IGF Feedback and Beta Status

I am deep deep deep in server stuff for the Early-Access Beta, so this post is mostly to take a short break from that, tell you folks I’m still alive, and post the collection of feedback I got today from the IGF submission last year.

I think it’s great the IGF gives submitters feedback, and, being on the Advisory Board for the Game Developers Conference, I know exactly how much work it is to even just grade the submissions, let alone writing up feedback clean enough that it can be sent back to submitters.  It’s something we constantly wrestle with on the GDC AB:  should we spend our time helping the accepted talks be better, or spend time giving feedback on why talks were rejected?  It’s a tough decision with no easy answers.

So, I post this feedback here both because I think it’s great the IGF does this and it’s wonderful to get feedback from people who played the game “in the wild” without me standing there, and also because I think this specific SpyParty feedback is kinda funny in its breadth, yet also brings up interesting points worth discussing.  Plus, I’m sick of trying to make sure my openssl certificates have the right permissions for the krb5kdc user to not violate SElinux policies and need a break…

I got three pieces of feedback, and they’re all about as different as can be.  First up:

I have no objection to your focus on rules and skills. But I think a more abstract appearance for such abstract interactions would be more suitable. As it is now, you have created a murder simulator of the worst kind: one in which the player kills his or her friend.

This is especially problematic considering that you don’t even seem to care about the simulation aspect of the game, submitting a project as you did with only placeholder artwork. If you don’t mean to make a game about killing one’s friend, don’t use this metaphor.

I had no idea Jack Thompson was an IGF judge!  They should really publicize that more.  I kid!  I actually have a post in draft form about how SpyParty uses violence in a different way than most games, but I haven’t had time to finish it up.  I will tease one of the questions from that post here, since it’s topical to this feedback:  I’m thinking about adding a “PG” mode to the game, where, instead of shooting the Spy, the Sniper player identifies the Spy and the guards come arrest him or her.  Does this change the game?  The sniper bullet is, at its most basic level, simply a way for the Sniper to pick a character.  You can shoot a character in the toenail and it still counts.  The game ends when that choice is made, so there is no actual violence in the interactivity of the game.  But, some people argue having “arrest mode” would ruin the game.1 This gets to some of my opinions about how the phrase “game mechanics” is misused a lot of the time, and how the low level features are inseparable from the higher level aesthetics of the gameplay, about which I’ll write more later.

Next:

Awesome, probably the most innovative entry of the year. If it doesn’t win a prize it’s just because it feels very early in the development.

It seems to me that the main indicator of somebody being a spy is the walking flow. If you see somebody with a stuttering walk it’s over. It shouldn’t be just about that, I’d recommend some kind of automatic movement smoothing.

This topic of the “walking tell” is a really interesting one I’ve talked about a bit in interviews and comments on the blog, but never expanded on.  I originally had click-to-move as the walking interface when the game was mouse-only, under the theory the game is supposed to be about behavior, not about not accidentally walking into walls.  Makes perfect sense, right?  But, when I went to add console controller support, I faced a dilemma:  console click-to-move interfaces are always terrible, so should I make it direct-control or not?  I thought about it a little deeper, and realized that when you’re playing a shooter or any other kind of player-skill direct-control action game, after an initial learning phase, you don’t actually think about the movement very much, you just express yourself through the control scheme.  You don’t think, “now I must strafe right, which is the left analog stick”, you just do it; the controls have become transparent.  I realized this actually adds a level of physicality and kinesthetics to the play experience that deepens it.  Because you have to learn to move, the game is deeper, and more about performance.  So, I put direct-control into the console controller interface for SpyParty, and the game got better.  Yes, newbs get shot while they’re learning the controls, but the learning of the controls involves the Spy player observing the NPCs closely and learning how they walk, it involves being able to think fast on the fly and stay calm, it exposed the awesome “play it cool” mechanic, where the Spy needs to be okay with suboptimal positions and not fidget and correct, and it had a whole bunch of other interesting ramifications on the design, much like the Action Test mechanic.  After observing this, I redid the mouse interface to be direct control too!

Finally:

Wonderful asymmetrical gameplay that is very nuanced. Needs polish, obviously, but in the games I played with another judge I had a really fun time.

