Update: we’ve shown them animating!
I’m super excited because it’s time to introduce the next five new SpyParty characters!
And here are all ten of the new characters posing for your aesthetic edification! This images looks like a cast photo from a wacky mystery movie, and this is only half of the twenty (!) playable characters we’ll have in the end.1
As I’m sure you remember, we’ve chosen what we call a natrualistic and illustrative style for the new SpyParty artwork, and I’m so incredibly happy with how it’s coming out. The characters are varied and diverse, but all feel like they fit into the SpyParty universe. John Cimino, our amazing artist, has outdone himself again, and the work just keeps getting better!
Before I introduce each character individually, I want to talk for a second about diversity in SpyParty. I did a long interview with Evan Narcisse over at Kotaku a while back where I talked about the different kinds of diversity I want to explore in the game, including how important a diverse and inclusive community is to me, but for the purposes of this character reveal I want to talk about diversity in the character designs.
I want SpyParty to be “the most diverse game ever”, which is a kind of silly hyperbolic statement, but it is a good guiding principle for us to follow when we’re concepting characters. Less hyperbolically, I would like the characters in SpyParty to represent a wide variety of people who don’t normally appear in video games. This list includes women, minorities, old people, and people with disabilities. Furthermore, I’d like all of these diverse characters to be playable, and have them all be competition-level tuned and balanced, even though they retain their diverse characteristics. By this I mean the elderly woman will walk like an elderly woman—so mostly likely slower than a fit young person—and because of this, a player choosing her as the Spy will have to compensate with better time management for accomplishing missions. However, the design of SpyParty is such that this walk-speed-disadvantage will contribute to the meta of the game, and so players will be less likely to choose her, so she’ll be less suspicious, so they’ll be more likely to choose her, and down the yomi rabbit hole we go! I’m lucky that I’m working with a game design that allows me to explore diversity with no compromises. If I was working on a game with serious space marines in it, it’d be a lot harder to include a playable elderly woman…
The axes of diversity we’re actively exploring with the SpyParty characters are: age, gender, ability, race, and body shape. We’re also addressing sexual orientation, but in the game mechanics themselves, rather than in character design: there’s a mission called Seduce Target, where you can choose who you’re going to seduce, and it allows any combination of characters to seduce one another. It’s not a terribly deep exploration of sexual preferences, but it’s there and it’s real gameplay. There are many other axes worth exploring; one important one we are skipping for now is class/income-level, because I couldn’t figure out a way to address that meaningfully in a game about a high society cocktail party while still keeping the game focused on the core perception and deception skills.
We’re also looking to keep the cast diverse in the sense of the archetypes we include. We definitely acknowledge and embrace some spy and mystery cliches, but we want to tread carefully and push further. Is it okay to have a character in a traditional aristocratic outfit from a country as long as there are others of the same race in more modern business or party attire? I think so, but we need to be careful to not slip into racial stereotypes and harmful cliches.
On a more superficial note, we also look at aesthetic diversity, especially when it comes to the silhouettes of the characters. This is a very inspirational sketch showing the diversity of silhouettes in the Corpse Bride movie:
In SpyParty, the silhouette is incredibly important for instant visual recognition, even when lowlit. The less confusion between characters, the better the Sniper can keep track of suspects. Hats and interesting hair styles are a big part of creating the character’s silhouette, as you can see in the group shots.
The New Characters
Okay, enough generalities, here they are! Remember, these names are all placeholders until we pick real names for them. I think we’ll probably end up involving the community in naming the characters, but it’s not time for that yet. Each character has an interesting fact or anecdote about them, so I’ll introduce them each individually…
|We use photo and video reference when we create the characters, because we want a level of naturalism that you can’t really get if you’re just making stuff up out of your head. There are tons of tiny details that give weight and believability to a real person in a real space, and it’s easy to miss them if you don’t have reference. Well, the reference for Ms. F is actually John’s girlfriend Alice! Alice has helped out a bunch in the SpyParty booths at PAX and Evo, training newbies to play the game, and giving them pointers to play better.Here’s a great photo of Alice cosplaying Ms. F…will her appearance in the game change her real life mentoring behavior?|
|Mr. G is the first character in the new art style who has a direct analog in the old art, so he allows us to do embarrassing before/after shots like this one.|
Here are some posed conversations with the new and old characters:
One interesting difference between this reveal and the last time is these renders are all of the in-game realtime models, not concept art models with millions of polygons. When we did the first reveal, we hadn’t created the runtime models yet with their posable skeletons, and so we had to pose the million polygon models, which was a giant pain in the butt. We decided never to do that again, since posing the concept models is basically a complete waste of time in terms of developing the game. So, this time we waited to reveal them until we had the full in-game models decimated, textured, and rigged. John’s already animating them and so we’ll reveal their talk animations soon, probably after E3.
There are some non-realtime rendering tricks and a bunch of post-processing on all these shots, but the meshes and textures are the same as appear in the game. The foam on the beer is totally faked in Photoshop, however.
Since we’re releasing these new characters rendered with the in-game models, let’s also re-release the old set of characters, but this time rendered from their realtime meshes so they match up:
Now that we have 10 new art characters, we can finally make a real playable competition-worthy map, and that’s the goal for PAX 2014. I’ll talk about this in more detail in the near future, but as you probably know, the original 5 characters are in the game now, but it’s more of a technology demo than a playable map since 5 people isn’t enough of a crowd to make a real SpyParty level. But with 10 characters we can really do something! Currently the existing Balcony level has 7 partygoers, and Ballroom has 13, so we’re going to make a new map that’s between the two sizes, and get it tuned up and even use it to replace Beginner vs Beginner Ballroom as the tutorial map, so when people sit down to play at PAX or in the beta, they’ll be playing the new artwork from the beginning. Eventually they’ll want to start exploring the other maps, and they’ll find the old art, but hopefully by that point they’ll understand the depth of the game and not care too much about the visuals. That’s the theory, at least.
We can also try replacing Balcony with a new artwork map with 7 partygoers, but that’s a bit of a terrifying prospect given that Balcony is one of the premier competition maps and is very finely tuned. But, it’s gotta happen sometime!
More generally, we have 10 more new characters to do to give us a total of 20 playable partygoers. If you look at that group shot at the top of this post, it’s going to be a very crowded picture. I think we’re going to have to either widen the image or make some people sit down. Heck, even this this crazy picture of the giant Downton Abbey cast has only 18 characters in it, so imagine an even more crowded cast than that!
Finally, if you want higher res versions, here are direct links to the 2560×1600 ones. If you need other aspect ratios, let me know in the comments.
- And that’s not counting the waiter and the security guard, so 22 total, yikes! [↩]