The History of the Game From Two Years of Beta Testing

Two years ago checker invited internet strangers into his game and I was lucky enough to snatch an invite from the very first group. I had been following the game closely before I got the invite, and that is obviously still the case today. Over the years I have observed a lot of changes in the game itself and in the “meta” surrounding the game.

Last year I made a video that highlighted my first year playing SpyParty.  This year I asked myself a simple question:  how have the meta and balance changes evolved over my career as a player? Here is my personal recollection of how everything went down. First and foremost let me set the stage for SpyParty v. 1919 (April 17th, 2012)…

SpyParty Main Menu

SpyParty v1983


Bug the Ambassador
Contact Double Agent
Transfer Microflim
Swap Statue
Inspect Statues
Seduce Target

Balanced Game Type:
Pick 3 of 4

Game Type Evolution

Way before the beginning of the closed beta there were two elite players named Ian and Paul. They felt that Pick 3 of 4 was the balanced game type for its time. Pick 3 of 4 means the Sniper sees 4 missions but the Spy only needs to complete 3 to win.  The Spy picked the 4 visible missions and the 3 to accomplish before the game started. By contrast, Any 3 of 4 means the Sniper still sees all 4 missions, but the Spy can do any of the 4 as long as they get 3 done. 

The Pick 3/4 preference was passed down to the newly recruited beta testers as the standard game type. Over time, the new closed beta players began figuring out how the game works, and they soon surpassed Ian and Paul in game time played. With more people came more feedback, and one day it was decided to try out Pick 4/5 and see how that felt. This was an experiment to see how people liked or didn’t like it. Over the course of 24 hours, Pick 4/5 became the new standard of balanced game play. Needless to say people loved it! Pick 3/4 never saw the light of day again.

There were a lot of discussions about balance between the Spy and Sniper. Some statistics checker has been collecting showed Snipers were a bit favored and we were encouraged to try the game type Any 4/5. This was a slight Spy buff because with Any, the Spy could be more opportunistic and take what the party gave them. This new game type was overwhelmingly popular and once again the balanced game type changed. From that day forward, Pick was less popular than Any.

By this time there were tons of strategies, tutorials, and guides posted for both the Sniper and the Spy. People were just starting to break into the quadruple digits of games played, and the Spy win percentage vs Sniper win percentage was still pretty close, but it could be even closer. A Sniper strategy that started to show results and popularity was the idea of camping the hard tell missions. At the time there were still 6 missions, which meant on any given balanced map and game type you were still required to do at least 1 hard tell mission. This allowed the Sniper to watch two missions and catch the Spy with reasonable success. The Spies received a buff once again and tried Any 4/6, requiring Snipers to watch an additional mission. This was met with welcoming arms and Any 4/5 died in favor of Any 4/6. 

People seem to enjoy playing with a slight bias toward Snipers winning. It’s no fun if it’s too hard as a Sniper, while winning against stacked odds as a Spy makes you feel good. However, can’t the reverse be said? Why don’t people feel just as good for winning as a Sniper when the odds are stacked against them? Why can’t it be no fun if it’s too hard for the Spy? 

I can not  shed any light on that but what I do know is people continue to play slightly favored Sniper games as the balanced game type. There’s obviously something going on here if we’ve been doing it for awhile now. We started off with a slight Spy bias and now we are at a slight Sniper bias with Any 4/6. However that does not mean the win rate for either one strays far from 50/50; it’s actually really close.

The Story of the Courtyards, Panopticon, and Map Tweaks


Courtyard 1

Courtyard 1+2
The first new map to be introduced to the SpyParty beta community was Courtyard. Everyone rejoiced with little butterflies in their stomachs as they got a new medium sized map to play on. It featured a high vantage point for the Sniper and a whopping 16 guests. There were 3 statues in the center area and no bookshelves. It was the first map that allowed a complete 360 degree view of the entire map.

This map posed a particular problem for the Spy–at the time Any 4/5 was considered balanced. There was a max of 5 missions on Courtyard and 2 of those involved statues, therefore, the Spy must visit at least one statue to complete all of their missions.

