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Invitation to a Spy Party

A future hit…
Fact.
Chris Hecker is one of the most exciting speakers and developers working in games today. Fact.
He’s coming to GameCity and you can hear him speak and be among the first to play his game outside of North America. One of the surprise hits at PAX this year, we realise you might not have heard about Spy Party yet, but you will. Then when everyone is talking about it you’ll be able to tell them that you played it here first… The Onion said : “I don’t want to beat around the bush here; this game is awesome in too many ways to describe here.” Destructoid said : ““There has never been a videogame like SpyParty. … SpyParty is as cerebral and personal experience as I’ve ever had with a multiplayer game. … Despite being two years away from completion, the early version I saw still remains one of the most subtle, enjoyable, and surprisingly playful multiplayer games I’ve yet played.” This is a rare opportunity to meet the man, hear from him directly and get a look at a future hit in progress…

Chris Hecker.

My Thoughts

Brilliant, brilliant concept for a game. I’ve been wanting to play this since it was demoed at Pax, and got to around 4-5 times (of swapping between spy and sniper). The game plays brilliantly in a confined gameplay space and urges you to play more, to outwit your opponent, in an almost anti-FPS way. The social side being at the forefront just makes it a must have for me when it’s finished :)

Note that Chris is a fast talker but very comprehensible; if I missed anything it was due to me probably trying to transcribe rather then take (non-literal) notes.

Notes

Think of your favourite spy movie, explosions, car chases, gun fights and so forth. The majority of the experience is watching the spy guys or gals be cool. Acting cool and hiding in plain sight.

Wanted more of the Sean Connery glass of cognac rather then explosions and chases. The game is set in a party, there is a person in a Sims-like party that has spy missions – poison a drink, steal something, and so forth. The second player is a sniper who has to watch the party being controlled by the party AI which controls what they are doing. The party player has a time limit to do their spy activities.

The spy can see the snipers laser sight which might be where the sniper is watching. It’s an asymmetric game where both players are playing a different game in the same space.

Have you heard of the Turing Test? It is testing if we have achieved strong AI if the questioner cannot tell the difference between a human and an AI. This is impossible and remotely away from strong AI at the moment. However the Inverse Turing Test is very practical and a game mechanic.

Game modes; the first is 1v1 asymmetric game. There is also going to be singleplayer, which isn’t working yet, it isn’t inherently a multiplayer game. For additional multiplayer you might have multiple spies, multiple snipers, possibly drop in and drop out. Spy and sniper teams with comms, perhaps open comms so you can’t give away much information director. Mentoring also; from Left4Dead where being an infected is such a different game where you find it hard to learn and there are a lot of non-obvious things like the boomer coming from the front is necessary. You need to teach them why, and let them learn the maps. You get thrown in multiplayer games to get owned a lot usually. Actually teaching them to be better at the game is more interesting.

For fiction in games, you have a large amount of plot rather then the other 5 elements (characters, setting, dialogue, mood, voice). One is not better then the other however. This is ignoring the actual mechanics of game, rather concentrating on the fiction.

Instead for Spy Party will concentrate on the characters, setting, mood, voice, with less on plot and dialogue. Left4Dead is the same; what is the plot? Most of it is the way characters interact.

Hope to have custom AI and animations for every character; a completely bespoke game. This would be the opposite of the Sims where there is a generic skeleton and skin for actions. For instance Miss Marple would actually be bespoke and hunched, a wheelchair character would be completely usable as a spy. As Jonathan Blow said doing the personal touch and polish on certain elements in an indie game to a level an AAA title can’t is important.

Also having a look at the different kind of spies; sexy, smart, dumb, silly, cool. At parties you can almost instantly tell a persons personality from how they look. It’s a fertile environment for making people interact in.

Peter Sellers in the slightly offensive film The Party, acting as an Indian in blackface (ignoring that). Creepy crawl out of your skin interaction when he interrupts a conversation half way through. If even can get 10% of the reactions by having people laugh at the wrong moment is a good aim. The Party is really an inspiration.

In Ico the pulling of the princess, is subtle, personal and a great mechanic. It’s embedded in a generic platformer game. It’s revolutionary in my opinion. Hope to make Spy Party that level of interaction and subtly.

