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Interview with SpyParty's Chris Hecker, Part One

IndieMonth | 105d ago
User blog

In Part One, Cat talks to Chris Hecker about working on Spore, how he explains SpyParty, the experience of shooting with guaranteed accuracy, and environments.

CAT: History time: before SpyParty, you worked on Spore. What was that like, and how has it informed the development of SpyParty?

CHRIS: Spore was the best of times, and it was the worst of times.  Or something like that.  Projects of that scope and that level of experimentation and innovation come long basically never, so it was amazing to be able to work on that many cool and hard problems ( http://www.chrishecker.com/... ).  That said, it was a painful project to work on from a design standpoint, because while I think we hit it out of the park with some aspects of the game, namely the editors and especially the creature editor, we really kind of dropped the game design ball on the game.  Everybody's got an opinion about what was wrong with Spore, but mine is that we didn't do what we called "editor consequence", which means the things you built in the editors didn't really matter much to the game, and so we missed the opportunity to make a deep and interesting game that gave meaning to what the players made in the marvelous editors.

My time on Spore strongly influenced how I'm making SpyParty, definitely.  During Spore's development, I saw a talk by Rob Pardo of Blizzard about how they do a "depth-first, accessibility-later" development style ( http://www.spyparty.com/201... ), where they worry about making the game as deep as possible first, and then worry about making it playable by newbies later.  I felt like Spore did "accessibility-first, depth-never", and I vowed to take the Blizzard approach on SpyParty, and I feel like it's really working well.  As I mentioned, my top players have hundreds of hours racked up at 3 minutes a pop, which shows that the depth is there, and I'm not stopping on the depth front yet.  I'll worry about making it all accessible with tutorials and whatnot later.

CAT: Who is working on SpyParty anyway?

CHRIS: Me, the artist John Cimino, and Keith Millot, our community/video/blog guy, who was a beta tester for two years before I hired him.

CAT: SpyParty is a two player espionage game, competitive multiplayer, a human behavior simulator, an inverted Turing test, a spy mission, a game of consequence… Please explain SpyParty.

CHRIS: One thing I learned from Will Wright while on Spore was that you describe your game differently to different people.  You learn enough about the person to know how to describe the game in a way that will resonate with them, and any non-trivial game should have many different true ways of describing it.  It's kind of like the blind men describing the elephant.

So, with that in mind, if I'm talking to somebody who's into competitive games like MOBAs or Starcraft, I might say, "SpyParty is a tense 1v1 highly asymmetric competitive game played in short rounds about 3 minutes each. One player is the Spy at a party where the other guests are NPCs, trying to blend in while also trying to accomplish spy missions that have various types of subtle tells, and the other player is the Sniper looking in at the party through a scope trying to notice these tells in the flood of information coming from the party to find the Spy.  The Sniper has one bullet which which to make their choice."

If I was talking to somebody who was more into games as an art form and pushing game design forward, I might say, "SpyParty is a game about subtle human behavior.  One player, the Spy, carries out a performance to deceive the other player, the Sniper, who is trying to perceive the truth of what's going on at the party."

If I'm talking to somebody who doesn't play games at all, I'll usually lead with, "It's a game about a cocktail party," which usually gets their attention because it's so different from what they expect a game developer to say.  I'll talk about how the Spy is trying to flirt with people, have a drink, and still do spy movie mission tropes like bugging the Ambassador and contacting a Double Agent.  The other player is looking in at the party trying to figure out which guest is the Spy.


Go ahead. Shoot Grandma. Go on.

CAT: I’ve spoken to a lot of people about a lot of “moral choice” games, and most of the time I find myself thinking but what does it mean that in a game with “moral choice and consequence” we’re so inured to killing? But SpyParty. I always get clammy about shooting the suspected Spy. It’s easy to get hung up on what it means about shooting an old lady with a little dog in her handbag, isn’t it? Why? How? Explain yourself.

CHRIS: Yeah, it's definitely different to shoot somebody in SpyParty than it is in most games.  I don't know if it's a moral choice, because at the end of the day they're just 3D models in a computer, but it is clear that the bullet in SpyParty is way more meaningful and weighty than one of the bullets in another game.  Plus, the people are much more plausible as people in SpyParty than they are in some space marine shooter.  It's interesting, because if you think about it, there's no actual violence in the game itself.  As soon as the Sniper pulls the trigger, the game is over, and the death is totally non-interactive.  The threat of violence is really Hitchcockian in that sense.  In fact, I am going to make an option where you can have no shot and instead, burly security people haul the identified person away.  It shouldn't change the core game much at all, because the game is not about the death, it's about the events leading up to the decision to kill someone. That said, I think it'll be interesting to see how the feel of the game changes with the "arrest" versus "kill" option.


One of the new environments

CAT: I’m not going to lie. The game looks a lot prettier now than it did when I first played it in 2010. Can you talk about the development of the characters and environments?

CHRIS: I've written a fair amount about the new character ( http://www.spyparty.com/201... ) and environment ( http://www.spyparty.com/201... ) styles, but it's pretty slow going because it's just a single artist, John Cimino, working on the new art.  We now have 10 new art characters done, and hope to have them in the game by PAX West, and then we have 10 more to do, and then a bunch of levels.  Whee!

CAT: I still see the shot of the mansion, the party palace, floating around the internets from time to time and get to thinking about what-ifs - will that ever be playable as a whole?

