GDC 2010: Developers Playtest SpyParty

As I mentioned before, I playtested the hell out of SpyParty at GDC this year.  I tried to take pictures of everybody playing, while simultaneously taking copious notes, as one should while people are playing your game.  Since I’m doing the depth first design methodology, the game required a fair bit of explaining to get people up and running, but after that, everybody got into the rhythm.

First up, my old friends Mike Mika and Chris Charla. I had added a bunch of features in on the runup to GDC, including adding console controller support to the Sniper so it could be played without needing room for a mouse, and I needed to make sure I didn’t break anything before setting it up at a big party on Tuesday night, so I had Mike and Chris over to the hotel room to pretest.

Mike and Chris have known each other forever, and so they know each other’s game play styles pretty well.  Mike used this knowledge to his advantage when he decided to just stand around talking, while loudly flicking the camera joystick (which doesn’t move the Spy) in time with another AI moving.  Chris took the bait and shot the civilian.  Hard core metagaming!  I really need to figure out how to get this level of in-the-same-room metagaming going across the net.

Mike Mika (

Chris Charla (

After this, Mike tweeted:

Just played ten rounds of Spy Party at GDC! This is te best game I’ve played in a LONG time. Hecker is pulling it off.   5:55 PM Mar 9th

While Chris tweeted:

Just play tested Chris Hecker’s SpyParty! Even better the second time. Finally wasted @mikejmika. 5:53 PM Mar 9th

Yay!  Okay, so I didn’t bust anything, now it’s off to the party…

Tuesday night there was a private party with a bunch of awesome indie game developers in attendance, and a back room where people were setting up their games.  After working out the power situation, I set up both laptops and off we went.  In general, the game worked perfectly in this loud social environment, with the exception of the Contact Double Agent mission, which has an audio tell.  Oh well, advantage:  Spy!  I think I’m going to add a party mode where the audio tells have a visual message associated with them so you can play in a loud environment without losing any information, and also it will work as an accessibility feature for deaf people.

One great thing about the game is the Sniper side scales arbitrarily with the number of people spectating, so a lot of people can watch and help the Sniper find the Spy.  This counteracted the lack of audio for the Sniper to some extent.

By the way, you’ll notice #numbers in some of the captions.   I didn’t catch everybody’s name, so please post in the comments if you know who one of the mystery indies is!

Tyler Glaiel (

Jonathan Mak ( plays while Daniel Benmergui ( and Petri Purho ( observe.

Daniel Benmergui ( plays, while Tim Ambrogi (, Michael Todd (, Dave Carrigg (, and Chris Cornell ( look on.

Jonathan Mak ( showing the Advanced Sniper Style, aka Manual Real-world Zoom

Jenova Chen ( plays, while Eskil Steenberg ( and Pekko Koskinen ( look on.

Peter Jones ( plays Spy on the far side, while Daniel Benmergui ( and Joshua Larson ( look on. On the near Sniper side, Dave Carrigg ( and Mike Boxleiter (

Mike Boxleiter ( plays, while Dave Carrigg ( looks on.

Alexander Bruce ( and Joshua Larson ( look on, while John Graham ( plays.

John Graham ( demonstrates Manual Zoom.

Dylan Fitterer ( plays, while Daniel Benmergui (, #10, and Mike Ambrogi ( look on.

Hampus Söderström ( plays, while Ted Martens ( and #10 observe.

Mike Ambrogi ( concentrates hard while my playtest notes look on.

The next night was the IndieCade party, and I figured it worked so well the previous night, why not set it up again?

Jason Della Rocca ( took this of me setting up at the IndieCade party, and I stole it from his blog.

John Sharp ( plays Spy in the foreground, while Eric Zimmerman ( looks on, and Rod Humble ( plays Sniper in the background, while David Hellman ( sketches.

John Sharp (

Eric Zimmerman (

Jessica Hammer ( and #16 play. Jessica was a natural and kicked his ass most of the time.

We closed the place down; people played for hours.

Now back to the hotel room for more playtesting!

Jonathan Morin ( plays Clint Hocking (, while Jonathan Blow ( and John Sharp ( look on.

Jason Rohrer ( plays while John Sharp ( watches.

Anthony Burch ( plays, while Frank Lantz ( and Ashley Davis ( watch.

Anthony Burch ( plays Frank Lantz ( while Jason Rohrer ( and John Sharp ( mock Frank for being so bad at the game.

Jeff Roberts ( plays, while Yukari Binstock watches.

Atman Binstock ( chooses a Spy.

That’s it for the developer pictures.  I have a bunch of photos of press playing, and I’ll post those soon.

Don’t forget to help me figure out who the mystery playtesters are by posting in the comments or sending me email.

Oh, and if you’re in one of the pictures and don’t want it to be public here, let me know and I’ll take it down immediately.


Update: #1, #2, #4, #6, #11, #12, #14 identified, thanks Ron Carmel and Tim Ambrogi!
Update: #3 & #13 down, identified by themselves!
Update: #9 down, thanks Mike Kasprzak!
Update: #5 & #8 down, thanks Alexander Bruce!
Update: #15 down, thanks Austin Grossman!


  1. Mike Millan says:

    I wish i was there too. :). It would have been an excellent collaboration and experience in such a compact yet cozy place.

  2. Nathanael says:

    Their tweets make me excited!

    Also, I’m loving the Thinkpad :)

  3. Dan says:

    Sure looked like a ton of playtesting. Kinda jealous.

  4. jordy says:

    Sounds like it’s dangerously addictive, throw some leveling up in the mix and you gonna create a major addiction problem…

    • checker says:

      Well, I definitely don’t want “addictive” in the sense that some games are with extrinsic motivators and whatnot, but I do hope it’s compelling and has a lot of replay value because you feel like you’re learning about perception and performance and getting better. I’m shooting for Counter-Strike, not Farmville, in terms of player-skill and replay, if that makes sense.

