The Stanley Parable
|The Stanley Parable|
Logo of The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable is an interactive fiction video game designed by Davey Wreden. The game originally released on July 27, 2011 as a free modification for Half-Life 2. A high-definition stand-alone remake, including new story elements, was again designed by Davey Wreden together with Source engine modeler William Pugh, under the Galactic Cafe studio name. The remake was announced and approved via Steam Greenlight in 2012, and was released on October 17, 2013 for Microsoft Windows. Later updates of the game added support for OS X on December 19, 2013, and for Linux on September 9, 2015.
While both the mod and the remake use the first-person perspective common to other Source engine mods, there are no combat or other action-based sequences. Instead, the player guides Stanley, the game's protagonist, through a surreal environment while the narrator, voiced by British actor Kevan Brighting, delivers exposition. The player has the opportunity to make numerous decisions on which paths to take, and because at times the narrator says what Stanley will do next, the player can choose to ignore the narration and make a different choice. Every choice made by the player is commented on by the narrator, and depending on the choices the player makes, they will encounter different endings to the game before it restarts.
Wreden envisioned the game after considering that most major video game titles confine the user to its rules, and considered how to construct a narrative to challenge that notion. Outside of Brighting's voice work as the narrator, Wreden built the modification himself, initially as a personal project for his career goals but soon expanding to a wider release once he had shown it to friends and other players. The modification received critical attention as a new variation of creating interactive storytelling within a game engine, and provided a thought-provoking narration to discuss with others on the nature of choice and predestination within video games.
The remake expanded the experience, recreating many of the original mod's decisions within new environments while adding several more story pathways that could be followed. The standalone game has received similar critical praise from journalists favoring the expanded narrative and commentary on player choice and decision-making in modern video games.
Gameplay and story
The game is presented to the player from the first-person perspective. The player can move around and interact with certain elements of the environment, such as pressing buttons or opening doors, but has no other controls.
The story is primarily presented to the player via the voiceover of the game's narrator, who explains that the protagonist Stanley works in an office building, tasked to monitor data coming on a computer screen and press buttons appropriately without question. One day that screen goes blank. Stanley, unsure what to do, starts to explore the building and finds it devoid of people.
At this stage, the story splits off in numerous possibilities, based on the player's choices. The narrator continues the story, but when the player comes to an area where a choice is possible, the narrator will suggest which route Stanley will take. The player can opt to go against the narrator and perform the other action, forcing the narration to account for this new direction which may return the player back to the target path or create a new narration. For example, the first choice the player makes in the game is at a set of two open doors, with the narrator stating that Stanley chose the left door; the player can choose to follow this narration, which keeps the narrator's story on track, or may choose the right door, which makes the narrator annoyed and causes him to pressure the player to return to the 'proper' path. Because of this, much of the story is considered thought-provoking about the nature of choice and decisions. The narration also breaks the fourth wall on several occasions in handling the player's decisions.
A total of six possible endings exist in the original mod, and Wreden states it would take about an hour for the player to experience them all. The remake does not alter the fundamental gameplay or initial narrative, and in addition to the original six endings, adds in several more possible endings and sections designed around those aspects of choice.
Davey Wreden, 22 years old at the time of the modification's release, was inspired to create The Stanley Parable about three years prior, after considering the typical storytelling narratives within video games, and thought of what would happen if the player would go against that narration; Wreden also saw this as a means towards his planned career as a game developer. As a video game player, Wreden has found that most major triple-A titles at the time make numerous assumptions about the player's experience and fitting that within the game, and don't provide answers for "what if" questions that the player may consider. Wreden considered that more recent games with more engaging or thought-provoking stories, including the Metal Gear Solid series, Half-Life 2, Portal, Braid, and BioShock, started to approach this void, giving reason for the player to stop and think about the narration instead of simply going through the motions. Though his initial intent was a personal project simply to try to make such a game that asked the questions about why people play video games, he found that there were other gamers that had been considering the same type of questions. He then set out to make a game that would be the subject of discussion for players after they completed it. According to Wreden, his design document for the game was "Mess with the player's head in every way possible, throwing them off-guard, or pretending there's an answer and then kinda whisking it away from in front of them."
