Press X to Squint

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This is exactly why I barely played Fable 3. Trying to read the font on my 27" LCD without HDMI cables is almost impossible. Having my face any farther than a few feet away from the screen made all the text illegible. I had no desire to sit with my face pressed against the TV, and it wasn't really an option to play that way regardless, as the TV was up on a high stand and my sitting area is a good 12 feet away.

Needless to say, if you can't read a game like Fable 3, you're not going to be able to play it effectively. Sure, I eventually figured out how to respond to conversations based on colour, but I still had no idea what I was saying.

But clearly Molyneux or whoever designed the game to be played on a large screen in high def, and did not take anything else into consideration.

That being said, my PS3 on my 42" plasma and HDMI cables has never presented a problem for me reading in game text, but I'm sure that the Fable situation is just as prevalent on PS3 games.

A noticeable drop in performance is the reason most games don't allow the user to pick and choose font and font sizes. Most vector-based text rendering frameworks for games are hideously slow.

It is orders of magnitude more performant to have your UI labels and messages pre-rendered on a texture and then render said texture when needed. Because the texture is a fixed size, unless it is scaled relative to a reference resolution, the text will get smaller or larger as resolution increases or decreases respectively.

Seems like gaming's been in it's teenage phase for a good couple of decades...

Anyway, fully agree with all this. It's not just games, the whole software industry seems to treat accessibility with about as much enthusiasm as documentation, even though stuff like this is so easy to fix. Little tip for budding designers/developers - always have in the back of your mind the question "would my mum be able to use this?" Stops 90% of stupid accessibility mistakes before they happen.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The next-gen games have all been lousy with ensuring there is readable text on standard screens and as someone with poor eyesight I have been astounded how little attention these companies pay to something so critical as being able to read! Now that most games don't come with instruction manuals, in game text is how they provide instruction! If you can't read it, that's a massive Fail.

i actually had to hook up my 360 to my computer screen so i could read the stupidly small text and the bloody map in All my games on my perfectly fine 29inch box tv. its a sad day when you want a 360 for your TV you'll also need a 50+ inch to see words and dots on a map. not everyone can afford one, lot alone fit it in a small living room.

Hulyen:
Poor font choices always bother me. Why settle for pretty but unreadable, when you can have both?

I'm waiting for the day when an 'edgy' rpg uses Papyrus as a subtitle font and I have an excuse to go rampaging through the city. (Protip: Almost nobody uses Egyptian fonts properly. Papryus makes me swear out loud nearly every time I see it.)

Papyrus isn't an Egyptian font. But yeah, I agree it's often used badly. Like Comic Sans it also suffers badly from overuse.

I'm not alone!!! I had this problem with both Dragon Age games, though the second one in particular. I gave up knowing what I had in my inventory and just guessed. I know my eyesight is bad, but I never thought it was quite that bad. The few times I complained to my boyfriend about it he told me to upgrade to a bigger TV :-/ and that it was similar to PC games--if a new one comes out and your computer can't run it, upgrade your computer. However, I agree with others that it is an accessibility issue as well; one of the reasons I prefer consoles is so that I don't have to upgrade anything constantly, and they are supposed to work on ALL tvs.

Some day, the original gaming generation is going to get old and need games to be more accessible. Game studios are also going to have to realize that the people who purchase their games are from a much wider demographic and don't all have perfect vision or perfect hearing.

I can't even begin to tell you how many games had me missing important lore and dialogue because 1) I can't afford to replace my giant standard tube TV, and 2) I'm visually impaired to begin with and needed glasses.

All it takes is a smidgen of effort, just a single solitary "damn" they could give, to improve the font used and the size presented, and then everyone could enjoy the parts they could (or need to) read.

Reading the article I remembered the font of the old SSI Gold Box RPG games. That was an unreadable font if I ever saw one.

I actually thought Skyrim had a font that was reasonably easy to read. I thought the choice was odd from a design perspective, but not from a usability perspective. Everything else in the Skyrim UI was broken, but the font was ok.

I find it hard to care much about fonts when games have so many usability issues that are far worse in my experience. Poorly defined UI hitboxes, inconsistent mouse focus, inconsistent use of keyboard shortcuts, deep nested menus, lack of FOV settings and settings in general, bugs that prevent games from even running. For me the choice of font gets pretty far down on my list of complaints, although occasionally truly horrible font choices do happen.

I assume this is a problem with consoles?

The last time I had a problem like this was on my big old TV that was from the early 90s hooked up to my PS2. But I never once had a problem with reading text on any PC or PC game I've ever owned.

I won't argue with people who want to claim the UI text in Skyrim is ugly, but it's perfectly readable on a PC. Once again demonstrating the inherent superiority of the PC as a gaming platform.

(How am I doing on my flamebaiting?)

Fwee:
I guess Standard Definition isn't the standard anymore?
There isn't a worldwide conspiracy of game developers working to force everyone to purchase expensive new televisions and thus create an ever-increasing dependency on high-technology, but sometimes it feels that way.

