Simulating Seduction

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the newest SpyParty mission is Seduce Target.  I was having trouble figuring out the low level design for the Poison Drink mission, so I decided to put it on the back burner to simmer a bit more1, and do a couple different missions for the GDC IGF booth build.

One of my requirements for the missions I work on at this early stage is that they expand the envelope of mechanics explored by the existing missions.  I’m trying to get a feel for the different design variables in play with the missions, and how they impact the feel of the game and the difficulty for the Spy and Sniper.

There are limits to this methodology, but you can pseudo-analytically break down the design-space of the missions into the different characteristics each one uses.  So, for example, Swap Statue is a mission that deals with a “fixed set of known world locations with a hard tell”, Bug Ambassador deals with a “known character with a hard tell”, Contact Double Agent has an “unknown character from a small set of known characters with a soft tell”, etc.  It would be nice if you could just make a multi-dimensional grid of all these characteristics, look for an empty spot, and say, “ah, I need a mission that has an unknown character and a hard tell”, but sadly it doesn’t usually work out that clearly.  The dimensionality of the space is very high, the characteristics are not really as independent as you’d like, and it’s hard to visualize.  Plus, there’s just an aesthetic component to coming up with a game design that’s hard to systematize.  I often talk to other designers about this, and we all keep trying to decompose the design space like this, but a lot of times you just have to take a stab at it, perhaps driven by the fictional context, or just a gut feeling.

Seduce Target looks like it’s going to be an interesting mission.  Currently, the Spy chooses a Seduction Target that is unknown to the Sniper.  The Spy then needs to flirt with the Target four times on separate occasions to win the mission.  The first flirtation can be anywhere in the same conversation circle as the Target.  For the second flirtation, the Spy and the Target need to be on the same side of the conversation, and for the third and forth flirtations, the Spy needs to be right next to the Target.  The Spy must leave the conversation between each flirtation, so they need to be spaced out over the match.

The mission is hooked up to the Action Test as well.  The description above is what happens if you ignore the Action Test, or do an “okay” result.  If you hit the “good” result, it credits you for two flirtations, so you can skip ahead.  If you hit the “bad” result, you get no flirtation credit, and the Target immediately leaves the conversation.

There are no hard tells for this mission, the flirtation animation is just the normal conversation talk animation.  The only tell is the behavioral one of, “is that character constantly trying to get into a conversation with that other character?”

I’m going to playtest Seduce Target soon, so I’ll find out if it’s too hard for either player2 and it might change from the above description as I balance it.

When implementing all this, I was immediately struck by a few interesting thoughts:

  • The question of authorship and an authorial voice is a fascinating one when it comes to interactive art and entertainment, because unlike a song or a book, good games abdicate authorship and put the player up on stage.  However, the game systems with which the player interacts have a different kind of authorial voice, because the rules the designer sets up constrain the player’s actions and give him or her feedback in certain ways.  So, for example, in SimCity, the rules for how taxation affects happiness are part of the authorial voice of that game, and have indirect but powerful influence on the player’s experience.  You could make an argument that these rules are a concrete expression of Will Wright’s philosophy of how cities work (or should or shouldn’t work).  The implementation of the Seduce Target mission started asking me questions about my model of how flirtation and seduction works.  For example, if the Target is talking, and the Spy interrupts him or her, should that offend the Target?  Miss Manners might say that was a no-no, but Neil Strauss might say it’s essential.  The code doesn’t care, but it wants me to decide.  Maybe I make it depend on who you’re flirting with…
  • While I’m on the topic of SimCity and simulation rules, Will used to tell stories about how he’d get letters from hydrologists saying “your water model is awful, but your zoning model is great!” and letters from city planners saying “your zoning model is awful, but your water model is great!”  It reminds me of the old saw about how if you read something in the paper on a topic about which you have intimate knowledge, the article is almost always horribly inaccurate, but you don’t necessarily apply that thinking to articles on other topics, which is slightly terrifying.  I guess the analog for Seduce Target would be if some Casanova sends me a letter saying how bad my flirtation simulation is, yet the ballistics on the Sniper bullet are perfect!
  • I love that the Spy player picks both the Spy character and the Target character, and the Sniper doesn’t know who the Target is, because it injects yomi into the mission, while also subtly commenting on diversity issues in games completely through player choice.  Because the Spy can be male, female, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, young, old, and any other categories I create characters in, and so can the Target, I can’t wait to see the metrics on the kinds of pairs people pick!  If you suspect your opponent has a specific opinion about homosexuality, do you have a male Spy seduce a male Target since they’d be less likely to suspect that, or would they be more likely?  Are Snipers less likely to suspect the young strapping Spy would try to seduce the old dowager, or vice versa?
  • How far do I take this mission in terms of implementation?  This first version is pretty lightweight, where if you perform the flirts then it checks off the mission without any real behavioral changes on the part of the Target.  If I want to make it richer, do you need to talk the Target into meeting you out on the balcony, or (ESRB!) the bedroom?  Does the Target start approaching or avoiding you depending on how you’re doing?
  • Even in tests, it’s kind of sad when the Sniper shoots the Target, sadder than if it’s just another random partygoer.  I’ll have to see this holds true in playtests, and if I can push on that a bit.
  • The current design has the 4 required flirtation attempts, but I’m also thinking about playtesting a version where there’s a bar you have to fill up, and each flirtation attempt fills it by an amount proportional to how close you are in the conversation, times the Action Test result.  Although, the idea of having a bar that fills up as you flirt might be a bit too much…at least with the current UI the bar would be horizontal, not vertical!

