We’re a lucky generation. It’s never been cheaper to buy behemoth-sized TV screens and the visuals for games and movies have never been clearer thanks to the rapid dominance of HD screens and the success of the Blu-ray medium for the movie industry and as a physical media for console games. But there’s a tiny issue spoiling games today. One so small, you’ll probably have to squint to see it.
It’s all in the small print. Why, with these massive screens and crystal clear pictures, do we constantly have to squint or move closer to read the text in video games? The Witcher III: Wild Hunt is another in a long line of big-name games that should really know better.
Annoyingly, CD Projekt Red acknowledged the problem and ‘fixed’ it via a recent patch. Expect they didn’t fix it; they simply switched the font in some areas to bold or tweaked the colour instead of properly increasing the size (see the two images below for a comparison). I’ll admit, it’sslightly easier to read, but I’m still only flicking through in-game books or message board listings enough for a map or quest notification to ping.
There’s so much of the Witcher III’s world that is passing me by because of the uncomfortably small text. Granted, some of the mini-stories in the books are a little dry, but some provide incredibly useful advice for an upcoming contract or flesh out the history the world a little bit. These texts, including the detailed accounts in the bestiary, have been painstakingly put together, so why the hell do the developers care so little for them?
When you consider how much menu screen space is completely empty, it’s infuriating that they didn’t blow the text up a few font sizes. There’s a slight workaround on PS4 via the zoom function that was recently added via a firmware update (activate in system settings, then press Home and Square simultaneously), but it’s a little clunky for regular use and you have to come out of it to scroll the text.
It’s not just the menus, subtitles in games are obscenely small too. I can understand shrinking them down slightly for in-game action, as we have meters and notifications all vying for space, not to mention Geralt twatting about with his swords and multiple enemies. But in talking scenes, there’s no excuse. ‘Why even have subtitles on in an English game anyway’ you ask? There’s so much (too much?) exposition in Witcher III, I generally prefer reading the subtitles faster than the spoken word, especially for general quest givers. I’ll sit through some of the better acted/directed main scenes though. Also, whenever I hear Geralt talk, I can only hear Snake from Metal Gear Solid.
So I need these subtitles to be clearly legible. If you think I’m being unreasonable. Take a look at the images below. One shows the average subtitle size for a film, the other for The Witcher III.
What the hell are developers thinking? The standard subtitle size for the movie industry is clearly designed to be clear enough to read while not getting in the way of the visuals. Isn’t it time gaming grew up and adopted the same practice?
Honestly, my only explanation for studios like CDPR thinking this works, is that they spend too much time looking at their game at close range via a PC monitor and rarely test it out on a TV from a standard distance away. Same goes for the QA department. What about focus testing? If they’re anything like preview events I’ve been to, attendees are probably plonked on a stool about three feet away from a 40 inch screen (also an excellent way to make your games look a bit shit by grinding our faces into its pixels).
The Witcher III certainly isn’t the first game to have us squinting away at our TVs, it’s a problem in a huge number of games. Another high-profile example is The Order: 1886. That game had enough problems, but tiny text -unreadable newspaper clippings like the one below especially- stopped gamers from digging deeper into the game’s lore, of which lies some excellent potential for a sequel if the game’s other issues can be looked at.
But back to our most recent example. The Witcher III is huge, gamers are already spending loads of time enjoying the beautiful scenery and happening across random quests. But the whole lore side of the game is being pushed further and further away thanks to this simple visual problem. Given that the Witcher games are adapted from actual books, it’s shocking that the lore of its world is shown so little respect.
Hopefully, CD Projekt Red will continue to examine the issue beyond that one patch, as this is certainly a game we want to stick with over the next few months and beyond when the expansion DLC arrives. In future years we’d like to remember the richness of the game’s lore with the same fondness as the show-stopping visuals and quests. It’s such a simple fix for the industry. We’re hardly asking for the world on a stick are we?
Disclaimer*: My gaming setup has me sitting no more than eight feet away from a 40 inch screen. I don’t wear glasses and a recent eye test said I had no reason to think I would anytime soon.
*Thought I’d save the comments section the bother of saying I need glasses.