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Game Lettering: Tale of Tales

[Spoiler warning for FATALE, although I'm not sure FATALE spoilers count, really.]

Indie developer Tale of Tales tend to polarise opinion, but I have a crush on their work. One of the things I appreciate is their use of lettering as an art form.

The Path Logo

A white logo on a black background. "The Path" is written to resemble curved tree trunks, with a network of roots extending downward and leafy branches growing up. A naturalistic horror vibe is created from dense, twisted linework.

The logo for The Path was hand-crafted by Marian Bantjes. She's a famous typographer and graphic designer, the kind who wins awards and attracts labels like 'innovative'. It was a commission borne out of a desire to work with gifted artists, not expediency. A small thing in the scheme of game development, but rather beautiful.

In The Path written words provide the only distinct messages for players to latch onto. As each version of Red Riding Hood explores the forest important places and objects trigger messages, scrawled across the screen. The text is an important anchor to ground the experience, and understand each girl's character and experiences. Feeling a little bit lost in the forest is appropriate, but we don't want to float away completely.

The Path Screenshot

A little girl in a red, hooded outfit in a playground in the middle of a forest. Yellow words on screen read "Wolves are just dogs. But werewolves are like people".

The lettering style in these scenes is simple. With a hint of childlike nature, but not offensively so. The same style is used for each girl, from nine-year-old Robin to nineteen-year-old Scarlet. (Tangent: 19 is way too old to be called a 'girl' really, but since The Path is about growing up I'll stick with it as a term for the group)

The content changes meaningfully for each sister, but the lettering itself doesn't. I think that's a lost opportunity, but maybe I'm going too far. The lettering style suits The Path, but unfortunately creates legibility problems. The yellow text is fine in the darker sections, but disappears into the background when you stumble into a golden field.

I wish I didn't have to make that complaint because The Path is otherwise so enticing. I don't enjoy attacking the weak points where beauty breaks down, but I can't help but notice them. Part of me wants to call it deliberate, as the screen becomes busy with of scratched layers and pictograms. Maybe something things are meant to be difficult or missed. But I'm reaching.

(Previous messages can be accessed via a menu, where the scene background can't interfere, but they just don't feel the same. I want my environmental context.)

Fatale Logo

A logo for Tale of Tales Fatale, subtitled "Exploring Salome". The white lettering is in all capitals with the A's in FATALE replaced by the character lambda (Λ). The composition features the head and shoulders of a pale-skinned woman wearing gold jewellery. There is a full moon overhead and stylised stars below.

The Path is a spiritual experience for me, but FATALE is the Tale of Tales game that really made me want to discuss its letters. For the unfamiliar, FATALE is an "interactive vignette" based on Oscar Wilde's Salome.

I write FATALE in capital letters for a reason, considering the first-century setting and traditional Roman capitals as a starting point (Using lambda to replace A in the logo is just a modern style thing, mind). Within the game, though, the letters are slightly less formal.

The first scene casts you as John the Baptist, locked in a cell with little to do but wait for the executioner to come and claim your head. If you find the right angle you can catch a glimpse of Salome dancing through the grate above. Mostly, though, it's about the lettering. As you wander about the cell words from the play appear. You can view the letters from different angles, or even walk right through those hanging in mid-air.

Fatale Screenshot

A dark cell with words from the play Salome hanging in the air. The stars and the figure of Salome are barely visible through a grating above.

That's just beautiful. It could be copping out to include the text in such a literal, direct way, but my inner Calligrapher was fascinated. I wonder why these letters in particular. I could say some things about this, such as the old-fashioned look of writing in all capitals, but mostly I'm guessing at the intention behind these letterforms.

I'm over-thinking it, of course, but it's not often I get this kind of opportunity. To study the way the tail-end of the G overlaps the line below, and similar details that suggest handwriting (or the desire to emulate handwriting). There's care here, even if in some cases the arrangement of a block of writing isn't perfect.

I had a wonderful time studying the letters in John the Baptist's cell, which probably wasn't quite the intended experience. At least the executioner arriving didn't lose its impact or inevitability.