Friends! Pals! Adoring fans!
This is Adventures in Typography, a newsletter all about typefaces and fonts and what those words really mean, written by your friendly neighborhood .woff enthusiast Robin Rendle.
In the city of Revachol I am not a good person; I am a liar of small and petty lies, a thief of every variety—small coins and well-worn jackets, treasured possessions and anything else I can hoover up from the apartments I casually stroll into. I’m a cop, sure, but I probably think about drugs more often than even the most addicted—my trusted friend Electrochemisty tells me when and where I can procure the materials for a bad trip. But let’s not forget that I also hurt people in my spare time, too. Three perforations in the back of my journal prove that I’ve actually done far more than that; this is a tally of something truly horrible.
Did I mention that I’m also extremely funny? And sure, I’m empathetic and charming and witty and sarcastic and yada yada. I’m complex and the world is complex, too; in my ear, Shivers whispers a story of some distant plain, a landscape of nothing but reeds blowing in the wind.
Shivers? Oh, he’s just a part of me, like Electrochemistry or Half Light; characters, or should I say fractures of my personality that I live alongside with, although I see them as people that I can pull aside and talk to. And at any moment I can take their advice or do their bidding.
And at any moment they can take control.
Wait…I might have played so much Disco Elysium this weekend that I have forgotten who I am. As I peel myself away from the screen in my bedroom at 2am I find the real world slowly draws back into focus. The tree outside my window sways in the wind and I find myself alone with myself. No Electrochemistry, no Esprit de Corps or Physical Instrument to guide the way.
No! I simply will not have it. Take me back to Revachol immediately.
Disco Elysium is, at its heart, a text adventure game in the same spirit as Monkey Island or Broken Sword. You’re a cop trying to solve a murder and you must navigate the world mostly through dialogue—with characters you find in the world and characters you find within yourself.
I can’t remember the last time a game took over my life like this though. I’ve been playing Disco Elysium for the past four days straight with barely a break in between. Partly this is for the world building; the city of Revachol is bleak and crumbling, everyone is lying and racist and broken. But partly my undying love for this game comes from the UI and it’s peculiar form of typography.
Wait—before I go on though—notice how in Monkey Island the text hovers above someone’s head and is pretty hard to read?
Or how in Broken Sword 2 the text is locked up in speech bubbles at the top of the screen?
Well! This is not the case with Disco Elysium: three quarters of the screen may be dedicated to the world that you can navigate by clicking and walking around. But that right hand side of the screen is where the real magic happens: that’s where the stream of text takes over. And unlike most of these sorts of games—the designers of Disco Elysium really know what they’re doing.
And you can tell:
After scouring around trying to find the typeface here I think I have it: Sina Medium, designed by Dieter Hofrichter:
A bookish typeface in a videogame? Call the police! I require that only messy, half-assed sans-serifs be in my videogames.
Anyway, my point here is that if it wasn’t for the great typography of Disco Elysium then this game would be nothing short of a nightmare. That’s because you’re reading books worth of text at any given moment. You talk with corpses and racist lorry drivers and at one moment you even have a conversation with a locked door until it cooly replies that “everybody in the world is doing something without you.”
But all that great writing would be nothing without the typesetting. And so despite all the wonderful design and rather excellent music, Disco Elysium reminds me of something I often forget. It reminds me of what text can really be, what writing and typography is capable of.
Until next time!