Tonight we did the first playtest of the new Seduce Target mission and the new maps I’ve been working on for the GDC build. I also realized I never wrote up the results of the Action Test playtest session, so I’ll stick those in here as well.
The Action Test Mechanic
I playtested the Action Test mechanic back in January, and it worked surprisingly well. Going into the playtest, there was a lot of concern all around that it would be distracting, make the game more about twitch, and dominate the behavioral gameplay. Paul even wrote a detailed blog post titled Why I’m Skeptical About Active Reload in SpyParty right before he came over to play.
Before playing we discussed all sorts of different aspects of the mechanic, including how often players should get each result (good, okay, and bad), how subtle the tells should be for the different results, and the like. Being a good game designer (not to mention a highly competitive game player), Paul used the new Practice Mode I put in for the IGF to practice the Action Test over and over again, and he kept track of how he improved.
Once we started playtesting for real, a very interesting thing happened that no one expected, and was, in fact, sort of the opposite of what we expected: the mere existence of the good result in the Action Test forced the Sniper to play the “behavioral game” more than watching for tells. In other words, because there was the possibility of the Spy performing missions in a way that was not immediately detectable, the Sniper had to lift up to watching for behavioral tells—like partygoers acting with too much intentionality—rather than just waiting to see a hard tell. This was surprising, and yet totally awesome. No one expected the addition of this twitch mechanic to make the game even more about behavior!
It also turns out the Action Test isn’t distracting for new players, for the most part. It goes by in about 1.5 seconds, and if you’re not looking for it, you don’t really see it. I will probably still unlock it after a tutorial just to keep the number of things new players need to worry about small at the beginning, but the worries about it dominating the Spy’s mental space were unfounded.
Also, the double randomization makes it so the Spy has to pay attention to the bar if he or she wants to opt in, rather than just learning the rhythm like in Gears of War, so that worked well too.
Overall, I was super happy with how things turned out. The Action Test worked even better than I hoped on a bunch of different levels. Any time you add something like this to a game that’s already working, you run the risk of messing things up, but in this case it really did make things better.
One thing that became clear was the Contact Double Agent mission is too hard for the Spy against an elite Sniper because it gives the Sniper so much information. Even though it’s a “soft tell” and only eliminates or implicates suspects, reducing the field is such an advantage that it’s a death trap for the Spy. The good result on the Action Test I implemented still requires the Spy to be in a conversation, and so it doesn’t actually help much. I’m going to need to change it so the Spy can somehow contact the agent from outside the circle if he or she performs a good Action Test.
The New Maps
Tonight we tested out the new Veranda and Balcony maps. The Veranda has a lot of partygoers, three bookshelves, statues all over the place, and the Sniper can’t see the whole map from any single vantage point. The Balcony only has a few characters and is completely visible from all angles.
The assumption was the Veranda would be very hard for the Sniper, and the Balcony would be very easy, and this turned out to be the case.
The Balcony level only has the Contact Double Agent, Bug Ambassador, and Seduce Target missions. The Spy can choose to do only one or two of these missions, and it’s still very hard to win. The hard tell for bugging the Ambassador, which is so difficult to see in the main Ballroom level that it’s almost a gimme for the Spy, sticks out about as much as carrying a sign that says “Shoot Me”. The “banana bread” soft audio tell for contacting the Double Agent is basically impossible to get away with because the Sniper can immediately see who’s talking. Having to flirt with the Target multiple times allows the Sniper to see the relationship building as plain as day. That said, it was fun to play because it’s such a quick little map, it has very little of the long slow building stress of the regular game. If you happen to get away with something as the Spy it feels great because it’s so impossible. It’s almost like a little arcade minigame of SpyParty, so it’s a nice bit of variety.
The Veranda level is the opposite. It’s so big and there is so much going on that it’s difficult for the Sniper to get any deductive traction going. Even Ian was overwhelmed and wasn’t using the normal process of elimination and was just watching for a mistake. We started with 20 partygoers (which doesn’t count the Security Guard and the Waiter) and eventually tuned it down to 17 during the playtest to take off some of the cognitive load. It is also currently set for four Spy missions, but I’m going to increase it to five. We think the walkable areas are also a little thin, because this map really highlights the crappy pathfinder I’m currently using. Overall, the Veranda was fun and added more variety, but it still needs some tuning work before GDC.
The Seduce Target Mission
As I discuss at the bottom of the post about the Seduce Target mission, there are a lot of options on where to take this mission. But, for this first playtest, I just did the simplest possible thing: the Spy has to get into a conversation with the Target and flirt four times, each closer in the circle than the last, and one of the two must leave the conversation between flirtations.
The mission worked out well even in this simple state, and people loved the “fiction” behind it. For the metrics-addicted, here were the three most popular pairings for the 43 games played, arranged as Spy ♥ Target:
It turns out it’s really hard to get the same person into a conversation four times during the match, so we reduced it to three times about halfway through the night. I think I’m also going to change it from an integer number of flirtations to a bar that fills up, and instead of having the progression of closeness that starts with just being in the same conversation (which is just a freebie for the Spy), I’m going to make it so the arc distance in the circle impacts how much you fill the bar each flirtation. The closer you are, the more bar filling you get. I’m going to tune it so it takes two very-close+good-result flirtations, and six not-close+normal-result flirtations. So, you can ignore the closeness if you’re willing to basically follow the target around the entire time, or you can be right up next to them and try to seduce them quickly in two or three flirts.
Here are a few more metrics from tonight’s playtest. I need to generate these straight to an HTML page at some point…
Spy ran out of time 2% (1)
Sniper shot civilian 30% (13)
Missions completed successfully 16% (7)
Sniper shot spy 49% (21)
The Spy and Sniper were mostly evenly matched tonight (Ian’s skill advantage was outweighed by the randomness of testing the new features).
Action test bad 4% (5)
Action test ignored 27% (31)
Action test good 16% (19)
Action test okay 53% (61)
The Action Test is working as designed: you can ignore it and get an automatic okay, or you can opt-in, and usually get okay, occasionally (16%) get good, and sometimes (4%) screw yourself with a bad.
This last batch is the last Spy action completed before the Spy got shot in the games where the Sniper shot the Spy:
Remove microfilm from book 19% (4)
Bugged ambassador while walking 19% (4)
Double Agent contacted 14% (3)
Fake Banana Bread Uttered 5% (1)
30 seconds added to match 10% (2)
Transferred microfilm 14% (3)
These are a little skewed since the long string of quick Balcony matches we played at the end increased the number of deaths after bugging. I realized tonight I wasn’t journaling the level played, so I’m glad I caught that before GDC! This is why I love playtests!
I hope to have another mission implemented, fix all the issues uncovered tonight, and playtest again next week.