Avenues of Exploration P3 – On the Stanley parable + And ode to Modding

The first time I heard Dan Deacon’s “Pink Batman” was watching an incredible little animated video on YouTube called “Crater Face” *(link at the bottom, that is definitely not why you’re here).

The second time I heard it was during one of the many available credit sequences for “the Stanley Parable”.

Now, you might not have played the Stanley Parable (2011: by Davey Wreden aka Cakebread now of “Galactic-Cafe) .

An image from a recent failed attempt to re-make the game for mobile platforms.

If so:

Do so now.

Click this link (It’s a sourcemod).

Do not look it up, don’t search for trailers and especially don’t watch a  playthrough.

Just play it a couple times over first before coming back over here.

…mmKay? (I’m not going anywhere, I’m an article on the internet).

Done?

Now wasn’t that great?!

Thought so.

…Anyways:

You might be thinking to yourselves:

“So Sam… That was definetly great, but isn’t this an article series about… em… exploration games?”

(Though probaply you just want me to get on with this article already)

Well, The Stanley Parable is an exploration game – although possibly unintentionally – it manages to answer every single gameplay requirement we’ve set out (in the past two articles in this series *hint hint*) that’s needed to make a classical exploration game, albeit with a small exception.

When we looked at the similarities in Dear Esther and THAT‘s methodology of conveyance and gameplay, we defined the exploration game as basically a game built around the risk and reward offered by geographic exploration.

The risk of getting lost, of repetition, of routine (i.e. endlessly looking for the right way), versus the reward of uncovering the unknown.
As we’ve discussed THAT‘s unknown lay with its unattainable artistic meaning, and Dear Esther‘s focused on the understanding and need to piece together a mishmash of mystery and ghost story on several different layers.

Both (inadvertently or otherwise) created an unknown of effectively infinite proportions (via respective mechanics and or characteristics described in their respective articles), always feeding on our curiosity to complete, to have the whole picture.

The Stanley Parable doesn’t exactly work this way, we as players are given the chance to explore, to make different choices, to break the molds we are intended to take, and later the ones we made for ourselves in previous playthroughs.

Choices

It is an exploration of a sort of semi-nonlinear choice tree, it asks you to choose boldly to explore, whilst risking falling back on familiar paths, and more importantly: unintended consequences.

The Idea of reaching the credits in the Stanley Parable is a constant risk – for one’s first couple of playthroughs – the proverbial “roll” could easily come about seemingly abruptly as a result of several rather inconspicuous choices.

Do you return accidentally to a finale you’ve already known? Do you doom your character to an ending you did not wish for him?

The Stanley Parable effectively transgress some of the stagnation of getting – the fear of which adds risk to the traditional exploration – by making itself mean something completely different as a result of choices made.

Exploration here is done less so on the physical (emm… virtual) plane, but rather in the structure of the story one wishes to the, in the scripted ending one receives. Freedom of choice, versus a freedom to travel if you will (even if choice is in this case expressed by travel).

But then of course, these scripted endings come to an end.

The well dries.

The Stanley parable has only a limited set of endings, replaying it beyond reaching those offers negligible further rewards, and further exploring them isn’t quite as necessarily an interactive experience, easily replicate able via YouTube or other means.

The tie between story meaning, and the need to find “new stuff”, isn’t as cleverly tied as it was in Dear Esther, and what we’re left with is an incredible experience, that (however temporarily) offers us the illusion of free will.

Of course even this very concept is discussed within the body of The Stanley parable, very much a Meta story; it’s really an examination the gaming medium as a whole.

So is The Stanley Parable really an exploration game?

As I’ve said, it probably wasn’t directly intended to be. At least not with the bracket we’ve been describing.

But that’s exactly why it’s important to describe this bracket.

As we know it, we don’t have a “Grand Unified Theory” for game design, everyone has their own terms for different types of games, and each is looked at through a slightly different light.

And every game understandably holds up differently under each type of design.

The later Fallout games can be looked at uniquely as both RPGs and First Person Shooters, with unique insights gained from both understandings.

So my suggestion, we add “exploration” to our collection of genres, give ourselves a new filter to look at our games through.

Some like Dear Esther, THAT & TRIP, PROTEUS, Small Worlds, and many more glow brightest when viewed through it, are made in it’s light.

Poteus, Small Worlds, TRIP,

Yet others like the Stanley Parable gain new insight, and we can find newer ways to better, or even just appreciate, the titles we play.

One of the greatest parts about modding is how it’s allowed us to make these slight changes to games, to pull out their emergent elements and examine them on their own.

Be it the DOTA type game’s birth in the realm of Warcraft 3, the tactical multiplayer modern FPS in the form of Counter-Strike for the original Half-Life, or even the class based shooter ala Team Fortress for Quake, we owe many sub-genres, many design philosophies to modding.

Among their many strengths mods let us take certain elements we recognize (be it consciously or not) in games, highlight / garnish / add too/ build on them, and show the world a whole new way not only to look on that game in particular, but a much larger semantic field of gameplay concepts and ideas permeating throughout all gaming.

And as we’ve seen, you can’t be successful without experimenting sometimes.

THAT has had a successful Kickstarter followup called TRIP, Dear Esther’s remake went on to become one of the most prominant indie games of the past year, even the Stanley Parable is getting an HD remake.

-For ModInformer, I’m Sam Wagner.

 (I know, I’m surprised this series ended up having to do so much with modding too…)

So that’s it, kind of.

At least with the serious hefty design series stuff.

Next week I’ll be topping off this series with an extra little coda about exploration within Minecraft and how mods can really make it come to life, hope you’ll be there to read it!

*Crater Face

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