Competitive Gaming: Come Play SpyParty at Evo in Vegas, July 6th & 7th

I give a lot of lectures on games.  In these lectures, I often talk about games as an art form, and how games are different from the other popular and important art and entertainment forms.  Even though we often get compared to film, I think when games finally fulfill their potential, they will be as deeply different from film in the ways they affect people emotionally as film is from music or painting.1

I don’t think anyone knows exactly what these differences will feel like in 50 or 100 years, but I think we can get whiffs of them in current games, and for me, the scent is especially strong in competitive player-skill games.  There is something about a competitive player-skill game that gets to the essence of interactivity, the thing that makes games different from the other art and entertainment forms.  The players, interacting with the game systems and each other, using their physical and mental skills to achieve a clearly defined win-state…it can be magic.  Although there are many different-yet-amazing competitive player-skill games, like my old flame Counter-Strike, but also obviously Starcraft, and DOTA/League of Legends,2 I think the magic I’m talking about is most clearly captured in this famous clip of a Street Fighter tournament:

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There have been articles written about these seconds of gameplay, it has become internet-famous, and I have used it in several of the aforementioned lectures.

This magical thing happened at a fighting game tournament called The Evolution Championship Series, or more commonly, Evo.

It’s always been one of my design goals for SpyParty to be regarded as a competition-worthy player-skill game, to try to attain the depth of a game like Counter-Strike or Street Fighter, but by emphasizing a very different set of player-skills from the current crop of competition games.  However, to be included in that pantheon your game has to be able to stand up to thousands of hours of play, and designing a game like that turns out to be very hard.  Luckily, I’m patient, but I’m expecting it to take years for SpyParty to get to that level, if it ever does. Eventually, once the game was balanced and tuned and deep enough, I hoped people would start running tournaments, and maybe those tournaments would grow, and then, who knows.  But I’m getting way ahead of myself…

The Email

This is all by way of saying I’ve been fascinated by Evo for a while, but hadn’t spent much time thinking about how it relates to me and my game right here and now.  And then my friend Seth Killian emailed me, “Would you be interested to bring SpyParty to Evo this summer?”

Whoa.

He went on, “Obviously your game isn’t a fighter, but what’s interesting about these guys is that they aren’t just good at fighters–they’re good at games, and breaking down systems, period. They like games that involve psychology, competition, or are just insanely difficult.”

Now you’re talking.

The Show

So, after I said “YES” as fast as I could, Seth introduced me to Tom Cannon, and it’s happening, and I’m nervous but very excited!  Did I mention the nervous part?  The fighting game community is well-known for their, um, honest feedback, and I’m hoping they like SpyParty, but if they don’t, I’m hoping they’ll tell me why, and not just beat me up or something.

In fact, to this end, I offered to invite a bunch of Evo attendees into the beta before the show, so they could read the manual, practice, and play some games online with the current beta testers to increase the level of play once we get there.  Tom put a signup form on the announcement and got over twice as many signups from registered Evo attendees as we planned, so he had to shut it down.  I was originally going to invite 50, but I may try to invite even more of them this week.  I expect some of them will be pretty good by the time the show starts if they practice.  I’m going to do a similar setup to last year’s PAX booth, so three 1v1 stations, but this time I’m also going to try to get two of them on the internet so people in the beta lobby can play people at Evo.  I hope some of the expert players will hang around the lobby to give hands-on demonstrations of SpyParty‘s current player-skill depth!

Even better, it turns out Tom and Seth wanted to have a bunch of player-skill competitive indie games at the show, so they’ve got a great lineup for their Indie Showcase, including AztezBaraBariBall, DIVEKICK, Nidhogg, Super Comboman, and Super Time Force!

But, the coolest thing of all is that I found out the Evo expo is open to the public and free on July 6th and 7th!  So, if you’re in the Las Vegas area, or within driving distance, come by and play SpyParty and all these indie games!  Oh, and I’m sure there’ll be a couple fighting games around somewhere to play if you look hard enough.

Postscript

I have my work cut out for me trying to make SpyParty deep enough to be a competitive gaming title, of course.  There have been a few different articles about the game’s upcoming appearance at Evo, with comments ranging from “awesome!” to “wtf?!”, but my favorite comment was on the Kotaku piece:

LuppyLuptonium Tue 26 Jun 2012 8:26 PM
This is like Bingo being played at an NBA basketball game…. Nothing necessarily wrong with it but strange.