Not much to say on this one, but I wasn’t sure what level of polish was appropriate for IGF, actually.  In fact, I was slightly surprised SpyParty was nominated for Grand Prize this year, since, let’s face it, the game is nowhere near finished. I figured if it was going to get nominated, it would be for Game Design.  But, any nomination is a huge honor, and if I’d been on the Grand Prize committee I’d have voted for Minecraft myself!

I haven’t decided whether to submit to IGF again.  It seems weird to submit multiple times, especially if you’ve been nominated.  Plus, I’m going to be insane with the Early-Access Beta, so I’ll see how I feel around submission time.

Okay, back to the server grindstone.  My next task is to get the CoSign SSO authn system running in the private beta phpBB to talk to the LDAP directory to get the player’s email address populated correctly. Then, figure out how to create accounts in LDAP from httpd without using the default openssl LDAP crt I’ve registered in the environment because I’ve restricted its LDAP permissions tightly for security, then use this dn to create the Kerberos account, and hook it up to a web form I can use as the endpoint for PayPal confirmed purchases so invited players can actually log on.  Whee, indie games are fun!

Teaser image!


  1. More up-to-the-minute opinions herehere, and here. []

56 Comments

  1. Martijn says:

    Looking forward too the beta ^^ goodluck with the server stuff

  2. Timur Anoshechkin says:

    Second early access link is broken.

  3. Michael says:

    I cannot believe that first piece of feedback. Honestly, it sounds like a random internet troll. Unbelievable. It is obviously someone who has not even heard of SpyParty (to lament the “placeholder art” so – besides, in the indie gaming scene, who is to be the judge of what is and is not placeholder art?), and to not have heard of you or your project would mean basically not subscribing to ANY blog that covers indie games. And this guy is an IGF “judge”? Give me a break.

    Great to hear about the project’s success and progress otherwise! Keep up the great work.

    • checker says:

      I thought it was a bit strange, but mostly because I didn’t understand the relationship he or she was making between the “simulation” and the “prototype art”, but hey, it’s still a good piece of data. I like seeing what people thing when I’m not there to Heisenberg their opinions. :)

  4. Greg Hice says:

    For the arrest idea, I think it would work fine.  Being 18, and a huge fan of shooters, I have no problem fighting friends in-game, but I honestly don’t see how having a “PG” mode would break it.  If anything, it makes MORE sense than sniping.  Since you are apparently working with the parties’ actual guests, I think it would be more normal to have the person arrested, rather than putting the rest of the people at risk.  But then, you wouldn’t really be a spy.  I don’t know.  Story wise, I’m not sure how it would work.  Gameplay wise, it would be fine.

  5. chmmr says:

    The first comment sounds very much like one of the Tale of Tales folks. They really like to sneer at anything that isn’t ashamed of being a game-qua-game, and twist things any way they can to paint games as ugly, soulless pap for mental children. The giveaway is the phrase “focus on rules and skills”. They’ve always been confused about the definition of “rules” – they think their games don’t have rules, when in fact they simply do not have explicitly defined goals. It would also explain their offense at your using prototype art instead of polished final stuff.

  6. Mike Perrone says:

    Regarding the arrest idea, you could have it be optional.
    I mean this in two ways:

    1)The sniper gets to pick which assassination action to use (snipe, arrest, sedate, or some crazy spy gadget like a spider bomb that crawls under the door and explodes under the target)

    2)Each user gets to specify if they want to see a gory snipe, a clean (bloodless) snipe, or an arrest (which you could abstract to just violent or not). It could be an option specific to each user, so the sniper would see himself shooting the target, but the spy would see guards go in for the arrest.

    PS: I’m really excited for the beta launch! I hope the server code resolves swiftly!

  7. Evan says:

    I, personally, think that this might be a decision more easily made once the art style is set in stone. If it ends up slick and jazzy, like the pink panther cartoons (just as an example, I’m not suggesting I would expect it to look like that), it seems that the spy raising his hands with a look of guilt on his face followed by the shrinking pinhole visual effect (I don’t know the proper name for it) focused on his face would be appropriate. But that would only really work (at least IMO) if the game already had that aesthetic. Just my two cents; I know Chris has much more experience with game dev than I do. (I’m 16, see.) Anyway, good luck, Chris and I’m looking forward to trying the beta.

