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The Stanley Parable

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The Stanley Parable
A dark office desk. The phrase "The Stanley Parable" hovers above a square computer monitor. On the desk are a pencil sharpener, a telephone, and other items. A single lamp on the desk shines light onto it. The entire image is repeated within the computer monitor.
Cover art for The Stanley Parable, featuring the Droste effect on the computer monitor
Developer(s)Galactic Cafe
Publisher(s)Galactic Cafe
Designer(s)
Programmer(s)Jesús Higueras
Artist(s)Andreas Jörgensen
Writer(s)
  • Davey Wreden
  • William Pugh
Composer(s)
Engine
Platform(s)Microsoft Windows
OS X
Linux
Release
Genre(s)Interactive story, adventure
Mode(s)Single-player

The Stanley Parable is an interactive drama and walking simulator designed and written by American developers Davey Wreden and William Pugh. The game was originally released on July 31, 2011 as a free modification for Half-Life 2 by Wreden. Together with Pugh, Wreden later released a stand-alone remake using the Source engine under the Galactic Cafe studio name. The remake included new story elements and upgraded graphics. It was announced and approved via Steam Greenlight in 2012, and was released on October 17, 2013, for Microsoft Windows. Later updates to the game added support for OS X on December 19, 2013, and for Linux on September 9, 2015.

The gameplay involves guiding a silent protagonist named Stanley alongside narration by British actor Kevan Brighting. As the story progresses, the player is confronted with diverging pathways. The player may contradict the narrator's directions, which if disobeyed will then be incorporated into the story. Depending on the choices made, the player will encounter different endings before the game restarts to the beginning. The remake recreated many of the original mod's choices while adding new areas and story pathways. Both the original mod and the remake have received critical praise from journalists. Critics praised the game's narrative and commentary on player choice and decision-making.

A further expanded edition entitled The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe is scheduled for release in 2021. It will be available on consoles and include additional content.

Gameplay and story[edit]

A brightly lit office space with tanish-brown flooring, egg-white walls, and square overhead lights. Several closed doors leading to personal offices and other rooms line the walls, as well as plants and other office-related objects. In the center of the room is a large filing cabinet.
The game begins in a mysteriously abandoned office.

The game plays from a first-person perspective. The player can travel and interact with certain elements of the environment, such as pressing buttons or opening doors, but has no combat or other action-based controls.[1]

The narrator presents the story to the player. He explains that the protagonist Stanley is employee 427 in an office building. Stanley is tasked to monitor data coming from a computer screen and press buttons appropriately without question. One day, the screen monitoring data goes blank, which has never happened before. Stanley, unclear on what to do, begins to explore the building and discovers that the workplace is totally abandoned.[1]

At this stage, the story splits off in numerous possibilities, based on the player's choices. When the player comes to an area where a choice is possible, the player can opt to follow the narrator's directions or perform the opposing action. The initial decision are a set of two open doors. The narrator notes that Stanley traveled through the leftmost door, but this has not yet occurred.[b] The narrator takes the player's choices into account, reacting with new narration or attempts to return the player back to the target path if he is contradicted. For example, if the player were to follow the narrator's directions and pass through the leftmost door, the story of the missing employees proceed. Alternatively, the player can choose the rightmost door, causing the narrator to adjust his story. In this case, he will urge the player to return to the "proper" path, although the player can continuously disobey the narrator, resulting in other adjustments to the story.[1] In some instances, the narrator breaks the fourth wall when reacting to the player's decisions.[3]

In the original 2011 mod, there were six different endings. Wreden stated it would take about an hour for the player to experience them all.[3] The 2013 remake included more than ten additional endings, some alterations to pre-existing endings and the respective routes to trigger them, as well as several Easter eggs and other choice-related gameplay aspects.[2] Ultra Deluxe will expand on the game's endings further.[4][5]

Development[edit]

Half-Life 2 mod[edit]

Initially, I just wanted to make a game that was something I’d never seen before. I love any media that shifts my expectations and surprises me, [The Stanley Parable] is the kind of game I would want to play. I’ve loved games all my life and I’ve always loved narration and story delivery, but I rarely see anything particularly surprising done with it, so I just asked myself what would happen if I threw players up against an unconventional narrator. Really the seed of the game was just that one question, a desire to know what would happen if you were able to disobey the narrator, and I had no idea, so I just went about making it to find out.

