite is a luxury that can rarely be afforded – generally only in the game’s climactic moments.

This economical art style is presumably also the reason that the game is priced at $9.99 instead of the usual $19.99. Through their clever idea, the developers have managed to produce an entertaining game that can be sold at an even more affordable price than most indie offerings, without looking cheap. Of course, as an freelance artist myself, I wouldn’t like it became the norm for developers to come up with gimmicks to all-but-eliminate the need for an art budget, but as a consumer, it’s certainly nice to get something cool-looking for half the usual price.

My primary complaint about the game is with its performance on my PowerPC-based Mac. Even on the lowest graphical settings, the game slows to a crawl if it isn’t allowed to monopolize my system’s resources. I imagine this isn’t a problem for PC users and owners of Intel-based Macs, but if you’re using an older Mac and are contemplating buying the game, it’s something to consider. Also, a bug in one of the early levels caused the game to hang – however, the tech support guy at Broken Rules answered my query quickly, assuring me that it’s a bug that only occurs on PPC Macs, that it will be fixed in the next release, and providing me with a way to unlock the next level so as to skip the problem for the time being.

And Yet It Moves is a good example of a game which is artsy without being an “art game,” and a successful experiment in unusual mechanics that turn out to be a lot of fun. Even my less gaming-inclined friends have said they like watching the game over my shoulder, as the visuals are so interesting, and the gameplay delightfully vertiginous, especially played at full screen. At its low price-point, I would call it a must-have for anyone with a PC or Intel-based Mac, and still worth the technological frustration even for PPC Mac users.

Gold Rushes
May 29th, 2009 by AlexWeldon

Recently, on the IndieGamer Forums, someone started a thread about a phenomenon familiar to many independent business owners. Small business is forever caught up in a series of gold rushes, and that’s especially true for technology-based businesses, such as computer game development.

The thread in question was mostly just a rant about how your patience can wear thin the umpteenth time a well-meaning but clueless friend seeks to persuade you that you have to get in on whatever trend the media is currently hyping. At the moment, it’s iPhone apps. The thread brought up the question of how to explain to such people that by the time you hear about it, it’s probably too late.

I came up with the following graph, which got a much stronger positive response from my fellow forum members than I’d anticipated:

Web

Of course, this graph is not based on any statistics or factual information whatsoever, only my own feelings about the way these trends progress. I had my tongue in my cheek when I drew it, but the general consensus on IndieGamer is that it’s qualitatively accurate. The trouble is with the way developer activity, customer base and media attention interrelate, and it results in the often-quoted cycle of “Innovators, Imitators and Idiots.”

At the beginning, developer activity and customer base increase together – a new technology appears on the scene, and the desire of people to use it is limited by the amount of content available, while the development of content is limited by the perceived commercial potential… which of course, depends on the number of users. The developers in this phase are the innovators, who have the foresight to guess at the future popularity of the technology.

However, developer activity has a snowball-like nature. Smart businesspeople spend a lot of time looking sideways, watching what the competition is doing. They see this burgeoning market and get on the bandwagon. This first generation of imitators is often the one to make the most money, more even than the innovators (though not always). Unfortunately, once some people start making a lot of money, the number of others trying to pile on the bandwagon increases exponentially, quickly outpacing the customer base, which tends to level out after a while.

Finally, the mainstream media’s attention is attracted. Although certain independent publications may have had their eye on the technology for a while, the general public’s attention is only drawn to the phenomenon long after it’s common knowledge to people in the business. By that point, of course, the market is oversaturated and it’s the time for the smart businesspeople to be moving on to the next big thing. Some people may still be getting rich, but getting on board at that point is more like buying lottery tickets than a reasonable business decision. The people who buy into the hype and try to get involved in a market they don’t understand at this point are, unfortunately, the “idiots” referred to before. It’s perhaps too harsh a term, since it’s a natural mistake to make, but nonetheless, these people tend to lose money more often than they make any.

