How I Celebrated the IGF Nomination

You may have heard SpyParty was nominated for the Seumas McNally 1 Grand Prize at the 2011 Independent Games Festival.  This is really exciting, even though I probably have no chance of winning!  Still, I celebrated in the best way possible:  I worked on the game.

The feature I’m working on right now I call “Action Testing”, which is a pretty lame name, but you have to name things when you’re writing code, so there you go…I’ll figure out a sexier name later.

The idea behind Action Testing is to fix what  I consider a flaw in the current game.  As I’ve said many times, I’m trying to take the core SpyParty game design as deep as I can on the player-skill axis, to the point where a more experienced player will basically always beat a less experienced player.  Once I’ve got the player-skill design “turned to 11”, I can ease new players into the game with matchmaking and an advanced handicapping system2.

The flaw in the current game is if a merely good Sniper is playing an elite Spy, the Spy player can’t accomplish any missions if the Sniper is looking directly at the Spy, even though he or she is much more skilled.  The Spy will still win most of the time, because the merely good Sniper won’t be able to tell which partygoer to watch if the Spy is good enough, but I still consider this a flaw because an elite Spy should be able to perform missions right in front of the less skilled Sniper due to the skill differential.

So, I’ve decided to try adding a tiny optional player-skill challenge to accomplishing missions.  There are many examples in games of the kind of small scale player-skill challenges I’m talking about, with driving and putting in Golf games being a historically important example.  However, for me, the most inspirational challenge of this sort in modern day games is Active Reload from Epic‘s Gears of War, so to start out I’ve basically made a modified clone of it and we’ll see how that goes in playtesting.

Here’s how it works in Gears:

When you run out ammo, you can press the reload button once and you’ll do a normal reload animation.  However, if you look closely in the upper right hand side of the screen, you’ll see a display like the above.  The bright vertical bar travels across the Active Reload bar, and if you push the reload button again on the “awesome” zone you’ll get a much faster reload (and you get a temporary bonus on the weapon), if you hit the “normal” area, you get a slightly faster reload, but close to the duration you’d get if you’d just ignored the challenge, and if you hit the “total failure” section you are penalized with a long and slow gun jam.  The exact timings and details are here.

The thing I like about this is that it’s an “opt-in” risk/reward challenge for the player.  The player can decide whether it’s worth the risk for the extra bonus, and if they opt-in and screw it up, the credit (read: blame) assignment is clear.

However, in practice, because the Gears design has a fixed geometry and timing, experienced players simply learn the timing and nail the “awesome” zone every time.  This is probably good for an FPS, where you just get a little extra depth by having the rhythm challenge, but I didn’t want my version of it to be memorizable in that way.  Instead, I wanted the Spy player to have to pay attention to the skill aspect of the test and adapt to it each time.  The Spy should really have to think about whether it is worth the risk of both potentially screwing up the test, and of having to pay attention to the test when the Sniper was aiming right at him or her.  So, I randomize both the position of the “normal” zone in the overall bar, and the position of the “awesome” zone in the normal zone.  I have the cursor ramp up in speed as it goes along to compensate for the fact that you have more visual time if the zones get placed farther to the right.  So, if the zones are to the left, the cursor is moving slower, but you have less time to process the situation and react, but if the zones are to the right, you have more time to figure out what you’re doing, but the cursor is moving faster.

The current tuning feels pretty good.  The cursor takes 1.4 seconds to traverse the whole bar, and it’s going twice as fast on the right as the left.  I find it really hard to not push the button once I’ve decided to go for it, even if I can see the cursor is past the “normal” zone…there’s some interesting psychology going on there.  I haven’t playtested it in the game yet, though, so we’ll see how it goes.

In SpyParty, each Spy action with have the Action Test enabled, and the results of hitting “awesome”, “normal”, and “total failure” will be different for every action.  Here’s an example video of the three results for hiding the microfilm in the book:

The one on the left is the “awesome” result, and you can see it’s fast and subtle.  The middle is the “normal” result, and is basically the animation that’s currently in the game.  The one of the right is the “total failure” result.  I kinda like how he takes the wrong thing out of his pocket at first…you can think of the Action Test as a way of choosing whether you’re Austin Powers or James Bond!

The different expressions of skill won’t always be represented with animations.  For the Check Watch action that allows the Spy to add time to the game, the “awesome” result actually dilates time on the Sniper’s machine, so the countdown clock simply slows down to add the time, instead of adding it in a single 30 second chunk like the “normal” result.  An astute Sniper can still tell time has slowed down, but it requires more attention than just noticing the clock go backwards.  The “total failure” result sounds the beep tone when the time is added.  Normally the clock only beeps on the minute, so if you are the Sniper and you hear the beep and look up and the clock isn’t near a minute breaker, you know somebody screwed up.

The different results are going to be totally custom for each action, which means they’re going to need a lot of playtesting to balance out right.

