The Witness and Undertale (blog)

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There are only two games that I’ve really played in recent weeks, and they are The Witness and Undertale. The Witness is a 3D, first-person puzzle game set on an abandoned island. It is the second game from Jonathan Blow, and his follow up to Braid, which I’m realizing more and more that I need to go back and play. Undertale is a 2D, RPG game made by Toby Fox, and was released to critical acclaim last year. So how do these two games relate to what I’m trying to accomplish with my own game?

Communicating To The Player

The Witness is brilliant; it manages to communicate every aspect of the game without using language. In a way, the game creates its own language, one that you can decipher on your own accord. Instead of informing the player of the mechanics behind a type of puzzle, it lets the player discover them on their own. Too many games today inform the player exactly what they are supposed to do, and assume that the player won’t be able to figure it out on their own.

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This is an element that I’ve been thinking about a lot with my own game. My first prototype of the game featured too many “You should do this, then you should do this” moments, where I told the player exactly what they needed to do at every part. This helped me get an idea of the events that I wanted to take place in the level, but it didn’t make for a very fun game. This is a problem that I’m still working out with the design. How do I have all the scripted events happen within the level, but still allow the player to feel as if they’re doing everything on their own accord? This is something that I can definitely learn from The Witness, and while I’m not going to eliminate all of the language and instruction from my game, I think that only utilizing it when absolutely necessary will make for a better experience.

Then there’s Undertale… a game with a lot of text, but one that utilizes the RPG genre style of writing to its advantage. It’s a game that’s been universally praised for its great writing and its diverse set of characters. At the moment, my own game doesn’t feature any other characters besides the player; the player only interacts with emails and online crowdfunding backers in the desktop game, and in the RPG game, the player only interacts with objects. However, it is worth noting how Undertale handles the player interacting with objects:

In Undertale, the text never refers to the player in the first person, only in the third person. So for my own game, do I have the perspective be from the 3rd person, as in “you found x object”, or from the first person, as in “I found x object”? That’s something that I still haven’t settled on, but I think Undertale’s method of referring to everything in the 3rd person works well for its own style of gameplay.

Also, another consideration, do I explain every object within the game when you click on it? Undertale has a text box pop up, giving some insight on whatever you just interacted with. It’s a simple feature that adds a lot to the game, but I’m not sure if it will work as well with my own game. However, it’ll be worth experimenting with both, text and no text.

Game Audio and Music

The Witness features no music within the game, something that very few games can pull off to their advantage. I just finished reading this blog from Jonathan Blow posted in November of last year, detailing his reasoning for not including music within The Witness. He notes that since the game is about being perceptive and noticing the subtleties in the environment, adding music on top of that would work against the game. Instead, they put more attention into creating the sounds of the world around the player, to maximize the immersion within the world, instead of detracting from it with music.

Undertale on the other hand, has a fantastic original soundtrack composed entirely by Toby Fox. Nearly every section of the game features an original composition, and as he explains in this interview, he would write the songs of the game before he started programming a specific section. This helped him to decide how the scene should go. On top of that, since Undertale‘s soundtrack was so well-received by fans, he’s been selling it on his Bandcamp for $9.99, making additionally money on top of the [already strong] sales for the game.

While the music choices of The Witness and Undertale fall on two opposite ends, the music for my game will most likely  fall somewhere in between. Audio is still an aspect of my game that I haven’t decided on, but I already have a melody in mind for the theme of the game. Beyond that, it will take some experimentation with what works / doesn’t work for my own game.

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