Aztaka released!
May 22nd, 2009 by AlexWeldon

Quebec-based game developer Citérémis has just released their first game, Aztaka. This is by far the biggest computer game project I’ve been involved with – the game was written entirely in French, and I was brought in a few months before release to translate all the game text into English. I’ll also be coordinating any other volunteer translators to localize the game for other countries – so far, we have a German and a Portuguese translator, but if any translators of other languages are reading this and want to help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

You can download a free demo and/or purchase the full game at the company’s website: http://aztaka.citeremis.com

aztaka_ss

Aztaka is a side-scrolling adventure/RPG set in the world of Aztec mythology. The player takes on the role of Huitzilo, son of the Sun God. Accompanied by his friend Ayopha, who has been turned into a hummingbird by Huitzilo’s evil sister, Huitzilo seeks to gather the Seven Ancient Phonograms, which will open the gateway to the Path of the Gods, thereby freeing his people from an era of darkness and bloodshed.

Central to the game’s mechanics is the idea of manipulating spiritual energy. This energy appears onscreen as a globule of light, generally after slaying an enemy. It comes in different forms, and can be manipulated with the mouse (while Huitzilo’s movements are controlled with the keyboard). The different forms of energy have different powers, and can, for instance, heal injured characters, or cause platforms to appear in order to give Huitzilo access to areas that were once out of reach.

One of the game’s biggest selling points is its amazing art quality. Citérémis set out to create a visually stunning product, and they came through in spades with Aztaka. For reasons of budget and efficiency, most side-scrolling games rely heavily on tiles for terrain and background – although clever level design can conceal the repetitiveness to an extent, it’s still intrinsic to the genre. By contrast, Aztaka’s backgrounds consist of huge, beautiful landscape paintings, with several levels of parallax and little or no repetition. The character animations are likewise extremely fluid and realistic.

Aztaka is impressive by any standard, but especially so as the company’s first release. So many independent developers bite off more than they can chew for their first project, and it’s rare to see such an ambitious project reach completion. It was a great pleasure to work with Citérémis on Aztaka, and I hope the game will do well, and that they’ll involve me in their future projects.

The changing definition of a “game”
May 18th, 2009 by AlexWeldon

I am extremely busy with both freelance contracts and personal projects this week, and won’t have the time to make many blog posts. In the meantime, this is an essay that I wrote a couple of months ago for a post on IndieGamer, before I had a blog set up for such things.


Games are a controversial subject these days. Gamers and non-gamers debate constantly about the possible value and dangers associated with games, and gamers argue amongst themselves about which games or genres are better than others. This may be due, in large part, to the increasingly diverse nature of games; indeed, the term has begun to be applied so generally that two “games” may have very little in common with one another, beyond being forms of interactive entertainment. When dealing with such a broad categorization, it is impossible to establish clear criteria for gauging quality. It is thus inevitable that these quasi-religious arguments should go on indefinitely, with no resolution possible.

The word “game” used to mean something quite specific. Even the concept of a game was fairly universal, regardless of language. For thousands of years a game has been a form of competition between two or more parties, within the constraints of a set of rules. It could be a contest of physical speed or strength, mental ability, luck, or some combination of those. Regardless, the key elements were that a game had: Rules that were clearly understood by all parties; an objective; one or more winners, either at the end of the game (for finite games, like chess or soccer), or at any given point in time (for infinite games, like tag or poker); and the ability to replay the same game multiple times, following the same rules, but with potentially different results.

This is a clear way to separate games from non-game forms of conflict/competition (i.e. fighting, arguing, business), which don’t follow set rules, and non-game forms of entertainment, such as non-interactive ones like books, and solitary challenges, which are usually called “puzzles.”

Up until the advent of mass production, innovation in games was limited, because anything destined for a wider audience had to use either standard components (e.g. deck of cards, chess set, or dice in the West, or equivalent items in other cultures) or commonplace objects (e.g. horseshoes). Starting mostly in the 20th century, new mass-produced household board games started popping up, but designers instinctively stuck to the idea of a competition between individuals or teams, even if in a very casual way.

