Interview with SpyParty's Chris Hecker, Part One
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