SpyParty E3 “Competitive” Analysis

I’m not an economist, so I could be completely wrong here, but I don’t think games (or works in any art and entertainment form, whether film, music, books, whatever) really compete against each other in the usual sense of the term “compete”. Yes, if you ship on the exact same day as a big hit, you’re hosed, but in general, I don’t think even games as similar as Halo and Gears of War compete in the same way Honda and Toyota compete. Ignoring the hardcore fanboy zealots, if you buy and enjoy Halo, you’ll probably buy and enjoy Gears, and vice versa. My guess is the overlap between the owners of those two games is pretty high. Here is an article about purchase intent for the two games, which says slightly over 50% of the people who buy one intend to buy the other1.

By contrast, few people buy more than one car every few years, so if somebody is in the market for a car, the auto companies really are competing for that one sale.

With games, I think the most important thing is to make the game you feel passionate about making, and not worry too much about what other developers are doing.

That said, it is still important to keep abreast of what’s going on in the industry, and to keep tabs on what games have come out or are coming out that are related to yours in some way. It’s good for inspiration, motivation, and education.

I went to E3 this year with a list of spy games, mystery games, and games that looked like they could have some subtle social interactions to check out, and here’s how it went:

  • Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Wanted Mode Multiplayer
    I felt like Ubisoft’s ACB was the most important game for me to check out, and I got to play it for a while on the show floor. I had heard about the “Wanted” multiplayer mode before I went to E3, and how it was similar to The Ship, an older game on Steam that’s been mentioned whenever people talk about SpyParty
    . Here’s a good video explaining the Wanted mode:

    Like The Ship, it’s basically the old college campus game, Assassin, where each player has a known target, but doesn’t know who has them as a target. Both are much more symmetric than SpyParty, in that everyone is basically playing the same game. As you can see in the video, there’s not actually a lot of “hiding in plain sight” or “acting normal” going on, especially since there’s a giant radar on the screen, you can climb all over buildings but the NPCs don’t, and you have various super powers. In my playtests, it tended to degenerate into running around, climbing on things, and trying to get quick kills. The game ships in November, so I’ll be interested to see if they change the mode at all by then. I hope they remove the radar, and tune it so people actually try to blend in more and it becomes more about behavior. If they do that, there will be some useful lessons to learn from watching it in the wild.
  • Guilty Party
    This Disney game for the Wii has a few content-oriented things in common with SpyParty, including the settings and characters, not to mention the name similarity, so I thought I’d check it out. Here is a brief video of the developers talking about it:


    The game has quite nice stylized art direction and characters, but the gameplay itself is pretty much pure deductive reasoning, kind of like the board games Clue(do) or Guess Who?. You gather explicit clues to narrow down the suspects until you can prove somebody’s the guilty party. I want to have some deductive reasoning aspects to the Sniper side of SpyParty, because the practice of narrowing down your suspects is fulfilling and interesting and helps you focus your attention, but I want the majority of the game on the Sniper side to be about perception, observing subtle human behavior, and making decisions with incomplete information. I don’t want you to be able to brute force figure out who the Spy is by deduction.
  • The Agency
    This is a Sony Online Entertainment “FPS MMO”. Besides the spy fiction theme, there’s not a lot of overlap here, and even the theme is pretty different, with The Agency being some kind of future scifi spy world. The game is mostly a First Person Shooter with some persistent RPG elements. Here’s an interview where they talk about the various aspects of the game they were showing at E3, and it’s mostly shooter stuff. This video talks a bit about some less shootery things, but it’s all in cutscenes in the video, so it’s hard to see whether they’ve got that stuff working in gameplay. They’re also doing some sort of more casual Facebooky thing to go along with it, and here’s the trailer for that. Edit: although, this ballroom image looks interesting.

The three games I wanted to see but that weren’t anywhere on the show floor or even behind closed doors (that I could determine) were:

  • Bloody Good Time
    This is the spiritual sequel to The Ship, by some of the same developers. Ubisoft bought or absorbed some or all of Outerlight, the developers of The Ship, and they’re working on Bloody Good Time for XBLA. From the sounds of it via ESRB filings, it’s going even farther away from the subtle social stuff, which is too bad, but it will be interesting to see when it’s finished.
  • Agent
    Very little is known about this Rockstar game, but there’s a bit of info out there. The fact that they’re calling it “the ultimate action game” implies it’s not going for the subtle stuff, but who knows. I’m assuming it will it be Grand Theft Espionage like Red Dead Redemption was Grand Theft Western, which could be pretty cool, but very different from SpyParty, but we’ll have to wait and see!
  • Hitman
    No sign of Hitman 5 that I could find. Some news has come out since then, but nothing very interesting yet.

