Whenever an art book is being made for any form of media, be it a film, a series graphic novels or a game title, it’s a great opportunity for spectators to grab a copy to gain new understandings of the source material. Not only is it a fantastic add to any serious collector’s curation, but it offers insights into how the project was made. Along with that, the reader walks away from their reading experience with a greater appreciation for the title and its medium. So, when Undertale creator Toby Fox announced mid-November that an art book for his popular indie RPG was in the works and was being created and sold by Fangamer, this was a splendid opportunity for fans to delve into what went into the making of this modern classic. This, however, is not your conventional art book. If you are expecting in-depth commentaries into the game’s universe and character motivations as you would with a traditional art book, this book might fall incredibly short of expectations. If you are expecting a basic idea of process, straight forward commentaries and Toby’s classical humor and modesty, this book is bound to be pleasingly entertaining.
In contrast to the standard format of an average art book, Undertale’s is written to describe the process of Undertale as a game and which artists Toby collaborated with and how they went about the design choices were made. Rather than discussing every detail or composing a fancily written artist statement, Toby’s writing style takes on an amusing, care-free and personal tone. The question is how effective is this in terms of teaching aspiring designers game development? It depends on who you ask and what the reader was expecting to take away from it, but assuming the reader wants to give game development a try, this simplistically written book will be a less daunting insight and will alleviate most of the stress of game design. While this may not necessarily be a perfectly crafted book as there are a few desirable traits that would have been useful, there are several interesting features that lend itself rather well.
Writing with a Sense of Humor and Character
The writing style and commentary is perhaps the most interesting aspect of Undertale’s accompanying art book. Anyone who is accustomed to Toby’s easygoing, playful tone, the reading experience will be delightfully refreshing. Just because this is an art book, this clearly didn’t signify he was going to step out-of-character and write in an unfamiliar tone. It’s true Toby’s commentary tends to be very simple, somewhat lacking in vital information at certain points where one might be desiring more details, but because he writes in a manner people are accustomed to, he does make the learning experience enjoyable.
Regarding where this book falls short, there are moments where Toby brings up some examples of ideas that came up early in development, but were never implemented into the final product. Interestingly, he leaves no further explanation aside from stating that these ideas were thought up of. An example of where unused ideas is briefly mentioned with no extra information can be seen from pages 14 to 17. On page 14, Toby humorously pin points that his main artist, Temmie Chang incorporated “a lot of empty… frames?” and that he had been meaning “to put something in the frames…, but never did” (Fox, 14). On the next page, he states that the wide frame in the lobby of Toriel’s house was supposed to contain a map illustrating the entire Underground, but leaves no additional details. Page 16 consists of a graphite sketch by Temmie, illustrating how Toriel’s house was initially envisioned. However, according to Toby, “no one drew it. So I just went with default tiles” (16). Page 17 is possibly the most fascinating in the entire section discussing the Ruins. It shows an intriguing piece of concept art, also by Temmie where the playable character is seen exploring a bedroom. It was supposed to be Asriel’s room, which according to Toby, “[he] thought [Asriel] might have an interest in the outside world, so [he] suggested giving [the character] an astronomy-themed mobile” (17). Again, he leaves no additional information for the reader regarding this piece nor why the idea was scrapped.
The main problem with the commentary, as seen in these pages is that these ideas all sound creative and interesting enough to have been added into the final product, but one might be curious as to why they were discarded. In the case of the picture frames, it’s not predominantly vital. Curious, but not vital. It probably would have been nice to have seen images within the frames. As for the sketch of Toriel’s house, the explanation about the design being left out is slightly vague. Judging by what Toby means when he says, “no one drew it”, it can be safe to say he may have meant that nobody drew it into the program he was using to create Undertale. On that same caption, he goes on to say that he “just went with default tiles”, which this assumption would make sense that he put the house’s exterior together using the tiles. It’s a bit confusing at first, but easy comprehend when taking in context clues. The piece depicting Asriel’s room leaves the most room for questions considering the little piece of information Toby leaves for the reader. Details like that where the player would find clues to learn something about a major character seem quite essential to deduct from the final product, so it does beg the question why any supplementary details wouldn’t be included in the art book. One might guess that knowing Asriel as a character and his relationship with the Fallen Human, it’s possible that it could have been over stating what the player/playable character discovers about him later in the game. Also, adding the mobile might have taken focus away from the clues about the other children who have also fallen into the Underground before the playable character. Nonetheless, this is just speculation and it’s worth pointing out and questioning it. It still sounds like a fascinating idea with potential.
Throughout the entire book, it has its fair share of moments where elaborate details are very much desired. Nonetheless, the spirit of this book, its light-hearted humor and its simplicity in describing the development that went into Undertale make up for these hindrances. Given the painstaking process that goes into game design, this can tip the scale in the favor of first timers who are seeking ideas about where to start. Rather than try taking himself too seriously, Toby seems to prefer writing about his process on a personal and collaborative level. To grasp Toby’s eccentric writing style, it would be best to start with the Preface and how the process is described throughout.
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