More Font Updates: Oldschool PC Pack, Flexi IBM VGA

This blog was never meant to concern itself quite this much with fonts.  But with other projects being on ice for various boring reasons, you could do worse than moonlight as a typographer, as long as you do it a safe distance away from a real typographer.

New Oldschool PC Font Pack (x2)

Since my last post about this, I've made two quick updates to the collection.  Taken together, both additions only bring you 92 new fonts this time, so you can ease back off the edge of your seats there.  That's what minor version increments are for, yes?

All details are in the change log as usual, but other than the new (old) stuff, another thing worth mentioning is the addition of bitmap fonts for Linux.  For these, I chose to go with the .otb format.  Unlike .bdf or .pcf, it shouldn't suffer from libpango's recent seizure of "let's make breaking changes to things that have worked for decades" (one thing that minor version increments should not do, by the by).

This bitmap format is a variant of OpenType, so it supports the exact same encodings that the outline fonts do, including the expanded 'Plus' charsets.  The .otb fonts seem to work fine although I haven't tested them too thoroughly, but that's where you people come in - if they're giving you problems, feel free to let me know.

Here's a roundup of the new stuff:

Ultimate Oldschool Font Pack v2.1+2.2 - new fonts

Some of the new fonts were less than straightforward to convert.  For instance, HP's 100LX/200LX palmtops include selectable code pages in ROM, and can zoom into the text-mode screen, yielding virtual "windows" with different font sizes.  Digital's Rainbow 100 does hardware 'dot-stretching', so every "on" pixel in the ROM character bitmap also lights up the one to its right.  The HP 150 not only performs non-integer dot-stretching, but also enhances its horizontal resolution by allowing individual lines of a character's bitmap to be shifted half a pixel to the right.

In cases like these, I had to dig a little deeper into how the firmware and hardware do their things.  As always, I've tried to distill those findings into the little blurbs you see in the Font Index about each machine and its technical capabilities, at least in the video department.

And on that front, you may ask yourselves: why bother with all these technical tidbits in the first place?

To me, a collection like this needs historical context, otherwise it doesn't serve much of a purpose other than "retro aesthetics".  I initially assumed that the target audience would be those with an interest in these older technologies, the sort of folks who'd find value in such details; but contrary to my expectations, there's been more feedback and discussion coming from people who simply appreciate good crisp bitmap fonts for programming, or have a fondness for the previously mentioned aesthetic.

That's not a bad thing, mind you: as I put it in the collection's "mission statement", one of my goals was to put these IBM PC-related charsets out there and give them a little recognition, since the ones from other oldschool home computers are already considered somewhat iconic.  If they're getting acknowledged on this level, then I guess it's working.

Still, I don't know what the audience for this collection is really like.  I don't do Twitter/FB/Reddit/Discord/etc., since I enjoy my normal blood pressure thank you, so I don't have lots of direct interaction with the people who actually use this stuff, other than emails and the comments here.  So if any of you feels like enlightening me a bit - what kind of value you find in a collection like this, what appeals to you in this sort of stuff, whether you think that the "historical context" has a point, and so on - feel free to post a reply here.

Flexi IBM VGA, v2.0

Since I was already on a roll with the font stuff, I also revisited my scalable, 'de-pixelated' outline adaptation of the good ol' default VGA font.  The first version was based on the results of scaling and tracing algorithms, so it was far from perfect: there were overly rounded corners that should look sharper, straight lines that should be rounded curves, weird bumps instead of serifs, and so on.

A little sample of the improvements in v2 (pixel grid in blue)

A little sample of the improvements in v2 (original pixel grid in blue)

So this time I went ahead and did the glyphs manually, from scratch.  I'd say the result captures the perceptual forms of the original characters more faithfully, and also just looks plain better, especially at larger sizes.  (Yes, the corners still aren't exactly 100% sharp, but it's not as if they were originally that sharp on a CRT.  And if you actually look at the specimen below, it's not really that noticeable anyway.)

Like the previous version, you get 4 variants:

  • Flexi IBM VGA True:        Corrected aspect ratio, extended character set
  • Flexi IBM VGA True (437):  Corrected aspect ratio, CP437/DOS encoding
  • Flexi IBM VGA False:       Uncorrected aspect ratio, extended character set
  • Flexi IBM VGA False (437): Uncorrected aspect ratio, CP437/DOS encoding


Flexi IBM VGA (v2) font specimen

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