The internet has gone crazy for a new Half Life 2 mod entitled, The Stanley Parable. Davey Wreden, the creator of this awe inspiring modification, agreed to interview with us. You will read about how The Stanley Parable got started, his take on the modding community in general, funding future projects and much more.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in modding PC games.
My name’s Davey, I’m 22, I currently live in Los Angeles, and I’ve just loved games and creation my whole life! I actually got into modding specifically for this game, TSP is the first mod I’ve ever made (explains a lot). I knew I wanted to use games to explore new narrative ideas and Source seemed like a great entry point because of how widely used it is, a strong community, etc. I’d seen Dear Esther and Radiator and figured “hey, I could do that!”
Where did the idea for The Stanley Parable come from?
Broadly, it came from me wanting to do things that hadn’t been done before in a video game. I’ve always liked interesting use of narrators in storytelling, and I wanted to do something fresh with a narrator, so I just asked myself a simple question: “What would happen if you played a game where the narrator said what you did before you did it?” I couldn’t figure out an answer to that question that made ‘sense,’ there’s really no logical way to explain it. So what I did was think of every funny permutation of the idea that I could come up with, every bizarre way I could mess with the player’s expectations of what a narrator is supposed to do. And after all that, I still don’t have an answer for what it all means! But I like that, I came to realize that I’d asked myself a question that had no answer, and I think what players have enjoyed is that I allow them to come up with an answer for themselves. In short, I started messing around and seeing what happened.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing The Stanley Parable?
Oh boy, how much time have you got? I’ve said it before, but making this killed me. I had no knowledge of Source, and Hammer is a pretty buggy piece of software, so it was grueling just learning how to do basic things. Taking on this big a project on my own was probably a mistake, but then again, if I’d started smaller I may have gotten frustrated and quit before I ever got around to making this game. What I realized in making this is that I just might not be cut out for game design, or at least that there are many parts of the process that are very very unpleasant to me. But then of course the game is this big success, which says that on some level I must be a decent designer. Right before I released it I was sure it was a piece of crap, so maybe I’m smarter than I think I am. Hearing people tell me how brilliant they thought it was made me go “oh, really? It is?” So the success is that I get to feel a little more confident in myself, to say “yeah, maybe I’m actually alright at this.”
In its current form, how close is The Stanley Parable to your initial vision?
I’d say about 90%. Keep in mind, most of it is just empty halls and a disembodied voice, that’s tough to mess up in execution. There were elements that in conception I thought “man, I’ll never be able to make that work.” About half of those actually came out exactly how I wanted them, and the other half I made some sort of compromise which actually turned out alright. No one knows where you compromised if you don’t tell them.
How do you think The Stanley Parable came out in terms of player difficulty?
Well, there is no difficulty really. I didn’t want to place challenges in front of players, I just wanted them to be able to explore this world I had created. My hope was that it would be compelling enough that even with nothing to actually overcome people still wanted to play more.
How did you go about writing the dialogue for The Stanley Parable? What were some of your inspirations?
I spent about 2 months conceptualizing and actually figuring out the structure of the game. Once I had the ‘plot’ laid out, writing it took a matter of hours. I was actually concerned for a while that I had written it a little too mechanically, that it was a little too on-the-nose at times, but I went ahead with it anyway. At the 11th hour there were a bunch of things I wanted to change, but I couldn’t afford to hire Kevan again so I just left them. Inspirations came from every story I’ve ever consumed. I love self-referential work like Charlie Kauffman’s films, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine, and Synecdoche, New York. I’m sure I was influenced at least partially by Portal and Braid, and Bioshock made me rethink video game narrative in a similar way. But even more than direct influences, I’ve read books or seen movies or played games where I thought “man, I wish they had done more with that narrator (or whatever other plot device)!” Wanting to make a game that was something no one had ever done was as big an inspiration as any direct reference.
How many hours do you think you gave to developing The Stanley Parable?
Probably 400-500. I took a lot of hiatuses, so it’s tough to say.
Did you look for advice from others within the modding community?
If I credited people who responded to my questions on forums the credits would go on for pages. My thought process was “can’t figure out how to do something > ask on forums.” If no one answered my question, I figured out a way to do without. I really didn’t have much except for the modding community, Google is only so useful when trying to find workarounds to problems in Hammer.
What type of feedback did you get from forums and message boards that you will use in future projects?
