There’s a lot for the player to worry about in SpyParty. As the Sniper, should you watch your suspect for just a few more seconds to be completely sure, or risk blowing the head off an innocent partygoer? When playing the Spy, should you rush completing your mission, or spend precious time blending with the crowd to avoid suspicion? SpyParty is a deadly balancing act, one of the most tense games we’ve ever encountered. And it’s fun as hell.

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What is SpyParty?

SpyParty is a two-player online game, in which one player is the Spy, and the other is the Sniper. The game takes place at a cocktail party, in which the Spy must complete a number of objectives within a time limit. All the Sniper has to do is shoot the Spy. Sounds pretty simple right? Wrong.

headshot

Just… stay… calm…

At the party, the Spy is not the only guest. Also invited are a large number of computer-controlled characters. This makes the job much more difficult for the Sniper, as the Spy is able to blend in with these AI guests if he or she plays well. Did I mention the Sniper loses if he shoots anyone but the Spy?

It’s not all easy sailing for the Spy though. The Sniper has full vision of the party through wide open windows, and is able to zoom in, highlight and lowlight targets and scare the Sniper with his laser. Good luck keeping your cool with a laser pointed at your head.

SpyParty is currently in early open beta, and costs about £10. At the moment, the graphics are all made up of placeholders, but the art you can see above is the planned art design for what the game will eventually look like. The game is very deep, takes a long time to learn and is entirely down to player skill.

Playing SpyParty

Soon after deciding to preview SpyParty, and accidentally falling in love with the game, I told PCG colleague Justis about it. He, like me, found the concept  intriguing and decided to get a copy as well. Here’s a few games that we recorded, in which we talk through the basics of the game, play terribly and generally add to our growing mutual resentment.

As well as developing SpyParty, Chris gives videogame lectures.

As well as developing SpyParty, Chris gives lectures on videogames.

Interview with the developer

By now you can probably tell that we’re pretty enamoured with the game. We decided to get in contact with the game’s developer, Chris Hecker, who has almost single-handedly created SpyParty from the ground up.

Hi Chris. Something that has struck me about SpyParty is the extremely friendly and helpful community. Everyone seems very polite, and experienced players have offered handy tips and non-condescending guidance. Because of this, I was able to learn the game and its nuances much faster than if I’d been playing with mute opponents. What do you think it is about the game that has attracted one of the best communities a developer could hope for?

Well, I think the game design helps a lot. It’s a mature and thoughtful game that evolves at a normal human pace, in the sense that it’s about psychology and subtlety and slow intentional movement, and so it doesn’t feel like it strikes the same kind of frenetic power-fantasy chords as a shooter or fighting game. I also think the 1v1 aspect helps here, since you just had this relatively intimate experience with another person, and sharing information after the game feels natural in that case. The community is interested in mentoring because they understand that the game is very deep and inaccessible right now, and they want the playerbase to grow and new players to experience some of the depth. I think it’s a virtuous cycle, because there’s a friendly community that helps new players, which lets them experience the special parts of the game, which they then want to share with other new players.

I get really worried when I see two players start a match and not chat first. I’m thinking about ways of encouraging some chatting first, because once you’ve established a rapport with your opponent, I think the match is much more likely to be educational for both players. Because the skill ceiling is so high, sharing information doesn’t really hurt anybody, it just makes everybody better, and the game more fun.

It’s a mature and thoughtful game that evolves at a normal human pace, in the sense that it’s about psychology and subtlety and slow intentional movement

You’ve said on your website that you plan to include a spectator mode. Certain games with spectator modes are known to allow cheaters to communicate over microphone in order to gain an unfair advantage – something that would hurt a game like SpyParty. Some games have overcome this with a time delay, others choose to just make spectating an option. What are your thoughts on how to implement it in a way that will keep the game competitive?

I’m pretty much in denial about cheating right now. It hasn’t been a problem so far, and I hope it continues to not be a problem for a long time. At some point I’ll have to deal with it, but I hope it’s not for months or years, because dealing with cheating will just take time away from making the game better, so it’s just a complete waste, although it’s necessary. Delays on streams can help, but since the game design hinges on a single piece of information and it’s a PC game, client side hacks are potentially going to be an issue. I have some ideas, but I think replays and spectation are actually going to help with this, because there will be an archived replay database of every game played, and the community will be able to review the games any time. As a last resort, if the game makes a bunch of money I’ll just fly the top of the leaderboard to PAX or Evo and have them do a tournament there, and we’ll quickly figure out who has real skills and who suddenly can’t find the Spy when they’re not on their home PC!

