A PC developer’s tale – William Pugh on making The Stanley Parable

In October 2013, an experimental game from a developer called Galactic Caf emerged on Steam.

It was The Stanley Parable – a fullly fleshed-out version of a Source Engine mod of the same name. The title was developed by two-man team Davey Wreden and William Pugh.

But Pugh wasn’t always making indie hits.

I spent five years modding Valve games before I work on The Stanley Parable,” he tells MCV. I made levels for me and my friends to play online in Team Fortress 2, or custom campaigns for Left 4 Dead and puzzles for Portal.”

All this did was hone Pugh’s desire to work on a full project. And when he played Half Life 2 mod The Stanley Parable, he saw his chance.

I played the mod version of The Stanley Parable at one in the morning after [Minecraft creator] Notch tweeted about it,” he says. I was interested in it. At the time I was looking to start working on something, so I emailed Davey and at five in the morning, after a lengthy conversation, we decided to start working together.”

"PewDiePie had 5m people
watching his Stanley Parable
playthrough. You can’t say
that’s a bad thing."

William Pugh

The duo worked remotely on the game for the duration of its development. Wreden was based in Australia; Pugh in the UK.

We first met face-to-face a month after the game released. We’d worked together online for two years, handing each other files via DropBox. We’d Skype for three hours a day just figuring out how we wanted to do stuff,” Pugh explains.

As they were only two people, the team had to make the most of the few resources they had.

Our philosophy for the game’s design and writing was that if we didn’t understand what a concept would look like once it was built, that was worth exploring,” Pugh says. For instance we had a portion of the game that involved a first person shooter segment coming in and the narrator fighting against this notion of typical gameplay. But that would have added six or so months onto the development time and we knew what it was going to look like. So it wasn’t interesting conceptually.

I had to do what an entire team would do when it came to technical implementation. We had to beg, borrow and steal when it came to every aspect of technical resources in building the game.”

The game soon became popular on YouTube, with the likes of PewDiePie playing The Stanley Parable to his huge audience. But Pugh says that YouTube and the gaming personalities who use the platform are not entirely beneficial entities.

YouTube is not perfect, but it allows people who make small games to get their games out there,” he explains. It is a means for us to promote ourselves on. You can’t lie about that. It is essentially an advertising platform. Big companies can pay for ad space, they can pay for coverage in lots of different forms of media. For indie games you don’t have capital to spend on ads. YouTubers are the way to advertise your game. PewDiePie had about five million people watching his playthrough of The Stanley Parable demo. We could not have reached that audience in any other way. You can’t lie and say that’s bad.

But it flips both ways. Some YouTubers use games as a stage to perform upon. When they play the games they aren’t actually talking too much about the game at all. They are using it as a vague structure to perform around, and their subscribers view their work for their performances, not for the games.That’s what their subscribers are looking for.”

Now Pugh has formed a new. currently un-named studio, and is working on ‘experimental’ games with the likes of former Rare composer Grant Kirkhope.

We’ve got the money and the freedom to just go wild, so we’ve been doing exactly that – we’ve got a couple of different projects that will surprise people.”

He concludes: We’re always in a state of making things, exploring ideas and having a lot of fun.”

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