8/10: Undertale Dev Reflects On Unexpected Popularity

Undertale [official site] launched a year ago today, and creator Toby Fox thinks the same of it now as he did then: “It’s about an 8/10, niche RPG game.”

Fox hadn’t expected – or wanted – it to become so popular, he’s explained in a blog post marking the anniversary. Well! Cobbo straight-up said “You should play Undertale”, our Wot I Think was glowing, Adam tried to persuade the hesitant, and… certain Internauts split into fanatically pro- and anti-Undertale factions. It’s been a weird year for Fox, and his reflections on it all are an interesting read.

Here’s a bit:

“At the height of its popularity, ‘not liking the game’ felt like a cardinal sin to many fans online. In reaction to these circumstances, others began actively hate the game, creating an endless whirlwind of discourse…

“Like a thunderclap to a small dog, all of this attention stressed me out. And every time it seemed to die down, something revived it, such as the GameFAQs contest, the award shows, bizarre theory videos, and so on. At times, I wished I had a way to quell the attention. I felt a strange powerlessness. (And guilt, for feeling stressed when the success of the game SHOULD be something I’m nothing but ecstatic about.)

“At the same time, countless wonderful things were happening. People told me the game helped them through a difficult part of their life. Others told me that the game had made them laugh, or cry, or say ‘I want to be kinder.’ Many young kids told me they wanted to create games or music because of it. And, on a personal level, because of its popularity, I have been able to help myself and many people in my life. (And, hopefully, in the future, I can help many other people because of it, too.)”


Do give the whole thing a read.

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  1. darkhog says:


    Just kidding. I think Undertale is an amazing game that every person should play. It shows that every conflict fades away when you’re kind to each other.

    • clippa says:

      Up yours, big nose!

    • Artea says:

      Seeing as how that would be a very shallow and false life lesson, I don’t know how that would be a selling point for the game. Personally I found Undertale very vacuous and very much ‘style over substance’ with its focus on pop culture references, popular internet memes and forced humor.

      • Beefenstein says:

        “All things which are created are impermanent. Strive on mindfully.”

        I believe that conflict is created; therefore it will not last.

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        Skabooga says:

        I think the lesson of being as kind as you can to everyone under all circumstances is a pretty good one. No doubt it is simple, but that should not make it shallow or invalid.

        So much art and entertainment that I experience is consumed with being things like “dark” or “gritty” or “morally grey”; I was refreshed to play Undertale, something unreservedly bright, cheerful, and with a belief in the efficacy of good; and I found it to have enough nuance to prevent it from being shallow.

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        gritz says:

        Can you point to other, better games with a similar message?

        “Kindness can resolve all conflicts” is a pretty rare message in this medium. Most often, the message is “killing can resolve all conflicts, kindness can resolve a few”.

      • BobisOnlyBob says:

        I’d really love to see the pop culture references and internet memes people claim to see in Undertale. It’s not Guacamelee, which literally plasters the walls with every caption-meme and reference over the past two decades.

        • Scripten says:

          Well, there’s the screencap above that says “Internet” and there’s that goofy troll face that (maybe?) shows up in one of the bosses. Oh, and several of the characters like anime so there are some references to anime tropes.

          Beyond that, it’s mostly posturing from people who likely have not played the game, honestly.

        • Artea says:

          Well, for instance, there is an hour long sequence where the game parodies people obsessed with their Facebook status, by having an NPC interrupt you every few steps you take with dialogue messages. Needless to say, it’s one of the most annoying segments I’ve ever played in any game, and painfully unfunny.
          The game is also very heavy on Tumblerisms and anime tropes.

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        Aitrus says:

        Of course the game literally says at the end, “On the surface, not everything can be solved by being nice.”

      • GeoX says:

        Jeez, ninety percent of games involve indiscriminately mowing people down, and that’s A-okay, but when one suggests that maybe there are other options, it’s all DUR THAT’S VACUOUS AND DUMB. Good times.

  2. MrFinnishDude says:

    How peculiar, I had just started to ponder about this and then a new article popped up just about it.

    Great to know Toby still appreciates his game and hears about the sheer wonder and happiness it brought to its fans, even amongst all the “Deviant-art-hatedom-skeleton-dicks” shitstorm that the games immense popularity eventually brought with it.

    The game made me feel more lovely emotions than any game before that, inspiring me to be kinder and maybe one day make something as wonderful.
    Maybe once the internet forgets it, it will stand proud as a great classic. Maybe it will be “hip” to like undertale again.

  3. Antongranis says:

    Its popularity and praise was actually the reason i didnt buy the game, as i felt my exposure to the games massive praise left me unable to judge the game fairly.

