What future game designers can learn from Undertale

After watching JackSepticEye play through the Pacifist Run of Undertale, I found myself in one of those “I must know everything about this thing!” obsessive moods.

This deceptively simple-looking RPG has so many variables and alternate routes through its story that it’s nearly overwhelming. On the surface, you can complete the game in three ways: Pacifist, Neutral or Genocidal. The former is where you kill no-one, the latter is where you straight-up murder everyone, and the middle is just that — a little bit of everything.

Be warned, ‘cos some of the links in this post lead to massive spoilers. Don’t click anything if you want to experience things for yourself.

This game is a sure-fire way to an identity crisis. (Fan art by KiimChiee)
This game is a sure-fire way to an identity crisis. (Fan art by KiimChiee)

The two extremes (Pacifist and Genocidal) require you to take very specific steps to achieve, and they reward the player with extra content, added character depth, and much more. But, depending on your choices in this game, even the middle ground has a myriad of different outcomes that pretty much ensures a different experience every time you play for a very, very long time.

Someone actually put together a flowchart of all the Neutral endings, and it’s dizzying to look at.

The game doesn’t just let you experience it multiple ways. It sets global flags every time you restart the game to try something different, altering dialogue, unlocking new areas, and even changing the sequence of events. The game actually keeps track of how many times you restart, reload your game, who you decide to let live and who to kill, etc. — across multiple playthroughs.

It’s even possible to completely bork any way of seeing one of the endings in its complete form forever if you happen to go for one of the other endings first.

That level of player influence on a game story is, frankly, fascinating — not to mention damn impressive. While multiple paths and endings are nothing new, the acutely self-aware nature of Undertale allows it to truly mess with the player’s mind.

And just when you think you’ve seen everything there is to see, just wait ’til you start messing around with the game files themselves. There’s hidden stuff in this game that can only be triggered by hacking the game — including whole new characters that provide even more backstory.

This guy only appears if you mess with the game files.
This guy only appears if you mess with the game files.

Game designers of the future can learn from this game on how to truly involve the player in the world, not just through well-defined characterization and an engaging plot, but also by encouraging multiple replays and rewarding those who like to tinker under the hood.

Featured image by Squidbunny

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