0Though their relationship with actual videogames is purely formal, some typefaces and lettering created in the early part of the 20th century bear a surprising resemblance to forms found in videogames of the 1970s. Chief among these designs is the work of the Dutch De Stijl group, an artist group associated with the periodical, De Stijl, first published in 1918 (Purvis 25)â . Theo van Doesburg was the groupâs founder and sole editor of the journal, and it is his dominant personality which characterizes much of the groups ideals, expressed in a series of manifestos which lay out the groupâs core ideal, identifying and uniting the universal consciousness of artistic expression (Blotkamp, âIntroductionâ ix)â . In practice, this meant âsearching for and the most fundamental elements of each separate field of art and then uniting these elements in a well-balanced relationshipâ (Blotkamp, âIntroductionâ ix)â . The groupâs artistic works tend to emphasize rectilinear forms and primary colors, and the typography employed in the journal itself is strikingly performative (see figure 2-43). Typography itself is an art based on the mechanical reproduction of a limited set of forms, so it seems a fitting medium for explore the aesthetic ideas of De Stijl.
0The De Stijl artist most responsible for creating videogame-like letterforms was Vilmos HuszÃ¡r, who created the famous logo for De Stijl seen in figure 2-44. The block letters for the title DE STYL, often erroneously credited to van Doesburg (Ex 92)â , are formed from uniformly spaced rectangles which create each letter within the space of an identically sized square. Like the bitmap compositions of videogame letters, the unity of each form depends on the successful arrangement of geometrically inflexible components. HuszÃ¡râs anachronistic references to videogames continue in his Ornament XXe eeuwse stijl (Figure 2-45), which bears a resemblance to the representations of binary code I discuss in chapter 3. And his Compositie II (Figure 2-46), depicts human figures ice-skating which look uncannily similar to animation sprites such as the ones used for the Atari VCS game Superman (1979). Figure 2-47 shows the two side by side, with the figures rearranged for better comparison. Object 2-1 is a simple animation using the same principle as the Atari sprite animation, but taking HuszÃ¡râs figures as the source image.
0A typeface (or, more properly, a lettering style) designed and used frequently by van Doesburg makes another contribution of rectilinear letterforms that have a formal relationship to videogame lettering. This alphabet, shown in figure 2-48, is based on the same square form employed by HuszÃ¡r as a constraint, but even though van Doesburgâs design is significantly more legible, it remains useful primarily for titling and logos.
0Piet Zwart, an artist associated with De Stijl, used similar lettering throughout the 1920s, with the apparent purpose to emphasize âtechnology, universality, abstraction, and functionalismâ (Purvis 62)â , ideas which anticipate how this style of lettering is used today. In 1995, type foundry P22 released a revived and expanded version of van Doesburgâs alphabet as DeStijlâ¢, and in 1997 The Foundry released their own version as âArchitype van Doesburg.â Like HuszÃ¡râs letters, these can be associated with videogames by reference to the forms, but a surprising contextual association also appears in Wired Magazine.
0Figure 2-49A shows the spine text for Wired after its redesign of March 2007.The face is a custom design by Hoefler and Frere-Jones (Editors 26)â , but its capital W and capital R are close matches for van Doesburgâs. Furthermore, the logotype used for each section of the magazine (Figure 2-49B includes the logos used to mark the âStartâ and âPlayâ sections) are similarly rectilinear and echo the forms used by van Doesburg and HuszÃ¡r, and also by the type designs of Dutch architect H. T. Wijdevald whose lettering for Wendingen is also echoed in the logotype for the digital culture blog Boing Boing (2-50).
0What are we to make of these associations between Wired, which connects these specific typefaces to a context appropriate for videogames? It seems to be the case that Wiredâs use of these designs does not depend on their referentiality. Rather, the hard edges and rectilinear forms of these samples is consistent with the overall look of the magazineâs redesign, and is consistent with previous designs which employed the look of jaggy, pixelized shapes throughout. Perhaps one conclusion we can draw is that if the aesthetic idea HuszÃ¡r sought was to reduce letterforms to the most fundamental units which could still produce a recognizable character, then maybe the alleged purity of that approach also applies to videogame type design which has the units predetermined by the raster of the bitmaps which store each shape. In other words, if HuszÃ¡râs design was successful for reasons related to its form, then perhaps those same formal elements, unintentionally re-created in videogame letters accomplish the same aesthetic goals. In one possible example of this, lettering design for the 1982 Atari 2600 game Blue Print (CBS Electronics) contains text consistent with a typeface designed by van Doesburg in 1928 (see figure 2-51).
0The association between De Stijl and videogames comes full circle with Pac Mondrian (punning on Pac-Man and De Stijl artist Piet Mondrian), a project created by the artist collective Prize Budget for Boys (âPac-Mondrianâ)â . The project consists of a series of playable games programmed in Java which allow players to carry out a game of Pac-Man in a maze based on Piet Mondrianâs painting, âBroadway Boogie-Woogieâ (Figure 2-52). PBFB states that, âPac-Mondrian disciplines the syncopated rhythms of Mondrianâs spatial arrangements into a regular grid, then frees the gaze to follow the viewerâs whimsical perambulations of the painting: a playerâs thorough study of the painting clears the levelâ (Pac-Mondrianâ)â .
