Cat badgers Chris Hecker about in-game diversity, the value of aesthetics vs. gameplay, the "indie" label, and why the SpyParty community is so darn nice. You can find Part One of the interview here: http://n4g.com/user/blogpos...
CAT: The character models are getting their own makeovers, too, and I know you’ve spoken about diversity in the past. Can you wax eloquent about that? (very happy about the number of polygons devoted to hair, by the way, nice to see curly locks represented as something other than the “before” of every makeover movie) …and how that diversity affects gameplay?
CHRIS: Diversity is a huge goal of mine for the game. With only 20 characters, we're not going to be able to hit all possible corners of "diversity-space", but we'll do our best to make SpyParty the most diverse game ever, in terms of playable characters. So, for example, the latest five characters we've shown ( http://www.spyparty.com/201... ) have a guy in a wheelchair who will be fully playable. He'll have advantages and disadvantages because he's in a wheelchair relative to other characters, like he's lower to the ground and so harder to spot, but also moves more slowly through crowds. The meta for choosing him will be self-balancing to some extent, if he's harder to see then more people will choose him which will make him more suspicious which will make fewer people choose him. Same with the older characters, and the rest. I'm really happy with how they're coming out so far, but it's a little nerve wracking to know we only have 10 more characters with which to hit a lot of different "diversity axes", including race, gender, age, ability, and body shape.
Look at the polygons!
CAT: How important are character models to “a game of subtle behavior”?
CHRIS: Hugely important! I'm going to have to retune the whole damned game when the new art comes in. There is already a situation with the tech demo level with the original 5 characters where the older black gentleman with the cane can basically bug the Ambassador for free on his cane side due to the animation being too subtle. The game is rife with that kind of thing.
CAT: The diversity, is it an opportunity for you to “say something” with game, and how do you think expressing your ethos can serve or detract from gameplay?
CHRIS: It turns out SpyParty is the perfect vehicle for exploring diversity in games, because it's all about different characters interacting in a room. So, in the case of SpyParty, there's no compromise for diversity, there's actually a benefit. Well, except for the animation count, it'd be a lot quicker to develop the game if we didn't do custom animations for every character, but man, it sure does look good!
Some of the new character models
CAT: More truth bomb dropping: the game looks pretty, but from the start I’ve always felt like the game, the essence of SpyParty, was there - and awesome. How do you view the role of aesthetics, of visual appeal, in games?
CHRIS: Yeah, it's true, the beta testers playing SpyParty right now with the old art are playing the real game, and so in some sense the new art isn't necessary. But, games are a very mixed media art form, and the image I have in my head of SpyParty is not just a design, but is also a visual and aural aesthetic, and a level of polish, and so the new art really is a first class part of the game I'm making. It's not as important as the design, but it's important. If it turns out I can't make the game I want with the new art for some reason, I'll ship the crappy old art, but I don't think that'll be necessary.
CAT: SpyParty, you get better with each game, but it also gets more complex - you realize what you can improve. I’m thinking of smooth movements, avoiding tells - and you’re going to add dossiers? …and interrogations?
CHRIS: Yep! I originally thought the "dossiers" design (where each character has different behaviors, some like statues, some don't like to read, some drink too much, etc) was too complex, but games like LoL and Dota have shown that players can absorb an insane amount of detail and complexity if it makes the game deeper, and so I'm going to go ahead with it. It was the original idea, and it seems like the natural way for the characters to act, it was just a question of whether players would be able to take on that much "homework", and it's clear to me they can now.
CAT: SpyParty is in open paid beta right now. Do you have a timeline and vision for a final version? Will you know when it’s done?
CHRIS: I'm guessing two years from now, given the rate at which we're getting the new art characters done. It'll be done when we have 20 new art characters, and a good selection of new art levels, and all the menus and whatnot looking good. And spectation. And sound design. And and and...
SpyParty, I've always loved you - just the way you are.
CAT: Platforms, which ones?
Hopefully everything. PC obviously, both Steam and not. The major consoles. Tablets at some point maybe?
CAT: Ok, I knew the answer to that question. You’ve also talked about wanting interplay between platforms…is this, well…possible?
It all depends on politics at the big companies. I think I'll be able to have everything interoperate with the PC, but whether consoles can play each other, that's totally up to people in giant corporations. There's no technical reason why they couldn't.
CAT: I’ve spoken with a well-known independent developer that was very frank about not wanting to be associated with the word “indie” right now. What does being identified as indie mean for you, and what do you think of the current indie scene?
CHRIS: I still think the word "indie" has meaning, in the sense that we're a small team self-funding a game with no publisher. I don't spend much time worrying about it. I think it's great there are so many indies now, and the range of games coming out is really heartening. There is drama in the "indie scene", like any other "scene", but I'm not really a part of it. It helps that I basically don't use twitter much personally, since that's where a lot of the drama happens. SpyParty tweets ( http://twitter.com/spyparty ), but I don't personally very much.
CAT: When I tell people to play SpyParty, and they don’t, I get angry. I am actually mad at them, I may even think less of them. Recommendations for improving my proselytization and thus sparing approximately half a dozen people (+/-) my wrath?
CHRIS: Well, the art is a big turnoff for people, so I'd wait until we replace the menus and the tutorial map at PAX. Then, I tell people to watch streams if they're on the fence. People stream SpyParty every day, and I even made a twitter bot you can follow ( https://twitter.com/spypart... ) that will pick up new streams even if you don't follow the person, so you can almost always find a stream to watch. In fact, players joining the beta now are way better faster than in the past because of streams, I think. Finally, some people just don't like early-access betas, and that's okay. They can still follow SpyParty development and just pick it up when it's done, assuming they don't mind waiting.
CAT: Can you talk about the SpyParty community? Do you think there are steps that can be taken to keep communities from being toxic, or is it a supernatural phenomenon?
CHRIS: No, I think it's a very natural phenomenon, it just takes time and effort and the right game design. On the time and effort front, I spend a lot of time in the community, playing, watching streams, posting and reading in the private beta forums, and checking out twitter. I set a good example, and I don't tolerate any toxicity. You can see how we deal with sensitive issues in this post ( http://www.spyparty.com/201... ). That said, it's also a small community of very self-selected people, so we'll see how it scales. Also, the game itself helps, because the intimate 1v1 deception/perception gameplay means you want to talk after a game to see what you missed, and the new replays feature helps with this too. That's very different from a symmetric team game where you can take credit for wins but blame your team for losses.
CAT: Thank you, Chris!
Day 9 | Chris Hecker