Toshi Omagari grew up with a similar pastime to many of us, playing video games. Growing up in Japan, Toshi was surrounded by colourful pixel-formed characters, satisfyingly blocky in both movement and design. Before the days of ridiculously realistic CGI (as experienced by the Fortnite generation), the generations prior to gen Z were treated to the delights of pixel-based games. And for Toshi, who is now a type designer at Monotype UK, this increasingly obsolete aesthetic will always be fantastic.
“Typography in gaming is something I’ve always been interested in ever since I was young,” Toshi tells It’s Nice That. “But it was only about three years ago that I took notice of the abundance of 8 pixel monospaced font formats, thanks to the video game graphic issue of Idea.” Inspired by the renowned Japanese magazine, he delved into an exhaustive research project into the design of 1970s, 80s and 90s arcade game typography. Gathering up to 250 pixel typefaces, then carefully categorising and analysing each one, Toshi has now released a book on this extensive endeavour.
Published by Thames & Hudson and designed by Leo Field, Arcade Game Typography features four illustrated essays on videogame typography theory and practice, not to mention the challenges and joys faced by its designers. “Monospaced fonts in 8 pixels is a tight constraint,” adds Toshi on the technical prowess of designing fonts for arcade games. “Despite that, you see designers overcoming the format in the sheer number of the typefaces.” Toshi is in support of the thought that limitation stimulates creativity, and in his words, “this book is a fine example of this.”
All the fonts featured in the book were made without support from typography professionals, a testament to the accessibility of the 8 pixel format. “I want to encourage anyone who reads the book to try making one for themselves,” says Toshi of the book’s inspirational qualities. “There has been no book like this in any region, but not because of lack of interest.” For the last few years, Toshi has witnessed enthusiastic responses from the industry when discussing the idea for the book, “but it was not an easy topic though,” enlightens Toshi. Preparation for the book involved a level of research rivalling a postgraduate degree, not to mention an in-depth knowledge of the gaming, technology and design industries.
For the designers tasked with creating arcade game typography, their work needed to reflect the purpose of the game which offers a “short burst of entertainment” as opposed to the lengthier home gaming devices. As a result, the type tended to be more colourful and flashy, accompanying lighthearted music and playful motifs. Exemplified in the book, the limited edition publication features arcade favourites from the likes of Pac-Man, Super Sprint, and Marble Madness, as well as lesser known games providing an insight into the alphabets’ technical construction.
“I didn’t want to just document the fonts,” says Toshi finally, “I wanted to bring back the best of the collection to the public consciousness.” He even predicts the near future appearance of colour pixel fonts in independent games, as well as in other game-related media and goods.
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.