One of the more interesting games I heard about at E3 was described to me by my friend and colleague Eric Zimmerman. He told me about playing Love’s Labor’s Lost at Come Out and Play 2010, which was a live action game with a lot of subtle behavioral interactions and hidden information.

Anyway, that’s it for the SpyParty-centric E3 roundup. My review of E3 in general is:  “wow, that’s a lot of shooters.”

Post a comment or send me email if you know anything more about the games above, or any other games I should be keeping an eye on.

  1. I wonder if there are numbers out there about actual purchases rather than intent. []


  1. Ron says:

    Yeah. I noticed quantity of shooters at E3. And it’s funny, but none of these games are your exact niche, and yet, some of them still intrigue me. However, especially with AC:Wanted, it’s really going to have to reward players for staying incognito, otherwise it will turn into the strategy from Burnout/NFS, where you do your action without regard to who is around, and then if you get wanted, you just find a hiding spot and wait.

  2. Jordy says:

    Nice! I was waiting for this, thanks.

    Coming to think of games likewise, at least a bit: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2010/06/17/dont-come-out-2nite-the-curfew/
    It sounded rather intriguing to me, but I doubt the gameplay will be much good, to be honest, at least nothing like spyparty I think, cause it’s a single-player game.
    But I really liked the theme, and the setting is nice, plus it might have some overlaps with your game.

    I think rockstar isn’t going to change up there game all the sudden, and hitman 5, well I think the hitmen series only compare to your idea in that there is a sniper involved. Bloody good game, dunno what to think about that one, but yea, don’t expect it’ll compete with your game in the slightest way.

    So, on one hand, you might be disappointed that there are no similar games to draw inspiration from, or at least notice where the blunder and prevent that in your own game.

    But on the other hand!, you’ll have a entire niche for yourself, a chance to carve out your name in the history of video-gaming, to be immortalized forever… :).
    It does put an awful lot of pressure on your shoulders I guess, but nothing you can’t handle and even if you make some mistakes with initial release, which is unavoidable, you can always patch it up to the perfect game you had in mind!

    About the clues tho, I would like to see that players can generate there own clues, or at least pick from them, creating a picture of clues and ruses.
    I mean, you can drop automatic clues, like the animation if a spy performs an action, but building up these clues wouldn’t seem very satisfying, rather, if you could have the player control the clues, in some way, a smooth and nice way, then he can try to sketch a false picture of the situation, and the sniper has to see trough this, to come to the real spy. For instance, if the spy could make a character have the same animation by performing an action as he has, and further can influence this character, he can try to led the sniper believe that’s him.
    Maybe the spy could drop little clues/animations influencing other characters or something.

    I don’t know really, it seems very hard to come up with something good and smooth which intertwines with the natural gameplay feeling. I get the impression you want this game to be about much more then just visual vigilance from the sniper, but could you tell us more on where you stand now, what you’re thinking about on how to realize this? pls.

  3. Jordy says:

    Somehow, after posting this, I got to see Ron’s e-mail and website, it was some kind of error, or something.
    And yea, I’m also curious how ACB will turn out in multi-player, I think it will get to running around like nobody cares, but maybe there will be some specialized servers for more subtle gameplay.
    Thing is tho, I gotta feeling they made the multi-player just as a second-hand component and didn’t focused on it too much.

    • Ron says:

      Well, you could already see the website by clicking on my name. The email that I use in these comments is one of my spam catcher email addresses, so no harm.

    • checker says:

      Oh, yikes, that’s bad. Yeah, I’ve got something misconfigured with the cache. Ugh, I hate computers.

  4. Ron says:

    I’m thinking comments are disabled for now. :/

    • Ron says:

      Never mind.

