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January 25, 2009

Curse My Expensive Font Tastes

Without question, some of the best advice I've been given on the business of indie game development has come from Tom Buscaglia, the Game Attorney -- probably one of the best attorneys representing game developers. Much of this advice comes from his Game Dev Kit, a set of information and forms for start-up game developers, which in my opinion is an excellent resource for any small start-up indie. Above all, the best advice is:

"Quite simply, you can not sell what you do not own."

So basically, any and all assets put into a game must be owned by the legal entity (company or individual) that owns the game, or they must have an appropriate license from the actual owner of the asset. Once you really get elbows deep into the development of a game, you quickly realize how complicated this can become due to the many categories and sheer volume of assets that are needed for game development. Every model, every texture, every musical piece or sound clip -- all of it must either be owned by the company making and selling the game, or they have to be licensed to sell it commercially.

This can end up being quite the chore, and it's good practice (especially for the small indie developer who is working primarily on his own) to keep a "master asset list" to track all of these assets and their ownership or licensing status. It also helps to bone up on some of the basic legal issues surrounding appropriate documentation of ownership, and to make sure you take care of those issues sooner rather than later. It's far too easy to slap a sound, musical clip, or texture into your game, even as as a placeholder, and then completely forget about it. Believe me, it sucks to have to track down that dude who helped you with your title music a couple years back because you never asked him to verify and transfer the IP over to you.

One of the assets which, I think, is most often overlooked in this respect is fonts.

Fonts are one of those things that I think a lot of people take for granted -- your computer comes with a whole mess of them installed, and it's easy to find hordes of free ones online. They're often passed around as easily, freely, and inappropriately as MP3s. But for games, fonts are an asset just like anything else, and unless you own it or are licensed commercially, you can't sell it. So the solution is to create your own or buy an appropriate commercial license, unless you want to stick with boring public domain fonts.

The problem for me is that I have a special thing for fonts. I love fonts. I collect them. I hoard them the way some women hoard shoes. I'm a regular customer on and if they offered a frequent buyer rewards program I'm sure I'd soon be platinum level.

So for me, finding the font that is just right for use in Vespers is a long, exhaustive research project. Right now, we're using two main fonts in the game, one for the text input and output windows, and the other for most everything else (the main logo, menu items, titles, buttons, and so forth). The font for the text windows is not a large concern for me, as long as it is clear and legible at multiple sizes, and has at least some interesting style to it. Early on, I settled for a font called Flute, which is shown below. Flute is a pretty cheap font -- I think it originally sold for $8 and last I checked was free on -- and there shouldn't be any problem getting an appropriate license for our use. The other font, however, is a bit of a problem.


Until recently, the font I have been using for all of the good stuff is called Cezanne, by P22 Foundry. Those folks make a lot of very high quality fonts that are used widely for commercial purposes. In fact, I've seen Cezanne in a lot of places -- on TV, in print, even on the cover of my local phone book. It's an extrordinary font that I think is absolutely beautiful, and of all of the fonts I've researched, this one really stands out from the others. I hesitate to say that it is perfect, but damn if it isn't close to that.


But you have to write to P22 if you want to use their fonts commercially and get a special license, like for what we're doing. And, of course, they responded by asking a wild amount of money for this, on the order of $1,500 -- half for embedding the font, the other half for the commercial license. Now, I understand this, of course. This font is a work of art, and it makes sense for them to expect an appropriate license payment from someone who wants to make piles of money on a product the appeal of which is due, at least in part, to their craftsmanship. But given that we're a small indie company with a development budget in the low five digits, this represents a significant fraction of our overall development costs. I tried a little negotiation, and they offered an alternative licensing plan that is less expensive, but it's still a lot. So I've been looking at alternatives.

I've always thought, for some reason, that the main font in the game should be a handwritten font. I'm not entirely sure why, I just feel like it communicates the feel of the game (from the Abbot's perspective) the best. So I'm looking to maintain that, but there are only so many options. Once you get past a few good ones, most handwriting or calligraphy fonts start getting far too curly, decorative, or perfect. And I'm not that easy to please.