  1. I find plain old wall-clock time is a strict requirement for good game design; you can’t rush things, and it’s clear Poison Drink needs to stew a bit more in my subconscious. []
  2. Ian thinks it will be too hard for the Sniper, but he could use a little challenge! []


  1. Anton says:

    This is a very interesting idea and, I am sure, will be a neat addition for the game! One question, though – do you try to tie it logically with a mission a spy could be achieving? The fact that they choose the Target on their own is cool for game mechanics, but why would a real-world spy want to seduce “anyone”?

    I guess it could be for “getting any kind of information out of this circle of people”… Hmmm… perhaps it is actually logical :)

    Thanks for the updates you’re doing, though, it is VERY interesting to glimpse some of your thought-processes. And – looking forward for the game to come out!

  2. ben says:

    It’s an interesting question of how to generalize such deep human behaviors. If you decide to inject some \personality\ into individual targets you need some way to convey these subtleties to the player. The only way i see this is using stereotypes, like modeling \miss manners\ who needs to be approached with superb etiquette.

    • checker says:

      Yeah, any personalities are going to have to be pretty telegraphed and coarse so players can parse them quickly. Still, even a coarse Miss Manners style personality is pretty novel for video games…baby steps! :)

  3. jordy says:

    Interesting, seems like a very good mission. Although I think the risk/reward discrepancy between failure and good is a little high, but no doubt play-testing will judge that

  4. Ron says:

    I know it would be a lot of debugging the finer points, but I would lean to depth on this aspect. It would be interesting if certain characters would be homosexual, some bisexual, and some heterosexual, and much more likely to accept flirtation from those who meet this criteria. This information could be given at mission assignment, on a dossier accessible from the menus, or never given (only to be gained from experimentation).

    However, one thing odd about having the choice of target up to the spy is that there are very few plausible spy situations for it. Seducing a specified target, yes, but any target, not so much. Maybe the spy should be given the choice of two randomly generated targets, but only revealed to the spy, therefore still leaving the mystery to the sniper, but giving the back story a bit more plausibility (eg: one of them have a key to their laboratory where the bio-weapon is housed).
    Maybe this could lead to an interesting situation that you could put into the mission where you accidentally seduced the wrong target.

    You could also give a reason to seduce any random character by making it about what you are doing in the end of the flirtation. You mentioned something about taking the target to the bedroom or balcony. This could provide your back story by saying the spy needs an excuse to go into the general’s bedroom to see if he has his key card in his nightstand. However, adding the character going to the other room could cause some balance issues with the spy/sniper dynamic. Either you would have to have NPCs take partners there as well, or it would be a massive tell. (Except that it takes two to tango).