CHRIS: Eventually, yes.  A lot of work needs to get done to make multi-level maps and multiple Spies and Snipers work, though.


The party palace, the SpyParty mansion

CAT: When we last spoke, you felt like environments were hard to put a final number on. Has that settled down or do you occasionally wake up from a Spy’s nightmare powder room level?

CHRIS: I still don't know an exact number.  It's kind of sad, because if SpyParty is like the other popular competitive multiplayer games, I'll ship with a bunch of levels that take a long time to build and tune and then people will still only play 3 or 4 of them anyway!  The good news is maps can be added easily in later updates, and I'll probably make maps the first moddable thing, so I assume we'll ship with 5 or 10 maps.  Right now there are 8 or so, depending on how you count them, but they're all old-art maps.

Continue reading with Part Two: http://n4g.com/user/blogpos...

Day 9 | Chris Hecker

« 1 2 »
BiggCMan  +   105d ago
That second picture with the pool is really pretty!
randomass171  +   105d ago
Heck yeah! Almost can't believe this is an indie game. Loving the newer and more detailed look!
checker  +   105d ago
Thanks! We're trying to get a full map and all 10 new art characters in an playable by PAX West. Only a month and a half left!
Hector535  +   105d ago
I love the character design
MrxDeath  +   105d ago
great job on the game , looks stunning and good :3

but can i play solo ? or does it have to be a two player game ?
checker  +   104d ago
Right now it's 1v1, but I hope to add a single player mode at some point, and multiple players as well. I want to get the core 1v1 asymmetric mode perfect first.
randomass171  +   104d ago
One of the reason I got a Wii U is it has a number of games with asymmetric multiplayer with its games. How would you approach such multiplayer for a game like this one?
Caffo01   105d ago | Spam
oasdada  +   105d ago
i liked spore
checker  +   105d ago
I liked Spore too, at least parts of it. The creature editor was magical. I just wished we'd been able to make the game deeper and more responsive to what the player was making in the editors.
randomass171  +   104d ago
I'd still very much like to play Spore. Missed my chance to get it on sale on Steam. Do you feel it's worth picking up after all this time?
oasdada  +   104d ago
It definitely is mate
#5.1.2 (Edited 104d ago ) | Agree(0) | Disagree(0) | Report
beepbopadoobop  +   105d ago
I really like the look of this! Could spend allot of time in this game being a sneaky sneakster!
SpeedDemon  +   105d ago
Looks fun, hope it's challenging.
dictionary  +   105d ago
Love this genre of game
eckleberg  +   105d ago
I remember seeing this is EDGE a couple of years ago, I hope all that work pays off, the prototype sounded fascinating
LukeFair  +   105d ago
Hope to have a chance to get the beta codes! This seems challenging!
Mokastro  +   105d ago
Don't think limited maps are a problem, if its allow to be modded by players.... Infact, It will be quite awesome actually.
gaffyh  +   105d ago
So there's only 3 people working on the game?! no wonder its taking so long.
randomass171  +   104d ago
Gotta give them credit though. They're seriously changing it for the better.
akshgarg  +   105d ago
"One thing I learned from Will Wright while on Spore was that you describe your game differently to different people. You learn enough about the person to know how to describe the game in a way that will resonate with them, and any non-trivial game should have many different true ways of describing it. "
I agree,smart answer though
Derekvinyard13  +   105d ago
3 people working on this, that's dedication
rambi80  +   105d ago
"depth-first, accessibility-later"

I wish i could spray-paint those words on the walls of every game studio
Disagree  +   105d ago
the art looks amazing
XtraTrstrL  +   105d ago
It's not bad looking, I'll keep an eye on it to see how it turns out or what score it gets.
TreFord  +   105d ago
This games get beter and better
gobluesamg  +   105d ago
The graphics look great. It will add to the immersion.
mydyingparadiselost  +   105d ago
What a great concept.
Carib  +   105d ago
That mansion looks awesome lol
Virtua_Awesome  +   105d ago
It's very cool of them to NOT make the game show the actual shot from the sniper and just end the match instead. I also really like that idea of having the option of having security just haul off the spy too. I'm so tired of graphic gun violence in games :P
checker  +   105d ago
Yeah, although given recent history, it's not clear if it's better to be hauled off by security personal or have it end quickly! :/
Virtua_Awesome  +   105d ago
Well, you have a point there; I didn't think about that. I'm sure that the security guards in this game are good people at heart though :)
MYDEATH21  +   105d ago
Many civilians will perish -_-
Darklurkr23  +   105d ago
Looks a lot better then the first video XD

I get an "Opening Night" game vibe fromt his
MightyNoX  +   104d ago
Ugh...spore. I realize he admits its defaults but yeeesh. I'll still be looking forward to the game but still...Spore. Bleeeegh.
randomass171  +   104d ago
Was it really that bad? XD
ichizon  +   104d ago
What's so bad about it? I thought it looked pretty cool, actually. It just took a long while to come out from when I first heard about it, which was a shame.
MasterofMagnetism  +   104d ago
Cool interview.
grashopper  +   104d ago
Man it really does look great now. I'm amazed what a small team can do nowadays.
raywat44  +   104d ago
i want this game
techie015  +   104d ago
That is a wicked pool
LedZeppelin  +   100d ago
cool
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