Oh, and speaking of playtesting, since SpyParty is an IGF nominee, that means GDC 2011 will be the next (pseudo-)public playtest!

  1. I actually knew Seumas back in the day, and I’m really glad the IGF has kept his name on the Grand Prize.  More about Seumas is available here. []
  2. The board game Go is a ultimate example of this.  Very different skill level players can both have a good game with each other because of Go’s beautiful handicapping design. []


  1. jordy says:

    Thanks for the update. I like the idea of a “success-rating” on actions, it’ll probably make the game more interactive.
    However, I’m still not sold on the action-reload theme, but that’s probably partly because I detest games where I have to be too fast. I like the trade-off it entails in the form of, should I risk it or not, but 2 questions about that:

    1. When does this trade-off really come to mind?
    2. Won’t good players just nail awesome result 90% of the time, and thus choose to do so alaways?

    I can see how it will be nerve wrecking in the beginning, but perhaps overtime people become desensitized for this action.

    One other thing that comes to mind in order to influence the result of your action is things you did before that. Like if a girl flirted with you, you’re head isn’t straight and you will perform an action shortly there after less well (the sniper could perhaps sent a girl at someone), or if you took too many drinks you’re hands are shaky and you perform an action less well. Staring out the window could calm you down, resulting in an action performed better, etc. This should in theory help the sniper, if he suspects someone and he sees that person do a calming action and shortly thereafter walk to an objective he can be more suspicious.

    Or to prevent a sniper from camping out certain objectives, make the spy able to influence the scene, thus changing objects or were or what persons do (I think you already mentioned this before).

    Well, in short, I really like the idea of a success-rating for actions, since it gives you more to do, but I also still have doubts about the action-reload, but like mentioned before, I don’t know really what I’m talking about.

    Congratulations for being nominated and I’m sure the IGF judges will keep an open mind!

    • checker says:

      Thanks!  I have reservations about it too, but I’m going to try it out.  I think I’m going to tune it so that it’s hard to get 90% of the time unless you’re really good at twitch things, in which case, that’s fine, there’s a physical aspect to being a Spy as well and it’s okay for that to be there.  For the large midrange of play, I’m assuming the higher level strategic decisions will dwarf the qualitative aspect of this, but at the very elite level of play, I’m okay with a Spy also needing to practice (and there will be practice modes) at the physical aspects as well.  It’s like my arguments for direct control of the Spy being better than click-to-move…a little bit of dexterity is okay and deepens the interaction.  I’m going to have things like “distractions”, so a Spy that wants to plan really well won’t need to risk the brute force skill challenge, because they’ll have the double agent spill a drink on the ambassador right when they swap the statue.  :)

    • jordy says:

      Awesome! That really puts my mind to rest, I can now fit this puzzle piece better into the collage of information I’ve so far read and remembered about this game.

  2. Softy says:

    You should never start an article bringing yourself down.

    You said: ‘I probably have no chance of winning!’ and ‘The feature I’m working on right now I call “Action Testing”, which is a pretty lame name’

    You are working and and making a name out there, be proud of what you do, be confident.
    By best friendly advice to you : )


    • checker says:

      Haha, thanks! Don’t worry, I think SpyParty is the coolest thing since The Fonz, but I do think Minecraft will win (not that I’d complain if I won, obviously!), and Action Testing is a pretty boring name. ;)

  3. Bjartr says:

    What about something like a wario ware style minigame?

    e.g. the UI somehow presents the book and the microfilm to the spy player has to actually move it himself with click/drag? Perhaps rather than the ‘awesome’ result doesn’t automatically mean better than normal but instead presents the minigame opportunity to allow the player to do better (or worse) based on their skill. 

    Another possibility for that would be to present the spy with a manipulable ‘puppet’ of their character, allowing them to control their movements more precisely while hitting e.g. the hotspots for pocket and book with their character’s hand.

    • checker says:

      If the Active Reload clone doesn’t work out, I’ll probably try a 1D balancing type challenge like in Tony Hawk, or a 2D one like in Tiger Woods, but I considered a custom challenge for each mission like WW, and I’m worried about a) being able to design enough different ones that don’t feel cheesy, and b) the Spy being able to learn them all and get good at them without them dominating the game design cognitively for the Spy. One interesting thing about the WW version would be that a Spy could be good at one mission and suck at another, but I think I need to start simple on this feature first to see how it interacts with the others.

    • alex says:

      I think the timing bar is a good way to start off and test the concept, but I really like the idea of more unique mini games for each action that relate more to those actions. That way it seems less orthogonal to the rest of the game play? I really like that some spies could be very good at some actions but need to go with the default animation for others that they were not good at. Some quick ideas:

      Bug the ambassador: Your analog stick controls a cursor that is your bug and it must be swiped onto a vertical surface representing the ambassador’s jacket. The optimal move would just barely touch the surface and do so quickly. Intersecting with the surface too much looks clumsy, moving too slowly makes the animation take more time.

