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Geek Discussion: What The Hell Is Wrong With Our Video Game Text Sizes?
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The Movie God   |  @   |  
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This is a topic that has been itching at me for a decent amount of time now, but I’ve tried to store it away and forget about it. This, as we all know, is not very healthy. So with that, it’s time to vent off about this progressively glaring situation and allow all of you a place to sound off.

For those of you who are unaware, a disturbing trend has become the norm when picking up a brand new video game. Imagine waiting one, two, maybe three years for an exciting new game or massive sequel, and when we finally get it in our hands it’s like Christmas morning. Now imagine gently placing your new game into your console, firing it up, and preparing to set off on a new adventure…only to discover that you can’t read the words on the screen. This is what has been going on more often than anyone has the stomach to handle.

In these many titles the text is so small, that reading them comfortable is impossible. The words aren’t completely illegible as many claim, but in order to read, you have to be fairly close and sometimes can find yourself staring blankly at a word, trying to figure out what it is (Click image just once for basic idea of what the font is like to read for me personally). Now I’m no genius, but when you have to decrypt an unencrypted word, SOMETHING has to be broken somewhere along the line, right?

No one knows exactly why the fonts are the way that they are, but it’s generally assumed that it’s all programmed to work best with HD televisions. That’s what I always assumed was the reason behind it, but further inspection led to the discovery that many HD TVs have the same issues. All-in-all it sounds like many people have no problem while many others do, leaving us still with no answers.

Personally, I don’t care what TV it works on, whether it’s HD or SD or anything in between. A lot of people have HD TVs, but so many still do not. To choose to use smaller, almost unreadable fonts is so inexcusably ignorant and insulting to the fans that make your games successful…it’s incredibly infuriating. And it’s not just for people with small older sets, either; I play on a fairly large SD TV, and again, I’ve even read of people with HD that have the same problems. The fact of the matter is that the developers of these games are consciously making these decisions and it needs to stop, no matter how big or how high the definition gets. Do we really live in a time where a game having font a couple of sizes bigger and clearer would be distracting from the game itself on a giant TV? Not at all, and that would heal all of these issues. There’s absolutely zero reasons for it and it’s destroying the overall enjoyability of their games, which is clearly something that they should care passionately about as developers.

To throw a few examples your way, I’ve had this issue with mostly sequels. BioShock 2 and Assassin’s Creed II were the first to stand out to me and Dragon Age: Origins gave me some problems, but these weren’t unbearable. It’s the latest title and the one I’m playing right now that’s the worst by far and the one that has pushed me to write this post: Mass Effect 2. ME2 is so bad because there’s SO much to read. There’s endless information on species and weapons and planets, information on missions, maps and worlds to navigate, and of course, the ability to choose your own dialogue.

Oh, and just to be safe and make sure it wasn’t my own vision issues, I popped in the original games to these sequels. And wouldn’t you know it — perfect, crystal-clear text. It was the most glorious thing I had ever laid eyes on.

I really don’t want to come off like I’m bashing BioWare. The fact of the matter is that I love them and their games, which are some of the best being made today. They just happen to have the best example to this current gaming problem — a problem that involves many different developers and shouldn’t be ignored anymore. I can already tell how amazing Mass Effect 2 is in terms of story and visuals, but can also tell that I won’t be able to enjoy it as much of the first game specifically for this one reason.

When ME2 first came out countless people screamed their frustrations over the font issues. And what was the response? Well, BioWare’s Michael Gamble had this to say:

I’ve gotten a number of PMs about this. Messaging me more will not speed up the process. We are looking at the threads, but unless we necessarily have traction on it””we can’t post information we don’t have. I’ll have to talk to Casey about this (as any way to address it would have far reaching changes in the game), but please don’t expect any decisions or a fix in the near future (as we are supporting a number of issues at this time). This was a design choice, not a bug.

To me, much like recent complaints about the new iPhone, this sounds like a “we really just don’t care” answer. The game came out almost seven months ago, and Gamble’s response not long after. From what I can tell, no attempt has been made to fix it; no patches to increase the size of the font (not even sure that can be done). Just a forget about it and move on seems to be the strategy, and that to me anyway, is insulting.

As for solutions the obvious is, well…obvious: stop making the text so tiny; there’s no need for it. Other answers could be a setting to allow users to alter the size of the font and customize it to their own gaming setups. For a quick fix, the only option that I’ve found is to go into your System Settings, and change the display from normal to widescreen. This does make some of the words a little bit more legible, though it also squishes your screen and makes everything taller and thinner. It’s not perfect, but it is an option since no one else is doing anything about it. I mean, this is FONT we’re talking about, right? How can it possibly so complex a situation that no one can fix the size of the text we read?

If anyone from any of these game companies or anyone else has solutions, by all means, share with us! Other than that, this is more a less a plea to game developers to stop with the tiny texts. It serves no purpose and causes many problems. Test your game on all types of TVs and systems to make sure it’s as perfect in all aspects as a product of that caliber should be.

Apologies for the mega-post, friends. I did not realize so much had to be said about a topic that would seem so unimportant, but it really is negatively affecting these games.

Now the floor is open to you! Share your experiences with games like this so we know which to be careful about purchasing, and how you’ve dealt with it. And none of that “buy a huge HD TV” crap — we can’t all afford to splurge on a shiny new 70″ flat screen these days, though the game companies apparently think that we can and we have.