I just bought three HD monitors. *points at title*. I'm down with that conspiracy. Given at nvidia surround supports more than 3 monitors, and Eyefinity does six, thw push for super high res games isnt new :p

Lyndraco:
I know my eyesight is bad, but I never thought it was quite that bad. The few times I complained to my boyfriend about it he told me to upgrade to a bigger TV :-/ and that it was similar to PC games--if a new one comes out and your computer can't run it, upgrade your computer.

One of these things is not like the other. Buying a bigger screen isn't the same or even similar to upgrading a rig so the game can run. What would be similar to that is getting your eyes replaced with better ones so you could read a screen.

Front Line Mission Evolved is pretty much the worst. I couldnt read shit in the customization screen.

It would be nice to see some love for people with poorer eyesight same as there is for people hard of hearing.

HDTV's truly are my favourite piece of technology to come about in the last 10-15 years though(Complete guess, don't shoot me). I don't know what I would do without HDTV anymore. And it's something I would recommend to everyone in this day and age.

Hitchmeister:
I won't argue with people who want to claim the UI text in Skyrim is ugly, but it's perfectly readable on a PC. Once again demonstrating the inherent superiority of the PC as a gaming platform.

(How am I doing on my flamebaiting?)

I might have been great for you on PC, but that might only mean you have good eyesight. I personally don't see much of a difference between 720p (Xbox/PS3 resolution) and 1080p (PC capable resolution).

I was going to mention mods for the PC versions of games, because I'm sure it's not that hard of a process for a mod maker to change the in game text, and I'm sure there is already a few for Skyrim floating around.

Just my two cents.

I have some vision issues that don't affect my overall game experience too much but DO make it hard to read small text. This is only going to get worse for me over time. I've been wishing for a while that developers would fix their text.

And on the PC it's the opposite. We get fonts printed by the Size-O-Tron 2000 in our console ports due to the mega fonts that they seem to need to be read on a telly.

Skyrim is funnily enough a big offender here. The UI and fonts on that should be declared crimes against mankind. 75% or the screen is basically wasted by huge letters and silly lists that you have to scroll through.

also how hard is it to put a black background behind subtitles so that when the scene behind them is a similar colour it will still be readable and not blend in.

I remember playing Gothic 4 - ArcadiaA demo as it had this exact problem and it had it BAD. I couldn't even play it thanks to it being text heavy by nature.

Just look at it!

finally, an article about typography! im such a nerd...

i was actually able to see the difference first hand. i have a standard definition big screen, and when playing skyrim on it the sides of the screen were cut off so i could not read anything fully, but worst still is that what i COULD see was just a blur of white. then when i finally got an HDTV, i was finally able to get a full view of...wait, is that a 'b' or 'cl'? fuck, i cant read anything from the couch, i have to get a chair and get closer... why does this nordic fantasy game have a sci-fi font? it sure as fuck wasnt chosen for legibility.

EDIT: none of which would be a problem if my PC could run skyrim. i have to put most games down to 800x600 resolution to get decent FPS and they are still more legible than console counterparts. the utterly hilarious thing is that i use the same TV as my PC monitor that i use to play xbox. man, consoles are lagging in the graphics...

Nadia Oxford:
Granted, developers have enough on their minds when assembling a game of Skyrim's magnitude. It's hard enough making sure that dragons fly forward, so it's understandable why Bethesda might have said, "Screw it, the text looks good, and that's all that matters."

However, that doesn't make poor typesetting excusable.

Thank you for saying what otherwise generally goes unsaid. I don't consider myself lucky I get a game at all, it's supposed to be a fair and amicable translation, they should want to entertain us, that is the job we pay them for. To dump something messy or half finished on us is insulting, but not nearly as galling as suggesting we should all run out to buy large expensive HDTV sets to accommodate a game.

I remember Dead Rising all too well. That was one of my first Xbox 360 games, and as much as I wanted to enjoy it I couldn't simply because I couldn't read what was happening. Such flippancy, which I also remember at that time, assured I would not invest in another Capcom game. To this day I haven't directly paid for anything else they've released solely due to their attitude toward their customers.

A great piece, unfortunately it just further reminds me how irresponsibly complacent developers and publishers have become regarding their "good" standing with paying customers.

I gotta say that, while I am all for readable text, I really don't understand the complaint about Skyrim. I never had any problems reading it, and in fact I thought it was one of the nicest looking, and least intrusive fonts I had seen in a game...

maybe it's just me and the screen I play on, but that seems like a shockingly poor example to me.

One of my friends was ridiculously excited when she finally got the chance to pick up Skyrim. A few short hours later, she completely rage-quit the game because their average-sized, standard-definition TV blurred the text so bad it was literally unreadable. At one point, she was having trouble navigating the menus, since she's a fairly casual gamer usually, and because of the tiny text. I tried to help, and after staring at the menu options for a good five minutes, I couldn't tell you what ONE of them said. I could venture a guess, but it would be based off of what I assume would be there, not what I saw. What I saw was an illegible white mass of confusion, not an RPG menu. Skyrim is easily the worst offender I've seen other than Dead Rising, but most other games are almost as bad. I just picked up Mass Effect (1, I'm just a *little* behind) on GameFly, and I can barely read the subtitles on my HD TV I'm playing it on. Granted, it's a small set, but not small enough that it should be an issue. I've had this same problem in a LOT of other games. And the funny part is that most games from the previous console gen had subtitle fonts so large it bordered on comical. I NEVER had this problem before I got my XBox360.