      Swap the statues: A square has a randomly placed circle of relative radius 1.2. Each analog stick controls separate circles of relative radius 1.0. You must put smaller circles inside the larger one. Doing so faster speeds up the animation, and it is more subtle based on how simultaneously the two circles are put inside the larger one.

      Checking your watch: This could still be a timing puzzle (I’m not _that_ creative I guess). But make it about getting a clock hand inside a certain arc?

      Saying Banana Bread: Choose a random anagram for Banana Bread from a list of 4 choices where the other 3 are false anagrams. I suppose doing this quickly would make it come out more quietly? The idea being that it was inserted into the conversation more subtly?

      Transfer the microfilm: I don’t have anything for this. I’d say that something orthogonal to the other minigames would be good. That is, being good a timing is quite separate from being good at subtle analog stick movements or parsing anagrams. Perhaps my ambassador bugging and statue transfer are too close already …

  4. caedisius says:

    Good idea on the timing component, if you were interested in investigating it a little further there’s an iphone dungeon crawler game based entirely on variations of that mechanism called Deep Deep Dungeon. Best of luck, really looking forward to this game coming out already!

    • checker says:

      Thanks!  Yeah, Cliff mentioned Deep Dungeon when I was talking to him about the Gears design, but I haven’t checked it out.  I’ll check out some videos.  Also, Alien Swarm on Steam uses Active Reload as well.  Any other examples?

      Golf games and skateboarding games use a lot of small analog mechanics like this as well, as I say above.

      Edit:  Here’s a video of Deep Deep Dungeon that shows the mechanic:  It’s way faster and more linear than I’m making mine, but it’s interesting to see other examples in the wild.

  5. a says:

    hey, Hecker! is down! do you know whats going on? you should probably tell jon to fix it. congratulations on the ( Seumas McNally Grand Prize ) award, shure you’ll win… i don’t play gun games so i don’t know about that feature, or handycap thing… good luck with the game… it’s gona be mad cool, really interested…. do you know when The Witness is back up?

  6. Greeble says:

    You might want to check out the profession minigames in Fable II (maybe others? that’s the only one I’ve played). Each profession has it’s own unique minigame similar to that of the Gears reload. They also do a pretty good job of making any give minigame unpredictable.

  7. Jeff Alexander says:

    I’m curious about your choice to balance the core game so the better player is guaranteed to win, then add metagame factors that soften that extreme and that prevent mismatched players from facing each other in the first place. That’s a lot of additional work to accomplish a similar result to simply not making more skill an inherent autowin. Could you share some of your thoughts?

    • checker says:

      The core of the game is going to be 100% player skill (well, to the extent of my abilities to make it so :); that’s the foundation of the whole shebang.  However, if you have a 100% player skill game, it can be a really harsh environment for new players, and for players who are not already elite.  That’s where the handicapping and matchmaking and mentoring designs come in.  But, adding those to an existing player skill game to soften the experience is definitely not the same as having a game that’s softer and not 100% player skill at the core.  You have to have that pure core if you want the game to be playable in a deep way. Eventually, for elite players, you strip away all the cushions and you get the pure thing, and more importantly, even when you’re playing with the cushions on, fairly early on you can feel the depth in the core of the game, even if you’re not playing at that level yet.  I suck at Go, but when playing I can kind of peek over the precipice into the bottomless pit, and that makes it a much better game even at my crap skill level.  Hope that makes more sense.  Maybe I should do a blog post about this?

    • Jeff Alexander says:

      No, that explains it all clearly, though if you want to write about what sort of games benefit from being pure skill and what (if any) are best with some chance, I certainly won’t stop you.

  8. Danny says:


  9. UglyDuck says:

    Bad idea. A repeated action with a simple, unrealistic act. Might work well in a game with ultimately more complex mechanics, such as Gears where the reloading is a chore made interesting with strategic reward if you succeed. As a central focus of gameplay though, it’s a bad idea.

    Skill needs to be layered and cumulative, like climbing a mountain with an increasingly steeper incline, not jumping a hurdle every 30 seconds, almost as if you need a reminder that you’re supposed to be interacting with it. The Ship is a great example of this; where your central mechanics are Sim-style character needs that boil down to just doing something every so often with no skill or meaning.

    You’re on the right path, and the philosophy is unquestionably solid, but you’re introducing too much interpolation into the controls, which is a very easy way to reduce skill and break immersion. A better solution would be to create geometry and situations that hint towards the player’s actions. For instance, the player may stand in doorways or behind objects to partially obscure what he is doing – analogue things that can result in hundreds of natural permutations when combined with other mechanics.

    Spy Party is probably one of my most anticipated games, I’d hate to think you are willing to regress to something as clumsy and ancient as glorified QTEs to get the job done.

    Also, this game is very high consequence. A simple, identifiable animation is going to make it grossly obvious who the spy is, no matter how fast the action is performed – maybe not at first but with experience, and by then the mechanics are set.