One thing that I’ve really taken to heart is that people seemed to actually enjoy playing, they thought it was funny and interesting. Compare that response to other ‘art’ games, which people typically think of as being not fun. I realized that part of what made my game successful was that it cared about entertaining you, it wanted you to have a good time while still getting a “message.” I’m not saying a measure of a game’s value is how many people enjoyed it, just that perhaps the distinction between ‘art’ games and ‘real’ games is not as fine as we think. When I think about ideas for future projects I think to myself “okay, cool idea, but would I ever want to play this again?” That to me is as important a consideration as whether it’s got any deeper meaning in it. There’s a balance, and if I don’t feel confident that my next project is balanced in the way that TSP is, I won’t make it. I don’t intend to shove anything down your throat because it’s “important.”
How do you feel about the various indie bundles and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology?
Funny you bring that up, because that’s how I intend to fund future projects. I think in this case, where I’m making something experimental, pay-what-you-want is a great way for consumers to tell me what they thought of the game. As in, someone plays the game first, then thinks to themselves, “hm, I’d say that experience was worth $5 to me.” Then suddenly you get a real monetary incentive for doing something interesting and innovative, because people will respond to it. This works well if I’m putting out a stream of these kinds of smaller, experimental games, it’s a way to know what ideas are sticking with people and what aren’t, a sustainable model for developing new innovations in video gaming. Plus, it’s a reminder that video gamers have a real investment, that video gaming is a passion as much as a hobby. The HIB has absolutely been a yardstick for measuring the video gaming community’s support of and genuine engagement with creators and the development of the industry. If nothing else, that reminder can be inspirational.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
Honestly, if it’s also on consoles and not an FPS, I’ll probably just go get it on console. I was going to buy the game anyway, if I get it on console I don’t need to worry about maintaining an internet connection (my computer tends to get shoddy reception) or any of DRM’s other requirements. I believe that these kinds of things tend to work themselves out; if the big publishers are shooting themselves in the foot with DRM then they’ll fall before too long and everyone will have learned their lesson. And we know that embracing piracy can work, look at Team Meat who got pirates buying their game after they went on record supporting piracy. If Ubisoft wants to kill themselves getting people not to play their games, let them. I’m absolutely not concerned about innovation or passion in video game creation dying out because some of the big publishers went out of business. If a company was so concerned with restricting play of their game, how much love and care were they really putting into the game itself? It says something that the companies who are actually producing games I’m really excited about are also the ones who are not slapping DRM on their games. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
It’s what companies need to do right now. I’m not saying it the right thing to do, but developers clearly need a few years to at least find out how viable the model is. And here’s how I tell those companies what I think of their DLC: I don’t buy it. I can’t remember the last time I bought DLC. It’s just not an interesting model to me. Again, this goes back to what I said before: if a developer is focusing their energy on extending the financial viability of their game, it means they probably weren’t putting the total focus into creating a really amazing game that I tend to look for. Know what you want and then put your support behind it, don’t buy DLC and then complain about it. Every idea deserves its time to be tested out, even the ones that can get money-grubby. DLC doesn’t really factor into my personal purchases, but I’m interested to see where it goes and if it can be a really positive force in the industry. Will it? I don’t know.
What are some of your all-time favorite PC games?
I logged so many hours into Diablo 2 I couldn’t even imagine, I’m not sure how I feel about losing my life again when 3 comes out. I’m also a big sucker for classics like Sierra’s old games, Dr. Brain and Incredible Machine were all I wanted to do as a kid. And then of course there’s Valve; Half Life 2 is one of the all time greats in my book, challenged closely by Portal 1/2 (I have to think of them as the same game), and TF2 murdered my free time for a while. I owe valve a lot of credit for inspiring my own work.
What advice would you give to those who want to start modding PC games?
That’s tough because my route is not the route that 99% of people take, ie. go into it knowing nothing and become this big success based on the bizarreness of your only title. ModDB is packed with action/scifi/history games that all look a lot alike. So if you want to learn from me personally, I’d tell you to do something that doesn’t fir the frame of reference you’re used to in video gaming. Give your players at least one reason to say “huh?” something that they were not expecting when they began downloading your game. Granted that might not be the kind of game you want to make, which is fine, just know what you want. You can climb the ranks by polishing the formula, but if you want to truly excel, flipping off the formula and doing something that feels strange is the only way to make it happen. – End.
We would like to thank Davey for sharing his thought on creating The Stanley Parable. You owe it to yourself right now to download and play this mod. Grab TSP from ModDB. You will not be disappointed.
Post a comment with your thoughts on The Stanley Parable and give Davey a great big cyber high five for all his efforts.