Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Massive Undertale writeup, some other random things as well

I've been meaning to post about Undertale (or i guess, UNDERTALE, if I should stylize it that way?) for a while now, but it's difficult to know where to begin; as if nothing I write could ever properly encapsulate the thoughts that I have on it.

But I suppose I'll start this post off with all of the non-spoilery stuff first, and some non-Undertale topics as well, to get that out of the way.


I did some glowsticking last week!  That's right, still doing it every once in a blue moon, usually just a couple times a year, haha.  It's actually still great fun, even though my skills certainly aren't leveling up given how infrequently I session.  The videos are here if you're interested.  It's also quite interesting to see and experiment with how my glowsticking movements have or have not been influenced by my social dance and vice-versa.  For the most part I don't think they really cross-pollinate each other, but it's interesting to try and incorporate the different styles...

Speaking of social dance, I hope to finally make it out to Mission City Swing tonight!  I'm actually super excited; getting a chance to dance good WCS is always cause for celebration.

Pet Furball is out on Google Play!  We're still waiting on apple store approval, and I probably won't be publicizing it much until then, but so far so good!  It definitely took some amount of hours sitting down with my laptop to try and figure out how to bundle and package and ready my haxepunk app for distribution but in the end it actually wasn't quite so bad once I sorted it all out!

Progress on Zenith Fighter continues bit by's a bit slow since I don't work on it every day (boo), but progress is still progress.  As I'll mention later, I think I'm actually fairly motivated to keep working on it as I think it's important to test myself to see whether I can really tackle a bigger project such as this one by myself -- the closest I've come to this so far is the post-compo version of Melody Muncher.  At some point I should figure out how to get some animated gifs or something posted of it, but at the moment I've ironed down some basic animations for the Gunner character, who I changed the design for and is now modeled after the character from Rhythm Gunner.  At first I had a more risk-of-rain-like character figure, with a full body and limbs, but after thinking about it again I think the cuter/simpler Rhythm Gunner design is both easier to work with and easier to read as a visual shape as well.  I'm still a novice at the whole pixeling thing so it's best not to push myself too far, anyways.  Next up I need to finish implementing a basic enemy, and then I can move onto other features like level generation and room transitions, perhaps.

Work on Christmas letters continues...I'm on number 19 at the moment.  I'm probably going to shoot for maybe around 5-10 more and then call it quits, as deadlines are already looming very quickly.  Gift-shopping needs to happen soon as well!

Calligraphy talk: My oblique pen holders came in the mail!  I got two of them -- one for my Nikko G nib and one for my Brause EF66.  I briefly considered getting one for the Leonard Principal nib that I have, but for now I think I prefer the Brause EF66 as it seems a little bit easier to handle.  Perhaps I'll move onto to the Leonard Principal once I've gotten some more practice.

The oblique holders feel wonderful and I don't see how I could ever produce any satisfying calligraphy without them; suddenly everything just feels "right" and makes a lot of sense.  I've started to watch some instructional videos about the basic forms and techniques of Copperplate lettering and am excited to start trying to actually practice making some ovals and lowercase letters in that style the next time I sit down to have a writing session.

Work on music has slowed down, unfortunately, though I did send off an initial stub of something to A-zu-ra to see if he wants to collab on it again.  I have vague desires of doing some sort of remix album, maybe a Steven Universe or Undertale one, but no concrete plans yet; perhaps it's better to just finish off my dance album first!  I'm beginning to get a little burned out by commission work, but fortunately the work has slowed down as well -- Copy Girl is taking a dev hiatus (boo) and Mysterious Space doesn't have many more needs from me either.

In other news, Super Cartography Bros is out now, with a thumpin EDM track from me!  Go and download it, it's pretty legit!


Phew!  It's been a while since I've written a blog post this long (828 words and counting!).  I know most of you are going to just skim over it, but that's fine too!

Anyways, Undertale.  Where do I begin?  Perhaps the most poignant part about Undertale is not just the fact that it's a very well-done and amazing game and all that, but the ways in which I find it affecting myself in the rest of my life.  I don't mean to sound cheesy and say that Undertale "made me into a nicer person" or anything bland like that, but I've been thinking about Undertale a lot recently, and it has seriously made me contemplate some very important things about life; whether I'm making the right choices, what kind of person I am and whether I'm happy with the way that I act.  I'll go into this more in the spoiler-filled section, I think, but suffice to say that, like Journey before it, Undertale is really thought-provoking in the best possible way.

It's got a great soundtrack too!  Now, I've only played through the game once (planning on more soon!), but thus far my favorite tracks are probably the main theme, Undertale, as well as "Shop".  The first because it's really emotionally moving and has a ton of emotional subtext associated with it, and the latter because the flutey square wave lead is literally the sweetest thing ever and makes me want to cry.  Haha, I guess I just like being emotional, huh?  But seriously, great props to Toby Fox -- the soundtrack alone actually is really inspiring to me, both as an indie game dev and as a composer; I think it does a ton of things right and listening to it and its varied styles really makes me want to aspire to create soundtracks that can do similar things, although I know I have a tendency to make all of my music a bit same-sounding, with a similar "intense 9-bit chiptune" feel.

