Untitled Goose Game & UI

When I first heard  of Untitled Goose Game a few years ago I wanted to play it immediately. I didn’t know anything about the game besides the player takes control of an annoying goose and runs amok in a rural country village. It all sounded so fun and silly and unique that, in the following years, it became my most anticipated game, my most “hype” game. Well the game came out a couple weeks ago and, after playing through it immediately upon release, I can say it is exactly what I wanted.

The main loop of the game is very easy to explain. In fact, it’s so easy that I’ve already explained it. As the titular goose, the player goes around a village and irritates every human being they come across. I wouldn’t say they wreak havoc on the village, more so they wreak nuisances. They make a boy trip in a puddle, take away a man’s stool right as he’s about to sit down, and, in my personal favorite section, force one neighbor to throw the others belongings back over the fence when the goose drags them over. 

It’s all very cute and quaint, but there’s a level of polish to the game that shows how well designed the game is. First: the art style is perfect. Everything is simple and low textured, with deep colors and thin outline that makes it look right out of a children’s book. Second: the sound design is great. I was thrilled every time I picked up a new item and learned it affected my honk, like a glass bottle muffling it or making a harmonica sound when holding one in my beak.Third: the characters are expressive. The humans in Untitled Goose Game, while being simple by lacking fingers and even faces, show a range of emotions from fear to anger to confusion. This is done by all of them using overthetop gestures, but that just feeds into the slapstick tone the game. This also is an example of my favorite thing about the game, it’s integrated UI.

Most user interfaces in video games tend to appear above the game, in a layer between player and game. They appear as button prompts to open doors and climbable ledges, enemies’ health or level appearing above their heads, or informational text floating above a weapon you might choose to pick up. They exist only for the player, not the character in the game, and can add slight fractures to the immersion the game is trying to build. Some games, however, choose to have the UI existing in the world of the game. Notable examples of these are the map and compass in Metro 2033 that the player has to pull out to  check objective locations and in Dead Space where the player’s health is shown through a glowing bar on the back of their suit. These are what I think of as integrated UI because they integrated, explained, and exist in the world of the game.

The UI in Untitled Goose Game is integrated into the world more thematically than physically, but it works extremely well. I mentioned before that the art style of the game resembles a children’s book. Well the UI uses that style to feel a part of the world. Honks appear as lines from the goose’s mouth like in a cartoon, indicated to the player that is a noise that will alert other characters to them and other items with similar indicators act the same way. Items the goose can pick up also has the white lines appear around them when they can be grabbed. It’s a clever way to show what’s intractable in the world while being thematically and stylistically coherent with the game’s world.

Untitled Goose Game is one part stealth game, one part puzzle game, with all the fun of annoying your neighbors in Animal Crossing. The stealth and puzzle genres of games have some overlapping rules used by them. They both work with predictable character AI and set patterns for those characters so the player can anticipate their movements and so the results of actions can be consistent. 

A lot of stealth sections in games will have enemies walking back and forth along one path so the safe areas are clear or they will have a way to show the enemies’ range of sight so the player can work around them. Untitled Goose Game’s world feels so much more alive than that. The villagers in the game have patterns they will go through in a section, but they do might do four or five different things, making their paths and movement ever changing, but still predictable. There is a video game shorthand for when the player has been spotted in enemy territory and that’s the sudden exclamation mark appearing over an enemy’s head.

Untitled Goose Game is not above using the same cliche, but that’s only if the player is caught doing something the people don’t care for, like stealing an item or being where they are not supposed to be. Other times, if a village spots the goose but the player is not doing something that warrants being chased after, the people will simply stand there, staring at the goose, perhaps stroking their chin a bit. This is a really well done system. While the ! or ? appearing above a character’s head when they notice something out of place feels slightly out of place in the world of the game, the pencil style font melds well with the art style and the two different ways characters react to the player clearly shows them when they are in trouble or not.

Last bit of UI in Untitled Goose Game I want to mention is how the game tells the player the characters’ intentions. As a puzzle game, the player needs to know what each villager is intending to do so they may use it to solve the check lists of objectives. The game shows this by having a thought bubble appear over a character’s head with an image of the item they intend to grab. This is one of the biggest things that endeared me to the game. It’s true that the thought bubbles exist only to the player and not the goose in game, but it feels completely in place in the world. Utilizing the strong art style of the game, the characters’ thought bubbles heighten the children’s book aesthetic. They are not integrated into the world physically, but artistically, like the honk and grab lines.

I love Untitled Goose Game. I found it endlessly charming and silly when I first booted it up, and it bloomed into a very clever and well designed game. The first time I noticed its genius was in the simple and integrated UI. But I’m now a little sad that it’s out because I need to find a new game to be my most anticipated game to be released. At the moment, honestly, it’s got to be Team Cherry’s Silksong.

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