**** Warning: This post contains a couple of spoilers.
I have recently played The Stanley Parable, the highly praised 2013 HD remake version bought through the Steam engine.
You start from a first person perspective, the narrator calls you Stanley. Stanley works in an office building and he finds that all his co-workers have gone missing. Your quest is to find out what happened to your co-workers and to explore the environment. The player is able to alter the story line and will finish with one of the sixteen possible endings. The story is told from a first person perspective yet you can’t see any of Stanley while playing the game, including his hands and feet, which is pointed out by narrator when Stanley questions his existence. The player can interact with the environment by opening doors and pushing buttons.
Self-taught, first time, young game designer, Davey Wrenden came up with Stanleys parable using a source mod. The narrator is played by English voice actor, Kevan Brighting, who delivers his lines with dry wit and style. Wrenden attributes half the games popularity to Brightings narration. When coming up with the idea of this game Wrenden wanted to explore how games can change the narrative depending on choices the player makes. The third wall is often broken and the player is very aware that they are inside a game. At one point the narrator directly addresses the player by pointing out that you aren’t Stanley, you just control him, giving this game a feeling of self-awareness.
After playing this game for a couple of hours I had finished most of the endings and was left unsatisfied, yet I still continue to think about it. This game is all about player choice. I played the first time through following the narrator’s instructions, which resulted in a good ending for Stanley. I won’t spoil other endings but will talk about some parts of the game that I found brilliant.
During the game in the emotion control room, I was frantically pushing buttons trying to work out how to stop a terrible thing from happening. I thought I had worked it out and played through again but found that the buttons didn’t seem to be responding. Wrenden admits that this was actually a design fault as he wanted Stanley to be able to interact with the buttons but didn’t know bind keys inside the Source mod. This design fault actually made the game even more interesting to players because of what is says about the gamer and their expectations of how games should work.
Another part I was amused by is the baby mini-game. Stanley is in a room with a cardboard cut out of a baby and has to press a button to stop the baby from crawling into a fire. The narrator describes the game as an art piece that represents the pressures of parenthood and the constant needs of children. The sound design in this part of the game is really interesting because the player is told to do one thing – save the baby – but is ‘rewarded’ with terrible repetitive sound of the loud buzzer and the baby wailing.
I found this game was too short and it left me a bit unsatisfied. The player doesn’t actually have that much control over Stanley as you can’t even jump of pick up objects. It did make me question my preconceptions of how a game has to be, which is ultimately with linear storytelling. As a budding game designer it did make me think about how to incorporate more player freedom in game. It is a difficult task because the game maker has to include new areas and story lines depending on player choices, resulting in a much bigger game that the audience will only experience a small percentage of. Yet it does want me to make games with more unexpectedly adaptable story lines depending on player choices or actions throughout the game.
All in all I think it was a really interesting game but not for everyone. If you are looking for a meaty game for recreation, The Stanley Parable may not be for you. I would recommend this to non-gamers because there are no complicated actions or controls to master in this game, literary types and anyone who would be interested in game design.