Weeks after its release, it's still hard to nail down exactly what The Stanley Parable is. That didn't stop us from bringing questions to creator Davey Wreden, including some questions from Chatty.
The Stanley Parable poses a large number of questions to its players. Some of them get answered over the course of the game, but most of them simply leave you scratching your head and even give you doubts as to whether there's even such a thing as choice at all. Even weeks after its release, it's hard to nail down exactly how to describe this game.
Of course, that didn't stop me from bringing questions to Davey Wreden, the man who created The Stanley Parable. After asking him to attempt to describe his own creation and how it morphed from the 2011 Half-Life 2 mod into its current incarnation, Wreden was more than happy to also answer some questions from the Shacknews Chatty community.
Shacknews: The Stanley Parable is one of those unconventional games that's very difficult to describe. So I'll ask it straight from the source: What is The Stanley Parable? How would you describe it?Davey Wreden: I know this is going to sound a bit coy but the honest answer is that I don't try to describe it! The nature of the game is that it's a perpetual unanswerable question, to give one answer about what it is leads to another leads to another. I'd prefer to acknowledge that this chain of questions is impossible to bring to any real conclusion, so I nip it in the bud by not trying to answer any of them. The game itself says what it is better than anything I could ever put into words. The people who play it often describe it better than I'm able to. I don't think my opinion on what it is means a tremendous amount.
If this is confusing and if you're attempting to determine whether or not it's worth the purchase price, I can say that we have created a free demo that conveys as best it can what the style and tone of the game is, without actually spoiling any of its secrets. If the demo has any weight for you then you might enjoy the full game as well.
What made you want to take the original 2011 mod and turn it into The Stanley Parable that we see today?
Well it was never particularly intentional, it just sort of happened that way! After the original game came out a few people wrote to me simply offering to make it look prettier. Then when [game designer] William [Pugh] and I started working together we decided it might be fun to add a few new endings, then a few months later we thought about changing some of the already existing endings, then later we decided to make some structural changes, and so on and so forth. Even at the launch of the game there were still many things I didn't fully understand about it, many elements of the player experience that I continue to discover. I think this continual discovery is at the core of what makes the game unique, and it's certainly reflected in our development style in that we almost never knew what we were really making!
Everybody has their own interpretation of what The Stanley Parable is and what the story (or lack thereof) is meant to be. What are some of the more common interpretations of the game that you've heard?
I like any interpretation which catches me completely by surprise! This often happens when people encounter a bug or something I didn't intend, like one player whose computer blue-screened while standing in the broom closet. A number of times players looking for easter eggs have found bugs or oversights on our part and found a way to work them into their understanding of the game's story. I also really like the interpretations of Employee 432's role in the office. And of course, there are always the people who just think Stanley was on drugs the whole time...
Do you believe anyone can truly see every single room in The Stanley Parable?
I'm sure it's possible, though there's really no way for me to know for sure whether it's been done!
What's your personal take on the concept of free will? And do you feel that you've successfully expressed your ideas through the game?
I know that many people believe Stanley is a pessimistic game about how we're all doomed, but I genuinely do believe that freedom is hidden in there, if you're willing to see it, waiting to be found...
Perhaps there are ways I could have better conveyed this idea, but I suppose that's what future works are for.
One of The Stanley Parable's many possible paths
'BlackCat9' asks: Did the addition of extra endings allow you to explore more of the idea of scripted narrative in games, or did you feel that it added something else that the mod lacked?
We never really knew exactly what we were doing most of the time. Every ending was born from a different place and for a different reason. Often we would start to sculpt an ending, only to later realize it wasn't as profound as we'd thought or it was too profound or it was too long or people really hated it or the message just wasn't getting across or whatever. There was never a mission statement (i.e. "push the boundaries of scripted narrative"), we just created whatever felt fun to play. And we probably could have kept doing that for a while, but all things must come to an end eventually! The endings evolved over time as we evolved as people. I know which endings were written closer to launch because they feel more like "me." I think this more than anything was the guiding principle, create something interesting and fun to explore that feels true to who I believe I am today.
'Zollington' asks: Do you think that the way that The Stanley Parable gives the player a sort of authorship of the game's story could be applied to other games that aren't focused on tongue-in-cheek humor or breaking the fourth wall?
I think all games ought to give the player authorship in the game's story! Otherwise why is it a game? Stanley offers authorship only in a very limited and particular sense that can still be very expressive, you don't need to give the player a tremendous amount of freedom to still allow them to feel important inside of the space you've created for them.
'nwillard' asks: Will we see more "first person exploration games" like The Stanley Parable, whether from you or from other developers looking to follow the game's example?
Well I imagine you'll see more of them from us and I VERY much hope to see more of them from other developers! Please, someone take what I've done and do it better, I truly truly want to see what's possible!
'aaarrgh' asks: What is The Stanley Parable not about?
The Stanley Parable is out now on PC at $14.99.
Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what is video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?
Follow him on Twitter at @Ozz_Mejia for musings and random shenanigans.
The community questions added a lot to the interview!