  1. This is why I wish people would stop wasting their time making big movie-wannabe games with big movie-wannabe linear stories the player has to fight/shoot/drive/fly their way through, and instead play our unique strengths. []
  2. or non-digitally, Go and Poker, or even sports like basketball []

8 Comments

  1. LowTierSteve says:

    This is completely awesome. Congrats on getting the opportunity to expose your game in a big way – nobody really knew about Nidhogg until Northwest Championships a couple of weeks ago, and now it completely blew up. I bet you will be surprised at how many beta signups you get after Evo weekend. (or, maybe you won’t be surprised…)

  2. Viri Flaud says:

    Excited to play some Spy Party this Saturday! I was pretty disappointed how Nidhogg was never released, so playing that is icing on the cake :)

    As a former competitive gamer, I’m really curious to see your plans to turn Spy Party into a competitive game!

    • checker says:

      Next Saturday, not this one, don’t want you to show up a week early!  :)  Yeah, I’m dying to see how the Evo folks take to it.  I wish I had a plan(tm), my only plan is make it as deep as I can, and see what happens.

  3. jordy says:

    I’d like to see this “This is like Bingo being played at an NBA basketball game…. Nothing necessarily wrong with it but strange.” statement reversed when this game is done and you show up at EVO again. I’m not very knowledgeable about fighting-games, but I do get the impression there is quite a large fan-base that supports intense competitive game-play. And I’ve no doubt there is a lot of depth in these fighting games, but when everything is said and done, I believe Spyparty garners much more potential, for at least psychological depth, then any fighting game, because it’s format seems a lot more suitable to display and utilize psychological depth.

    Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I believe you can let that person eat these words when all is said and done.

    • Nathan Smith says:

      I understand what you mean, given the structures of the fighting game versus SpyParty, but you seriously ought not to underestimate the depth of fighting games, even the psychological depth.  if SpyParty is much deeper than fighting games, we won’t know it for quite awhile because fighting games really are very deep and because they have had a lot more time to develop.

  4. demeteloaf says:

    Curious how this ended up working…

    Here’s my view, from my limited knowledge:

    To me, spyparty seems inherently less…watchable than a standard fighting game. In a game that depends on asymmetric information, I’m not sure what the right format to give the audience that will make the game entertaining to watch. Do you give them just the sniper view, and leave them in the dark about who the spy is? Do you give them both views and allow them to see everything? Do you create a new view that only shows common information between both users (no sniper highlight/lowlight, etc.). Pretty soon, you’re going to run into the problem that plagued televised poker, as soon as you start allowing the audience to see more information than any player is allowed to see (hole card cameras), you have to stop televising events live because it becomes incredibly easy for an unscrupulous competitor to collude with an audience member to gain an unfair advantage. But at the same time, if you don’t allow the audience to have the info, it’s much less entertaining.

    Anyways, not sure whether this is something you’ve thought about, or even if it is a real problem, but it’s what went through my head when you started talking about spy party on an entertainment level.

    • checker says:

      I actually think it’s more “watchable” that most other competitive games in the sense that the pace is a lot slower so viewers don’t have to be experts to see what’s going on at a high level, but the hidden information aspect is definitely a challenge. One nice thing is that spectators can actually “play” the game as the Sniper…they don’t have the laser, but they can watch the game, and then check their guess, which makes spectating into a more active thing. We’ll have to see how it goes.

    • LowTierSteve says:

      This aspect is very interesting to me. I’ve been a member of the Fighting Game Community for a couple of years now, and I run live streams of local casual game sessions and our monthly tournaments. I am always considering the watchability and entertainment factor of a game, and I feel like SpyParty will be very interesting and fun to watch. Demeteloaf brings up some well-thought points. If I were streaming my gameplay live (which I hope to do at some point), sometimes it would be appropriate to show only one screen, while other times I’d want a way to show both screens simultaneously to give the veiwers all the knowledge (obviously this capability would rely entirely on my PC setups). Cheating wouldn’t be a factor here because the players would be sanctioned off in a way that wouldn’t allow them to gain any extra information – problem solved. However, if I were streaming myself playing online from either viewpoint, it would be easy for the other player to cheat if they found out about the livestream. Maybe that’s still kind of a shot in the dark, but I’m always worried that when players find a way to cheat, they will do so. In my opinion, for SpyParty to obtain the same kind of high-level play as, say, Street Fighter games, people will have to watch videos online to learn new tactics, play competitively with viewer streams (like Starcraft II), etc. Starcraft is a game that doesn’t face this issue (despite having the same “you can’t see what I’m doing” aspect) because the gameplay is too fast; at high levels, if you Alt+Tab to look at the stream the other player is on, you are losing all of your time for actions/game activity and the other player now has a huge advantage based on actions he or she completed while you weren’t playing. In SpyParty, it would only take 5 seconds to figure out who the Spy is, and game over. For the record, I really want to see SpyParty become high-level like Checker wants – I have been excited about this for a long time (I wish I had found out about the beta sooner!). Just trying to offer extra feedback from a game player’s perspective!

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