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Afterwords – The Stanley Parable

Galactic Cafe's standalone release of The Stanley Parable defies easy classification, but that hasn't stopped the experiment in interactive fiction from being a runaway success, selling 200 thousand copies in under a month. We talked with creator Davey Wreden to get his thoughts on the final product. 

You mentioned on your blog that the unexpected success has caused some challenges due to business decisions you made well over a year ago. Can you describe those challenges and how you're dealing with them?
I'd prefer not to say specifically what decisions those were. However, it's easy at a time like this to constantly overthink the way things "might have been" if only you'd done something differently, even if overall you did everything very well. The only real way to deal with that kind of anxiety is to be aware of yourself and talk with others to keep yourself grounded and to let it pass.

The Stanley Parable is a difficult game to explain to people, but that hasn't impeded sales. Why do you think it's been so successful compared to other, more easily understandable indie games?
I think there's a big misconception that what people want is to have the game "explained" to them, that press won't talk about it and people won't buy it unless it fits something they already understand. Rather, my belief is that far more importantly than explaining your game is explaining why people should care about it. In our case, we knew exactly why people would care about it: A.) all of the media we released teased what the game is without describing it, so it becomes mysterious, something to be discovered, something to be explored. Gamers love discovery and exploration! B.) it's got a striking voiceover, C.) it's funny, and D.) if we can get a lot of conversation about it based on those first three points then there's a lot of word of mouth about this thing that no one knows what it is, which in turn ramps up the sense of mystery even more. These reasons for being excited about a game are all just as valid as "I understand this game and what it's trying to do," since it touches on the exact same feeling of "why should I care?"

You originally released The Stanley Parable as a mod back in 2011. What were your goals for the HD remake?
At first they were very modest, just to visually touch it up. Then we decided it would be fun to add some extra content, then a few months later we decided to change up some of the previous endings, then a few months later we asked if there were any bigger structural changes we could make, then a few months later, etc. So it very much snowballed into what it is today!

Did you accomplish everything with the HD remake that you wanted to?
I did not even understand what this game was until weeks before launching it, and even now I'm still discovering what it is. I would say there was no time during development of the game where my understanding of it lined up with what it became in the end, it splintered off and morphed and dissolved and reformed in so many ways it's impossible for me to describe. All I think I wanted for most of development was to put a few ideas into the game that had been on my mind since the original and to bring it to a bigger audience and to make a little money. What I got was a hell of a lot more.

I was continually impressed by the number and variety of endings contained in the game. How did you decide which ideas to include, and how many endings didn't make the cut? 
Years of constant revision, brainstorming, playtesting, ruthless cutting of content, sweat, tears, and toward the end a few concessions that we just didn't have time to do anything about. There was no hard and fast rule for what could go in and what couldn't, we considered thousands of ideas and possible directions and cut it down to only a (relative) handful, and even the ones that made it in I'm not always 100% sure about. I was constantly discovering throughout the project what a "good" ending or piece of content actually looked like, and I think it's the constant discovery that defines our real intentions. Our design process had to become unknowable and mysterious even as we were doing it in order for the same sense of mystery to translate into the final game.

Specifically, we had a number of large endings that we cut, some very early in their design, some after we had completely finished them. In one case there were two fully finished endings, but neither of them was having the impact on playtesters that we wanted. So we merged the two of them together, and the mashed-up ending was significantly better. The dream ending was getting major design changes just weeks before launch. We have a number of prototype versions of nearly every major ending in the game, which we might release at some point, there are a few things in those protoypes that I really liked but that just didn't fit with the rest of the game's design.

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