    • checker says:

      They’re not disabled, but I think there is a bug with the way I’ve got the new cache set up. I think it’s stripping some cookies too aggressively, so things are a bit wonky, sometimes working, sometimes not. I’ll try to figure it out.

      captcha: frumpy point

  5. EmmJay says:

    For my Magister thesis I did a survey that had one question similar to the one you are asking in your footnote. Sadly, the numbers are limited to 6 games, but it’s a start:

    91.5% of all people who bought BioShock also bought Half-Life sometime before.
    88.3% of all people who bought Hellgate London also bought Diablo sometime before.
    82.5% of all people who bought Metroid Prime 3: Corruption also bought Super Metroid sometime before.

    Those are some good indicators that, indeed, games of a similar style attract the same crowd.

  6. Josh Tilton says:

    One upcoming game that comes to mind is another Rockstar production, L.A. Noire. While at first glance it sounds like Grand Theft Detective, they’re using interviewing and interrogating as a key gameplay element. The facial motion capturing is said to be incredibly detailed, to the point of noticing the slightest twitch in a suspect’s eye. Which is important, considering you’ll be determining whether a character is lying to you, based on their facial expressions. Apparently the mo-capping technology is so advanced that it renders fully animated 3D models of the actors without the use of any character artists or animators, and it simultaneously records the audio so no lip-syncing is needed.

    The only in-depth preview to date was in the March issue of Game Informer. Scans are here:

    • checker says:

      I’ve heard a bit about the facial mocap, but I haven’t heard about the game, thanks for the links! On the facial animation front, I worry they’re just going to sink deeper into the uncanny valley, but I guess people really want to get across that thing. Maybe eventually the bodies at the bottom will fill up the valley and we’ll all be able to just walk across. :)

  7. jordy says:

    As long as it isn’t multi-player it isn’t in the same league I think, not even close

  8. jordy says:

    Maybe a nice subtle mechanic for this game could be that you decrease or diminish the effects of certain actions you undertake by using the environment to your advantage.

    Say you wanna move a statue, this is giving a slight tell, but if you use some cocaine, you feel more concentrated and you’re able to move the statue with less tell.
    Or, other way around, you explain the tell by consuming lots of alcohol.

    Or what I originally thought of, say you have to do something which raises your temperature, and the sniper has thermo vision, you can stand around an ice-cream truck (example) for a while, cooling your body temperature, to then do the task that will raise your body temperature, now you won’t show the extra heat. I’m sure there should be much more possible ways to use the environment.

    • checker says:

      I’ve had a couple of related ideas. First, there’s going to be a little player skill interface on the Spy actions, kind of like Gears of War’s Active Reload, and if you opt into that, it will blend in more or less of the tells, depending on if you screw it up. I’m going to post about that when I get it in. Then, once you’ve got that, you can use it for the body temperature thing, since if the Spy screws up then they can get hotter, but also if one npc is flirting with another npc the temp changes, so it’s not just a dead giveaway, you have to look at the behavior of people relative to their temp, etc. Not sure about this, but I think it’s worth prototyping.

      Once I get the core in, I definitely want to do a ton of environmental things that either player can trigger, like the band starts playing, or the lights go out, etc.

  9. jordy says:

    Cool! I really hope that with all these tells and environmental things and what not, you can in the end “sketch a painting” for the sniper, trying to delude him into what he thinks he sees.

    I also saw a movie that is somewhat related, forgot the name tho…

    But the story was about a company that brainwashed people to spy on there rival company (they brainwashed them so they did not know they were employed by that company or who they were, since they had to go trough a liar-detectors test if they were to be employed by the rival company.

    The rival company asked a “spy-broker” to deliver a spy from the company that brainwashed people that would not be brainwashed. This spy got an antidote against the brainwashing, but he had to act as if he was brainwashed in order not to be killed. Which is kind of funny since it reminded me a bit of your concept.

    • checker says:

      > you can in the end “sketch a painting” for the sniper

      Yeah, I definitely want this to be how it works for advanced players.

  10. UsF says:

    Any thoughts of an alpha pre-purchase release? :)
    I bought so many indie games pre-release like Overgrowth, Revenge of the Titans, Cortex Command, Frozen Synapse….I have to add yours to the collection and play the hell out of it.
    Like now.

    Pretty please? :D

    Will there be goals to take out NPCs, for example making them leave the room, new ones coming in, etc. or will it be an enclosed system with ongoing social interaction between the participants?