The latter half of the 20th century brought two successive revolutions to the world of gaming, in rapid succession. Each was accompanied by a massive broadening of the term “game.”

In 1974, TSR published the first edition of Gary Gygax’s Dungeons & Dragons, the first role-playing game (RPG). Although the existence of such games is now taken for granted by most aficionados, one cannot overstate the change in thinking that they represent. Although conflict is still present – between the player characters and fictitious foes – there is no longer competition between the parties involved; although the players could be said to “lose” if their characters fail or die, this does not equate to a “win” for the Game Master. There are goals, but no clear victory conditions for the players, and although there are rules, they are not exhaustive and very much open to be interpreted or disregarded entirely by the Game Master.

Prior to that, the first computer games began to appear. Rather than a sudden revolution, however, these created a more gradual muddying of the waters. Many early games attempted to simulate more traditional games, such as Tic-Tac-Toe, chess, or tennis (Pong). These often pitted two human opponents against one another, as computing had not advanced far enough to provide a worthy opponent. As such, these early games did not digress very far from the traditional definition.

Eventually, single-player games began to appear, featuring either fixed or randomly-generated challenges. Although still popularly referred to as “games,” many of these bore more resemblance to puzzles. Nonetheless, for many games, the addition of the concept of “points” created a sort of meta-game, in which multiple players could compete against one another by trying to obtain the highest score, despite playing the game separately, on different computers and at different times.

The advent of artificial intelligence introduced another ambiguity. Although a game like Robots, in which the enemies follow the simple rule of moving directly towards the player at all times, should probably correctly be considered a puzzle, other games feature more sophisticated and unpredictable AIs. This leads one to ask the question: At what point should a program’s AI be considered an “opponent,” as opposed to a part of the game/puzzle? The Turing test is one possible answer, although that would leave most modern games being classified as puzzles. Another criterion might be whether the game’s designer, knowing his own code, can reliably predict the program’s behaviour (or the probabilities of its behaviour, if randomness is present).

Another major change came with the ability to interrupt play and resume it later on. Eventually, this was accomplished with saved games, but earlier games implemented it via passwords. This allowed games to be made longer, but also began to remove the repeated playing that characterized many early games. They began to be more like crossword puzzles, to be set down after completion in favour of a new challenge. Now, this idea of games with a clear end has become so assimilated into the gamer’s psyche that a common datum passed around about new games is “number of hours to complete,” much as descriptions of books often give a page count.

Although early games were often quite difficult to complete – many beyond the reach of most gamers – the increasing emphasis on “completion” has caused them to become easier, as customers are often let down or frustrated if they cannot make it through to the conclusion, as if they’ve gone to the theatre only to have the movie interrupted fifteen minutes short of the climax. Although games vary in terms of how linear the route to the ending is, most have only a single endpoint, and reaching it is more or less inevitable, unless the player grows bored and abandons the game before.

Thus, we’ve reached a point where there are many very different forms of interactive entertainment that we still lump together under the umbrella term, “game.” Moreover, the players are equally varied in terms of their preferences and expectations.

Some want to compete against opponents, be they human or computer. These are the gamers in the very traditional sense; they favour multiplayer titles, or stick to physical tabletop board games or real-life sports.

Some want to overcome specific challenges, either cognitive or reflex-based. They favour traditional puzzles like crosswords or sudoku, solitary sports like skiing, archery or juggling, and computer or video games that resemble these activities.

Others want to create their own stories and make their own challenges. These are the people with the role-playing personality; some may still play old-fashioned pencil-and-paper role-playing games, but many favour the so-called “sandbox” computer and video games.

Lastly, there is an ever-growing segment of the market that simply wants to be part of someone else’s story. They don’t mind linearity in gameplay, nor do they want challenges that are difficult enough to break the flow of their progress through the story. They don’t need more than the illusion of control over the game’s events, much as any movie-goer or reader can suspend disbelief for the purpose of entertainment.

