Davey Wreden, creator of the The Stanley Parable and The Beginner's Guide, discussed his current game design goals during an indie panel at GDC 2018 today. Wreden didn't officially announce or nail down anything, but he did offer an intriguing glimpse at some of the ideas he's "shooting for" and what we might see next from the eccentric designer.
"I've been thinking a lot about why people continue playing a game after they've started, assuming it's somewhat fun or interesting on a core mechanical level," Wreden said. "Why does a person want to put in hour after after on this one game as opposed to playing a different game? What creates their engagement?"
Wreden grouped the reasons for this into three categories. Firstly, to become better or to optimize, "the enjoyable feeling that you are better now at the game than you were when you started playing." Secondly, to make progress, "watching your number go up or gaining more items or more stuff." And thirdly, to see more content, "we like the story, we like the characters, we like the world, and we want to continue to see more of it."
"To me, these three things sum up what 99.9 percent of games are doing to engage players," he continued. "And we know this is effective on some level and it can be a lot of fun. We all like games like this. The question I've been grappling with lately is, how could you make a game that is engaging, compelling and does not rely on any of these three things to make you interested?
"These three points all rely on something outside the act of play itself to be interesting. With the first, you're imagining a future version of yourself who's better at the game. With the second, you're imagining a future where your number is bigger. With the third, you're imagining how cool it will be to see the rest of the story. They're all future-motivated. I would love to explore play that's engaging and compelling in this very moment, without that reliance on the future.
"The weird goal that I was setting for myself is to create a game that is intrinsically fun to play and has the kind of context that would make us say 'this is a videogame,' but, at its core, does not rely on any of these three things to be compelling. I think they can still be there, but can they be something other than the sole direct reason why you want to continue playing?
"What would a game be like where you make interesting choices, but you can't get better at making those choices, or you can't make more optimized choices? What about a game where you're growing or making progress in an interesting way, but where the outcomes are obscure enough that you can't see what the outcomes will lead to? What about a game that has a story, but you don't need to see every piece of content to get the story?
"All of these sound counterintuitive, but that's why I'm so excited. The bizarre, impossible-sounding goal I've set for myself is to create a game that does all of these things. I don't have a good answer yet as to how exactly I'll do that."
If anyone can find a good answer to these wonky questions, it's probably Wreden. The Stanley Parable scribbled all over narrative conventions, and The Beginner's Guide was as much an intimate lecture on Wreden's design process as it was a game. He's made a name for himself by breaking the rules. It will be interesting to see if he can do it again and one-up his own auteurism.