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Untitled Goose Game: The Importance of Having a Unified Theme

How an unsuspecting indie title became a textbook example of thematic excellence in game design.

Aidan Herron, Blogger

January 15, 2021

6 Min Read

By Shelby Carleton | @bdotexe

In my humble opinion, Untitled Goose Game is a masterclass in the creation of a unified theme and thoroughly sticking to it. When I say “theme”, I’m trying to get at the core of the game, the thing that everything comes back to in order to create a consistent experience that is cohesive across gameplay, visuals, story, music etc. It’s the big idea, feeling being conveyed, or experience to be had. I think a theme can definitely be debatable based on the person and what they experience and what sticks with them (and I think there can be multiple themes present too!), but I think for Untitled Goose Game it’s pretty clear what they we’re going for:

  1. You’re a goose.

  2. You’re a goose living your best life.

It’s not the most complex of themes, but that’s part of what makes the experience so wonderfully charming and enjoyable. It feels like everything was built from the idea: you are a goose.

Embodying a Goose

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A shining feature of the game that stuck out most to me is the ability to honk. It’s beautiful. The sound of the honk isn’t shrill or piercing. It’s actually the perfect honk (if there is such a thing) and you can employ it whenever you want. You can honk for pure joy as you waddle down the street; you can honk at a human to ruin their game of darts; you can honk at a kid to make them drop whatever item they are carrying, leaving them in a disoriented tizzy while you scoop it up and waddle away like the force of chaos you are. Honking is pure joy. When I think of a goose, the sounds they make definitely come to mind, and employing honking as not only a fun option for the player, but as a mechanic to help solve puzzles and interact with the world is a great tie in to that super solid theme: you are a goose.

Gamifying a Goose

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If you were a goose, what possible shenanigans would you get up to? As a developer it would be your job to answer this question, to bring the goose experience to life and make it one that resonates with players. You might think the experience shouldn’t be too complex with tons of buttons that do different things because complexity doesn’t feel very goose-like. You may also think embodying a goose would need to be enjoyable in terms of handling, but that it would also need to make sense based on what we know about geese already. Geese don’t breathe fire, for example (but of course they could in a different sort of game).

So back to the questions: how much shenanigans can one goose get up to? Lots, as it turns out. You employ each one of your special goose mechanics, whether it’s the aforementioned honking, or holding things in your beak, flapping your wings, or sprinting away (this goose can be pretty quick), it all works in the world you inhabit. There are puzzles in each area to solve in the form of a To Do List. It’ll say things like “lock a boy in a telephone booth.” The reason this works is as a goose, there are only so many things you can employ to make this happen. Each area is also contained enough that it isn’t overwhelming to try and figure out how to pull off a To Do List item. Eventually, you’ll try enough combinations of honk, grab, run that you’ll stumble upon a solution. For example, I quickly realized the boy was a little scared of me, so I honked my little heart out and chased him to a telephone booth where he promptly ran in and shut the door.

It’s kind of remarkable that after a while, you start to think like a goose. What havoc can I wreak in this area? It’s wonderful.

Respecting the Goose

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An aspect I enjoyed most (besides the honking) was the way in which our goose friend is treated throughout the game. As a goose, you are a public menace. You break things, you steal things, you pull chairs out from under people, and scare little boys into telephone booths. But despite all this, the people in the world of the game are pretty chill with your existence. If I ever got too close to a person or a “no goose” area, they would just shoo me away and go back to their business. There is no violent animal abuse (or human abuse for that matter) and it felt pretty optimistic that people were so willing to forgive and forget. 

I think this falls into the category of “cozy game” which for me, just means an experience that makes you calm, peaceful, maybe a little happy, and especially safe. It isn’t upsetting or loud or maddening for you (even though these feelings have their place in video game experiences), it’s just cozy. I think different people can have different cozy games, but Untitled Goose Game is up there as part of this genre. It probably helps that the goose is adorable, but that’s another reason the game works so well is the style it employs.

The Style of a Goose

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There’s no HUD to distract you from being a goose, just a To Do List to guide you on your adventures. The game is focused on you, the goose, so the other characters that show up are beautifully shaded and don’t have many features to distract you from the goose experience. The colors are vibrant and the music is brilliant. It’s fun, it’s light, it’s mischievous. It honestly feels like the theme song a goose might have, which is, I guess, exactly what they were going for.

All the elements, from the To Do List, to the art, the music, the mechanics, they work together because they’re all deeply centered around the idea, the theme, of just being a goose, and the wonderful fun to be had along the way.

This article was originally published September 27, 2019 on www.panicmode.net.

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