    As far as keeping the action ESRB friendly you can still just have them kiss passionately on the bed. ESRB can’t fuss at that with a game that ends with a character getting shot. You’re already looking at least a ‘T’ with the violence, depending on how it’s handled.

    I wouldn’t make it too strenuous on following proper manners. Video games don’t translate perfectly for the nuances of human interaction. I know this example has nothing to do with subtlety, but I still think it’s valid. In Grand Theft Auto, you don’t play the game following ALL laws regarding safe driving. You won’t get pulled over for doing 100 in a 25mph zone. You won’t get tagged for passing through a double crossed line, etc. Trying to enforce subtle rules can be frustrating to the end user when the program can’t distinguish between subtle nuances. If the guest pauses between sentences, in real life I could interject a quick point, however, in the game the statements could be a single (audio clip||text block), and be considered rude.

    Most of these things would be long term, and probably not ready before GDC.

    • checker says:

      Good points. On the plausibility point, which Anton also makes above, I’m not too worried about fictional plausibility yet, both because spy fiction is so absurd that almost anything is possible, and because players will create rationales if you give them space to do it. Like Anton did in the his comment above! :) In fact, I want to be careful not to proscribe too much up front so players can hang their own narrative on their actions…I plan on having replays and stuff that help you tell your own story about the arc of the party.

      Another similar example is the microfilm mission. It just so happens that whichever book you pick up first is the one with the microfilm in it. That makes sense, since you’re a master spy, why would you pick up the wrong book? :)

      I’d definitely like to go deep on this behavior stuff, so we’ll have to see how it goes. I think making gameplay out of these kinds of social situations is really unexplored territory in games, and it’s a lot of fun to experiment with.

    • Anton says:

      That’s good enough for me! Creating a space with lots of toys for players to create their own stories is something I would like to see in every game :)

  5. Ron says:

    Also, 4 player podcast just posted about this post.

    captcha: (Seriously, I know it’s a homonym, and it’s about a moth, but wow recaptcha. Also, I had to pull up my char map for the ö)
    labea Jöns

  6. AVB says:

    As how a seduced target acts after the flirtation: If you want to really make the sniper’s job hard, the seduced target could then go on to complete one of the spy’s missions for them or at least pretend too. A target could always preform a bad action test result, thus experienced players would want to steer away from using it, but it may be a way to make a new player’s job easier.

    • checker says:

      Yeah, I definitely want to have diversions and delegation.  John mentions this below as well.

  7. Kevin says:

    As I mentioned on Twitter, I can’t wait for the fanart to start pouring in. :D (tophatxadmiral OTP, btw.)

    Regarding the plausibility, I was under the vague impression that I was acting in a capacity as bureau chief when I was picking my characters. So maybe it’d be fun to write a little rationale for seduction under each character, each equally reasonable given the circumstances. “Has key to nuclear facility”, “knows password to el presidente’s laptop”, “is hiding bioweapon blueprints inside family dog”, etc. (That’s really far removed from any sort of useful design mechanic commentary, but Ron already took the points I was going to make.)

    • checker says:

      I like the idea of explicitly pitching you as the bureau chief while selecting the missions and characters, that’s a good framing for that phase.  We’ve talked about having you be the chief during some single player stuff as well, so that might mesh well.  And yeah, there are going to be little bits of bio sprinkled all over the place, just enough to get the player’s internal storyteller warmed up!

  8. John says:

    Very interesting and very cool sir. I have personally said \wow\ to every addition you’ve come up with and who knows what’s next? Perhaps the double agent could create a diversion of some sort (joking). I’m looking forward to seeing the next playtest video (if/when there is one) with the seductress. And why no picture of Pussy Galore? ;)

    • checker says:

      It’s actually more difficult than I thought it would be to find pictures on the internet of James flirting with fully clothed women.

  9. Mark says:

    Highly interesting idea, but the part that seems most intriguing is that of the Sniper seeing two people repeatedly having conversations, and not being sure who is the Spy or the Target. Especially if the Target starts to approach the Spy after being seduced, allowing the Spy to pretend to be the Target.