Although variations in taste are a given in almost all areas of life, it’s important to see how these different forms of entertainment actually bear very little resemblance to one another, other than the fact that we use the same word to describe them all. Imagine if all “handiwork” were lumped together under that single term – a cabinet-maker applying his standards of excellence to evaluate a sweater might find it very lacking, even if it had been made by a world-class knitter.

There is little hope of convincing the general public – or even the industry – to adopt more specialized terms. Nonetheless, the progress of interactive entertainment in general would be considerably advanced if it were more commonly recognized that these are more than different genres; they are different products, different activities entirely. We must stop thinking of a first-person shooter and a casual title as an action movie and a romantic comedy, respectively, but rather acknowledge that they are indeed more like a cabinet and a sweater – intended for different purposes and used in different ways, and thus subject to different theories and standards.

Typography Tutorial – Typeface Selection pt. 2
May 12th, 2009 by AlexWeldon

NOTE: Apologies for the long delay since the last blog post. I am in the middle of a move and only just got the internet hooked up. Posts should be more regular from here on in.

Last time, we talked about type families. Now, we’ll talk about sticking within one family, but using multiple faces. Different families are differentiated by the overall geometry of the letterforms, while the individual faces within a family are typically differentiated by four different characteristics:

Common characteristics of typefaces

Common characteristics of typefaces

Weight: The weight of a typeface depends on the thickness of its strokes. Even novice users of word processors are familiar with the idea of bold type, but some type families contain many more weights than just regular and bold. Common appellations for weights include: light, regular (or roman), semibold, bold, extra bold, black and extra black. Note that every type family has its own intrinsic weight, and, for instance, the bold weight of one family may actually have thinner strokes than the regular weight of another.

Style: Generally, type families have two styles, roman and italic. Italic type is based on a form of handwriting developed by Italian scribes for writing in small logbooks – the inclined axis of the characters allows narrower spacing, thus allowing more words to be squeezed onto a single line. Nowadays, the function of italic type is very different; it is used for emphasis, or in various typographic conventions, such as setting foreign words, new terms, or the name of an article or poem.

Technically speaking, only serif families have true italics, as the changes involved in making an italic typeface go far beyond simply inclining the letters. Properly, angled sans serif type should be called oblique, although many sans serif fonts use the term italic instead.

Set: The set of a typeface has to do with the width of the characters. In most cases, it is intrinsic to the whole type family, but some (generally more professional) fonts include multiple sets of the same family. Although the terms “narrow” and “wide” are sometimes seen, the more common designations are condensed, semi-condensed, (regular), semi-extended and extended.

Size: Many people today would not consider different sizes of type to count as different typefaces. However, if we go back to the origins of type, when letters were produced by the impression of metal sorts on a page, each size of type required its own set of sorts. Additionally, I find it useful to consider size in the same category as weight, style and set, as it’s used in a similar way, to create information hierarchy.

Type size is typically measured in points. Twelve points make a pica, and there are six picas in an inch. Thus, there are 72 points in an inch. It is not a coincidence that standard screen resolution is also 72 pixels per inch – when setting type for on-screen use, one point is equivalent to one pixel, not counting anti-aliasing. However, note that the size of type is can be misleading, as the size specified is the height of the bounding box for all the characters in the typeface – that is, from the highest point on the highest character to the lowest point on the lowest character. Thus, 12 pt. type of one family may look radically different in size from 12 pt. type in another family. This is especially true in the case of script typefaces, which often have long, curly ascenders and descenders.


One word of warning: most word processing and design programs have the ability to create “fake bold” and “fake italic” type, taking the regular weight and/or style of the typeface, and algorithmically thickening and/or skewing the strokes. Even in the best cases, these effects are uglier and harder to read than properly designed weights and styles and, at worst, are completely inappropriate for some typefaces. I recommend never using these effects, unless absolutely necessary – if you need bold or italic type, make sure you’re using a family that contains bold and italic faces.