If you were to highlight anyone that went to statues you’d have a great chance of highlighting the Spy. Not only did you know the Spy has to visit statues, but the AI didn’t visit the statues very much at all to begin with. If the Spy chose to inspect, they had to visit at least two statues and two visits is a death sentence to any Spy. 


Courtyard 2

Thus, Courtyard 2 came into existence. Courtyard 2 provided more cover for the statues and the Spy no longer had to visit them more than once to get inspects done. There was an additional statue added to make 2 pairs of statues. This helped alleviate the problems Spy had with statues and there was a field of view change for the Snipers. 

In an effort to try and keep Courtyard 1 semi-balanced, as an experiment checker tweaked the settings so the AI wanted to visit the statues on that map.

Spies were also having a bit of a hard time completing missions on these two maps. The start time for them was originally 2:30 but seeing as the spies needed a slight buff, 30 seconds was added to both maps and they now reside at 3:00.

This leads us to our lovely and ginormous map called Panopticon. It featured a whopping 3 bookshelves, 6 statues, 20 guests, and enough window space to time add for days. That’s not the only catch here–the Sniper was on a fixed point and could not move around. The only thing they could do was look around and it was impossible for the Sniper to see the entire party at any given time.

Even though new maps are fun and experimental, that doesn’t mean the older maps didn’t get a little loving either.

Veranda used to feature 6 single statues. Getting inspect done on this map was a nightmare. To help with this, it was decided to make the front 4 statues be paired together, 2 on each corner. This has since changed to 4 pairs to give a small buff to the Spy. The front section of the map, where Damon resides, used to be more narrow. It was widened in an effort to reduce so many collisions when trying to cross from one end to the other.

Veranda Now…

…and Previously

This map has only received minor changes, for example the small crossbars on the Ballroom windows used to completely block the laser, but now only the big pillars will block it.

Inside Gallery

The newest map came in the form of an art gallery. This long and narrow map aims to provide tons of visual occlusion for the Sniper. The moment this map hit, the testers loved it, even more so than when Panopticon came out. That’s not to say Panopticon is a bad map but there’s something about gallery that settles well with the current testers. Perhaps it’s how colorful the map is compared to the others or the occlusion itself providing a unique challenge for the Snipers.

Missions Are Ever Changing

Missions have also been touched time and time again. 

Inspect Statues
To inspect 3 statues on ballroom, you had to visit 3 different statues. This is why it was popular to figure out how many times people have gone to statues. This strategy was a very easy way for the sniper to be purely deductive and still maintain a high win percent. 

After thinking on the subject, the idea was to add action tests to speed up the inspects to allow Spies to inspect statues that were near by. If you wanted to get all 3 inspects done, all you had to do was go to the middle statue and both neighboring statues would be available, assuming they weren’t being held by other guests. Each consecutive inspect takes less time as well.  Of course, this made visits to the middle statues slightly more suspicious than to the edge statues!

Swap Statue
Originally when you got a green statue swap, it would instantly change the statue shape in your hands (actually, see the comments below – checker). This was different from the white test because white tests would fade into the next statue instead of instantly changing. Against any experience Sniper this small difference is irrelevant. The solution was to have the green swap be handled by an NPC. This meant the Sniper had to know who was at statues and pay close attention to how the statue swaps (it’s slightly faster if the NPC does the swap) to know if the Spy is the character swapping the statue, or if it was the previous character.

Purloin the Guest List
Perhaps this was the inspiration for the purloin. When purloining the guest list was first introduced, a green test would give you a drink and the next NPC to take a drink would make the list fade quickly. A white test would give you a drink and the fading was longer. To make the mission feel more different from Swap, the green purloin was changed to refuse a drink, which meant the chain of drink refusers could grow quite long, making it more difficult for the Sniper to track.



Virginia “Orange Dress” Vulpes

Orange Dress
You may have heard some rumblings and jokes on streams about a character named Virginia Vulpes or more commonly “Orange Dress”. Who is Orange Dress and what’s with the attention? Let’s start from the beginning.  

Way back in the beginning, there was a beta player named skrymir. He was on a mission to make “Purple Dress”, Anna Klàvsky, the most famous of all SpyParty characters. This is the earliest example of deliberate mind gaming that I can remember. Often times skrymir would pick Purple Dress or bring her to the party with him. Every map had Purple Dress and that alone could drive some Snipers mad. 