    • checker says:

      That’s a great point about the Target approaching the Spy.  I’ll have to stew on that, thanks!

  10. Alan Au says:

    Hmmm. I’m thinking about the gameplay implications *for the sniper* by making it a “seduce any” vs. “seduce known.” Certainly if it’s seduce known, you may as well just make it the ambassador and be done with it, but at the opposite end, you just have a variant on the double agent. I’m wondering if a “seduce one of four” scenario might be a better fit for the gameplay difficulty grid and the spy-fiction.

    • checker says:

      Hey Alan, the current Contact Double Agent mission is actually “unknown from a set of possibilities”, so it’s like you say.  The Sniper gets a variable number of Suspected Double Agents in his or her view, and the real Double Agent is guaranteed to be one of them.  So, the Target being completely unknown with no clue is actually the other axis to explore.  I probably should have mentioned that in the text above, I’ll edit it now.

  11. Tobias Grace says:

    Loving how this is developing and I cannot wait for it to reach stores.
    A few ideas I had whilst reading various articles and comments,
    Firstly with the campaign mode, there’s a lot that could be messed around with here (Same as pretty much any other part of this game) such as a Spy Campaign, A Sniper Campaign or a combined campaign… All with different storylines. A non-linear storyline would be great, for example The Spy is given a set location for his first mission, but at that mission depending on what missions he completes would then relate to what different locations could be unlocked. Like if he did indeed seduce “The owner of a set of keys to a bio-nuclear facility” then his next mission would be to do with bugging the owner of said facility’s house. Or thinking on that, you could at the beginning of the game be given certain objectives overall such as “We suspect the Terrorist organization Kill’em’all (stupid names in spy films are the best!) captured our best scientist. For what reason we are unsure but it’s sure to be nefarious. We need you to investigate” but be given 3 of these or so, and by doing different things in different locations would lead to helping one branch of the campaign more than the others. But there would also be crossovers such as The Scientist who is providing the bio-weapons for Kill’em’all is also the scientist behind the security system at the White House that failed when the president was captured by another terrorist organization. This would mean that when you go to a party that the scientist is out you could either seduce him for information, or bug him etc. It opens up loads of new ideas.
    Also with the sniper/spy campaign, you could switch between being a spy completing missions and the same person trying to thwart attempts to spy on your government. Though in addition to that, maybe you’re not always the good guy, you could in fact be an evil terrorist spy attempting to gain information on the security of the White House in order to capture the president! This could also lead to an extremely difficult “Boss-mission” where you have to seduce the president at the White House. But to be able to gain access to the White House you must have already seduced the Head of Security at a previous location in another mission. Sorry I’m babbling with this but it just brings so many cool ideas to mind. I’ll finish this for now or I’ll go on for ages but I’ll be sure to comment later :)

  12. Calinda says:

    The idea for SpyParty seems great! And loads of fun if you consider that the sniper will have a lot of trouble when having to decide who is the spy and who is the target.I can’t wait to play it!!!

  13. Soupnazi says:

    After your reply to my comment (which was very timely, too!), I’m here with some ideas that I think could add more, good complexity to the seduce target mission.

    There are three levels to this. First, which I think is kind of obvious, is having an actual flirt interaction, which the AI will occasionally do themselves. But then if you want to get a bit more complicated, why not have the probability of flirting depend on the character? Then when you see a character that doesn’t usually flirt (I’d think you’d have to figure out the probability of flirting per character yourself, adding some skill to the matter) flirting with another character, you would be suspicious; likewise, if you see a flirty character doing little flirting, you have a reason to be suspicious, without any hard tells.

    The third part has two different ways of implementation; first, a more simpler one, where each character not only has a probability of flirting, but a probability of which gender they’d flirt with (adding a bit more complexity). However, this would just be the majority of the time, so a “straight” character flirting with someone of the same gender wouldn’t be a hard tell. Then, the more complicated version: each character has a different probability of flirting with individual other characters, not just gender, so if you see a character flirting with a character they don’t usually flirt with you have reason to be suspicious.

    That… was rather complicated, actually. I hope you like the concept!

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