The most normal face in most families is regular weight, roman, 10- or 11-pt. type. The further you deviate from this, the more extreme the effect, and the more sparingly it should be used. You should never, for instance, set a whole paragraph in a condensed, extra bold, italic face. Extreme deviations are best used for purposes of information hierarchy – for instance, if your paragraphs are set in roman, semi-extended, 10-pt. type, you might set your headers in condensed, bold, 14-pt. type, and your captions in light, italic, semi-condensed 10-pt. type. Here’s how that would look:

hierarchy1

More subtle variations can be used even within running text, however. Bold and/or italics are often used to emphasize single words or phrases; this should be done sparingly, however, as the presence of many such words on a page is distracting to the eye. Semi-condensed type can be used to help solve excessive hyphenation and ragged edges in narrow measures. Small variations in set and/or weight (e.g. light, regular and semibold) can be used to even out the overall visual weight (often referred to as “color”) of several passages on the same page, if it’s necessary to set them in different sizes and/or with different line spacing. These latter two examples will be discussed in more detail in the next section of the tutorial, as I begin to discuss leading, tracking and measure.

Typography Tutorial – Typeface Selection pt. 1
May 2nd, 2009 by AlexWeldon

Although there’s a lot more to typography than just choosing the right typeface, it definitely goes a long way, and it’s hard or impossible to make your type look good if you choose the wrong one. Thus, typeface selection seems like a good place to start this series of tutorials. The first thing we need is to nail down some basic terminology.

The word font, contrary to popular belief, does not refer to the letterforms themselves. Rather, the font is the technology which is used to produce them. Historically, a font was a set of metal pieces (known as “sorts,” from which we get the expression “out of sorts”) featuring raised letters, which could be used in conjunction with a printing press to produce printed pages. Nowadays, we use the same term to refer to the software which produces letters on our screen.

By contrast, a type family is a set of letterforms that are similar in terms of their shape and structure. The distinction between a type family and a font is a little bit pedantic in this day and age, but technically speaking, if you’re holding a printed document and inquiring about the letters thereon, you should be asking the designer, “What family of type is that?” or “What font did you use to set that?” and not “What font is that?” as the font itself is still on the computer, not on the page.

A typeface is a subset of a family – a specific size, weight, style and set of that family. So, for instance, Myriad is the name of a type family (and of the font used to set that family), whereas 14 pt. Myriad Semibold Extended Italic is a specific typeface within that family.

Type families generally fall into one of six classifications. These classifications are important to understand for two reasons. Firstly, each is suited for a different set of tasks, so knowing which classification you’re looking for drastically cuts down the number of type families you have to consider, and reduces the chances of making a really ugly mistake. Secondly, when combining more than one family of type on a page, you generally want to avoid using two different families from the same classification, as they will clash.

You can get an interactive tutorial on type classifications here: http://www.counterspace.us/typography/, but I will summarize the key points below:

classificationsOldstyle families were the first forms of movable type invented. They draw inspiration from handwriting, but are meant to be more readable. They feature serifs (little “feet” on the ends of letters) and a variable stroke weight with a slightly inclined axis to the thick-thin transitions. They are very readable, and the serifs help guide the eye along the line of type. Thus, they are the best choice for setting large passages of printed text.

Modern families were popular in the 18th century, when Enlightenment ideals led to typographers feeling the need to design typefaces by mathematical proportions. The thick-thin transitions were exaggerated, and the axis thereof straightened out to be perfectly vertical, with wide strokes on the sides and thin on the top and bottom. The serifs were kept, but reduced to tiny little hairlines. Unfortunately, this actually made them less readable, so they are less suited to large blocks of text and better used for headings or display type. They do, however, have a very formal, elegant and high-class feel to them. Vogue magazine, for instance, uses a modern typeface for its logotype for this reason.