0One final bastion of Dutch graphic design having an interesting affinity with videogame typography is the 20th century designer, Wim Crouwel. In 1967, Crouwel designed an experimental alphabet specifically designed to accommodate CRT compositors and display screens. Contrasting his design with the distortions CRT introduced to a Garamond font, the so-called âNew Alphabetâ embraces that limitation by constructing each letterform with only right angles (Figure 2-53). Others of Crouwelâs designs feature prominent grids, but it is not necessarily the case that he intended his grids as a response or appeal to technology.
0I am always interested in clarity. It should be clear. It should be readable. It should be straightforward. ... So I started using, gradually, grids for my designs, for my catalogs for museums. I invented a grid, and within the grid I played my game. But always along the lines of the grid so that there is a certain order in it. That is why I use grids. That is why they call me âgridnik.â For me itâs a tool of creating order, and creating order is typography. (Crouwel, comments in Hustwit)â
0Therefore, for Crouwel, a grid is an expression of the ideal modernist impulse toward simplicity, but the sense in which his designs echo his Dutch forebears while also existing contemporaneously with OCR and MICResque designs provides an important link between the two domains of videogame paratype. The Modernist basis of Crouwelâs grid-based compositions suggested that similar, necessarily grid-based designs such OCR, MICR, or bitmap typefaces, may also express Modernist principles of order and clarity. As a paratype of videogame typography, the New Alphabet invokes clarity as a condition of order and implies that typographic expression within videogames is itself âclearâ in the sense that Crouwel uses the term. However, the widely varied and contingent textuality which actually exists within this allegedly idealistic grid-like framework demonstrates the extent to which the âgameâ of typography is more subjective than Crouwel seems to suggest. At least, it is not typically subject to the eye of a master like Crouwel.
0Two typefaces by Italian designer Aldo Novarese connect the Modernist impulses of Crouwel within paratypical and holotypical applications. Microgramma, first published in 1952 as a capitals-only typeface, and Eurostile, released in 1962 with as a completion of Microgramma, borrow their basic rounded-square form from technology. In his 1964 book, Alfa Beta, Novarese also describes his basis for these typefaces within contemporary (1950s and 60s) architecture.
0The examples that we have grouped under the title: âsquare shapesâ are typical expressions of the trends of this century, and have arisen to match the font to current architectural preferences.
0The squared, compact shape, indeed, is now quite familiar. It is present, even predominant, in everything that surrounds us. And fonts â today, as in the past â blend with the expression of todayâs world. So samples, even if distinguished, of older writing demonstrate that every style â be it Bodonian, Venetian, Egyptian, or Linear â can modify its shapes (especially with regard to curves) from rounder ones to those that are more squared and sharply angled without excessively modifying the original shape.
0The squared shape is the typical expression of our century, as was the round arch from which the Roman stone working style arose; or as the pointed arch which evolved into the Gothic character. (Novarese, qtd. in Blackwell 106)â 13
0Novareseâs illustration (Figure 2-54), however, shows a train window as one of many places from which the Microgramma square derives. This comparison anticipates Jacob Rabinowâs discussion of the aesthetic influence of technological restrictions, but it performs the opposite transition. Whereas Rabinow argues that the forward-slanting design of bus windows arose from a consequence of photographic technology which associated forward-slanting lines with rapid motion, Novarese seems to draw aesthetic inspiration from a technology which may be square-shaped only by necessity.
0Blackwell also notes a comparison that seems a likely explanation for Eurostileâs continued success, the television screen. Figures 2-55 and 2-56 show the artwork on the box for an early gaming console, the Coleco Telstar Marksman from 1978. The console is a late PONG-clone, with the addition of two game-modes which make use of a light gun. As such, it is a very typical gaming device of the 1970s, both in terms of its technology and design. The logotype for the game combines Helvetica and Avant Garde ITC typefaces, but the description text, set in Eurostile, makes clear the affinity between the font and the adjacent television screen illustrations, and brings full-circle the discussion of paratypical videogame typography.
0Eurostile appeared on many other game fliers, boxes and artwork, and it is still prevalent in contexts where it is meant to invoke technological or futuristic style. For example, the Blip box art in figure 2-3 uses Eurostile (ironically) for the text âNo TV set required.â Eurostile is also the typeface of choice for the bibliographic software Zotero and is probably most visible as the logotype for insurance company GEICO. If the success of Eurostile does have anything to do with its invocation of the shape of television screens, it is significant to note that this is an increasingly nostalgic inference as the use of more rectangular flat screen and high definition televisions becomes more widespread. Crouwelâs New Alphabet was also designed specifically with reference to CRT technology, so its historical paratypical association becomes an increasingly dated reference to technology even though the formal (i.e. rectilinear) identity continues to drive associations with constraints of technology.
- 13. I am grateful to Mark Vasani and Richard Paez for their assistance in translating this passage from Italian.