    • checker says:

      I’m currently thinking people will come and go from the party, but it’s going to be a set of characters that have ongoing social interactions, so it will feel familiar. Like, “oh, the Texas Oil Man just arrived, I wonder if he’ll go hit on the Ingenue right now” kind of thing, or “the Ambassador is going to arrive in a minute, I’d better get near the door to bug her”. Etc. This all needs playtesting though, not to mention implementing. :)

      As for pre-purchases, I hadn’t thought about it. I think it needs to be farther along, but maybe later.

    • UsF says:

      Would it be possible to also play a character that arrives at the party? Would the spy win and be scored, when he successfully leaves the party, too?

      Also, I read about your experiment with unlimited bullets. Please, include such things, I like sandbox style experiments. I suppose NPCs react to the snipers action (firing) too, else it would be kind of pointless?

      Yes, please consider pre-purchases. I like buying games, playing alphas and some day hearing “it is done”, then downloading the full game. It eases the waiting time a lot to play it early and maybe help shape the game.

    • checker says:

      I’ll definitely have all sorts of wacky modes at ship if I can, I’m just trying to concentrate on the core stuff that’s different right now. And yeah, people would have to be screaming and running around, or it’s kind of missing the point. Although the behavior at that point is no longer “subtle”. :)

    • jordy says:

      You could have a deaf and blind party-goer, altho I wouldn’t know what he would be doing there, it would be kind of a cool picture if someone get’s shot right before his nose and he just stands there while everyone is running in panick ^^.

  11. jordy says:

    Pre-purchase,I would be definitely in, I bought Frozen Synapse as well “the premium” edition which was basically a little extra to support there efforts as indie-developers, curious how much extra money they got with that, but I’m sure what I’ve heard from them they’re doing pretty well. Altho I think the expect to be finished this fall/winter.

    But perhaps you could also consider selling your prototype for sale for play-testing purposes? Digitalmindsoft
    had there beta for “men of war: assault squad”, a rts, on sale for 30 euro, which means you still had to buy the game full-priced.
    However, for this game, perhaps you could have something like a “premium payed beta” where people purchase a early prototype to playtest?

  12. Ron says:

    I was playing AC:B beta last night, and it really had several things that kind of struck me.

    Assassins Creed: Brotherhood is played with only regard to the final scoreboard. It was funny to see people throw out all strategy once the counter got beneath 1 minute. Everyone would just run straight at their mark without regard to subtlety.

    Another thing that struck me as interesting was the lack of finality in the deaths. (This may change with the addition of more modes) Basically, death was an annoyance. It wasn’t a harsh punishment besides that you had ~5 second respawn. Then you were almost immediately chasing down your new target.

    In regards to subtlety, there were those who disregarded it entirely, and those who used it occasionally. Do to the lack of finality with deaths, if anyone did attempt to hide in plain sight, they only did so temporarily. There is a slight reward given if your pursuer accidentally chooses an innocent who looks like you instead of you, but it is minimal. (1/8 the reward of some kills).

    There were some interesting mechanics with hiding in plain sight. To start the game, you start the same way as SpyParty. The computer is autonomously moving your character, and you take over when you are ready. However, there is very little reason to do so, as people can pursue you even in this mode. In the middle of the match you can walk for a couple seconds with a group of NPCs, and the computer will take over once again and merge your actions with the group. The strategy for this was to find a group with a NPC that shared your appearance in order to lure your pursuer into killing an innocent. One more thing was something I never pulled of successfully. There were carts of hay scattered across the map, and you could hide inside them without being visible to anyone at all. (Your pursuer’s radar is still functional, however) Then you have to hope that your target passes the hay you are hiding in.

    The radar, however, was necessary for AC:B. With the size of the map, and different Z levels, you needed it to narrow down your suspect. I however, wish that the point at which the radar fills (when in proximity) would be further away. That would provide a greater challenge, because right now the radar fills when the character is within about 10-20 paces from their target.

    My final thought is that if Assassins Creed: Brotherhood adds a mode in which you have only stock, that would greatly increase the usage of subtlety in gameplay.

    • checker says:

      Cool, thanks for the report, that’s really useful!  What do you mean “have only stock”?

    • Ron says:

      Sorry, going back to my fighting game days. I also meant “only one stock”, eg: one life.

    • Ron says:

      I almost wish there was an edit post button, to correct some of my ambiguous statements, but sadly I cannot.

    • Ron says:

      One more thing. If you want me to, I can record some gameplay tonight.

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