Slab Serif families take the opposite route to Modern families. They have little or no thick-thin transition, and big fat serifs. Although they look kind of clunky (or strong, in the right context), they have the advantage of being very clear and simple, with no chance of mistaking one letter for another. As such, in the past they were often used for setting books for children. Now, in this day of computers, we probably see more type without serifs than with, so 21st century children’s books use Sans Serifs more often.

Sans Serif families lack serifs entirely, as the name suggests. They also tend to have little or no thick-thin transition. The resolution of monitors is considerably less than the printed page, so serifs tend to become blurry and merely confuse the letterforms when displayed on screen at sizes less than about 14 pt. Thus, for most digital purposes, especially large passages of text, sans serif is the only game in town. Because they’re all you see on the Internet, they’ve also become associated with modernity and thus incredibly trendy for offline use in this decade. This will almost certainly change, as fashions always do; in the meantime, do not use sans serif type to set long passages of text for print! Oldstyle is much more readable.

Script describes any family of type that is intended to resemble human handwriting, of whatever form. Whether it’s curly and ornate, or resembles the block lettering people use when filling out forms, it’s still “script” as far as typography is concerned. Script tends to be less readable (sometimes bordering on illegible) than any other classification other than Decorative. Use it sparingly, and only in a decorative role, never for long passages.

Decorative is the catch-all term for any type family that doesn’t fit into one of the other classifications. As such, Decorative families vary widely in appearance and function, but, like Script families, tend to be hard to read, and should never be used for setting long passages of text.

As stated above, one rule of thumb that will serve you well is: Never use two different families of the same classification on the same page together. Also, certain classifications don’t generally like each other either, especially the ones that have a lot in common. For instance, Oldstyle doesn’t usually get along with Modern, or many Scripts.

On the left are three examples of good combinations, using radically different families from different classifications. On the right are three examples of horrible, horrible combinations, using families from the same classification (the first two) or an Oldstyle with a Modern (the last example).
combos

Typography Tutorial – Introduction and Planned TOC
May 1st, 2009 by AlexWeldon

As a designer, I feel one of my strengths is typography. It’s also one of the most under-appreciated aspects of graphic design, at least by non-designers.

There are few reasons for this. For one thing, a large portion of the work is now done automatically by computers, to the point that anyone with a copy of Microsoft Word and a keyboard can create something resembling a reasonably typeset page, provided they don’t go too crazy. For another, typography is something most people only notice when it’s bad. As Beatrice Warde stated in her famous essay The Crystal Goblet, the function of type is not usually be ornamental, but to make the passage of words from the page to the mind of the reader as easy as possible. Unless you’re specifically looking at the type, rather than the words, you’ll only notice the type when it’s distracting.

The way most people set type is to pick whatever font looks good to them from a drop-down menu, and then start hammering away at the keyboard, possibly using bold, italic or underlined words for emphasis here and there. Truth be told, for simple documents, that’s often good enough, provided one doesn’t overuse the aforementioned emphases, stays away from monstrosities like Comic Sans, doesn’t type in all caps, and doesn’t employ justified text in narrow measures.

Over the next weeks or months, I plan to post a series of typographical articles to this blog, with information that will help amateurs create slicker documents, be they web pages, CVs, instruction screens for games, or what have you. To start with, though, and to scratch the surface of the depth that the field of typography has, I’d like to offer a brief list of topics that I’d like to cover in the first few articles, and summaries of each. As I write the articles, I will convert the headings into links to the corresponding articles.

Typeface Selection

  • The difference between fonts, families and faces
  • Classifications of type: oldstyle, transitional, modern, slab serif, sans serif, script and decorative
  • Weight, style and case
  • Creating contrasts

Spacing

  • Measure: margins, columns and gutters
  • Line Spacing: leading, paragraph spacing, relationship between line spacing and measure
  • Letter Spacing: tracking and kerning
  • Type “Color”: the relationship between line spacing, letter spacing and type weight

Information Hierarchy

  • Using contrasts to indicate hierarchy
  • Headings and subheadings
  • Pull quotes, footnotes and sidebars
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