    • checker says:

      Wait a sec, this is definitely not the “central focus of gameplay” by any stretch!  The central focus is deception, perception, and all the other stuff I talk about ad nauseum in interviews.  This is a small little mechanic to add a little bit of depth in a place where I want to increase the player skill gap between normal and elite players.  If it sucks, I’ll take it back out, but my guess is it won’t.  We’ll see in playtests!

      As for your last point, the smaller the tell, the closer the Sniper has to be paying attention.  For example, the hiding the microfilm animation originally looked like something halfway in between the left and middle ones in the video above, but playtests revealed I had to make it more obvious to give the Sniper a better chance of catching it.  So, making the “awesome” result like the left animation is definitely going to make it harder for the Sniper, even at elite levels (all my main testers are 10 hour veterans at this point, since that’s who I’m tuning the game for right now).

    • UglyDuck says:

      Ten hours is a very tame amount of time. It sounds good, but people who have ten hours invested in, say, L4D for instance, are often so green you can see them absorbing the skill of people around them. And of course, there are players in that game who have clocked thousands of hours. People are very good at pattern recognition and it won’t be long before snipers are attuned to those fine movements.

      When I say central focus, I mean it’s a direct part of whether you succeed or fail. If you fail to reload in Gears, it means you have to wait a couple of seconds before firing; it’s a cosmetic punishment that has very little strategic benefit for your opponent. Succeeding gives you a small strategic reward in the form of better firepower, but it’s mostly a way of giving the player something to do and be rewarded with in the fast, intense pace of that kind of gameplay.

      But my main worry is that this feels like a game device; giving the player an arbitrary set of restraints to convey some sense of skill. That’s not something you’ll really pick up in playtesting. Example; you can’t convey complex human gestures through digital interaction, which means you can’t measure someone’s skill at that gesture. So at some point, you have to create another device to interpret what the players skill would be. And little else breaks immersion faster than having an instruction pop up onto the screen like its printed on your eyeballs.

      Here’s an idea with the same basic effect. First, make the action a button hold, giving them the freedom to cancel the action at any time simply by lifting. Second, allow the player to look around from the first-person around while performing an action. If they look at what they’re doing, they do it faster, but having their head down makes the animation more pronounced, and they may need to look around to assess any changes in the environment. Everything the player does at that point can change the animation, moving around, bumping into people, crouching to tie a shoelace, etc, and all of those things need to be fluidly strung together to look like an npc. That’s the skill in the game.

    • checker says:

      Oh, I didn’t mean “10 hours” was the upper limit, just that it’s the current upper limit in terms of my elite playtesters (which, I have to say, is pretty reassuring that people are still having a good time after that amount of play this early).  I played about 100 hours of L4D, and was still learning stuff, so I totally agree, any competitive player skill game needs to still be going at even hundreds of hours, no question.  Remember, Counter-Strike is a huge influence on the design.

      I know what you’re saying about “a game device”, but these kinds of things become transparent really quickly, as long as they’re tight and tuned well.  I mean, up-up-left-kick-kick-punch is just a device as well, yet once you’ve played it becomes a fighting move in your head.  There’s actually a risk of making things not abstract enough, because the more abstract the thing is, the easier it just becomes a simple symbol for the player of the in-world action.

      I actually tried a variant of this with a button-hold mechanic, but it feels pretty bad kinesthetically.  I like the idea of focusing on the task versus situational awareness, but as we’re talking about below, time is a hard one to use for differentiation in this case.  I’ll think about that more.

      Edit:  I didn’t reply to the “central focus” part.  There will always be some “hard tells” in the game, where if they’re spotted, you’re toast, so a big chunk of the game is making sure they’re not spotted.  You’re right that at a certain skill level (not even that high) any animation difference will be spottable, but that’s kind of the point of the hard tells.  However, the trick is that rarely can the Sniper give his or her complete attention to a single person, and playtests have shown that making the hard tells more subtle increases the amount of attention the Sniper has to devote to see them.

    • UglyDuck says:

      Up-down-jump-hug-pay-taxes-die was great back in the day when we had strict processing limitations and no idea what we were doing artistically, but we have the complexity to do more than that now. It even works in a fighting game because it exists within a consistent set of mechanics. The directional pad controls your intent to move, and the buttons convey your intent to punch or kick. Beyond that, the moves flow from one to the next. At which point, they are games about the skill of pressing buttons quickly. Street Fighter or Counter Strike or Starcraft – all competative games – are all consistent in their contexts.

      My point is that the transparency should be there from the beginning. Otherwise, you become very dependant on faux information instead of using real, natural information and natural skill. Which is in fact the best way to summarise my point – the skills should feel natural. I don’t think we’re ever going to get 100% of the way there, but you can at least work within your limitations. Any literal way to translate your mechanics (grabbing an item in Penumbra or Amnesia and physically moving it around with the mouse) instead of going through a predefined gameplay bottleneck (interact with crate, move with directional buttons) is going to place the emphasis on real strategy and skill.