  8. I wonder how that first judge feels about chess, where you not only kill your friend, but also conquer his kingdom and slay his underlings on the way.

  9. Haddon CD. says:

    I think I agree that changing the sniper shot to an arrest affects the meaning of the act. When the player shoots an innocent party-goer, there are two conseqences – you have both killed an innocent and allowed the spy to escape. With an arrest, it would seem that an innocent victim would get a fair hearing and be released – reducing the negative consequence for a mistake to the exact same as the consequence of inaction – your enemy “getting away with it”.

    • checker says:

      Good point about there not really being an innocent victim with arrest mode!

    • Soupnazi says:

      This is pretty much the reason I’d say to keep the sniper shot. Actually shooting someone adds a lot more consequence and pressure to your actions, which ups the ante and helps with the psychological aspect of this game.

    • checker says:

      Oh, the sniper shot isn’t going away, don’t worry about that.  This is just about whether I add an additional mode for people who don’t like the shooting but still want the core gameplay.  Plus, it’s an interesting game design Gedankenexperiment, if you will.  :)

    • Soupnazi says:

      Well, I meant “keep the sniper shot” as in “don’t add other endings”, but it’s not really important as long as we can have the sniper shot. XD

  10. jordy says:

    I’m going nuts over here! Stop teasing!

  11. Squishy says:

    Several other people have mentioned sedation as a possible alternative “death” mode but you would potentially lose that end moment of everyone else dropping to the ground in fear.

    As for the possible arrest scenario everyone is assuming it would police. What if it were government operatives? (This is a party with a high ranking government official in attendance after all) They could drag the person away and make them disappear quite easily. Also, if troops burst into the room at the end and dragged the person away (innocent or not) that could illicit the same reaction of everyone dropping to the ground.

    Did you have any thoughts as to what rating you would get Chris? Although the main CoD style shooters are M there are plenty of games with guns and headshots that are T (like Uncharted)

    • checker says:

      No idea on the rating, but yeah, I would definitely keep the “arrestors” somewhat ambiguous, and have them be pretty rough on the way out, plus, the other party goers would react strongly, so there would be some significant social cost in the fiction.

    • fanganga says:

      I’m a long-time lurker, and this post’s put a bug in my brain that I want to comment on. RIght now, I’m imagining a hypothetical scenario in which you had arrest mode first and decided to up the stakes by adding some text that implied that in Spypartia espionage suspects are tortured, often to death. While that’s a worse fate for the imaginary computer people, having the suspect’s fate offscreen may well lessen the effect on the player

  12. Soupnazi says:

    SpyParty forums?

    *Fanboy scream*

    (Also, my recaptcha is just plain bizarre. Sramana JPoing?)

  13. Alan Au says:

    What self-respecting indie judge hasn’t heard of SpyParty?  Then again, I suppose it injects some sense of impartiality if you pick judges who aren’t friends with the game makers.  :)

    The comment about “killing friends” also seems disingenuous given the current gaming landscape.  (I wonder if the Frozen Synapse guys have to put up with criticisms like this.)  On the topic of alternate endings, I suppose you could establish a more sinister context to justify shooting the spy.  After all, shooting someone for seducing an ingenue or stealing a statue does seem a bit extreme.

    Alternatively, I could envision a SWAT-style raid (with doors being kicked in, etc.) eliciting the same sense of panic amongst partygoers, but the key would be making the sniper feel bad about pinpointing the wrong character.

    • checker says:

      On the “hearing about SpyParty”, the game has definitely gotten a bunch of press, but it has a long way to go before it’s well known even inside the industry, let alone with players in general.  I more surprised when I run into people who have heard of it than I am when they haven’t.  The world is a big place!  :)

      Totally, on the SWAT raid potential!

  14. Thinking aloud – why not gear outcome choice directly to hit location?  If the sniper wants to make a nonlethal shot, it’s a skill task, just like walking &c?

    • checker says:

      Interesting idea!  Although I’m not sure making it harder for the don’t-want-to-kill-people people is the right thing…

    • jordy says:

      I like this idea as well, I think it would make the decision to shoot someone more intense, even more so then it already is perhaps.

