'Like a thunderclap to a small dog': Undertale's creator reflects on the game's success

September 14, 2016 by Kris Ligman

On the eve of its first anniversary, developer Toby Fox looks back on Undertale's explosive popularity.

Love it or hate it, you've probably heard of Undertale. A quirky, sprite-based role-playing game inspired by the Mother (Earthbound) series, Undertale dominated 2015's best-of-the-year lists, garnering high praise for its music, pacifist themes, and memorable characters in particular.

Tomorrow marks the first year anniversary of Undertale's release. In honor of the occasion, creator Toby Fox has shared a sort of retrospective, in which he discusses the game's surprise success and its vocal fanbase.

"Not only did I not expect this level of popularity, but initially, I was afraid of it. I didn't want Undertale to become tiring for people, or become spoiled before anyone even got a chance to play it," Fox writes in the blog post. "But, the game became very popular. Unavoidable, even. 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."

This "discourse" reached its peak in December 2015, when it started to seem likely that Undertale would win GameFAQs annual "best game ever" poll. Although online polls aren't exactly scientific to begin with, the site's forumers collectively lost their shit, believing the game's popularity was the result of some "SJW agenda" or an invasion of "the wrong kind of players," instead of, perhaps, the reality that it just resonated with an awful lot of people.

There's no denying that some of Undertale's louder fans could be insufferable, even to other fans of the game. But the same could be said about virtually any game at the peak of its popularity. (Consider: this summer's handwringing about disruptive Pokemon Go players.) For Fox, however, the game's success represented a unique kind of pressure, as the key creative behind a small, intimate game.

"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," says Fox, with a nod to the GameFAQs poll as well as the host of awards Undertale went on to win. "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.)"

Despite all this, Fox says he believes Undertale's explosive success was ultimately a good thing.

"Countless wonderful things were happening," he remembers. "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 -- just as Undertale owes much of its look and tone to the Mother series -- Fox anticipates a future in which his game also inspires future developers.

"Someday, Undertale will fade from people's minds. But, I'm sure in 10 years, some kid who played Undertale will create a game that surpasses it… I look forward to playing that."

(h/t Gamasutra.)