Sep 26, 2016

undertale logo

I’m writing this blog post at midnight. As I write it, I am getting over a cold. I need to sleep, not only because I need to beat my sickness, but also because I have a midterm on Tuesday, and I need my sleep schedule to be in whack for it.

Yet, as I lay awake, staring at my ceiling, I can’t fall asleep. And, stupid as it is, the reason for my wakefulness is (partially) a stupid indie RPG made by a dog.

Some context

For those of you who don’t know what Undertale is… go play it. Seriously. If you have not played the game, and you play video games, you should. It is a masterpiece. It’s a flawed masterpiece, in some ways, but it’s a masterpiece.

I first encountered the game completely out of nowhere, at the behest of an Internet friend. He sent me a message which simply asked if I had ten dollars. When I responded that, yes, I did, he sent me a link to the steam store page for the game and told me to buy it.

Now, normally, I would have said no. I would have looked up reviews, or asked other friends, or done something to collect information. This time, however, I let my impulses get the best of me, purcahsed it, and started playing the game.

Undertale made me cry twice. Now, if you were somebody who knows me in real life, you’d know that this is unusual. Not the act of crying—I’m not the most stoic person ever, and I’ve been known to shed a few tears on occasion. No, what was weird was that I was crying at a video game. I cry, when I do, because of things in real life. Because of death, or extreme frustration, or sadness. Not media. Not in a long, long time—until, like I said, the stupid indie game made by a dog.

When I first got up to college it was hard. All through high school I hung out with the same people. I mean, shit, I’ve been great friends with one of that group since I was literally in Kindergarten. In college, well, things changed. I found it a lot harder to make friends. The attitudes of people around me were a bit different than my expectations. Combined with some personal issues, I was in a bad place.

I can’t say Undertale saved my life, because I wasn’t suicidal or anything before it came out. I know people with actual depression, and what I was feeling wasn’t that. It wasn’t even close. But I was feeling down, and Undertale lifted me up like (excuse my language) the fucking afterburners on a Jet Engine. It reminded me that there was awesome, beautiful stuff in this world. It shattered my nonexistent expectations into a billion pieces. It, to use a song by one of my favorite bands, pulled me up.


Undertale did another thing, too. It reactivated my semi-dormant desire to create something. Not software—that fire never went out—but something artistic.

I first got into programming to make games. My first game idea was something that, well, would be difficult for me to do now if I had a hundred-million-dollar budget. Still, in the process of failing to follow tutorials on OpenGL and struggling with C++, I realized that I actually liked coding.

I also realized that I hated gamedev. That’s a position I still hold, but a blog post for another time.

Immediately after I played the game, I set to work outlining a great idea for my own meta indie game. It took me about a day or so to realize that I’d outlined a derivative piece of bullshit that, quite frankly, is embarrassing to look back at. But, well, I’d like to look at this mishap in a positive light. I was so inspired, so driven to make an experience similar to that, that I all my normal cynicism and defense mechanisms shut down. For at least a moment, I completely lost the ability to be critical or doubt myself. I had to make something. I just had to.

So, after I sobered up a bit and realized how shit the idea was, I deleted the documents,and filed what little good concepts it contained in my mental “for later” drawer. I came up with another concept, a fusion of previous ideas I’d had, before Undertale even came out. Now, if this idea ever does wind up being made, I still think the inspiration will be clear, but this particular idea turns away from being a ripoff and into its own piece of artwork.

Unfortunately, I was quickly reminded of why Gamedev sucks, so I gave up on it fairly quickly.

But the spark persisted. I started writing fiction again for the first time in a long while. It was shitty at first, but I shook off the rust fairly soon, and eventually I had some tiny experiments I didn’t hate. After a while I actually started working on one big story idea.

I left that big story idea while trying to do a NaNoWriMo camp, realized I’d made a mistake, and came back to it. I’ve been hacking on that big idea ever since. It has, essentially, literally nothing to do with Undertale. If I hadn’t written this blog post, you’d probably never know that Undertale was even involved in inspiring it. But, still, I think I have Undertale to thank for its existence—for getting me to start creating again.

Even better, I dipped my toe into the active craft of writing. I joined a few writing groups. I started talking to other authors. I was in the flow, in a way I never have been before.

This evening, me and a few other authors had a meeting. We do this every Sunday—three people (or, in tonight’s case, two) submit an excerpt, and everybody else critiques those excerpts. Overall, my feedback was positive. The beginning was a bit too long, maybe, and my characters needed to be established slightly better, but they liked the parts I was most unsure about. They liked my concept. They liked my story.


So, why the hell am I writing this, sitting in my pajamas, when I should be asleep?

Well, the answer is simple. I can’t get Undertale out of my head. I can’t forget how it reached into my chest and pulled strings I thought were removed a long time ago. I can’t forget how it made me cry.

My current story? I don’t think it will do any of that. It’s not super deep. It has no emotional gut-punches. It has a message, sure, but it’s an academic one, a slightly cynical point about the nature of escapist fantasy—something people may feel in their heads, but not their hearts.

I’m awake for a lot of reasons, really. I’m awake because of nervousness for my exam on Tuesday, nervousness about my business, nervousness about my social life, hell, nervousness about my D&D campaign.

But, most of all, I’m awake because of what I’m writing. I’m awake because I want it to affect people like Undertale affected me, and I’m not sure if I can do that.

I’m awake because Toby Fox created an experience that got me creating again—and which is still spurring me to create better, even though I haven’t played it in almost a year.

And, to some extent, I’m awake because I felt compelled to write a blog post aobut all of the above feelings.

So I guess, really, I’m awake because I need to say thanks.

Thanks, Toby.

I can’t think of a better reason to stay up so late.