      Although a bunny-hopping spy would totally ruin the game…

      That being said, I don’t think you should worry too much about people that think the same like that judge, I mean.. yea, most kids play FPS were a head-shot is regarded as skill-full. If you do worry about it that much I guess you could make the additional arrest mode or whatever.

      In any case, I definitely like the idea of the sniper manually aiming! Although it shouldn’t be hard.

  15. Adam says:

    Having not played the game, the gunshot dynamic strikes me as crucial to the feel of the game. The tension of an impending sudden gunshot at any time is such a great mood setter. Don’t let a few naysayers ruin your art!

  16. ZL says:

    My two cents: the sniper shot is the core of the game, which everything revolves around. The spy fears it, the sniper faces responsibility for it, the npc’s all react to it. Remove the shot, and the game becomes kinda empty.

    I suppose a SWAT style raid might be an acceptable alternative, but I’d say the more violent and sudden it is, the better. But that might defeat the object. Food for thought.

  17. Khornel says:

    I’ve just finished up my first playable version of a simplified LAN version of Spyparty.
    While testing it, I noticed that the one playing sniper would almost always “jump the gun” and just guess who the spy is, resulting in a fifty/fifty spy/civilian kill count.
    The spy would almost never make it through all his missions, which kind of ruined it.
    For me personally, it’s hard to feel any responsibility as a sniper, since what I’m doing is just choosing which bunch of faces resembling a human being should play the “death” animation, and in the end, if I should feel anything for these virtual people, it would be because of the fact that they all get wiped from the computers memory at the end of a game.

    Have you thought of any way to “punish” the sniper without relying on their empathy toward 3D-models, so they don’t just shoot at the first sign of suspicious behavior?

    • checker says:

      So far there hasn’t been any need for any kind of extrinsic “punishment” for the Sniper. At PAX West we did a tournament for the repeat players, and to do a ladder you have to have points, so we made up a quick points system that gave the Spy all the points in play if the Sniper shot the wrong person. It worked fine. However, the existence of points made people start gaming them, running the clock down, and all the usual tournament stuff, so I’m not going to add points for a long time, if ever, since I want to make sure the core gameplay loop is perfect before adding any powerful extrinsic influencers like that. If you get a chance to play SpyParty, I’ll be interested to hear if it feels different from your version. I think a lot of subtle stuff goes into how one feels about the characters in the game, so it could be a lot of things. Are you going to post yours somewhere? I’d be interested to check it out!

    • Khornel says:

      I thought about that, maybe it’s harder to identify with my characters.
      Since I’m not good at modeling, I only made one male character, which at the beginning of the game randomly picks between some texture layers and colorizes them. I call it suspicious bald guys…
      I just need to add another mission and tweak some GUI elements, and probably add some audio, then I’ll upload it, could take some days though. I’ll add a link to Spyparty.com in the splash-screen.

    • jordy says:

      Could you sent me a download link?! I’ll take anything to make it trough these last couple of days..

  18. Iain says:

    Not sure if this has already been implemented etc but…

    Since the biggest “give” tends to be the walking, why not make the character go into “idle” mode if the player doesn’t move for X time. The AI would then take over the character and move it like any other, with the player picking up again at any time.

    Could give the spy some more options for defeating the sniper – trying to make them panic into a shot for instance, while the time limit would also prevent the player from not closing in on objectives for too long.

    Just my $0.02

    • checker says:

      The Spy idles whenever he or she is in an “appropriate spot”. So, you can just hang out in a conversation and idle. But, a really good Sniper might notice somebody who hasn’t moved in a while and is just listening. Everybody asks whether they can turn the AI back on after the take control, and the answer is definitely “no”! Once you take control, it’s on you! :)

  19. Khornel says:

    I “finished” my version of SpyParty, it can be downloaded here: http://www.mediafire.com/?hb3b8q4u77x3mhf
    I’m not going to develop it any further, it’s virtually impossible for the spy to complete his missions, since they’re too revealing, plus my version is far inferior to SpyParty, so might as well wait for the real thing.