  5. jordy says:

    Completely, I was nodding a bit sarcastic to WoW and the like, cause I believe that leveling up or getting better weapons or and that sort doesn’t make a good gameplay experience, it’s addicititve for sure, but fun? I guess it’s some sort of primal drive motivator :), a instinct that remained from the far past ages of evolution.

    But yeah, addictive in the sense that the gameplay is just super fun is obviously great. And of course skill makes it sometimes more fun espeically for the long run.

    There is one game I would like you to tell about, it’s called Multiwinia, agame from the indie developers of Introversion.
    Intentionally it was ment as a fun chaos multiplayer game for during lunchbreaks, so about 10 minutes a game.
    And altho a strategy game, it only featured one unit, and they tried to add the fun mayhem by random power-ups that could mess up things quite a bit.
    The funny thing for me was, and for most others that eventually played it long enough I think, the fact that, that one units could have an enormous range of use when micro-managed, mainly it was group size, position, high or low ground, etc.. wich I won’t bother you with, the point being that 1 uniform unit could create a really deep gameplay with lots of possibilites in there control, I probably should add that it cold only shoot lasers at enemies nothing more.
    So in that sense it was really deep gameplay and fun.
    The problem how I see it however, Introversion tried to stick to there original plan, and add the fun chaos they intended the game to be, so the made this crazy fun power-ups to mess around with and put them on the core of the gameplay. However these power-ups while fun for some time to use and see, didn’t quite yield that much “gameplay fun”, and so real skilled battles where fought without crates.
    Unfortunately, the “gimmicked” power-ups pretty destroyed the skill level of the game, due to there randomness, while leaving the gameplay experience behind impoverished after the initial fun was over.

    So, I hope that you can resist the urge to add some extra features, that do not really intervene with the core gameplay, in order to add some superficial depth or more gameplay, as I’ve seen this can destroy the good feeling of a game and leave it behind impoverished. And I think it’s a good thing that you playtest so much, cause as you already have uncovered the subtlest things can be of major importance once skill evolves, so altho your core idea may be very basic if it’s rich in subtleties and easy to comprehens it’ll be good.

    Another note about fun is I think, I’m not sure what you mean by this:

    > Well, I definitely don’t want “addictive” in the sense that some games are with extrinsic motivators and whatnot.

    But, fun can be ruined by competition, most notably for me is chess, but I think it applies to a lot of games, if not all.
    Once you get fierce competition it seems to suck the fun out of a game.
    Partially because of the higher amounts of training that is required of you, but that can be solved by playing against your own skill level, otherwise because people start to learn basic things, for example all the openings in chess and there variations that are learned by so many.
    Or they lay there focus on small by coming details, that do not really relate to the game, to get an advantage, like stamina practice for so many sports.
    But it would be beautifull if all this could be prevented by a game that has variability engraved in to there core mechanic, so that none can be predicted or is standard and one must truly rely only on his own mind to seek victory in a match.

    So yay for counter-strike and shoot that headshot

    • checker says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Yeah, I definitely agree about being careful to not lard on the gimmicks, and also be careful about how the competition aspect is presented. There’s a book called No Contest by Alfie Kohn that I’m going to read soon, I came across it while researching my recent GDC talk on achievements and reading one of his other books, Punished By Rewards. I definitely want to have a lot of handicapping and matchmaking and I have some ideas for mentoring stuff that I’ll write up at some point, but yeah, I don’t want your first experience with the game being getting owned by a 12 year old yelling obscenities. :)

  6. jordy says:

    > I don’t want your first experience with the game being getting owned by a 12 year old yelling obscenities. :)

    Yeah :0

    Don’t get me wrong tho, I like competition, and it’s a good thing as it “”trancents?” a game to another level, and helps to get the most out of a game, by being fully explored by those who are involved in the competition, and a word wide competition/ladder of a game about deceit/skill sounds great. Just sometimes, you can fall in to a lapse where competition is the only fun aspect left of the game, and you rely in this competition only on past experiences in the sense that you’re not seeking anything new in the game and you’re playing “conservative/reptitive” and thus not enjoying the gameplay itself.
    But like I said this game sounds just like that game were it’s hard to play reptitive, especially if you play often against the same opponents.

    On the matchamking issue, maybe you should follow the commentaries on the new Match making from Blizzard for Starcraft 2, it features, smaller groups that perform in a league so that you have the feeling of accomplishing something when you climb to the top of a ladder of say 100 man. I don’t really know much about it, but the main idea being these smaller leagues so that you can matchmake more often against the same players in a respective league and there by learning them a bit.

    I’m interested to know what use you will find in the books for you game, they seem quite interesting.

    • checker says:

      I’ll definitely take a look at the SC2 stuff, thanks. As for the research and books, this kind of thing tends to simmer in the background and have subtle effects throughout, sometimes you can point to them directly, sometimes not.

  7. Ro says:

    Hi.I was just wondering, if in the game the spy can interact with the other characters beyond the missions that he has to acomplish. For example, to ask someone to walk with him or give an order. For instance, if he/she wants to distract the sniper he/she can tell some character to walk to a certain point.

    • checker says:

      Not yet in the prototype, but I’m going to add that soon. I think I’m going to try to make it a little more subtle than just giving an order, but I’m not sure yet. I definitely want the Spy to be able to spill a drink on somebody, or as the Double Agent to go make a distraction, or tell the ingenue that the rockstar is checking her out, and all kinds of behavioral stuff like that.

I have temporarily disabled blog comments due to spammers, come join us on the SpyParty Discord if you have questions or comments!