Whether it’s pounding out an obligatory work email, firing off some random tweet, slogging through a term paper, texting your mom, or even reviewing a game, most of us use typography on a daily basis and, for the most part, take it and its rich past completely for granted.
Here’s a prime example: why was Times New Roman the default font in Microsoft Word up until 2007? If you don’t know the answer, don’t feel bad; most people don’t. The reason is simply that the font rose to prominence in the 20th century because it was used by most newspapers in the western hemisphere; Microsoft just jumped on the bandwagon and kept using it until just over a decade ago when they switched it up to a more modern typeface, Calibri.
While common knowledge of such history is largely limited to typophiles, typography is something that anyone can enjoy and everyone should appreciate, and nothing illustrates this notion quite as exquisitely or excitingly as the typographic platformer Type:Rider. I got in touch with the game’s creator, Theo Le Du Fuentes of Cosmografik Studios, to find out more about it and how typography inspired its design. Here’s what they had to say:
From a designer’s point of view, why do you enjoy typography and its history?
I started my studies into the printing industry. My school (École Estienne of Paris) was focused on teaching old and modern printing methods like engraving, silkscreen, and offset printing. It was the beginning of my love interest with paper, typography, and printing techniques.
Why did you decide to make a game about it?
In the beginning, I was just trying to make fun games with Flash back in 2008. I wasn’t able to code my own games, so I tweaked a motocross video game I found online and removed everything except the wheel of the engine. That was the first prototype of Type:Rider, but without any reference to typography in it at the moment. Years later, during a game jam, I did another prototype with the alphabet letters as platforms and kept this idea until I had the opportunity to present it to a producer and a publisher who loved it. That’s the origins of Type:Rider: Iterations, patience, and luck!
Why do you think it’s important that some games educate their players?
Games are great when they teach you to understand systems, to be part of a story or learn while doing. With Type:Rider, we didn’t want to teach players to become typographers but just to give them a sample of this important part of culture and history. I often describe Type:Rider as a playable timeline with archives in the background and challenges in the front.
Do you think we’d even have video games if it were not for Gutenberg?
That’s a good question! Print technology was already mastered by the Chinese when Gutenberg designed his printing technique. Books were very expensive and very elitist at that time. A little bit like the first computers. It was only when the technology became cheap enough that most people had access to it. So, in my opinion, games would probably exist anyway but potentially be very different.
Why do you think so many people take typography for granted nowadays?
It became completely accessible, but nobody really knows how to use them. There is not really any education about it. But a lot of people think they know how to use it. It’s become completely available to anyone with a computer or a smartphone. It’s part of our life, but very few people really pay attention to it. It’s a shame, I think because typography is really connected to our history. Invisible but always there.
Why did you choose the fonts and settings that you did in Type:Rider?
I decided to use remarkable fonts from major centuries to tell the history of typography from its origins to the modern age. We choose the prominent typographies that people may already know or recognize and decided to use them as different books telling the stories of fonts, creators, and techniques from ten different time periods.
What’s your favorite font of all time?
Helvetica! Clean, sharp, modern. Nothing to change.
Anything else you’d like to relate to our readers?
Video games are great! But this industry is really polluting the world with all the electronics and servers needed to make it works. We should, as players and designers, play with more sobriety and stop always asking for more and more updates. Retro gaming, shared consoles, streaming…there are a lot of options available for us to play while protecting the planet. My next project will be about this really important subject.
If you want to learn a lot about the history of typography and the various cultural milestones that famous fonts represent, pick up a copy of Type:Rider. It was just recently released on Switch (only $2.99) and is especially great to play in handheld mode; there something incredibly charming about controlling the little rolling colon with a set of Joycons. If you’re still on the fence, check out the trailer below to see just how beautiful interacting with typography can be. And keep an eye out for Cosmografik’s next project.