Introducing the Next Five SpyParty Characters

Update:  we’ve shown them animating!

I’m super excited because it’s time to introduce the next five new SpyParty characters!

groupShot_newCharacters

Say “hello” to the new folks!

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

Half of the SpyParty Cast, Done!

Half of the SpyParty Cast, Done!

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!

Diversity

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:

corpse-bride-silhouettes

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…

Ms. F

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?MsF-Alice MsF

Mr. G

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.MrG-compare MrG

Ms. H

SpyParty characters are made of about 12000 triangles on average. Ms. H’s hair has 23767 triangles in it. Put another way: there are two full characters’ worth of triangles in her hair alone. It’s also rigged, meaning it has a skeleton inside it so it can animate plausibly while she moves her head and talks. It’s worth it to spend so many triangles on her hair because it looks so awesome, and it really makes her silhouette distinct. We actually spent a ton of time during the original character art style development phase working on how hair should look. I think hair simulation usually looks terrible in games (and CG movies), so we wanted something stylized and animatable, but that didn’t need a zillion bones or a special hair system and that fit our illustrative style. This hair technique we settled on, where the hair is kind of “clay-like”, works really well. John can animate parts like ponytails and mustaches, but we aren’t stuck simulating and rendering individual strands, which is expensive and usually looks terrible.Here’s a shot of Ms. H’s hair showing the polygons:MsH-hair MsH

Mr. I

We just added vehicles to SpyParty. Initially Mr. I is going to move around like the other characters, which will probably look terrible since wheelchairs do not move by the same rules that walking people do, but eventually he’ll get a completely custom wheelchair movement system. He’s lower to the ground than the other characters, so he might be a good choice as Spy because he’ll always have good cover, but then again, that makes him suspicious. I think the dot-com billionaire turtleneck snob look is going to get him shot a lot. MrI

Ms. J

Yes, the purse dog is fully animated. Well, it doesn’t have a lower body, but the head is articulated and it can look around and react to what’s happening. I don’t know if people are going to shoot the dog or not. Technically, it’s part of her mesh and skeleton, so you can shoot Ms. J by shooting the dog just like you can shoot any character by shooting them in the hair or in the shoe, so I’d have to add special code to disallow shooting the dog, but on the other hand, I can’t imagine adding a sound effect for shooting the dog, that seems like it’s going too far. There’s a glass breaking sound if you shoot somebody having a drink, so there is precedent for special sound effects… This needs serious design thought, and consultation with an ethics committee.The dog is modeled after Alice’s dog, which may also affect the decisions in this area.Also, Ms. J is drinking a Pimm’s, complete with a cucumber. And didn’t John do a fabulous job with that hat? MsJ

Group Shots

Here are some posed conversations with the new and old characters:

convo_02 convo_04 convo_03 convo_01

Technical Details

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:

groupShot_origCharacters

MsE MsB MrD MrC MrA

Next Steps

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!

Wallpapers

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.

groupShot_all-hi groupShot_newCharacters-hi groupShot_origCharacters-hi

  1. And that’s not counting the waiter and the security guard, so 22 total, yikes! []

37 Comments

  1. George Prosser says:

    Is the woman in pink intentionally modeled on the queen? The hair, the hat, even the pearl necklace!

    http://i.imgur.com/qhW11nS.jpg

  2. Wodar says:

    But what if the Dog is the Spy! If we cannot shoot him then the Spy will always win.

    • Iceman says:

      This is brilliant- let us choose the dog as a spy.  You can’t control your movement, but nobody will suspect such a cute looking pooch!

    • Lindion45 says:

      If the sniper can’t see ANYTHING suspicious, it’s the pooch! Although how would the pooch swap a statue or steal a guest list, if contained in a bag..?