Is Undertale a game for everyone?  Well...maybe not, but then again, I would argue that Journey isn't a game for everyone either.  But I don't think that it makes it any less of a game by that fact -- I've already talked in a previous post about how it's impossible to make your game "universally accessible", and how that really shouldn't MATTER so much when we talk about whether these things are valuable anyways.  I will say, however, that it feels like a growing number of people are learning to experience games through twitch and/or youtube playthroughs.  While I still think it's kind of just "odd" in a silly way to watch someone else play a game like that instead of playing it yourself, I actually admit that I do see the value in that; not all people need to approach "playing" games the same way.

Perhaps the most important thing about Undertale is just the way that it showcases what is possible within the medium.  Journey showed us how we can foster *genuine* human connection and universal emotional experiences (the hero's journey, joy of movement, companionship, excitement, wonder, separation, frustration, peace) within the framework of video games, and similarly, The Last of Us shows us how we can weave storytelling and narrative into gameplay such that they are tightly woven together seamlessly, as if you are "experiencing" events as they unfold (the first playable section of TLOU is amazing at achieving this).

In the same way, Undertale shows us how a game can pose us difficult questions about "life" and "moral ethics" (ish), how it can make us emotionally invested in characters, and how we can experience games as a place to "meet friends" (NPCs, not other people), not as a place to destroy enemies.  The type of agency that Undertale provides you with as the player is actually striking when you think about it, and I don't think I've ever felt the same way before when playing any other game.  I sincerely wish that more games could provide such hopeful messages and inspire people to think about life, love, and kindness.

From Toby Fox's twitter:

Hearing "UNDERTALE made me want to be kinder" or "UNDERTALE helped me through a dark time" feels more valuable than any award or score.

So anyways, in short, Undertale is amazing, you should go play it, blahblahblah, as expected, and it joins the ranks of Journey/etc. as being probably one of the most important games of our generation, IMHO.  Even if you don't like it personally (whatttt??), I really stand by my belief that it's very important in what it has done.

It also makes me regret not having finished playing through Earthbound (*hides in a corner*), but...hey, that can be fixed!

Last thing, Undertale also really makes me inspired just in terms of being an excellent indie game made by a single person.  I think seeing something so wonderful really motivates me to keep on doing what I am doing with all of my other games -- Melody Muncher, Ripple Runner, Rain, and inspires me to keep on working on Zenith Fighter as well.  I guess you could say it....fills me with......INSPIRATION! (psyche!).  Seriously though, I think seeing Undertale is a sort of validation that what I am doing with my life is the Right Thing, and that it's actually really important to me to continue making indie games, regardless of whether or not it's relevant to my day job.

I also feel extremely grateful that I've been able to make it this far -- it's taken many years of work and training, but all of those dreams I had 10+ years ago of making my own games are actually coming to fruition.  Just think, in two weeks I'll have made another game for Ludum Dare, as well!  So hey, ol me from 10 years ago -- just keep on playing with your little level editors and your scraggedy little Pascal programs (that was my first programming language...crazy, ain't it?), you're gonna get there someday!

Below this point there be spoilers for Undertale, so beware and proceed at your own risk!



Well, the first thing I should say is that I played through the game once so far, with a not-quite-100% pacifist run, some kills in the beginning that were either experimental and/or accidental.  So I can't speak to any of the other content that is past where I am so far.

That said, there's still a lot to be said!  But again, where do I even begin?  Argh!  How about that fight with Toriel?  That one really almost broke my heart, honestly.  Sigh, I've started to have a penchant for vividly experiencing the opening acts of these games and being awed...the same thing happened with The Last of Us, haha.  But I tried confronting Toriel multiple times, running away multiple times, and finally, tried just throwing myself into her flames.  Well, you probably know what ended up happening from there.  Well played...well played.  Did you know that after I ran away from her the first time, that's when I grabbed the toy knife from the other room?  That was probably planned, eh?  Even if not, that's awfully well-done as symbolism.  I love it.

One interesting theme that kept running across my mind as I was playing through Undertale and confronted with all of these tough decisions, mostly the imminent "will you stay with the monsters in your 'new home'?  or give up this world to return to the your past life?", was that I found myself playing through the game with the emotional mindset that I really, really wanted to return to the surface world.  I think that comes from my attachment to the past, really -- I think that it's only right that things be returned to their rightful place, and all that.  But of course, it's interesting because in Undertale you aren't given any backstory about the surface world.  Was it a good place?  Is it somewhere that's even worth returning to?  I think the fact that it's ambiguous makes for a more nuanced feeling of conflict, at least in my mind, between what is "right" and what is....well, "right".  And of course, it goes even deeper, because as you meet Asgore, you realize that (as with all great stories), you've circled back to the beginning, and wouldn't it be great if you could just "return home" to that wonderful Earthbound-style house, with the nice music and everything?

