How Pentiment’s hand-crafted fonts give pen and ink a voice

Speaking to Obsidian design director Josh Sawyer compelled me right into a harsh realization: I’ve the handwriting of a peasant.

Many years of schooling and the web’s infinite assets at my fingertips, and but my messy rooster scratch would match proper in with a sixteenth century Bavarian peasant’s in Pentiment (opens in new tab). It is some comfort that Sawyer says his would, too.

In our protection, the printing press is a bit Extra established in 2022 than it was within the sixteenth century, when your writing spoke volumes about your schooling, social class, and occupation. That granularity is why Obsidian partnered with design agency Lettermatic (opens in new tab) to create six distinctive fonts for Pentiment, every telling you one thing concerning the characters you meet and discuss to whereas making an attempt to unravel Pentiment’s mysterious murders.

“Handwriting was altering quite a bit right now, with totally different literacy ranges,” says Sawyer. “So an individual who’s a peasant and probably illiterate, or does not learn or write very properly, makes use of a peasant script. Center-class individuals have a tendency to make use of a extra refined cursive script. College-educated individuals, particularly from Italy, use a Humanist script. The older monks, particularly in the event that they’re related to the scriptorium, use a Gothic, blackletter font. After which the printers and individuals who learn loads of printed books use a printed typeface.”

These distinct typefaces are simply the beginning of Pentiment’s font system. In a recreation largely about artwork and writing—protagonist Andreas Maler is an artist at an abbey in 1518 when the story begins—it was simply as vital for the textual content to really feel tangible.

When “handwritten” dialogue seems it begins a darkish, shimmering black, then flattens and flattens out like ink. It even bleeds slightly, prefer it’s being absorbed into parchment. Nicely-educated scribes write shortly and make few errors, however less-educated characters will write extra slowly, and spelling errors will typically seem of their dialogue. Characters who converse in printed letters can have their textual content seem as upside-down blocks earlier than it is “pressed” into the dialogue bubble.

“I actually needed to seize the sensation of the physicality of his writing,” Sawyer says. “Whenever you take a look at how dialogue seems within the recreation, it does not simply slap on the web page.”

Ink Overload


(Picture credit score: Obsidian)

One in all Pentiment’s glyphs proved to be so advanced, it actually could not match right into a laptop computer’s RAM. “When our producer Alec Frey acquired to the fanciest font there was a ligature, a capital ‘AE,’ and it was so elaborate his Floor ran out of reminiscence,” says Sawyer. “There have been so many strokes within the glyph that it was simply ridiculous.”

Obsidian even simulated the impact of dipping a pen in ink for the cursive script. “We attempt to replicate a mechanic that claims ‘I’ll run out of ink, after which I’ll dip once more within the ink, after which I’ll begin writing,’ says Pentiment programming director Brett Klooster “You’ll be able to truly see that course of represented within the font because it will get slightly bit lighter and slightly bit thinner.”

I knew that Pentiment was doing way more with its fonts than most video games, however I nonetheless underestimated how meticulous their creation ended up being. Riley Cran, the founder and lead designer of font agency Lettermatic, instructed me that Pentiment was a particular case. Lettermatic designs most fonts to help a wide range of weights and widths (mild, daring, and many others.), however there are methods to hurry up that course of. For Pentiment, “a a lot, a lot greater quantity of these drawings had been created individually. It was somebody sitting there truly drawing it by hand,” Cran says.

A Pentiment font is not simply 52 glyphs (aka distinctive variations of a letter, like lowercase and capital). To duplicate actual handwriting, many letters should be drawn in a number of methods to mirror the place they seem in a phrase, or so as to add delicate variations between the writing types of various characters. Creating these minute variations simply wasn’t going to work digitally.

“If you wish to have two letters ‘As’ that do not match within the sense that they appear like somebody’s hand drifted ever so barely when creating a type of strokes, drawing that digitally goes to struggle you greater than make it easier to. In order that’s why we had to do that analog course of,” Cran says. Lettermatic drew the fonts on paper after which scanned them digitally to seize the results of pen on paper.

Every hand-drawn glyph was then equipped to Obsidian, together with a “ductus diagram” that explains how every letter was fashioned: what number of strokes comprise a letter, the order these strokes are made, even what route the pen is shifting. That will sound absurdly detailed, however take into consideration a letter so simple as a lowercase ‘t’. How do you write it? Do you begin the vertical line from the highest or backside? Do you draw the horizontal stroke from the left or the precise? Which comes first?

That was important data for Obsidian’s designers. They created “stroke masks” for every glyph, which allowed dialogue to seem not only one letter at a time, however stroke-by-stroke. After trying to automate that course of, they ultimately went with what Sawyer calls the “John Henry” strategy. “We actually simply stroked each single character manually,” he says.

There ended up being 2016 of them. “Each single letter for the 5 non-printed fonts, each single letter had all of its strokes hand-masked, in order that while you see them drawn out in-game, they arrive in within the appropriate order. Which is loopy, however it appears to be like cool.”

Pentiment’s fonts are important texture, however additionally they present clues concerning the characters you are speaking to—a scribe who makes a number of errors, for instance, might truly be an impostor. As Andreas learns extra about somebody’s background, their writing model can change fonts. However the fonts are solely ever providing redundant data, in case you select to play with Pentiment’s extra accessible straightforward studying mode.

It would not be a Josh Sawyer recreation with out an optionally available arduous mode, too. This one activates historic characters just like the “lengthy s” that appears like a cursive “f,” and a few ligatures that join letters along with some additional flourish.

We joked about having a hardcore mode the place each ſingle factor within the recreation iſ written within the fancieſt font, which iſ most likely too nutſ“,” Sawyer snortſ.

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