    • jordy says:

      It looks really quite nice, the room that is, pretty stylish. I don’t know how to play though, I assume I can only play by connecting to someone else?
      You mind playing with me sometime?

    • Khornel says:

      Sorry, I can’t :/
      The game is made for LAN, so you’ll have to invite someone over to connect to your network.
      I don’t think Hamachi works, I was going to make it work, but I gave up when the game seemed impossible for the spy.

    • jordy says:

      Ah, right, that’s too bad. Well, hopefully beta will begin soon.. Are you working on a game? You seem to know quite a lot about developing.

    • Khornel says:

      Thanks! I’m working on multiple games, but I don’t think I’ll ever finish any of them :P I’m very bad at motivating myself.
      I’m starting at a university to get a bachelor’s degree in computer science in August, after that I’ll take a master’s degree in game technology, and hopefully I’ll finish something I can show off during that time.

    • jordy says:

      “but I don’t think I’ll ever finish any of them :P I’m very bad at motivating myself” Hah, right, don’t I know the feeling!

      But no doubt you’ll finally find a concept where you can pour your hearth an soul in eventually, and school seems like a nice way to start, you’ll probably HAVE to finish a few games in order to graduate eventually, that’s at least some motivation!

      I wish you best of luck, the more indie-games/developers the better the world will be!!! XD

      Btw, which of the games you are developing right now you like the most?

  20. Khornel says:

    Thank you very much! I don’t really have a favorite, I have this “meh” relationship with them at the moment.
    We should probably stop spamming the comment section :P

  21. Julian says:

    Not too relative to this topic, but I think it would be great to have a game mode where both the sniper and spy are in the croud, and the sniper can walk around and interact with people, however both the spy and sniper have weapons. If doing so, you’d have to keep something from them both showing their identity.

    • checker says:

      I think I will eventually have more symmetric modes like that, but I want to completely nail the (harder) asymmetric stuff first. When I do the symmetric modes, I want to do it better than previous games have, where you have to not be in the line of sight of NPCs or whatever. There’s a great scene in one of the Brosnan Bond movies where he stabs a guy in an art gallery and sits him down in a chair to die while everybody else just mills around. Something like that seems like a cool direction to take the symmetric modes…

    • Julian says:

      Thanks for the reply! The more modes you put in the game the more of a variety you can make it. just as long as it keeps on the core focus of subtle behavior i’ll still love it.

  22. Corey says:

    Here are my two cents regarding an arrest mode. You may want to consider it from an ESRB perspective. Life-like gore / violence seems to be at the top of the list for M rating offenders. That said, I think that the threat of death, even if fictional, is still a more visceral and compelling sensation (for both parties) than threat of arrest. The finality of the bullet adds a great deal to the feeling of suspense. Whereas if someone is arrested, regardless of innocent or not you have introduced some ambiguity regarding the outcome. How did the courts find in case of treason / espionage? Personally playing as a Sniper, I would feel a greater sense of stress / pressure / suspense to make sure I didn’t shoot the wrong person, where if my victim were just wrongly arrested, I could realy care less.

  23. Phobia says:

    “the game is supposed to be about behavior, not about not accidentally walking into walls. Makes perfect sense, right? ”

    How will you deal with latency? I know my connection isn’t the best in the world, and I’m curious if it will automatically make me a worse spy, because I’ll be giving hard tells when I lag.

  24. Mark says:

    The murder comment is interesting.

    I’m trying to imagine what a James Bond movie would be like if he never shot anyone. It would change the nature of the movie in a fundamental way…I think it would destroy it, in fact. The whole point of the Bond movies is that the agents are taking risks outside the bounds of the law. If Bond always followed the law, then the movie would be a British equivalent to the Law & Order or CSI TV shows. Fundamentally different.

    The review of Spy Party would have been more accurate if it had said this was a state-sponsored assassination simulator instead of a murder simulator, though whether you think those two are different will depend on your view of governments and their exercise of power.

    I’d be curious to know the reviewer’s opinion of the James Bond movies, actually.

  25. Jon H says:

    I am getting really excited for this. I have known about this game for some time but just recently started watching youtube videos and it looks like it is going to be an awesome game to play with friends. I signed up for the beta and can’t wait for it to be released. This looks like it is going to be a very addicting game…

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