And I NEED those subs. I'm not hard of hearing, but most of my free time that I spend on gaming is also the same free time as my father, who during HIS leisure time listens to and plays music in the same room that I game in. He listens to it very loudly, and I don't like my games anywhere near loud enough that it could compete with his music. I can't hear the TV when it's three feet from my face because of this, so subtitles are the only way I have any idea what's going on.

Sometimes when I can't use an HDTV for whatever reason, I just give up on playing my Ps3 for weeks because of this. The text really is that small.

Hear hear. Since I play most of my games on PC with a monitor at most 2 feet away from my face this is rarely an issue, but when playing some console games and even a few PC games (Empire Total War I'm looking at you)reading is just a pain in the ass because of how small or indistinct text can get.

This really shouldn't be a problem,text is pretty damned hard to screw up, but somehow developers have found a way.

Personally would recommend changeable text/menu sizes, so those with smaller tvs or who sit farther away can read them at the cost of more scrolling/more screen estate taken up in menus, and those who have large tvs or enjoy pressing their eyes against the screen can have their small menus.

Good article.

It immediately brought to mind Diablo II where the numbers 5 and 6 were nearly indistinguishable.

I recently bought a PS3 and a few games, and I've encountered this problem. On my SDTV reading text in the Amalur demo was painful, and in the FFXIII-2 demo some letter are just blobs even with the larger font option on.

All of the text in Disgaea 4 is readable, with just a bit of squinting at the unit stats. Sengoku Basara 3 Utage is totally clear, perhaps a result of also being developed for the Wii. On an SD screen it only loses some of the finer details, though it's also an import in a language I don't understand.

Much of the text in Warriors Orochi 3 is completely illegible. Even on a large HDTV with component(?) cables the text in between battle dialogues runs together, and the dialogue boxes take up only a meager portion of the screen.

With PC games their minimum requirements are prominently displayed. Buying a new TV means ~$200 of my entertainment budget is now spoken for. I'm not destitute, but there isn't much in that budget to begin with. "You should already have an HDTV" sounds like some "Final Destination only, no items" nonsense.

The problem doesn't really lie with developers, it's console manufacturers - there just isn't enough standardisation.
Most fonts in videogames are bitmapped, compared to your OS, with it's truetype, smooth screen fonts. See a truetype font like you see on this webpage is made from vectors, so the font can be scaled to any size without loss of quality, it will always look right, and remain legible even at pretty small sizes. The smoothing, or anti-aliasing is better, because it's based on vector data being rendered onto bitmap data.
Now, if you have a bitmap font, it's at a set size, when it's scaled, all hell breaks loose. If you scale a bitmap font to a higher resolution it looks blurred, if you scale a bitmap font to a lower resolution it looks blocky. You can't win, all you can do is set the font size to a standard, don't scale it, in fact if you scale it your better off having different sized bitmap fonts = lots of resources taken up.

Take the iPad for example. Someone might make an iOS game that runs on both iPhone and iPad, but that's not easy because scaling will make one or both of the versions look worse. You take a 480x320 display and update it to 960x640, fair enough. Then add in the iPad res of 1024x768. That's a scaling factor of 2.0, then 2.13333333333. Scale a bitmap font by 2.1333333 and its starting to look pretty shitty already. The general solution? - make the font ideal for iPad, then it'll look shit on the iPhone... developers can't win. The more complex and fancy and pretty the UI has to be, the less power the developers have to customize it for each different device.

So what is the ideal solution?

Truetype font support across every gaming format, a standard - a flexible font system that looks good no matter what the resolution, because it's being anti-aliased on a native resolution. It might mean less pizzazz on screen fonts, but legibility is the important factor. Not that it matters, it'll never happen - developers are stuck with bitmap fonts because console manufacturers might not necesserily want older games to look too nice on new hardware. This is gamings era of cross platform gaming - developers have driven that, not console manufacturers... they tend to only care about their own platforms, and really Apple doesn't even have to care about these things, people buy their hardware anyway.

Tuning cars in Forza 4 is a nightmare if your using a SDTV that's blurring out and losing color.

Follow up article needs to be about sound problems. How many times have you missed what a charector was saying because the explosions or background music drowned out the vocals (Yes, even in surround sound)

I have used a standard definition set for this whole generation. It started out fine, but I have huge issues now whenever I want to just read text. It's infuriating. Anything beyond 2009 2010 is overly difficult to see anything on. I am playing fifa 12 at the moment and the text in that is horrible, often being incapable of deciphering simple on screen information. How hard can it be to put a text resize option into the game?

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