      I’m sure this idea will work to do the job you want it to do, but I’d encourage you to come up with one that is consistently based around in-game information and actions. I will stop writing now because I could talk about this all day. I’ve already deleted about three paragraphs of stuff out of respect for your time.

    • checker says:

      I actually don’t think the button wackiness in fighting games is an artifact of history.  I think abstract interfaces like that serve a real and deep purpose in interactivity, and the way they become transparent to the player is crucial to the way the form works, in some sense. There is this abstraction gap between the player and the game (even with something trying to narrow it like Kinect), and understanding and respecting that gap is a big part of the job.  I think games like Trespasser fall down partly because they decided to pretend the gap wasn’t there, whereas good fighting games know the best way through is to make a very crisp and clear abstraction that can be learned, and that then becomes transparent to the player after a little bit of practice.  The human brain is great at creating shortcuts/macros/symbols for these kinds of things, so the goal should be to help this process, not try to confuse it. Who knows how this will change when we eventually get a usb port in our brain, but Frank Lantz talks about the “immersive fallacy”, and I think that’s in play with control schemes as well.

      Thanks for the discussion, I really appreciate it!  Thinking about this stuff is a part of the job, so it’s worth my time.  :)

    • UglyDuck says:

      I spent an hour or so thinking about it and I worked out what was bothering me. An ideal (and admittedly reductive) videogame scenario is a world that the player interacts with through a set of verbs. In Counter-Strike for example, you crouch, you aim, you shoot and so on. In the fighting game, you kick, you punch and you jump. You combine those together to create large, layered maps of different interactions, all through those verbs. By giving the player a mini-game, you’re not measuring their understanding of the verbs, or how those verbs work and interact within the world, you’re measuring their ability to press buttons. I said in my previous comment that Fighters are about learning how to press buttons, but I misunderstood why that was significant. Fighting games used to do that because artists could only draw so many frames for their sprites – they couldn’t draw animations for every possible combination of button presses. The reason the mechanic is archaic is because it pre-defines what those strings of verbs do, it doesn’t mesh them together to create logical, procedural interpretations of the players intent. I haven’t played them, but I understand that Overgrowth and Godhand both do this.

      I didn’t mean that fighting games are archaic. Not at first, anyway. And I still don’t. I was praising them for being consistent; they (mostly) made the best use of their limitations by giving the player a simple set of verbs, allowing them to explore and understand the complexity of those verbs over time. That’s a good thing mechanically. Unlike the Gears reload system which flat out says “look, just press the button when the white thing gets here and stop complaining about immersion.” But even that has some parody of the real action, because pressing the button resembles the moment of loading a magazine into gun. It’s still represents a verb of some kind. In your example, it doesn’t represent any kind of in-game verb, except “paying attention”, which is a verb the PLAYER should be doing in the real world. That’s a universal language for videogames, it doesn’t need to go through an interpretor. And if it does, “paying attention” isn’t a skill measured by timing anyway.

      So there it is. After all that, I’ve learned something about myself; I hate all videogames because VERBS.

      As a side note, not all games have to do this; it entirely depends on the structure of the world and whether or not its trying to take itself seriously. Dead Rising is a terrible example of a game that thinks it has to take itself seriously when all it has to do is not forget its lines and wet itself on stage. I wouldn’t expect something like Earth Defence Force or Plants Versus Zombies to do that because being lovably stupid.

    • jordy says:

      I understand somewhat of what you’re saying, and I guess I kinda agree, not sure though.

    • checker says:

      But in fighting games, the combination of button presses is a shorthand for a single action, it’s not actually a logical combination or layering of submoves that then “performs” the complex move, you just get it when you do the right series of presses. And, it turns out that’s actually _better_ and more immersive than trying to physically puppeteer the character, because it plays to the strengths of the way your brain and fingers work. Look at the fighting games that are used for real long term competitive play, and they’re very abstracted in the controls as far as I can tell (I’m no fighting game expert).  

      In the case of the action test, you are already hitting a single button to say “hide the microfilm in the book”, so there’s already a huge layer of symbolism and abstraction going on that has of course become transparent, since that’s how video games work. The addition of the test just means you can hit that same button again immediately to change how your character performs the action.

      I also don’t buy that pushing a button is at all “closer” to reloading a gun than it is to grabbing the ambassador’s butt.  :)

      At this point, though, I think you just need to playtest it yourself to see how it feels to you!  GDC, and maybe PAX East coming up!

    • jordy says:

      I agree with the play-testing part.. too bad I won’t make the 2 mentioned events.

    • UglyDuck says:

      No chance at playtesting it. If I could, I would. But unless you do a London event or a public beta, I’ll have to be a good boy and wait.

