The Illustrated History of Arcade Game Typography

Thursday November 21, 2019 Written by James

Video game manufacturers in the 1970s didn’t have the luxury of butter-smooth graphics or giant, quad-core processors. They were limited by the humble pixel: a big, blocky thing that could be seen from the other side of the room. So when it came time to design typography and lettering, they had to think in terms of squares. Thus an entire generation of ‘arcade fonts’ was born, splashed across Atari screen all over the world.

London-based designer Toshi Omagari has collected these fonts in his new book, Arcade Game Typography, a book that will appeal to that niche part of the Venn Diagram where ‘gamers’ and ‘typographers’ overlap. It’s basically the illustrated history of gaming typeface from the ’70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

“I think I was always sensitive to video game graphics,” Toshi told Better Letters Co. “When I started typeface design professionally I noticed the artistry of pixelated fonts, especially coloured ones, which were virtually unknown among professional designers.”

Toshi even reckons he’s identified the so-called ‘Helvetica’ of gaming fonts. It’s called ‘Atari Quiz Show’ and you’ve probably seen it thousands of times, usually in the form of GAME OVER. “It’s the most interesting one by far,” Toshi says, “not because of its graphical features but [because of] how influential it became. It was the standard-looking serif originally designed in 1976, and went on to be the most frequently used typeface in video game history.”

You can grab a copy of Arcade Game Fonts from publisher Thames & Hudson.