As I played through the game I became more and more affixed to the path of Mercy.  When I was in the fight with Undyne, it was already starting to solidify my beliefs that I would try first and foremost for Mercy, and became determined in that way of "fighting".  But the real test of course came when I was fighting Asgore.  Boy, what a fight that was.  That was potentially the most "difficult" boss fight that I've ever come across, because it assaulted me in a way that was totally and completely different.  Rather than testing my skill, reflexes, coordination, and intelligence, it tested my moral character.  As I dodged Asgore's flames and slashes, I knew -- I knew, that I could end it all by turning to the ever-present "Fight" button.  But I would not, could not, until I knew that it truly was the only option.  I had already taken the life of poor old Toriel -- did I really want to repeat the same crime?

And so, for the first time in a boss battle, I felt an extreme sense of struggle, because I did not know what to do.  And as I kept on dodging the bullets, searching for some way, some way of getting through to Asgore, I kept hoping that something would happen, that something would change, that if I survived long enough...

And it continued to test my character.  I could see that Asgore's attacks were getting stronger, but after a point, they ceased to change, and I began to fear the worst -- that nothing was going to change.  And then I turned to my other option -- being killed by his attacks.  For the first time in the entire game, I faced the GAME OVER screen.  And on that screen itself, Asgore simply told me, "Don't give up!"

And I didn't.  I faced him once again, once again he destroyed my "Mercy" button, and again, I attempted to talk to him.  "You've killed me before," I told him.  And he nodded.  And for me, this was hope.  Hope that maybe my act had changed something.  And so I tried again.  And I ran myself into Asgore's fires, throwing away my life, only to confront him again, telling him "You've killed me twice now".  And every time, Asgore simply told me, "Don't lose hope!"

I actually ran into Asgore's fires 10 times, telling him "You've killed me mote times than I can count" before I finally understood that there was no choice.  And even as I finally "Fought" him, when he was "at low HP", I tried again.

Yeah, it was intense.  Of course, the actual bullet dodging and everything was child's play compared to the real battle that was going on for me -- how I was trying to do everything in my power to avoid a predestined fate.

So, well, it was a bit of a no-brainer when I was given the choice between execution and Mercy.  Although I certainly did hesitate.  After all, was it not him who had just told me to do the deed?  Sometimes, taking a life can be right after all, I think (thinking back to Gakkou Gurashi and the "promise" that was made to Kurumi).  But I think, coming this far, I needed to just stay true to my path.

And when I was confronted with the same choice for Flowey, ...dear god, I don't know if you could have posed a tougher question to me, Toby Fox.  In the end, I decided once again that coming this far, I needed to stick to Mercy.  It's not like me to change my beliefs, after all.  But it was certainly a moment that I won't soon forget.  And I think Undertale was very successful in instilling a momentous weight upon that choice because after all that had happened (especially in the Flowey battle), it certainly doesn't feel like a trivial matter to just "hit reload and try the other choice", as it often is with these sorts of decisions in other games.

Also, Papyrus grew on me in a way that I never thought possible for a character!  I normally am totally not drawn to characters that are like him, and at first I really thought I was just pulling him along for a ride and teasing him (I guess that's the point), but after a while (after we were out of Snowdin and everything) I began to think back on it, and man, he actually mattered to me!  Not in the same was as Toriel did, or anything, mind you, but the relationship with Papyrus actually was very poignant for me in that it made me think very hard about the interactions that I have with other people in my life.  Although Papyrus certainly wasn't the most "emotionally evocative" character by any means, it felt the most "real" for me in that sense.  After finishing Undertale I really began to think about how those interactions with Papyrus forged a real (if humorous) friendship, and how Papyrus and Sans in a way served as very real friends and anchors (well, Alphy as well, I guess), and I thought about how I don't really have these sorts of interactions with people in real life.  Am I really content and satisfied to just sit back and be passive, not really bothering to try and make friends with people, to approach them, try to ask them about their lives, ...?  This isn't a new train of thought for me, but Undertale and Papyrus really brought it into a new light, I think.  I began to think about all of the stupid, meaningless, trivial interactions in my life, like (not) saying hi to coworkers, passing other people in the hallways or on the street, running into other people at dance, all of these things.  And I think it made me consider what it might be like if I were to try and change the way I interact with other people.

Also, damn, the whole sequence leading up to Asgore...was that something, or what?  I liked the Paulstretched piece of music ("The Choice") that plays in the golden room as well, for the same reason that I LOVE "Reflection" from the FEZ OST.  And then of course, "Undertale", which is the perfect musical piece accompanying all of those memories and imagery as you make your way towards what you know is the final encounter, and of course, the final choice.  I wanted to start crying as I was hearing that song, haha.  Knowing that one way or another, we must make a choice.  A weighty one, at that.

Alright, I think that's all I've got.  Sorry if you actually slogged your way through all of these walls of text ^^;  But in closing, congratulations TobyFox on a job well done, and I'll be revisiting the world of Undertale soon -- probably with even more emotional significance the second (and third??) time around.

It's great to be alive.  The "golden era" of games is long past, but our present is still filled with wonderful experiences to be had in gems like these.