      Personally, I hate fighting games because of their belligerent inaccessibility. Some people like that, although I’d argue it’s mostly because they spent their childhoods playing belligerently inaccessible games. They had the time to practice them over and over and experience the payoff for doing so. I mean, you say “it plays to the strengths of the way your brain and fingers work,” but that’s the way OUR brains work because that’s the legacy that competitive games have created. It’s not a natural system, its a forced one. Even so, I think I deleted the bit where I said “fighting games were good that way” in the last comment so I’m saying it now; fighting games were good that way. Mostly. It’s fast, and as a result, readability needs to be clear, which is why digital Win\Fail states work. The mechanics were very simple; press buttons, attack your opponent, win. One vs one, no complications. Chess for people who press buttons quickly. And who have the time to learn how to play. Having difficult-to-master combos works well in that situation because of its purity, because that’s ALL you’re doing for the entire game.


      It’s a bad idea to include a QTE without it being a core part of gameplay because you sacrifice consistency and intelligent design for cheap complexity and arbitrary challenge.

      This is actually the last thing I’ll say about it this time for reals. Just say something stupid so I don’t feel tempted to respond like “WHO WOULD WIN IN A FIGHT BETWEEN A BEAR AND A SLIGHTLY BIGGER BEAR WITH A WASTING ILLNESS OMG.”

    • checker says:

      Okay, I will only say that I think accessibility is orthogonal to this topic in a lot of ways. You can teach people anything, as long as it’s not a moving target. Hopefully that won’t bait you to reply again!

      PS.  The bear would win.
      PPS.  I was in Nottingham in October playtesting!

    • jordy says:

      I think the other bear would win.

  10. Russacky says:

    I was thinking that the animation could be something akin to the bomb fuse off of the mission impossible movies.

  11. Coderro says:

    Why not let the spy choose between a fast but obvious animation and a slow but subtle one? If he can tell where the sniper’s attention is, he’ll be able to do things in faster time than normal, or pull off a mission despite the sniper looking nearby.

    • checker says:

      That’s an interesting idea.  Time isn’t that critical in the small right now, though, so it’d be hard to make the “slow” cost a lot. There was a related suggestion by a colleague about letting the Spy spend time as a resource, which is also interesting to consider.

      Jason Rohrer had another interesting idea tonight, which was to have “crutches/weaknesses”, so a Spy might have to take a drag on a cigarette first to calm his nerves to get the subtle animation, or take a drink, or whatever.  I like that these then become another kind of tell.

    • Coderro says:

      It doesn’t have to be about making good use of your time; a choice between different animation speeds could just be about which you think the sniper is least likely to notice. I’m guessing that even a couple seconds longer of an animation would mean more time in which he could happen to glance your way. So you could go fast just because you’re confident he’s looking somewhere else and feel that cutting a second off reduces the risk of him seeing you, or slow because you know he’s looking near you already but you have good occlusion or otherwise think he’ll miss a subtle animation despite having more time to see it.

    • checker says:

      Yeah, I’m just saying I think coupling obvious+short and subtle+long is potentially problematic, because of the way attention works in the game.  In other words, obvious & long are kind of on the same axis, and short & subtle are on the other axis (not exactly, but close), and so by cross coupling like that, you end up with similar difficulty to spot.  This is a tuning thing, clearly, and it might change at a depth I haven’t reached yet, in which case it’ll be good to have both axes to work with.  Before the Action Test feature, I tuned the tells to be noticeable but you had to be paying at least some attention, by using both obviousness and duration.  Now, for the initial stab at providing some more depth there, I’m just making an easier and a harder one to spot, so the harder one is both shorter and more subtle.  I’m going to see how that plays out first.  

    • Ashton Raze says:

      I love Rohrer’s idea there. You could add to the risk/reward of hitting ‘Awesome’ by allowing the Spy’s behaviour/habits to influence how wide the ‘awesome’ target was, maybe. So the more a Spy preps himself, the better chance he has of hitting ‘Awesome’. But if the preps were things like smoking, drinking etc he’d have to do them in quick succession, something other partygoers wouldn’t be doing, so there’d be an additional risk of being spotted by doing something the others WERE doing, but doing it differently (assuming the other partygoers did smoke, drink etc, just not in the same way the ‘crutch’ animation showed). That way would also address concerns about reaction-based actions, by giving players another option to achieve the same results, one with an equal, yet different risk. 

    • checker says:

      Hah, yeah, that’s exactly the note I made about it!  I think it would be a perfect way of allowing players to tune the action test themselves by dilating the region sizes!  Basically, you’d take a drag, and then a timer would start counting down (maybe under the hood), and it would make the regions 2x as big, and they’d slowly shrink back down with the timer.

  12. ♣TadMod♣ says:

    I’m a long time lurker, no-time poster, but I thought it was time to congratulate you on being awesome!

    So, here goes:
    Congratulations! You’re Awesome!

    Now that we’ve got that out of the way; I think this is a really cool idea, especially since it can be scaled with difficulty (if you’re planning on having such a thing in the game).