With no prior experience working with the Source engine, Wreden relied heavily on information and help from wikis and forums on the Source Development Kit, teaching himself the fundamentals. Outside of Kevan Brighting's voicework, The Stanley Parable was all Wreden's work. Wreden used an open audition process to find a narrator, and found Brighting's submission to be ideal for the game. Brighting had provided his voice in a single pass for Wreden. Wreden wanted to keep the game short as to allow players to experience all the endings without spending an excessive amount of time replaying the game. The shortness of the game would also allow him to introduce ridiculous and nonsense endings, such as "and then everything was happy!", that would otherwise not insult the player as a poor reward for a completing a long game. Most of the ideas he had envisioned for the game were included though some had to be dropped due to his inability to figure out how to work with them within the Source engine. In one case, Wreden wanted to include a point where the player would have to press buttons as the narration and screen prompts would have said, but could not figure out how to bind keyboard input to do this, but left the element in there as a "broken" puzzle; he later was praised for this, as to players, this gave the impression of lacking control during the stage of narration. Despite the success of completing the game, Wreden considered the overall project "grueling" and stifling his career ambition, noting that his efforts became more intense once he started learning of other players' interest in the title.
Wreden initially tested the game with a friend before posting the modification to the website ModDB, a few weeks prior to his graduation from college. After graduating, Wreden had left for Australia with intent to open a video game-themed bar similar to the Mana Bar, which he had worked at for about a year, but his future plans changed with success of the mod. Wreden had started to receive various offers from others to help work on new games. Wreden also got some job offers from larger developers which he turned down, as at the time it was "not the kind of scene" he wanted to work in. Instead, Wreden started to gather other independent programmers to work out an improved version of The Stanley Parable and leading towards a completely new title in the future.
Shortly after the release of the original mod, Wreden was contacted by William Pugh, a player who had experience in creating environments within the Source engine and had previously won a Saxxy Award for his work. Pugh had heard of the mod through word of mouth, and after being impressed with playing it, saw that Wreden was looking for help for improving the mod. The two collaborated each day for two years for the revamped mod. Though initially Wreden wanted to recreate the original game "beat for beat", his discussions with Pugh led to them deciding to alter existing material and add more, an "interpolation" of the original game, and creating a stand-alone title. The game includes the six endings from the original, and the high-definition remake updates the game with several newly created endings. Brighting remains the voice of the narrator in the remaster, as Wreden considers his voice "half the reason this game has been successful".
In playtesting the newer version, Pugh found that players did not respond well to having a preconceived idea of where the divergent points in the game took place, as represented by a flowchart early in the game, and this was taken out. However, Pugh also found that without some visual cues as to where divergent paths occurred, they would often miss these choices, and so added elements like colors to highlight that a choice was available at these points. In the original mod, one set of choices briefly takes the player to sections modeled after parts of Half-Life 2. In the remake, Pugh and Wreden included one section where the player briefly revisits the opening of Portal, and another where the player is dropped into the middle of a Minecraft game. These sections were included after getting approval from their creators Valve Corporation and Markus Persson, respectively.
To distribute the new version, the team initially considered a pay what you want scheme, but later sought the use of the Steam Greenlight service, where independent developers can solicit votes from other players in order to have Valve subsequently offer the title through Steam. In October 2012, the game was successfully approved by Valve to be included on Steam upon the game's completion. Although Wreden originally called the stand-alone version The Stanley Parable: HD Remix, he later opted to drop the distinguishing title, affirming that he believes the remake is the "definitive" version of the game.
