This is part 1 of a hopefully continuing series where I play some other developers’ games and then ask them questions about it! So an interview I guess!
This time I asked a few questions to Toby Fox, who did almost everything for his upcoming RPG, Undertale, except for some collaboration on the artwork. He recently released a demo version of Undertale, which you can try for free.
As it is, it’s a short demo of an RPG that ties its battle system with elements of shoot-em-ups and interactive fiction, which further go on to challenge the norms of traditional RPG battle systems and narrative progression. This is given the setting of well… Chris Priestman of Indie Statik has a lot of good things to say about it, and he can say them far better than I could, so for the low-down, check out his article – I recommend playing a bit before reading the interview.
Sean: 1. The player-character is silent – was this done for any reason other than following traditional RPG tropes? I can think of a few possibilities but I’d rather have you answer to whatever you’re comfortable saying.
Toby: The character doesn’t say very much because then you can identify with them better. Most of the game’s narration is in the second person. The more details and personality I add to “you,” then the harder it is to get absorbed into the role.
There’s more to this answer but I can’t say anything until the game is complete.
Sean: It’s interesting how the silent protagonist can be utilized in different ways. A game I hope to write a bit about, Contact (NDS, 2006) uses a silent protagonist, but for seemingly the opposite effect that Toby employed – instead, Contact looks to objectify the player-character and form distance between you and the player-character.
2. Were the “act” and “mercy” functions of the battle designed after an existing story and themes were thought up, or were those done before – etc – what was the relation of the battle system and narrative development? The ideas the flower mentions at the end go hand-in-hand with the battling, as does with the final encounter with Toriel, and the ways that can pan out, which is why I’m interested.
Toby: The battle system arose first. I wanted to make an RPG game where you could befriend all of the bosses. Where not killing everything is actually a viable option. If you think about it, most RPGs are endless murder-fests… how many monsters do you kill? And to what end? Everything sort of naturally arose from that concept.
As for the top-down shooter aspect, I’ve actually had the idea of an RPG that’s a fusion between multiple genres for a long time. I just decided to keep it to bullets since that’s the easiest.
Sean: I’m often interested in how developers choose to develop their game, and where the differnet layers of abstraction begin to grow from, and then how they choose to have them interact (if at all) – it’s a notoriously chicken-and-egg problem with game development. Toby did a really great job at weaving everything together, and I’m excited to see how it all pans out.
3. Are there any particular reasons you created Toriel for – such an overly-protective motherly character was created, etc.
Toby: Yes! There are a lot of reasons.
Toriel is a parody of tutorial characters. I played Skyward Sword and despised how often Fi would give me the answer to a puzzle. figured that if someone was THAT concerned about you then they wouldn’t tell you the answers. They would just do the puzzles and fight all the monsters FOR you. This is why she literally holds your hand through a segment of the game.
Second of all, there really aren’t enough mother characters in RPG games. In Pokemon, MOTHER, MOTHER 2, there’s this trope of having mothers be there only to say goodbye to their ten-year-old kid as they go out into the world. They’re basically just symbols rather than characters. Even MOTHER 3’s mother character, Hinawa, doesn’t really show up very much in the scheme of things.
So here is Toriel, a mom that hopefully acts like a mom. She won’t let you explore a dangerous world by yourself because she genuinely cares about your well-being.
Sean: It’s interesting, I had thought Toriel would be reoccurring throughout the game – a sort of haunting character, but it is interesting how it is a parody of tutorial characters and at the same time manages to set up this very grim, deceiving tone to the entire game world.
3.5. Anything you want to mention about the design of the current Undertale demo’s world?
No comment, I’d rather let people speculate and figure things out for
themselves when the full version comes out.
4. Sean: What’s your background in game development? Are you planning to expand Undertale, do you have other projects? How did you get into game development? Composing?
Toby: Back in the year 2000, my three brothers and I used RPG Maker 2000 (the amazing Don Miguel-translated version) to make role-playing games. We barely finished any of them, though, and none of them were ever released to the internet.
I made quite a few EarthBound ROM Hacks in high school…
This is really my first *REAL* game project, however. I don’t have plans to work on anything else currently, though I am hopefully composing some songs for Starbound.
I started composing for Homestuck back in late 2009, by some miraculous freak of nature. But I’ve been playing piano by ear since I was a freshman in high school, and played trumpet in my school band.
5. Why did you want to make the Undertale in the first place?
Toby: I love JRPGs but I am very, very tired of “traditional” ones.
I just want to see one that’s not boring to play. One with interesting characters. One that utilizes the medium as a storytelling device as much as possible, instead of having the story and gameplay abstractions be completely separate.
This is my attempt at making that game, and I hope I succeed.
Sean: I hope you succeed too! There are many tropes in gaming that are worth trying to overcome or avoid, and mixing layers that are often abstracted from eachother, is a powerful way of doing things which I’m glad to see more devs attempt at doing.
OKAY THAT WAS INTERVIEW 1! MORE LATER! (I sent some questions to the devs of the wonderful ‘The Swapper’, so be on the look out for that!)
Thanks for visiting! Please check out my game Even the Ocean, which you may like if you like Undertale: http://store.steampowered.com/app/265470