In Spy Party, the sniper chooses to end the game by shooting someone. Is Spy Party a violent game? Done lots of talks on depth and so forth before, and don’t have any problem with violence as such. The threat of violence adds tension like a Hitchcock film. Rarely in films you get a 300 which is like a videogame. Usually the violence is there to add drama to a scene. The violence ends the game, is almost outside the game. The decision to use violence is in the game, but the metagame has the results of that.

Are going to add a mode in like “Arrest the spy” mode so my young daughter doesn’t have to headshot someone. Very easy to add tension to a scene with violence. Using it to punctuate things. How many more Orcs do you need to kill anymore? A game like counterstrike is more about the mechanics then about being a terrorist or counterterrorist doing X, Y and Z. There is possibility for more depth there, and it does mean these things should be explored more.

Aesthetics

Going onto more theoretical things; you need to have goals in mind when making a game. The aesthetically goals, include perception vs. deception & performance; Assassins Creed Brotherhood and The Ship is symmetrical, this is asymmetrical. Both these games were interesting; The Ship was interesting with sometimes having NPC’s and hiding and so forth. Everyone in those games has to watch their back and look for their target. In Spy Party the sniper never has to worry about damage so they can concentrate and get into the zone of being a sniper. The spy has no hope of attacking the sniper so they have to hide in plain sight. This helps reach that aesthetic goal.

Managing attention as a resource is important too. Continual partial attention theory; someone always looking at their phone in a conversation. When you’re playing the sniper especially you have to be consciously dividing your attention, which you have to do yourself and gets interesting.

Consequential decisions with partial information is just like life, and obviously on the sniper side. The spy side happens as well, you box yourself in time wise or whatever. They really affect the world. This becomes deduction versus intuition – you can grind out the answer in Cluedo, it’s both good and bad. It’s satisfying to narrow down the possibilities, but it’s entirely solvable. The sniper should not be able to deduct everything with clues. Going for in playtesting that with two players, one who is a good FPS player against an intuition person who is good with people – want the good with people person always wins. When someone looks like they have too much of a goal so can take the shot.

Analysis paralysis vs. extinct by instinct – too many choices versus choosing now. Do I wait or do I take the shot now?

With extreme asymmetry; games don’t do asymmetry very well; Starcraft do asymmetric with the races, 3 different ones, but it’d not recognise my mum playing it. Want to have two different people immediately different in playstyles show in the game.

Mechanics

Want a complete focus on player skill; Gosu in Korean, meaning elite player skill in Starcraft.

One set of improvements in play are player skill; map navigation, aiming and shooting, micro, combat strategy.

One set of improvements is avatar skill; where you have levels and more powers.

Both are interesting; I prefer player skill. Seeing the player get better is fascinating. Go is my favourite game, best of any game ever for seeing player styles. As the game opens up, once you learn the basic rules your brain shifts and you see the patterns. Also I rock climb which is also player skill – past the initial fumbling of a ball in sport, you can then see how much you don’t know.

Instead of the above improvements in player skill it should be behaviour perception, subtle performance, playing it cool, social pattern matching. Like a hitchcock film where a wine glass with lipstick is left on the mantlepiece and the man has to distract the wife, but every shot has the glass in it. It is definitely cool.

An Experiment

If you take counterstrike (one of my favourite games of all time with high amounts of skill), and add it to The Sims, what do you get? I don’t know, I’m trying to find out.

Not trying to make a social game, or a game for people who don’t play games. A very gamey game but living up to these things. Maturity to the form, emotional depth. Not that we want to be theatre, music, or anything but have the same emotional depth as these things.

One way is going down; having lots of cutscenes like in Uncharted. Or going up from the core game, like Quake. But can’t just add cutscenes, so don’t think these can do it this way.

Games will be as different as film, literature and music as music is to film, literature and games. Going down to film level is going to be a dead end though.

Demo

Was an introduction, going through the things the missions are. Some tells in the game and missions:

  • Can look at the watch at the window to add 30s time (will beep when 30 seconds are left)
  • Need to annoy the ambassador; touching her ass
  • Need to contact the double agent; there are 2 suspected; need to say Bananabread to him but can actually say this to other people to deceive.
  • Need to change the statues; swapping a certain one for the other
  • Need to move the book from one to the other bookcase. The colour of the book will not be automatic for the sniper; the spy needs to be putting the book in the other case, or obviously take it out of the book and insert it in the other bookcase.

Some are audible; like the bananabread, some are visible, like swapping the statues.

As the spy you can take over the AI, with A being normal actions and B being spy actions.

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