11 Comments »

  1. As a designer who works with text often, mostly producing corporate literature for companies in PDFs and not games, the rules are the same: usability over aesthetics. I get why having small font type looks cool, especially in a futuristic setting. It’s become the norm. But as for legibility, I completely agree with you on this post.

    I’m seeing more and more web designers adopt the use of bigger text and layout… and it seems that they are leading the charge as far as modern design is concerned. Games will follow suit, and already beginning to do that in the indie-game world.

    Considering my own gaming roots, being the Commodore 64 and NES… the text used in those games were quite pixely and ugly by today’s standards, yet they were very readable, especially when streams of text flowed during cut-scenes. People today enjoy the use of cool looking fonts and often overlook the possibility that others can’t read it. I’m having to teach myself as I work on projects, too.

    Comment by Slipstream — July 7, 2010 @ 3:26 pm

  2. Good rant. I have had this problem in the past on my ps3 but it was fixed when I got an hd tv (a very large one).

    Comment by Brian — July 7, 2010 @ 5:02 pm

  3. I had this problem just last week trying to play Guitar Hero: World Tour on the Wii. We have a 32″ HD TV, so this shouldn’t be an issue at all. The problem was that the lyrics were too small to read, much less sing at the right tone! That’s inexcusable for something so critical to gameplay. However, Guitar Hero 5 looks fine, so I guess they learned their lesson.

    Comment by Chuck Smith — July 7, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

  4. TEKKEN 6 IS AN EXAMPLE… IF YOU PLAY MASS EFFECT 2 ON YOUR PC YOU CAN READ EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!!!!

    Comment by INIESTA — July 11, 2010 @ 6:47 pm

  5. I just got Skyrim.  Same thing.  Soooo disappointed.  Kills the joy

    Comment by Theegamedude — November 11, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

  6. totally agreed, being able to read the text is not an option in playing many of these games, such as ME2, it’s necessary. forgot about enjoying them, can’t even read the instructions on how to use the controller functions. I don’t know anything about game programming but, I’m bet it doesn’t required a rocket scientist to figure it. Maybe the developers are telling players without HD TVs, like myself, something. And maybe the only way these corporate guys listen is when people stop buying their products-lets boycott them. Maybe then Michael Gamble will give a @##% about it.

    Comment by Abcd — December 29, 2011 @ 1:27 am

  7. It is absolutely retarded. Last night i decided to throw in bioshock 2 again, but too bad. Cause apparently these games were intended for 70 inch HD tvs that are 3 feet away from your face. I couldnt even get past the first section of the game due to not being able to read a single word, or control and ended up walking in circles for an hour and a half. 

    Needless to say bioshock 2 is being thrown in the fire…

    Comment by Regicidal32 — April 11, 2012 @ 11:46 am

  8. had the same problem even though I hardly buy any games. It reminds me of a little story… in the 90’s I visited Silicon Graphics for some reason. They showed me a virtual reality world they were building for the web. “cool”, I said, “but that’s a whole lot of data you’re serving for each environment”…

    The answer was a big smile…. “oh yes, but it doesn’t matter to us [the developers] it’s all on our local network!”

    So my guess is the game developers have monitors that are much better than ours…

    Comment by dani — February 5, 2013 @ 8:33 pm

  9. Game of Thrones is a major offender in this category. The text is so small that any adjustment to your tv with sharpness, contrast, brightness and tint, no matter if it’s a HDTV or an old tube tv you will not be able to read the written text. Mind you that I’ve tried even sitting a half foot away staring at a word and not being able to decipher it, even when I can half assedly read the word before and/or after it. I would really like to know how the developers were able to read it prior to it’s release. They must of had 6000x10000p resoultion on a 48″ HDTV. If not they must know what is says because they wrote it so they don’t need to read it. I have all three Mass Effect games and I didn’t have much of a problem with them. I have an old tube tv that’s only 27″, but I couldn’t even get into Game of Thrones past 10 mins due to not being able to read the text. My friend owns the game and lent it to me to see if I liked it and if I could read the text as well. He couldn’t read it on a 62″ HDTV! If the developers don’t have that high res tv I mentioned before, they must make these games on a 300″ tv or they use microscopes to read.

    Comment by vinny mills — April 27, 2013 @ 2:38 am

  10. I don’t usually finish games, but I recently spent enough time to finish two games this month: Tomb Raider (twice!) and State of Decay on my 360. I find it ironic that the two games I spent the most time with were infuriatingly impossible to read.

    SoD’s handwritten-type font is endearing, but it is EXTREMELY important to read ability upgrade info and supply reports. I thought we were nearly out of one resource until I begrudgingly spent the “last” of it only to realize we had 7, not 1. It is impossible to distinguish between + and – as vertical lines are too thin to make out. (Exact same +/- problem in Scrolls on my android, but that game was never designed to run at my tablet’s resolution.) It’s a good thing there’s full voice work in Tomb Raider or else I’d never have experienced all that game had to say.

    I’ve been having this problem since Dead Rising (1) and am glad that I’m not alone; perhaps we can get devs to make legibility a priority.

    Comment by Overseer — March 20, 2015 @ 10:22 pm

  11. I just got Borderlands 2 for my PS Vita, but I can’t read anything. It blows because the game so far looks like a lot of fun. I have optical atrophy to top it all off too.

    Comment by Ima Badlady — June 4, 2015 @ 3:33 pm

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