The prospect of an Undertale Collection fills you with determination.

[Warning: This post contains spoilers to the game Undertale].

Undertale, as I have discussed, has a lot of interesting aspects to document and perserve. As I thought more about what made it different from other games that have come out in the past few years, I found that what things seemed to draw the most attention were the multiple endings and the ability for the game to remember what had been done in past play throughs, even when the player had saved the game.

I decided to focus on these aspects, because although the fandom is significant for Undertale, equally vehement fandoms exist for other indie games as well. This aspect of Undertale does not make it unique or significant; its popularity instead spurs from its use of a typical RPG format, but implementing characteristics that are much more uncommon. While some RPGs have had different endings, few have allowed the player to determine the fate of virtually all characters in the game, and allow their choices to have serious consequences for the future of the world, as can be seen in this PDF map of endings found for the “neutral” run of the game.

Using Materials to Understand Undertale

While, ideally, a collection containing Undertale would have a computer with a copy of the game, playing through all runs of the game would take countless hours, and even then, it would take researchers a while to get to what is significant about it.

I think that there are a few things that would both be easier to get and maintain, and also would provide researchers with much needed material for the games.

Getting permission from Toby Fox before acquiring any of these materials would be important; although all of the sources are available online and presumably Fox is aware of them, getting Fox’s permission would be best practice at minimum, and more likely would be entirely necessary.

1.) Undertale Wiki

This would provide users of the collection to quickly understand what was important about the game, what can be done at each point in time, and what was interesting/different about the game. Each page contains information about what can be seen in the game, and a number of deeper features, such as what is implied in one play through about the other, can be seen as well.

These pages are pretty basic, and so it would be pretty easy to save their content to a local folder, and the content is available under Creative Commons. Primarily, the words on the page are what is most important, and so these are easy to save; if the formatting is not perfect, that should not be a big deal.

2.) Documentation from Underminers

One of the Underminers has put up a lot of information on the internet, and while much of it is pretty technical, it can give some insight into how the game works, and how the save structure actually functioned. While including save files could be useful, finding all of them is actually a bit challenging, and I’m concerned that they wouldn’t be useful to even the most script-savvy users, if they aren’t familiar with the exact program that created the saves.

Here, I would want to get permission from Mirrawrs to use his content, and again store a local version of his very basic website, but because of its location on a reddit forum, and the fact that it was community compiled, I would imagine this would not be a problem.

3.) Videos of Gameplay

This gives users videos of gameplay. Should a file of Undertale ever be unsalvageable, I think this provides researchers some of the best documentation of what the game was like. Conveniently, many people have recorded gameplay, including runs of the game without commentary, and so getting access to the footage wouldn’t require an archivist to play through the game many times to make sure they acquired all possible scenes/dialogue that the game had to offer.

Ideally, I would get permission from some of the YouTubers to use their content, and then they could send me the most high quality files, but because the graphics of this game are not particularly significant to the project, lower quality downloads would also work to highlight the game’s story structure, again still with permission. Alternatively, an archivist could record many or select sequences themselves.

While it is relatively easy to “hoover up” the first two pieces of this project, selecting what videos of gameplay to get is a bit more challenging.

Let’s Play Undertale

Some of the Undertale video footage could get pretty redundant. I think it’s important to have full runs of a Pacifist playthrough and a Genocide playthrough: these are the real “cornerstones” of this game, and each has very different dialogues and gameplay. Conveniently, these offer very few ways to deviate from the intended path: In a Pacifist run, the player must save everything he/she comes into contact with, and in a Genocide run, the player must kill everything in the entire game.

The problem comes with the Neutral run, in which there are a LOT of alternatives. Each character could be killed or saved, and each of these acts has consequences. Most of these consequences do not occur until the end of the game, however. Also, an entire Neutral playthrough occurs within a Pacifist play-through (because the player is forced to kill one character, and then restart to fix the ending).

Because of this, I would suggest including short videos showing the deaths of major characters during a Neutral run, or compilation videos showing the many scripts available should a character die in different ways or situations. This would give the user of the archive information about how these deaths occur, without making them watch material that is available on multiple other videos. Again, multiple videos exist on YouTube with these sorts of footage, such as this video depicting all of the betrayal deaths– where characters think you will spare them, and you kill them at the last second.

Structuring an Undertale Collection

I think it would be good to organize the data based on its source (e.g., folder 1, wiki pages, folder 2, Datamined material, etc), at the most broad level. For the videos, I would want to organize them by their particular type of run-through. This would mean having folders for “Neutral”/“Pacifist” and “Genocide,” where materials pertaining to those “run-throughs” of the game are contained. Neutral and Pacifist would be combined because a Pacifist run contains a whole Neutral run, and then alternative Neutral runs could be featured separately in a folder. This helps emphasize the significant features of this game, in some ways, and the choice of materials becomes clear through the organization. It might be also nice to somehow link to the related materials in the other folders (e.g., link to the wiki page for the Pacifist run-through in the Pacifist video folder).

I think I would also dedicate a folder to videos of the game remembering past playthroughs as well. For this folder, I would want to include a good bit more metadata about the videos: what current play-through is being featured in the clip, and what had been done in the past save. For instance, in this short clip, a pacifist run ending is shown after the player had previously completed a genocide run-through. What was originally a sweet ending is now made incredibly creepy, due to the game “remembering” what you had done (kill everything you had ever encountered).

The Most Important Part… Is the Game

I should emphasize here that this plan is not intended for gamers who want to experience Undertale unspoiled and in its original setting. For that, a copy of the game and (what will one day be) historical hardware would be necessary, or potentially an emulator. In many ways, what is interesting about Undertale for gamers is that there IS so much to experience and discover. But this collection does not serve current gamers, but rather researchers and scholars looking to understand what there was to discover within this game, and that was what made it such a prominent entity in gaming so quickly.

So while I think that everyone who enjoys games should pick Undertale up and play it themselves, this collection will aim to give users information about Undertale’s many paths and long memory, even in a future where no file of Undertale is playable.

3 Replies to “The prospect of an Undertale Collection fills you with determination.”

  1. This is looking great. It is really interesting to see how much something like this illustrates how much documentation is being produced out there on the web in different communities. I think you make a nice case on why the fandom aspect of this game isn’t necessarily critical. If one wanted to understand and document video game fandom one would want to look across many different games and you are interested in focusing on documenting one key aspect of this game. The approach you’ve laid out, downloading and organizing these materials in a series of files would work just fine here. With that noted, given that so much of this material is published as web pages, I could also see an argument for approaching this as an Archive-It collection. That is, a special collection web archive. The main challenge to that approach would be that, given how much of this is made up of videos, those might be tough to capture for a web crawler. To that end, the way you have suggested pulling this together makes a lot of sense.

  2. Is it crazy to suggest documentation for the documentation? I poked around Mirrawrs’ site a little and wonder what kind of expertise (academic or otherwise) would help make it comprehensible to researchers. What level of understanding should the collection documentation assume, and how much can videos and other material fill in the gaps?

    This would be a great test case for linking files across folders or categories, so that researchers can see files in multiple contexts. In practice it might look like a search or filter system enabled by metadata and indexing. There are also examples of describing and visualizing collections to emphasize named-entity networks — like in the Recent Practices section here and some NYPL Archives & Manuscripts projects — but maybe an access system for an Undertale collection would structure and visualize networks of rooms, flags, battles, decisions, and other technical / conceptual entities rather than persons, places, and things.

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