Anna “Purple Dress” Klàvsky

After a while playing with the Purple Dress meme, an alternative game type was invented by players called MindParty. For this game mode you play on Balcony, the smallest map. The Spy has to manually pick their character and cast members. They were not allowed to take control from the AI at the beginning of the game, and they must say one sentence. It was typically about a character and it could be true or false. The Sniper had 30 seconds to shoot someone. 

This is where we arrive to Orange Dress. There are two beta testers by the names of canadianbacon and scallions. It is unclear of who originally started it, but whenever they played MindParty they would always play mind games around Orange Dress. This gave the game mode the alternative name of Orange Dress Party. The Orange Dress meme has spilled over into other testers’s games and has since become known throughout the community.

Time Adds
Enough about specific characters though, let’s talk about adding time! Adding time at the windows used to only net 30 seconds of additional time for the Spy. Players felt that this wasn’t worth the risk if you take in consideration the time it takes to walk to the window, do your time add, and walk away. Now time adds grant 45 seconds worth of time to any Spy willing to risk it.

Four Levels of Suspicion

Highlighting And Lowlighting
Next up is the ever so important Sniper tool–Highlighting and Lowlighting. Ever feel like if you had just one more level of highlights or lowlights you would win more games? Two level highlights are a thing of the past. You used to be able to mark people suspicious, and then mark them once more for an even great suspicion rating. Likewise, you used to be able to mark people as less suspicious and least suspicious.  This was changed because it felt too deductive. You could reliably keep track of who had visited statues and how many visits they’d made by using the levels as a counter. At this time, statues were still a problem area for spies. Imagine at the beginning of the game you lowlight everyone. This gives you the ability to mark up to 3 statue visits per person and you still had a lowlight to reduce the people you don’t suspect.  Losing a level of highlights and lowlights didn’t come without some resistance from the community though. However, after playing with it for awhile, the community seems to regard it as a good move by checker

In Conclusion

What does the future bring us? That’s a good question my friend. Maybe checker will cease production on SpyParty and become a florist instead. Maybe he continues to work hard on SpyParty and it single handily creates world peace, solves world hunger, and deflects oncoming asteroids so Bruce Willis doesn’t have to sacrifice his life for the greater good of humanity while making checker gazillions in the meantime. 

Realistically it’s probably somewhere in between those two scenarios but whatever the case, here’s to one more year.

One Year Beer

The New Gallery Map!

The new map, Gallery, is out in the latest build! The design goal for this map was to make it long and narrow with a lot of dynamic occlusion caused by the partygoers.


Obey local ordinances!

It seemed to work pretty well, we played it during the release notes stream, where I did two different “birthday games”, the first set with scientist for his 5k birthday, and then smash10101 for his 1k birthday.

I made a few subtle behavior changes for this new map:

  • I made paintings more attractive on this map, and to do that I had to slightly change their probabilities on Ballroom. I think it won’t be noticeable, but we’ll see.
  • Due to restrictive local ordinances, open containers of alcohol cannot be consumed or served on the sidewalk. Some people flout these ordinances, but most partygoers are responsible citizens.
  • The conversations are a little less crowded now. People will still stand close to each other, but they won’t all jam into a tiny conversation circle, so you have to be a little more aware of how the NPCs behave around crowded conversations. I had to be careful with this code so I didn’t break the delicate balance of Balcony, but I think I was successful. I’m sure the beta players will tell me if I screwed it up!

Also in this build, I worked around a bug in Wineskin so MacOS beta testers should have their replays directories updated properly now.  

If you’re a beta tester already, come try out the new map, it’ll be there after you auto-update. If you’re not, what are you waiting for?

Here’s the video, and if you want notification of videos like this, you can subscribe to the SpyParty YouTube channel:

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Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

I must face facts:  I am not very good at sending out update emails to the SpyParty beta testers.  When you sign up for the Early-Access Beta, you get put on the private “beta announcement” mailing list, which is where I’m supposed to send, well, announcements about the beta.  However, the last mail I sent to that list was June 3rd, 2013, about load testing while the beta was still closed!  I mean, there’s obviously such a thing as too much email, but one email per year is probably not it.  I post in the private beta forums every day, and obviously I’m active here on the blog and on twitter and facebook, but everybody has a different way they like to get information so neglecting the mailing list is kinda dumb of me.  Apparently I didn’t send mail about the new character art, or the new environment art, or the Panopticon level, or the Purloin Guest List mission, or any of that yummy stuff.

