This blog post has possibly no use whatsoever - I was pondering whilst I went for a walk, and came up with the idea. Unless you are a film producer looking for a free font to represent some high-tech alien race, then I doubt the blog is useful :-)
The thought I had was that in Stargate they use a block font for the Alterans/Ancients. No doubt with the objective of looking like some high tech font used by an alien race. It is based on grid format, 3 wide by 4 high, and then has a special case of an extra half pixel below the centre middle to mark numbers.
It occurred to me that you could make a more efficient font that this. Yes, I said this was a useless blog post, honest.
So my thoughts were, a 2x3 grid, i.e. 6 blocks, making 64 combinations. However, there would need to be a few restrictions as generally you do not want it to be possible for one letter to look the same as another letter if you cannot see the base line of the text, so we need a few rules.
A first rule is no symbol should look the same as another symbol simply because it has been shifted by a pixel. Oddly, I decided later that there could be a few exceptions to this, but I'll come back to that. Basically, you don't have these two as separate symbols.
I.e. a small "r" shape should be in one position. Now, within a row of text, yes, you could tell them apart, but not on their own, and, if there are other symbols like this, one could easily have a whole word where the meaning depends on whether the word is shifted up a pixel or not. The same logic applies to something only on the left which could appear the same on the right. Oddly enough, I have decided later that some punctuation, which is rarely not next to other characters, could maybe break that rule. However, we definitely want that rule for normal letters and digits.
Restrictions like this cut down on the possible combinations. I did the sums in my head as I was walking, and work out I could easily allow for 40 combinations where there was always something both left and right, and always something on bottom row. These two restrictions meant the above rules were met. 40 is good, as you can have A-Z and 0-9 and 4 other symbols. Obviously any alien high tech font has to map to our normal characters and digits (the Alterans do!).
It occurred to me the digits should be logical, and obviously aliens will use base 10 (Alterans use base 8 except when it comes to their font). If I make them all from characters with the bottom two pixels set I am left with 16 combinations. This can be 0-9 and 6 extras. Sadly we have 4 extras over A-Z and 0-9 so that means I cannot make all letters out of characters where the bottom two are not set, there will have to be at least two letters will have to be in this style along with the digits. Shame.
So the digits I did as follows. I went for coding 0 as "10" because of underscore (see later).
.X X. XX .. .X X. XX .. .X X.
.. .. .. .X .X .X .X X. X. X.
XX XX XX XX XX XX XX XX XX XX
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
Some letters could be made to vaguely match their normal characters, upper or lower case, e.g.
.X XX .X X. XX .. .X XX XX X. .X X. XX XX ..
.X .X X. X. X. XX XX XX XX XX XX XX .X X. XX
X. X. X. .X X. X. X. X. .X XX XX .X .X XX XX
j g i l f r z p q b d s T C o
So that was a good start.
I had space for 4 punctuation characters in this style, so went for some basics...
.. .X X.
.. X. .X
XX .X X.
_ ( )
I decided the one, a solid block with all 6 pixels set, would be best as the .notdef special character for when a character is not defined.
But there was more than I could do, if I break some of my rules. For a start, I could make a few cases for where punctuation would be next to other characters so less ambiguous. We live with hyphen and underscore being the same (in some fonts). So...
I could also do some single pixel wide options :-
. . X X X X
. X . X X .
X X X X . .
. , : | ' `
The only one I did not define, and may come up with something for, was a centre dot.
I could do a few more like this maybe...
I decided to make a space that is just a blank character, but this sort of text probably looks better with no spaces. As far as I know, once upon a time people did not use spaces (when paper was expensive), and you can often work out when one word ends and another started #susanalbumparty
Making a font
I downloaded BirdFont for Mac. I have to say I don't like it much, but for this purpose it worked. I had a go with FontForge, and that looks better. I may re-make from scratch some time.
This font... TTF which you are free to use (some credit would be nice).
P.S. Crap, I have just re-invented Braille, haven't I. Oops.
P.P.S. And yes, Teletext and even TRS-80 allow exactly this style of block characters :-)