    One last thing, out of curiosity; Do you plan on searching for a 3d artist sometime soon, considering the gameplay is becoming very close to properly playable? If so, don’t hesitate to contact me to see my portfolio /shameless plug


    • checker says:

      Thanks!  I’m interested to see how it works out.  I’m probably going to playtest it tomorrow!

      As for 3D artists, probably after GDC I’ll start making a plan for art.  Feel free to mail me a link!

    • ♣TadMod♣ says:

      Sorry for the sluggishly late reply (for I know it’s certainly going to be the highlight of your day! lol, joking!).

      Can I be bold enough to beg of you some more video uploads? I (and as I’m sure many of the other fine folks who visit this blog) would love to see this, along with many other features in-game. If it’s too much, don’t think about it, if it isn’t, consider this my special request :D

      As to a link, I’m hopelessly innefficient at finding email addresses, and yours has eluded me in similar fashion, so, in spite of how embarrassing a portfolio it is; I present my work:
      In regards to that link, CGSociety would only allow me to upload 5 images, so I picked 4 recent ones and one old one. Forgive the one titled “Quick Female face”, because it, as it says in the description, was literally tossed together in 3 days.


    • checker says:

      Yeah, I’m going to be putting more videos up.  They’re just a pain to make, compared to a static image.  :)

      Thanks for the link, I’ll check it out.

    • ♣TadMod♣ says:

      Hey Chris,

      I was just wondering whether there is any way by which I can only get email messages for replies to my comments?
      Right now I get an email per comment made on the article, regardless of its place in the article (i.e. as a reply to my own).
      If not, it’s okay, I just wanted to slow the amount of emails coming to my address.

      Also, did you check out the link? If you don’t want me as an artist, I’m fine with it and will continue supporting spy party either way. Don’t worry about hurting my feelings. I’m a big boy :)


    • checker says:

      I don’t see any way to set that with the plugin I’m using (“Subscribe to Comments”), sorry!

      I haven’t checked out the portfolio yet, I’m heads down until GDC!  Ping me again then (my email is on the About page on my personal site).

  13. jordy says:

    More videos!! xD. How did playtesting go?

  14. zeroZshadow says:

    Hmm not sure about this idea. I mean so far SpyParty seemed more of a brain game.
    You have to think you plan out well as a spy, making sure the spy has something else to look at when you do your thing.
    And for the Sniper, having to filter out all the unneeded information you see and focus mainly on the actions that define a spy.

    So why add a mini game that requires reflexes ?
    For me it feels like it somehow brakes the gameplay.
    Would it be better to have somewhat of a preperation action you can take anywhere for any of the actions.
    If prepared, the action you will do be faster. However this preperation can offcourse be seen by the sniper

    In case of the book, having the spy check his pocket would be a perfect action to shorten the action of book action itself.

    But thats just my view on it.

    Good luck with IGF !

    • checker says:

      The thing to remember is there are a lot of places in the game even now that require physical skill of different varieties, just due to the fact that it’s a 3D world with things unfolding in realtime.  So, moving the Spy convincingly, high/lowlighting suspects and getting around to look at the statues at the beginning so you know when they’ve changed as the Sniper, etc.  SpyParty is definitely not a turn based puzzle game, in that sense.  I’d like to think the mental and physical skill aspects combine to form a deeper game.  As I’ve said before, I think that’s true for direct control of the Spy, for example.  The goal for this mechanic was to add a small thing that fits in nicely with these other physical skill challenges and fixes the “flaw” I mention in the post, but that doesn’t swamp the higher level “brain game” stuff you mention that is working so well and that the game is primarily about.  You can play with varying the amount of sugar in a lasagna recipe without immediately turning it into a desert.  :)  The playtest last night was encouraging, and I’ll post more about it in a couple days.

    • zeroZshadow says:

      It was just how i saw the game, i havn’t been to any of the playtesting sessions sadly (go visit the netherlands…)
      And please, don’t put suger in lasagna ;)

    • checker says:

      Get some game conference in the Netherlands to fly me over and I’ll do it!  I was just pointing out that there are lots of layers to the game, and tuning one doesn’t necessarily mean it swamps the others.  The layers are part of what makes it interesting.

      And, speaking of layers and lasagna, I can pretty much guarantee you have never had a great tomato sauce that didn’t have a sugar of some sort in it.  :)

    • zeroZshadow says:

      Well, we are always looking for guest lecturers at IGAD (International Game Architecture and Design – NHTV Breda)
      I has been a while since we had a foreign guest lecturer. And if you are at the gamescon in Keulen this year, i’ll be sure to be there !

      Well, atleast now i know what my dinner will be tomorrow ^^ thanks ! (last offtopic post, i swear)

  15. JoeBirdwell says:

    Reading about your spy skill problem, I wonder if putting in some external factor on the sniper might help with that. Something that might go w/ the theme would be their needing to duck out of site if they hear security making their rounds in whatever building they are set up in. That would keep them from being able to keep their eyes on the spy at all times.

