I told Toby Fox to skip questions he didn’t find interesting, and boy did he take me at my word. Frankly, I don’t blame him. When I’ve answered questions about things I’ve created, it was my hunger for recognition that made me sing my finest song. That’s where Toby Fox differs. He doesn’t seem to give a fuck what people think of him. Nonetheless, he took the time to answer my email, and I thank him for that. Now enjoy this (somewhat one-sided) conversation about Undertale, a game I quite enjoyed playing, by a guy who begrudgingly let me interview him. But hey, I did recommend he pull a Ted Kaczynski after all. Nyeh heh heh.
The Existential Gamer: Can you pinpoint the birth of UNDERTALE as an idea, or did it sort of coalesce in your mind over time?
Toby Fox: It originated when I decided to create a battle system in Game Maker. Then I made a game around it.
TEG: I really loved the fact that many of the branches in UNDERTALE‘s story seemed to lead to miniature “voids” where I was forced to contemplate what I’d just experienced without being “improved” in any quantitative way. Do you think that as gamers and people we have become addicted to numbers / money / experience in general?
TF: The addictive quality of “numbers increasing” is what drives a lot of games. But some of the most important things in life can’t be accurately represented by numbers. As for people’s lives, I have no comment.
TEG: The protagonist in UNDERTALE is of ambiguous gender. This is also true of many of the monsters he/she encounters along the way. Was this a design choice, and what role does androgyny play in your vision of the world?
TEG: Romance was one of the most interesting aspects of the game. In some situations there are sexual undertones in the dialogue, but these quickly give way to absurdity. Why did you choose to include flirting as a mechanism, and what role does sexuality play in a world like Undertale’s, where the storyline centers around the polar opposites of violence and non-violence?
TEG: If you had to pick someone to spend the rest of your life with, would it be Sans or Papyrus? Why?
TEG: A book in the Snowdine library reads: “Love, hope, compassion … humans have proven that their souls don’t need these things to exist.” Do you perceive the morality play in UNDERTALE as beyond the duality of “good vs evil”, or are these terms still useful to us as human beings in the 21st century?
TF: Regarding UNDERTALE‘s morality, my opinion is kind of irrelevant. I’d be interested in what you think about it, though.
TEG: What’s the last game you really, really enjoyed playing? Why?
TF: Ghost Trick, because the story was excellent and tied into the gameplay in a novel way. Highly recommended if you like Shu Takumi’s other games.
TEG: What’s the game you’ve played the most over the course of your life? Why?
TF: UNDERTALE, because I had to test it.
Second place: Earthbound, because I was part of an Earthbound fan community and it was a cornerstone of my life. (Editor’s note: Toby has since published a tweet that reads “recently i said in an interview that the game i had played the most ever was earthbound and i just realized IT’S ACTUALLY SMASH BROS MELEE”)
TEG: UNDERTALE doesn’t dig very deeply into the backstory of its protagonist, and there is no mention of his/her parents or life before falling into the hole. Why is that?
TEG: You composed the entire musical score of UNDERTALE, and I found it to be gorgeous and atmospheric, an integral part of the story-telling. Did you write the pieces specifically for the game, or did they exist before the scenes they score?
TF: Over 90% of the songs were composed for the game. I always wrote the songs before I started programming those parts, besides the credits song. Having music helps me decide how the scene should go.
Here are the songs that were composed for other projects, then absorbed into this one:
– Nyeh Heh Heh
– Another Medium
– Fallen Down
There’s an arrangement of a song from a previous project here, as well. People are well aware of this one.
TEG: Although I wouldn’t place UNDERTALE in the “post-apocalyptic” genre, there is a real feeling of wandering through a world in the aftermath of a cataclysm. Why have video games and art in general become so obsessed with the end of the world, and where would you place humanity on the spectrum from “no end in sight” to “it’s already happened, dude”?
TF: UHHH??? SKIP???
TF: Beats me.
TEG: Has the success of the game come as a surprise to you? Are you enjoying the attention from the media or is it a bizarre nuisance?
TF: Hmmm… I guess it’s slightly more than I expected. I’m glad I can make a positive difference in so many peoples’ lives, but I hate answering interview questions.