Several years ago, a joke trailer was made for a stealth based game where you play as a goose. Fast-forward to 2019 and the game is released to the public to immense amount of praise from critics and gamers alike. But what about this silly game where you play as a mischievous goose has led to its widespread fame? Today, I want to take a deeper look into the systems and design of the game that has led to this success.
I think the fist important part of Untitled Goose Game is its simplistic style. It is a world full of flat colors and low poly counts. The characters in the game are faceless, yet we can understand their emotions easily through their body motions and their interactions with the goose. It all leads to a very youthful design, reminiscent of children’s toys and shows. Even the name is simplistic, being the placeholder name used throughout its development, yet perfectly describing the game itself.
The camera in this game plays an important role in how players tackle the game. The camera is normally very close to the goose, making it impossible to look at the entire level at once. Even with the ability to zoom it in and out slightly, it never gives the player a full view of the level they are playing. This is coupled with the fixed angle of the camera to control the player’s perception of the level.
The camera is often used to hide certain shortcuts or alternate paths, and often communicates the vision of the characters to the player without the need for stealth indicators like in Thief or Skyrim. It also helps separate each level without the need for loading screens, as each level is separated by a movement of the camera angle. It also helps separate each level into its own sub-sections, making it easier for players to parse puzzles down into their individual segments.
Now before I can go any further with discussing this game, I will have to spoil the whole thing. The game is short and the story isn’t really groundbreaking, but if you want to go into this game blind, I would suggest closing this article and picking up the game itself before reading any further.
The camera rotating between levels also helps disorient the player slightly, keeping them from understanding their path through the game until the final mission. See, the goal of the game is to get a bell, as is hinted by the pit of bells at the beginning of the game. As you approach the bell, you walk through a model of the village in the exact path you took through the game, and you understand that the path you took is a big U. The area where you are now is incredibly close to where you started the game and is probably why the goose has so many bells already. There is a locked fence that separates the first and last portion of the game, explaining why the goose had to take such a roundabout path.
That final walk through the model also shows the true purpose of having the player accomplish all those goals while going through the village: to learn. Each level has enough goals to force you to learn its layout and the characters that inhabit it. It was an incredibly long tutorial to prepare the player for the final gauntlet that is bringing the bell all the way back through the village. You learn the paths you must take, the distractions for each person, and in the end the total layout of the village itself, and you are expected to use this newly acquired expertise to travel unseen through the game without most of the few actions in your arsenal.
It’s a beautiful example of allowing the player to teach themselves by giving them abstract goals and a variety of objects to interact. The game never tells you that you can honk to distract someone, but by introducing it at the first action in the game as well as making it such a silly action, it incentivizes the player to use it, either to laugh at or to experiment. You automatically assume that your honk will make the gardener hammer his hand, just like how you assume that the walkie-talkies will transfer your honk, and it brings you joy that this idea you had in your head actually works.
By keeping things set in reality, it allows the player to make choices based on their real-world knowledge, and also opens the puzzles to many unique solutions. Almost every time you see something new, your mind wonders if it will do something that makes sense in your head, and without fail it usually will do exactly that. The jar will muffle your honk, the trashcan has trash in it, and loud noises will make you spit out your coffee. It’s a perfect example of emergent gameplay.
Emergent gameplay is gameplay that is created through an interaction of different systems within the game world. I think the best example I can think of is Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, where there are the systems of fire, ice, water, magnetism, and electricity that all exist for almost every item in the game, and the way they interact with each other can create interesting gameplay that makes the player feel like they have made a discovery. The goose game does this perfectly by providing tons of little objects strewn throughout the level that can be interacted with by the goose, allowing the player to come up with their own solutions based on their understanding of these interactions.
Now, Untitled Goose Game is a stealth game, but it is one that flips the genre on its head. In most, the goal is to be unseen, and to reach your goal without the enemies even knowing you were there by watching and actions of the enemies and slipping through the small gaps you can find. The goose game is the opposite, where you are the center of attention, and everyone know you are there. You’re an annoying goose, honking in people’s faces and stealing their stuff, yet it brings one part of the stealth genre to the finest point it has ever been.
See, in most games you distract a guard by throwing a coin, or causing something to happen across the map, drawing their attention away from you while you sneak through. In the goose game, you cause havoc and ruin things in front of their eyes, and then use the time they spend fixing stuff to accomplish your goals. See, the only part where being unseen is important is when you are carrying something that belongs to the person. If they see you, they’ll chase you to get the item back, yet if they’re too busy putting something else back where it belongs, they wont notice you as you drag something else of theirs to where you want it.
I remember seeing people call goose game a fad game and comparing it to games like Goat Simulator and I couldn’t disagree more. While the game is silly in premise, it shows a masterful understanding of good puzzle, level, and art design that you simply don’t see in many other games. People are playing it because it is a good game, and its popularity is well deserved through the absolute joy brought by both playing and watching others play the game.
I’ve also seen people complain that the game is too short, and while I would enjoy more considering how much I enjoyed my time with this game, I don’t think that it’s a bad thing for each playthrough to be so short. It’s a question of quality over quantity. I’d much rather play a masterful game like this for the few hours that it lasts than through an ok game that drags on and on. I thought we learned that game length isn’t overly important back in the days of the SNES, when we learned that Chrono Trigger was a masterpiece at only a dozen or so hours.
And even when you complete the short campaign, there is a post-game checklist with more shenanigans for the goose to accomplish, as well as challenging the player to beat each level within a time limit. They even reward you in the end with a little crown that you can get put on your goose’s head the same way you get the ribbon on. Even then, you can always go through the game more times if you really ant, challenging yourself to find new ways to solve the puzzles and harass the townsfolk.
All in all, Untitled Goose Game is one of my favorite titles for the sheer amount of joy that it brought not only me, but almost everyone I have seen sit down with this game. It’s a perfect getaway from all the stress of life by just harassing these poor townsfolk as a chaotic goose for an hour or two. I’m also excited to see what future games may draw from this as inspiration, as there are many lessons that can be learned within this game’s short playtime.
This is a 10/10 game without a doubt, and one that I feel can be enjoyed by anyone, young or old. It deserves its amazing sales and all the media attention it’s getting, and I’m excited for more from House House, who have proved themselves to be extremely skilled designers.