Wreden and Pugh announced that the remake would be released on Steam on October 17, 2013, and accompanied the announcement with a playable demo. Given the unique nature of the title which is aimed at surprising the player and breaking their expectations, a traditional demo that would showcase some parts of the actual game would take away from the surprise in the full title. They also found that using a section of the game, taken out of context, left playtesters confused and annoyed with no understanding of that section without including additional monologues. Instead, they opted to create a non-traditional demo, which was developed to give the player the flavor of the game, using the same concepts of misconceptions and non-linear storytelling that were part of the original game. This includes a section modeled after a waiting room, which was one of the first elements designed for the demo. According to Wreden, "It catalyzed this sense that even very mundane tasks like sitting in a waiting room are fun if they're not what you're ‘supposed' to be doing". Wreden had sent personalized versions of the demos to Game Grumps and Adam Sessler of Revision3 for Let's Play versions, each including a few re-recorded lines directed at these players; Wreden considered that based on the higher-than-average viewcounts for these videos that this helped towards marketing of the game. Wreden considered that the demo received similar coverage as the full title, effectively helping to generate media buzz equal to two game titles for the additional two months of work it took to create the specialized demo. IGN's Luke Reilly listed The Stanley Parable's as one of the top six demos in video games, citing how the demo is "an entirely standalone exercise designed to prepare [the player] for the unique player and narrator relationship that forms the core of The Stanley Parable experience".
The OS X version (requiring 10.8 or later) was released on December 19, 2013, with support for older versions of OS X expected to arrive shortly thereafter. A physical release of the game will be published by the subscription service Indiebox to be released sometime in 2016.
|Reception (HD remake)|
Within two weeks of its release, the modification was downloaded more than 90,000 times. Responses of most players were positive, and Wreden became "an overnight internet sensation among hardcore gamers."
The Stanley Parable modification was praised by journalists as a thought-provoking game, praising it for being a highly experimental game that only took a short amount of time for the player to experience. Many journalists encouraged players to experience the game themselves, desiring to avoid spoilers that would impact the player's experience, and to offer discussions about the game within their sites' forums. Ben Kuchera of Ars Technica noted that while the game purportedly gives the player choice, many of these end up lacking an impact, as "to feel like you're in more control than you are". Brighting's voice work was considered a strong element, providing the right dry British wit to the complex narration. Alex Aagaard from What Culture believes that The Stanley Parable "will be regarded as one of the most pioneering games of all time" during videogames' transition from entertainment to a legitimate and respected art form.
The game was listed as an honorable mention for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize and "Excellence in Narrative" award at the 15th Annual Independent Games Festival. The Stanley Parable received the Special Recognition award at IndieCade 2012.
The standalone high-definition remake has received critical acclaim from reviewers. At Metacritic, as of November 15, 2013, the game holds an 88/100 score based on 45 critic reviews. Forbes listed Wreden in its 2013 "30 Under 30" leaders in the field of games for the success and marketing of The Stanley Parable. For his work on the game, William Pugh was named as one of 18 "Breakthrough Brits" for 2014 by BAFTA.
Brenna Hillier of VG247 opines how the standalone game highlights the current problems in writing story-driven games, and that "it takes the very limitations of traditional gaming narratives and uses them to ruthlessly expose their own flaws". Ashton Raze of The Telegraph considered that the game "offers ... a look at, not a critique of ... the nature of narrative construction" that can be a factor in other video games. The remake won the Audience Award and was nominated in the categories of "Excellence in Narrative" and "Excellence in Audio" along with being named as a finalist for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize for the 2014 Independent Games Festival Awards. The game was nominated for "Best Story", "Best Debut Game", and "Game Innovation" awards for the 2014 BAFTA Video Games Awards, while Brighting's performance was nominated for the "Performer" award.
Wreden reported that more than 100,000 sales were made within the first three days of being available; this was far more revenue than he was expecting, considering that sales from these three days would be enough to allow him to live comfortably and become a full-time developer for the next five years. The title subsequently passed one million sales by October 2014. Wreden released a patch for the standalone version to replace some imagery used in a 1950s-style instructional video which some players found racially offensive.
Following the remake, Wreden began developing his next title, The Beginner's Guide, which was released in October 2015, while Pugh set up the independent studio Crows Crows Crows. Their first game was Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist, released in December 2015.
In popular culture
The Stanley Parable appeared during the third season of House of Cards, where President Frank Underwood is being shown the game by a novelist and video game reviewer who is writing his biography, with the puzzling nature of the game used as a metaphor for the current politics in the show's fiction.
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