Toshi Omagari talks type and gaming for Letterform Live

Toshi Omagari will be speaking at the next Grafik Letterform Live event. This time, the theme is gaming. Theo Inglis stopped by Monotype’s London studio for a quick chat with Toshi about type, games and his upcoming talk.

Theo Inglis: Can you give us a clue about what you are going to be talking about at the Letterform Live event?

Toshi Omagari: I’m not supposed to give away too much, but it is going to be about oldschool typefaces from the Nintendo and Super Nintendo era of 8-bit and 16-bit video games. What kind of typefaces people were using and making back then, and how much variety they managed to achieve. People might think that because of the number of pixels it would be really limited, but I’m going to show you the opposite!

Are you a gamer yourself?

Yes, I do video game quite a lot, I’m not really into the newest ones though, I’m an Xbox guy but I only have the 360. When I’m out and about I play Gameboy Advance, if anyone remembers them!? I’m a bit of a Gameboy collector, when it comes to mobile I am really old-school. I’ve got like five Gameboy Advances, all different ones. If I have one with a bad screen or something, I buy a new screen and solder them, so I do like to customize them myself as a hobby.

Do you have a favorite game from a purely typographic perspective?

I don’t really have a favorite from the old days, it was after I got interested in typeface design that I started to notice the use of type in games more closely. So my choice is pretty recent, which is ‘Splinter Cell: Conviction’. In video games you often see objectives pop up on the screen that tell you what to do, but in this game those messages are just projected onto the environment in white letters. It is like projection mapping, and I think the typography is used really effectively throughout the game so I really love that.

Did you know from a young age that you were interested in typography? And did gaming influence this at all?

I knew I was interested in letterforms when I was about 12 or 13, but I didn’t know I was going to be a type designer then. My main influences in the early days were video games and films, I really wanted to make something like that. But I ended up making typefaces, which isn’t a bad choice at all! But I still do love films and video games, that’s how I got into the creative industry. I do want to work on video game typefaces though, I’ve not had a chance yet but I’d love to work on it.

I’ve heard that you have a games controller that you use in your design process, can you explain how that works?

In type design there is a step called kerning, which if you don't know is the spacing of letterforms and specific letter combinations. So for example if you put uppercase ‘H’ and lowercase ‘a’ together you probably don't need to kern because they are handled by the default spacing, but some pairings can leave massive spaces or be too close together or touching, so you really need to adjust that. For that process, I can do the entire job with a games controller. I‘ve assigned every command that I need to the different buttons on the USB controller. It‘s the same shape and buttons as an Xbox controller. What is nice is that when you kern with a keyboard you are physically very close to the screen, but with this thing I can really go a bit further back. Using the keyboard to kern you have to hold down so many keys and do so much clicking! It isn‘t really enjoyable, I think the controller is faster and easier to keep doing. It feels a bit like playing a video game, but you are actually doing work. It is more fun and I can do it all day!

What has been your most enjoyable project to work on at Monotype?

Out of the ones that I can talk about I think I'd have to say the typeface for Sir Quentin Blake. It reflects his unique handwriting, so it has random appearances of different letterforms. If you type out ‘a’ a few times they won't match, there is less repetition of letterforms in it which makes it feel more like real handwriting.

Can I ask about why you don’t design Japanese typefaces?

Well… because it takes too much time! Also the Japanese type industry is actually quite big, there is a lot of competition, many foundries and lots of people who want to do Japanese type design and I didn't want to be another one of them. I mean I may want to design one or two Japanese typefaces, but I prefer the variety of working outside of Japan and in many different languages and alphabets.

Where does your interest in Mongolian scripts come from?

When I was doing an MA in type design at Reading I wanted to pick a writing system that nobody had done before, one of them was Mongolian. Because it is almost exclusively vertical I thought nobody must have tried it, as a Japanese person who is accustomed to a vertical writing system I thought maybe I should be the one to try that!

Tell us about your interest in Rubik's Cubes?

That is my recent addiction, and taking up a lot of the time I would usually spend on Xbox. The bad thing is that because it doesn't use electricity you can just keep on playing forever! I've recently combined my love of typography and Rubik's cubes. Since I already combined Xbox and work I thought why not do it again? I've created my own letterform cube, based on what is known as the ‘Noordzij cube’ which is a drawing of a 5x5 grid of lowercase e’s and shows the variety possible in a single letterform. 5x5 for a Rubik’s cube is already harder than the usual 3x3, and the orientation of the letters matter, they must be the right way up, so it is really very difficult. I’m probably one of the only people in the world who would even have a chance at solving it!

Toshi is speaking at the ‘Gaming’ themed Letterform Live event presented by Grafik, the ISTD and Monotype. This takes place Wednesday 28 September 7pm at Protein Studios, New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EY.

Follow @Monotype and @grafikmag for coverage of the the event. Tickets are available here.