At the moment, SpyParty’s graphics are made up of placeholders. Though basic, the simplicity has the benefit of the player’s vision not being hindered by visual distractions. How do you plan to ensure the gameplay is not negatively effected when the ‘proper’ graphics arrive?

It’s going to be a problem, for sure, and it will take a while to iron out. The plan is to put the new graphics in bolted onto the side of the game at first, so the current maps and characters will be the main way to play competitively, and the new art will be mostly a tech demo. Eventually, we’ll get it tuned up to where it goes into regular play rotation, but it’s going to be a long and iterative process. The old art will live for a long time, I think.

The current graphics are basic but charming.

The current graphics are basic but charming.

Upon first downloading the game, players are explicitly to told to read the manual. After reading through it, I noticed some rather non-subtle allusions to you disliking the focus on accessibility and instant gratification in gaming. Could you expand on this idea that we are in an age of “push the A Button to win the game”, and how it has affected the industry?

Well, I should be clear, I’m not against accessibility, I just think it’s not the most important design goal, depth is. I want to eventually make the game as accessible as I can, because it’s great when new players feel welcomed by the game, and not just the community. But, if I ever have to make a decision between depth and accessibility, I’ll pick the former, and I will continue with the “depth-first, accessibility-later” development methodology because it seems to work. Once the elite game is where I want it, I’ll start to make the early game’s learning curve a little less steep. 

I’m not against accessibility, I just think it’s not the most important design goal, depth is

SpyParty has received a huge amount of media attention, particularly for a game in early beta with only placeholder graphics. Upon first developing the game, did you realise that the game would strike a chord with so many people? What do you think it is about SpyParty that people seem to enjoy so much?

It was pretty clear early on that I was onto something special. SpyParty just sells itself as soon as somebody hears about the espionage fiction and the reverse Turing-test. Everybody immediately starts thinking up missions and maps and characters, and that’s where you want to be as a developer if you can swing it. I think people respond to the fact that it’s a very human-scale game. A cocktail party is a place you have been before, or can easily imagine being…it’s not a space station or a dungeon, which are interesting fantasies, but also a little distancing because they’re so foreign. I also think people respond to how different it is compared to the normal game industry fare. This is why I say that games about people are just wide open, and I can’t understand why more people don’t explore the territory, there’s game design laying all over the floor in here, you just have to come in and pick it up!

Finally, what would be the best tip you can personally offer for players of both the Sniper and Spy?

The best single piece of advice is actually the same for both: relax. The game is like chewing nails, but you have to calm yourself down and not panic. As a Spy, take your time and decide what you’re going to do first. You think you’re being obvious, but if you’re playing against somebody with similar gametime, you’re probably not. As Sniper, be methodical, even if you miss a status swap, think about who could have been close to it, and who could not have been near there, and use the highlight and lowlight mechanic to mark those people. But, you can’t think or act if you’re freaking out, so breathe, and you’ll be fine. Unless you get shot, but then at least that releases the tension!

Need any more reasons to get this game?

If you don’t like the concept behind SpyParty and weren’t entertained by the video, then this game probably isn’t for you. If you’re on the fence, then here’s five reasons why this is a great game that will only get better:

  1. The game is being constantly updated. At the moment, the changes are mostly linked to balancing, with things like hard tell animations being changed, map tweaks and AI reworks. The meta is constantly evolving.
  2. The community is fucking awesome. When I first started playing SpyParty, every opponent I was against took the time to explain aspects of the game, offering helpful advice and explaining why I’d just been totally outplayed. Don’t expect them to go easy on you though.
  3. It’s an asymmetrical multiplayer game with almost perfect balance. The gameplay between the two players is completely different, and yet the winrates between Sniper and Spy are both around 50%.
  4. SpyParty is only fifteen dollars, or around ten pounds. That’s less than a takeaway pizza. Can a pizza offer hundreds of hours of competitive gameplay? No. Get SpyParty.
  5. You’ll get ‘that’ feeling. You know like when you first played Goldeneye splitscreen? Or first marched a Zerg army into a friends base? This is exciting, new gameplay and it’s perfect with friends over microphone or, if you’re feeling old-fashioned, in the same room.

So there you have it, that’s SpyParty. If this article has done it’s job, then here’s a link to where you can get this glorious game. Have we overhyped this game? Have you played this game and want to share something we haven’t covered? Let us know in the comments!

spypartyHe does. He really, really does.