Graphics Overhaul and a Lesson in Font Licensing

So just as I was about to start on the next boss in Gemstone Keeper, an issue arose that I needed to resolve over the weekend. Due to licensing issues regarding the font I had been using to produce the graphics for Gemstone Keeper for over a year, I had to switch to another font. This would not be a problem for a vast majority of games, however when you are developing a game that uses ASCII art, with designs built specifically for that font in mind, this was a time consuming issue.

Since around June 2015, Gemstone Keeper used the Lucida Console font for its graphics. This font was chosen for it’s simple and clean design, its use as a command prompt font (given that the game opens like a command prompt, a console font would add authenticity), and it supports a wide range of characters (or glyphs) which allow for extended possible ASCII art designs (such as ones used in the Gemstone Keeper logo itself). However it was after several months of development that the thought of whether I had permission to use the font came into my mind.

I asked Chris Taylor, a solicitor who regularly offers legal advice to indie developers, about my predicament and gratefully he looked into it and returned with plenty of information. Without going into much detail, the Lucida font family (including Lucida Console) required a commercial license from their owners, Bigelow & Holmes. While the owners had a range of licenses depending on what kind of software the font would be used on, we struggled to find one that would fit a computer game, and I was advised to contact them directly to see what they would recommend. In hindsight, if I followed on that advice as soon as it was given me, I would have had less of a problem than I do now.

When I finally got around to contacting B&H through their Lucida Fonts Store, they were very polite and helpful. When they asked how the font would be distributed, I explained that the font would be distributed as a file separate from the game’s executable, their response was that if the font “is distributed separately, not integrated in the application, our commercial license for Lucida Console won’t apply to an application like a video game.” When I asked why their license wouldn’t apply for such a reason, they responded that it would be more expensive in the long run, due to royalty fees and negotiating the terms & conditions of the license. It was during these conversations that they recommended a set of free licensed fonts, which I felt was pretty reasonable considering that I have a small and limited budget.

So from this point onward, the graphics will use the DejaVu Sans Mono font. Among the list of fonts B&H recommended, it had a design that I preferred most, but more importantly, it supported most of the fonts that Lucida Console had. Suffice to say, after updating every sprite and tile to look right with the new font, the changes are very minor.

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