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 MyFonts.com 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 MyFonts.com -- 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.
Curse my expensive font tastes.