    • clippa says:

      Me too. My reasoning being that a things worth is usually inversely proportional to how many pillocks on the internet are gabbing on about it.
      It doesn’t look like it’s for me, to be honest. Lot’s of text to read, meta rhubarb etc.

  4. int says:

    I played the demo, didn’t care for it, and left it at that.

  5. Lord_Mordja says:

    He’s 24 and a multi-millionaire, that ain’t bad.

  6. Cropduster says:

    Well it was a pretty fanatical level of praise at the time. Even the good ship RPS got sucked up in the great solemn appreciation typhoon.

    Saying “I enjoyed it, but I didn’t like xyz aspect” got the same level of derision you’d get for pissing in a font. Glad that business is over.

  7. zind says:

    I thought the story was charming enough but I definitely agree with the creator’s appraisal as it being a ‘niche’ thing because personally I found the actual gameplay to be too dull to sit through. I think I made it about 2-3 hours into the game before setting it down and going to read/watch a summarized version.

    I definitely don’t understand how it got so huge. I might have been able to play through it if I had played it on a tablet on the train or something like that, but it’s not the sort of thing I’m going to sit and use my PC gaming time to play.

    Still, good on the guy for hitting it big. I’d probably feel much the same way if any of my little projects had ever taken off like that.

    • Cropduster says:

      Same for me honestly, the story bits (and the music) were great, but the long treks between them with all the repeated encounters were pretty dull all round, and I bounced off it and quit.

      I’ve been meaning to give it another go though as the high moments were really really good.

  8. Shazbut says:

    It’s one of my very favourite games of all time. It’s a whirlwind of imagination, extremely funny and has heart like nothing else. I’m so glad it’s reached as many people as it has.

  9. GrumpyCatFace says:

    Haven’t played this yet (to my shame), but I can’t help noticing the Snowdin/Snowden reference in the beginning, with hidden reams of knowledge. Then the ‘monsters’ turning out to be just unusual, friendly beings… Is this all a metaphor?

  10. zsd says:

    I really liked it. It wore out its welcome a bit toward the end of your pursuit of the True Good Ending, but I really enjoyed shmuppy/platformer combat, the average to good jokes, and the human moments.

    I also really liked how the “good path” came with a real cost vs., for infamous example, Bioshock. In Undertale, choosing nonviolence means you’ll be level 1 with 20 HP forever. Personal vulnerability = mechanical vulnerability! Great design I think.

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    Jekadu says:

    As a player, I think it’s an 8/10 as well. It’s really clever in many ways, but large sections of the game aren’t very exciting and the prose isn’t very strong.

    As a Kickstarter backer, I was kind of surprised at how it exploded in popularity — teach me to not back something just because I like the guy’s music and ignore the demo he put out!

    As a wannabe developer, I am in awe at how well put-together the game is. The craft is absolutely amazing. In particular, the way the basic systems are malleable enough to support multiple, wildly divergent playstyles is particularly interesting, as it creates an equilibrium where story and gameplay will complement and enhance each other.

  12. dethtoll says:

    I get what the game was trying to do, it just wasn’t for me. I got nothing against it though — and in fact I think the backlash against it was pretty funny (and sad, but mostly funny.)

  13. MajorLag says:

    Well contrary to all of you damned neutrals, I really really liked it. It is so rare to find a game made with so much heart. You can really feel the love for the medium, genuine effort was put in to novel mechanical combinations, and the plot was wonderfully whimsical. Playing it made me feel like a child again. I should be, but am not, ashamed to admit that I teared up just a bit at the end of the true pacifist ending (you know what part I’m talking about, don’t judge me).

    On a logical level, I can understand why some people didn’t think that much of it. I guess you had to have lived through a certain era of gaming, or otherwise be predisposed to the cultural language of the work. Still, I find it hard to not think less of people who didn’t like it. Part of me just can’t help but think there is something wrong with them.

    And I’m also in awe of Toby. Truly. Nearest I can figure he came out of nowhere, having only ever produced an earthbound romhack of significant note, and almost single-handedly developed a game with a memorable plot, look, feel, mechanics, and music. I mean seriously? Makes me feel like a talentless waste, which I kind of am I guess, but knowing I could never make something half as good depresses me a bit.

  14. Sam Lowry says:

    I beat Sans for the first and last time a few weeks ago, took me 3 hours. This is without a single doubt in my mind my favourite game.

  15. 2helix4u says:

    A very good game, I’m not as insanely into it as some (apart from the soundtrack which is incredible) but for what it set out to do it basically did it perfectly.
    In the same way that Karate Kid is a perfect movie despite not being the best or even necessarily a good movie.

    It also has one of my favourite things that only top tier games do: gameplay mechanics that reflect the story.

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