So, naturally, given my competence in this area, I’m going to start yet another mailing list!  Hmm, I need a cute name for it…right now I’m just calling it the SpyParty News.

This new one doesn’t require you to be in the beta to subscribe, so if you’re holding off on joining the beta, but still want email updates on SpyParty, this is the list for you.  You can see the place to enter your email address over there on the right side at the top of the sidebar.   Oh, too far to move your eyes?  Okay, here you go:

There’s more!  I’m also going to start actually sending to these mailing lists a little bit more frequently.  I’m going to shoot for one mail a month to this newsletter list and see if I can stick to that.  Baby steps.  Making indie games requires wearing a lot of different hats, and time management is not my strong suit, but hopefully I can handle sending out a mail every month talking about what cool stuff I worked on for the game.  I think the mails to this newsletter list will be different from the mails to the beta announcement list, since the former is mostly for people who aren’t in the beta, while the latter can be more specific about build numbers and have links to the beta forum threads and whatnot in it.  If you’re already in the beta, feel free to subscribe to the newsletter to receive more of my inspiring prose, but don’t feel like you must to avoid missing things if you actively check the forums and follow SpyParty on the social interwebs.

The other thing I’m going to do is add the 25k people who signed up for the closed beta but that haven’t joined yet, and who I haven’t emailed since the beta opened.  These people expressed interest in the game, but  if they don’t check the social media outlets or the blog manually, I’ve completely neglected to let them know what’s happening with SpyParty.  I’m constantly seeing comments and tweets from people who don’t even know the beta is open and are pleasantly surprised to find it is; as I said in a GDC talk a couple years back:  No One Knows About Your Game.


And if you made it this far, here’s a teaser image from the new map I’m working on, called Gallery, that should be out soon, maybe tonight if everything goes smoothly.  The idea behind Gallery is to recreate one of those SOHO art gallery spaces, long and narrow, and the Sniper can only see in the end, so there’ll be a bunch of character-based-occlusion.  It should be pretty different from the existing maps, which is in line with my goal of exploring the space of maps and missions.


Hopefully Toby won’t serve drinks out on the sidewalk. Going to have to add that to his AI.

Didn't like the dumpster? Fine, have a restaurant YOU CAN NEVER VISIT.

Didn’t like the dumpster? Fine, have a restaurant YOU CAN NEVER VISIT.


Zero’s Replays Trailer Teaches You How Not To Get Shot in 3 Minutes (maybe)

What, are you saying my 30+ minute rambles about the new In-Game Replays System are too long? Fine, be that way. Well, zerotka‘s got you covered. He created a short and punchy trailer for using replays on the SpyParty YouTube channel to figure out why you got highlit1 and shot, check it out:

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What’s that you say? You want another half-hour ramble by me showing off some major (and some minor) new replays features? Okay, well, we’ve got that too:

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  1. highlighted? []

Really Cool Expert Game Analysis Using Replays

I expected the community to do cool stuff with replays, but this was even better than I expected!

The other day, kcmmmmm grabbed a set of replays from a match played between drawnonward and smash10101, and went through them on his stream, analyzing the games, remarking on good and bad plays, getting into the minds of the players, and saying what he would have done in various situations.  I learned a ton from this; it was incredibly educational to hear how an elite player sizes up a situation and prioritizes and makes decisions.  He talks about opening theory, planning your “banana bread” and responding to it as Sniper, and highlight and lowlight strategy, and tons of stuff, so I’m posting it here for everybody to enjoy.

He works through about 10 games in an hour and a half or so.  If you don’t have time for it all, start at 32:15 and watch that game for a few minutes, there’s some great analysis of the various moves in that one (but really, they’re all great!).

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This was cool enough that I added an “analysis” category to the blog, with the expectation that we’ll get more of these!