Suffice it to say that I haven't come across another one yet that has jumped out at me as a clear replacement for Cezanne, but there are a few options. The best of the bunch is a font called Whitechapel, from Blambot, a foundry that specializes in comic fonts and lettering. It's a nice handwriting font that I think conveys the right image, although I still think it's a step below Cezanne and it doesn't completely satisfy me. So when Blambot told me that our use of the font constitutes "redistribution of a derivative work of the font" which would cost $500 for an appropriate license, I thought, "Thanks, but no thanks."


One of the problems here is that our use of the font is a little atypical. Often under most font licenses, it's illegal to include the font file itself, such as the TrueType file, with a distributed game. But with games powered by the Torque Game Engine, you don't need to include font files with your games -- the Torque engine takes all of the fonts used in the game and creates a special kind of bitmap file for each font and size. The characters are basically rendered to a bitmap and stored for later display. There's no way to reverse engineer it, and no way for clients to take that bitmap and somehow install it on their machine. Nevertheless, many of these companies still believe that this constitutes embedding and redistribution.

I do have permission to use another font, Secret Scrypt, a very cool font from another very cool font foundry called Canada Type. It cost a mere $30 for its commercial fee. It's a bit heavy for my tastes, but it was actually the first font I started using for Vespers, so I may end up just going back to the start with respect to this font.

Secret Scrypt

Curse my expensive font tastes.


Jason Maskell said...

Ya know, I can dig the need to get your creation perfect, but I wanted to put the possibility out there that you are obsessing about a detail that no one else will know or care about.

Paul Furio said...

If the only place this font appears is in the title, and it doesn't need to be rendered as a font, just displayed as an image, why not just find someone with artistic penmanship and have them write out "Vespers", or draw it out a few times? Then you can scan that at a high resolution, and use that as your title?

It's silly to drop money on a font if you're not going to be using it all over the place, and using every letter.

Rubes said...

@Jason: Perhaps so -- I'll acknowledge that fonts are something of an obsession, and the attention this is demanding is surely more than it deserves. Still, so be it. I don't choose to obsess over it because I am concerned that people will notice or care; in fact, it's just the opposite. I do it because it is a design decision, just like any other, but one that carries a particular personal importance to me. Some things you just care about more than others, even if maybe nobody else gives a hoot.

I'm sure there will be many other decisions where people will wonder why the heck I decided what I did, and the answer will be simply because I didn't put much thought into it and I didn't think anyone would notice or care. But hey, at least I didn't obsess about it. You pick your battles.

Besides, the main point is to draw attention to some of the licensing issues when it comes to choosing a font for a project -- it's not always as simple as it may seem, and sometimes you have to settle for something that might not be the optimal choice.

@Paul: No, as I mentioned the font is actually used for quite a few things besides the logo -- menu items, buttons, location tags, labels, and so on. It's the primary font used in the game, on just about every screen and context.

I don't intend to drop that much on a font, hopefully that much is clear, but therein lies the problem. Finding the right font is not just about finding what looks the best, but also what fits the budget the best within the terms of the license.

Jason Scott said...

Please do me a favor, Rubes, and not medically diagnose me on the basis of observation of the completeness/size of my website. There's a big difference between years of dedication to a belief and the involuntary spasm/drive of a mental disease.

Declaring yourself not at the behest of any sort of medical malady while claiming the positive aspects of collecting was a nice touch.

Rubes said...

Understood. I've edited out the unintentionally tasteless portion.

Gail said...

I completely agree with you that the Cezanne is the most beautiful of all the fonts. And I personally never even considered the fact that one would have to by the fonts (I guess because I am not part of the business) good luck with your decision making. I wouldn't want to be in your shoes for this one.

Rubes, I would appreciate it if you would contact me via my email or blog.
Thanks - gail

El Clérigo Urbatain said...

Dear Rubes: I hope I'm not late in this post. Recently a friend of mine post in his blog a recommendation for a ttf font designer:

(in Spanish)

The tool is Font Creator by Highlogic

Maybe you could try deliver it to one of your artist and make your very own font for Vespers. Maybe license this product is more cheaper than license a font, I don't know.

Whatever, I think too that Cezanne is the best one.

Best wishes and best luck. (looking for the first beta!)