Davey Wreden, 2011 Vice interview[6]

Davey Wreden, 22 years old at the time of the mod's release, was inspired to create The Stanley Parable about three years prior,[7] after considering the typical storytelling narratives within video games, and thinking of what would happen if the player would go against that narration; he also saw this as a means towards his planned career as a game developer.[1][8] As a video game player, Wreden found that most major triple-A titles at the time made many assumptions about the player's experience and fitted that within the game, and rarely provides answers for "what if" questions that the player may consider.[8] Wreden believed that 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.[8] 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, Wreden found that there were other gamers that had been considering the same type of questions.[8] He set out to make a game that would be the subject of discussion for players after they completed it.[1] 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."[3]

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.[8] Outside of Kevan Brighting's voice-over contributions, The Stanley Parable was all Wreden's work. Wreden used an audition process to find a narrator, and found Brighting's submission to be ideal for the game.[9] Brighting had provided his voice in a single pass.[1] Wreden wanted to keep the game short so as to allow players to experience all the endings without spending an excessive amount of time replaying the game.[1] 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 insult the player as a poor reward for completing a long game.[1] 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.[8] 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.[1] Despite the success of completing the game, Wreden considered the overall project "grueling" and stifling his career ambition,[1] noting that his efforts became more intense once he started learning of other players' interest in the title.[8]

Wreden initially tested the game with a friend before posting the mod to the website ModDB, a few weeks prior to his graduation from college.[8][10] 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.[10] Wreden had started to receive various offers from others to help work on new games as well as 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.[8] Instead, he 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.[8]

2013 remake[edit]

Two images stacked on top of each other. The top is a dimly lit, dark room with a few futuristic-looking computer monitors. In the background, there is a panel of square televisions with numbers above them. In the bottom image, the player is standing in a much brighter room, on a grey platform. Flat-screen televisions line the circular walls, each showing a different perspective of the office.
The "Mind Control Facility" in both the 2011 mod (top) and the 2013 remake (bottom). The mod's environment was primarily created by Wreden using default models in the Source engine, but Pugh helped to significantly improve the game's assets for the remake.
William Pugh, pointing at the camera and smiling. He has long, curly black hair.
William Pugh at the 2015 Game Developers Conference

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.[10] 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.[7][10][11] The two collaborated each day for two years for the revamped mod.[10] 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.[7] The remake includes the six endings from the original, as well as updating the game with several newly created endings.[7] Brighting returned to voice the narrator in the remake, as Wreden considered his performance "half the reason this game has been successful".[1] Additionally, a custom soundtrack was created for the remake, composed by Blake Robinson, Yiannis Ioannides, and Christiaan Bakker.

In play-testing 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.[9] In the original modification, one route travels the player to sections modeled after elements in Half-Life 2. In the remake, Pugh and Wreden included one route where the player briefly revisits the opening of Portal, and another where the player is dropped into a Minecraft world before being trapped in the game's 2011 mod. These routes were included after getting approval from their creators Valve and Markus Persson, respectively.[9]

To distribute the new version, the team initially considered a pay what you want scheme,[7] 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.[12] In October 2012, the game was successfully approved by Valve to be included on Steam upon the game's completion.[13] 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.[14] The OS X version (requiring 10.8 or later) was later released on December 19, 2013,[15] expanding to support for Linux on September 9, 2015.[16]

In August 2016, Galactic Cafe partnered with IndieBox, a monthly subscription box service, to create an exclusive, custom-designed, physical release of the game.[17][18][19] This limited collector's edition included a DRM-free game CD, the official soundtrack, an instruction manual, a Steam key, and various collectibles including an "Adventure Tie" and "Existential Mousepad".

Demo[edit]

A storage facility with grey floors and off-white walls. Catwalks are suspended above the player, and there are some boxes stacked over to the right. On the wall in block letters is the phrase "The Stanley Parable Demo Construction Facility".
The Stanley Parable's demo takes place in a "demo construction facility", a setting entirely separate from the main 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. They found that using a section of the game, taken out of context, left play-testers confused and annoyed with no understanding of that section without including the prior monologues.[20] Instead, they opted to create a non-traditional demo, which was developed to give the player the flavor of the game, using similar concepts of misconceptions and non-linear storytelling that are present in original game.[21] Wreden stated "the best way to convey what our game is about is through an additional piece of content, completely separate from the main game, that carries the style and tone of the main game without actually spoiling it."[20] 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".[20]

Personalized versions of the demos were created by Wreden for Game Grumps[22] and Adam Sessler of Revision3 for Let's Play to promote the 2013 remake. These editions included some rerecorded lines directed at these players; Wreden considered that based on the higher-than-average viewership for these videos that this helped towards marketing of the game,[23][24] and that the demo received similar coverage as the full title. This effectively helped generate media buzz equal to two game titles for the next two months of work it took to create the specialized demo.[25]