    • checker says:

      That’s an interesting idea.  One thing I want to avoid is the Sniper having to “watch his back”.  In games of Assassin, like The Ship and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, you can’t ever really relax into the perception role, so I want to make sure that’s possible in SpyParty.

    • Ron says:

      That is something that I totally agree with. I just finished up AC:B, (getting every achievement), I you never really have a full observation mode. They came really close with the “Manhunt” mode. Within this mode, the game became asymmetrical, but never really gave the opportunity to just observe. On defense (where you couldn’t kill), you waited until your pursuers closed in on you, and then tried to guess who they were. This was extremely easy most of the time. Most times they approached you directly. You could argue that the killers had to observe your movements to figure out who you were, but often skills were just used to flush out who was really the human.

      I definitely agree that even though it is an interesting concept to have the sniper have to “watch his back”, it would actually hurt the gameplay.

    • jordy says:

      I think this will be more a case of skill level. At lower levels it may definitely hurt the gameplay, but once people become better this might just be a balancing act that is actually fun. It would help it if wasn’t the end of the game, but the sniper just gets a small penalty or something, then this could be part of the “interaction” between sniper and spy.

  16. Joey says:

    I don’t like how this distracts from gameplay by forcing the player to do something out of character – the player pressing the button which changes the animation in no way converts into an action that takes shorter or longer.
    What I mean to say is that if it was tied to the character’s action in a more direct way it would make more sense – for example, pressing the button when your hand is close enough to the ambassador in order to let go of the bug, otherwise you drop the bug and have to pick it up sometime later during the party. This is really the same exact thing as the system you have, except that it is closer tied to the animations.
    In fact, now that I think about it you could even keep the bar, just make sure that it makes sense why pressing the button at a specific time causes a worse action. That is actually the root of the problem I have with this feature. The player knows what’s happening but not really why.
    When I started writing this comment, I thought this was a terrible idea, however from writing, erasing, and rewriting this I realized that it is a promising feature as long as it is properly implemented in such a way that it doesn’t distract the player.

    • checker says:

      It doesn’t seem to distract from the playtests so far (did another one at Valve yesterday), so I’m still cautiously optimistic!

  17. Hamish Todd says:

    It’s fun when a game has a little bite of isolated personal improvement like this. God Hand’s gameplay is basically made out of a hundred of these working in tandem, which allows you to improve yourself really well, really quickly. I do worry though that, well, though they are *fun*, challenges like this aren’t particularly *interesting*. Your randomisation thing seems like a thoughtful advancement of the active reload idea, but only when we examine active reload in itself. Similar to some other commentators, it seems like this challenge is about reaction time, which strikes me as orthogonal to the themes of the gameplay being the subtle differences in human and mechanical behaviour.

    I can see how it has a positive impact on the rest of the game: An unskilled(not confident of ability to action test) spy will have to be thinking of ways to hide the animation, while a skilled one (able to action test) can be thinking about more complex, more interesting things. This is good, because the unskilled spy’s game is still interesting, and it lasts until they graduate, as it were. But if we are to see this distinction as being the purpose of action testing, then I would have thought it would be better to leave the randomisation thing out, so that the skilled player can be *absolutely certain* of their ability to action test?

    • checker says:

      I think “absolutely certain” is the wrong thing for the game, though, since a perfect reload is essentially no risk in Gears, it’s just a rote rhythm thing once you’re used to it.  The aesthetic I’m going for is still one of calculating ROI, and you can just bias it in your favor by being better at the action test.  You can always play it conservative and either opt-out by not hitting the button, or by hitting it so you err on the “inside” of the perfect bar, so you can get a normal as the worst case (assuming you don’t screw up), so this makes the risk calculation interesting.  In theory, at least.  Although, two playtests in, and it’s working perfectly, so I’m pretty happy so far!  :)

  18. Victor says:

    I might be late to this ‘party’ but I cannot understand peoples reservations to this. I think this is probably one of the fewest addition of adverbs to the gaming world. Just like the analog stick it is a measurement of intensity and could infer intent: “He reloaded ‘nervously’ while hiding behind cover”, “He walk ‘directly’ to the statue ignoring the waitress to his side”.

    This was one of the reason i questioned Sony’s removal of analog buttons from the Sixaxis controller as sports games used them to great effect and was more immersive that powering up digitally. I think the use of random placement would work great especially if you know a player is quite robotic in his precision just to make things fair to the beginner.

  19. Sven says:

    Have you thought about how to deal with or detect a hacked client that always produces an “awesome” result?

    • checker says:

      A bit. Cheating on the Sniper side is actually going to be a bigger problem. But, I’m not going to worry about it for the invite beta, and hope it’s not an issue. For release and the wider open beta, I’ll have to figure something out.

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