Category Archives: theorycrafting

Undertale and why I’ll never make a game like it

Undertale is a good game narratively, as well as mechanically. It’s even good narratively and mechanically for the same reasons – it breaks/subverts expectations.

We are quite used to subversions of narrative – the anti-hero, the unexpected twist, genre breaking, all of those are common at this point. As is to be expected – there is nothing new under the sun, especially in literature, which has been around for thousands of years.

So, when Undyne cuts short her monologue, it’s surprising, but not unexpected. Very well executed. Similarly, when Asgore is set up as the main villain, the dissonance when he is revealed as an unwilling actor is again surprising, but not unexpected.

The subversion of mechanics is amazing, though. The first time you get hit by the “blue attack”… and turns what you thought was a “bullet hell” avoidance game into a platforming game, that was amazing. When the special attack hits, and the screen expands, that was amazing again.

Heck, in the very first fight, where games would normally insert a tutorial character, Flowey’s instructions for you to basically damage yourself and set him up as a monster, that was amazing use of mechanics and narrative together. Mechanically, you learn to move yourself around the world, that pellets damage you. Narratively, you learn that Flowey is evil, and sets the tone for the world coming up (that it’s kill or be killed, encouraging you to kill monsters), and sets the course for your redemption.

The fact that it is so amazing, is also what makes it impossible for me to make. Each fight that subverts your expectations is unique, and that’s what makes it wonderful. It also means that it is content. Each fight is content, not just an expansion on current mechanics. It is an amazing amount of content to be packed into a 2 hour experience, not just narrative content, but game systems content, and I am forever grateful for the experience.

Most games take one mechanic and polish the heck out of it, and use refinements of this mechanic to make an entire game. For all the narrative goodness of Portal, the portal mechanic never changed throughout the game. We were never surprised mechanically. For Portal to create a “blue attack” moment, one of the portals would have dropped you into a different dimension or something, and that would never have been done because it would be so much work for just 1 encounter.

I wouldn’t be able to create so much content on my own, though. Both in terms of resources (money and time) and in terms of potential audience.

I’m glad Toby managed to get Undertale funded and I’m glad that the world has this game – games are better off for it being around and expanding the medium.


What is a fighting game? What is the core game loop of a fighting game?

Someone on reddit had a topic – Theorycrafting: Smartphone fighting game done right. Now, his thoughts were restricted mostly to UI, but there is a more fundamental issue with fighting games on mobile, and that is the issue of latency.

But we actually beg the question – what is a fighting game? Without really answering this question, you can’t really design a “fighting game” for mobile, taking into account mobile’s limitations. Put another way, what kind of elements would need to be in a game for such a game to be recognised as a “fighting game”, and can such a game be executed well on a mobile platform?

Nothing really stood out when I did a quick search, so I’ll just pen though my thoughts and compare with whatever comes up later.

Elements of a fighting game:
2 or more players
Each player controls a player avatar
Win condition involves eliminating the other players’ avatars
Avatars are eliminated via attacks initiated by other player avatars
Attacks have a startup, active and recovery phase
Avatars can avoid attacks spatially (dodge or be out of range of attacks)

Core Game Loop:
Each player simultaneously controls their avatar.
Avatars can attack
Avatars can move spatially

I think this covers what makes a fighting games recognisable as fighting games.