Ultra Deluxe[edit]

Three images, laid out horizontally. The leftmost image is a simple office with brown flooring and tan walls, with an orange accent. There is a single bookshelf in the back left. In the center of the room is a small red-colored wood desk with a few miscellaneous things on it. A single wood chair is behind the desk. The center image is a very different scene, featuring a much larger room with dark wooden flooring and dark red wallpaper. A large window covers most of the back wall, although nothing can be seen through it aside from pure white. Bookshelves line the walls, as well as a fireplace to the right side. A much more elegant desk sits below the window. The rightmost image is very similar to the middle, with better lighting effects and minimal other changes.
The "boss' office" room in all three versions of The Stanley Parable. From left to right: the Half-Life 2 mod, the remake, and the Ultra Deluxe edition.

At The Game Awards 2018, a world-premiere trailer for an expanded edition of the game entitled The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe was announced. It was planned for release in 2019 for existing platforms, also for consoles. Ultra Deluxe is a joint release by Galactic Cafe and Pugh's Crows Crows Crows. The game will be ported to the Unity game engine to support consoles. Additional content will be added to this version as well.[4][5] In November 2019, the studios announced their decision to delay Ultra Deluxe with a mid-2020 release.[26][27] To generate interest in Ultra Deluxe, the 2013 remake was made available for free for a limited time in March 2020 on the Epic Games Store.[28][29]

The game was further delayed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[30] This delay was announced with a series of images parodying similar announcements for Halo Infinite, Deathloop, and Spider-Man: Miles Morales (the latter being an entirely fictional creation, as Spider-Man: Miles Morales was never delayed).[31]

Reception[edit]

Half-Life 2 mod[edit]

Within two weeks of its release, the mod was downloaded more than 90,000 times.[3] Responses of most players were positive, and Wreden became "an overnight internet sensation among hardcore gamers."[32]

The Stanley Parable mod was acclaimed 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.[1][3][33] 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.[33] 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".[33] Brighting's voice work was considered a strong element, providing the right dry British wit to the complex narration.[1][34] Alex Aagaard from WhatCulture believes that The Stanley Parable "will be regarded as one of the most pioneering games of all time" during video games' transition from entertainment to a legitimate and respected art form.[35]

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.[36] The Stanley Parable received the Special Recognition award at IndieCade 2012.[37]

2013 remake[edit]

The 2013 remake has received critical acclaim from reviewers.[48][49][50] At Metacritic, as of March 2020, the game holds an 88/100 score based on 47 critic reviews.[38] Forbes listed Wreden in its 2013 "30 Under 30" leaders in the field of games for the success and marketing of The Stanley Parable.[51] For his work on the game, William Pugh was named as one of 18 "Breakthrough Brits" for 2014 by BAFTA.[52]

A television screen placed above a placard with a controller next to it. The television is displaying part of the "Confusion Ending" of the remake, in which the player is told to follow a painted yellow line through the office.
The Stanley Parable remake on display at Computerspielemuseum Berlin, during the "Confusion" ending

Some critics focused on the game's themes of existentialism. Brenna Hillier of VG247 opines how the stand-alone 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".[53] 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.[54] 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.[55][56] 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.[57] At the 2013 National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers (NAVGTR) awards the game won Writing in a Comedy and Performance in a Comedy, Lead (Kevan Brighting as Narrator).[58]

Wreden reported that more than 100,000 sales were made within the first three days of being available;[23] 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.[59] The game had sold over one million copies in less than a year.[60] The game's demo was received similarly well, and Wreden considered it a key part in the full game's success.[25] IGN's Luke Reilly listed The Stanley Parable's demo as one of the top six demos in video games, citing how it 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".[61]

A patch was later released for the game to replace some imagery used in a 1950s-style instructional video that players found racially offensive.[62] Following the remake, Wreden began developing his next title, The Beginner's Guide, which was released in October 2015,[63] 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.[64]

In popular culture[edit]

In May 2014, an announcer pack featuring the voice of the Narrator was released for the multiplayer online battle arena game Dota 2.[65]

The Stanley Parable appeared during an episode of 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, where the puzzling nature of the game's ability to contradict narrative elements was used as a metaphor for the current politics in the show's fiction.[66][67]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Remake
  2. ^ Technically speaking, the first choice in the game is choosing whether or not to lock Stanley's office door, in which locking it results in a unique ending, but the choice between the two doors is the first one that is obviously presented to the player.[2]

References[edit]

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