  3. j5 says:

    Love the new art, and especially the diversity in the cast! I do wonder about the model of the power wheelchair though? I’ve noticed it has no caster wheels at the front, which would result in the wheelchair tipping forward and hitting the ground…

    • checker says:

      Good eye! But, of course, it’s got an auto-balancing system like a segway. I mean, Mr. I is obviously loaded and has a team of scientists working on advanced wheelchairs that he doesn’t even bother turning into products, he just makes them for himself.

    • j5 says:

      Haha! I work with people with disabilities and prescribe assistive devices. I would love to work for Mr. I =P

  4. Edward Rech says:

    when will you release it on steam? I want to play this game this summer already ;-;

    • checker says:

      It’ll be on steam, but not by this summer. If you want to play, you should just join the beta now, the community is so nice and helpful, it’s a really great vibe right now! Not sure exactly when steam will happen, maybe early next year?

  5. bl00dw0lf says:

    If you’re thinking of going the “shoot the dog” route, you can bypass some ethics by making the dog robotic (if that kind of stuff is in your universe)

  6. Varanas says:

    “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”

    This is actually really cool. I think some of the characters even look a little better.

  7. Smash10101 says:

    Are you going to integrate the new characters into the current modern map so we don’t always have the same 5 people?  Also, is Ms. H Orange Dress? Because I want her to be orange dress.

    • checker says:

      Modern is going to need more than 10 characters to work right with statues and bookcases, it’s a pretty huge room.  We’re going to do a totally new 10 person map, and then probably a new art Balcony clone.  But yes, they’ll be available on Modern.  Maybe I’ll move the velvet ropes across the deck a bit and see if a two convo Balcony works.

      Her dress looks red to me…

  8. Katherine0852 says:

    I love everything about this! New art, diversity, that you have to consider a Dog Dilemma.. everything! :D

    Though I worry a little that Ms. H will be Ms. Hair(-triangles/skeleton/animation/techdemo) :P

  9. Stuart says:

    With the frizzy doo, Ms. H almost looks like Leigh Alexander.

  10. Dinjoralo says:

    I think there should be a sound effect where the dog barks and whines when you shoot Ms. J. No dog shooting though. :(
    Oh yeah, does that twenty unique characters include Toby and Damon?

  11. EmotedLlama says:

    Opinion: I think there’s too much red/orange in the characters’ skintones. I’d try to elaborate, but it’s a purely aesthetic, personal opinion… one that nobody else seems to share, since I’ve not seen anyone voice it, but I figured it was worth mentioning.

    • George Prosser says:

      Pretty sure it’s intentional. Character style is illustrative and the party is supposed to feel warm to contrast with the cold outside. Good old orange and blue.

    • EmotedLlama says:

      Oh, I can tell it’s intentional–I just find it too much. It swings the bar too far towards unrealism for my tastes. (So maybe that is the elaboration I was looking for…) And I’m not sure it really succeeds in conveying the warm/cool contrast since the characters’ clothing is sometimes in cool colors–is clothing the outdoors? I dunno, that’s sort of leaning into area where I’m not qualified to speak.

  12. kkcrash says:

    I am a very big fan of everyone’s unique beverage. Ms F looks like a professional equestrian.

  13. Hamish says:

    I’m no kind of minority, but I am a teetotaler! :P And for a moment I was looking through the pictures and thought the army general wasn’t drinking at all – that’d make sense, such a severe-looking man! But then I saw him with the flagon, oh well.

  14. NHDaly says:

    LOVE the new characters. :) Although, the Modern map is already pretty slow for me (Wine on a Mac), and I wonder how much Mrs. H’s beautiful hair will slow it down even more!? :(

    Hopefully it’s not too bad! (But also, my macbok is from 2009.. BUT also, also, the game does run really well with the low-def character models.)

  15. Tobi387 says:

    I would prefer someone wearing a turquoise colored dress, or something cool-colored to stand out a little. I honestly think that if I was playing as the Sniper, I wouldn’t think that the Spy would choose someone so distinct as her.

  16. Tobi387 says:

    I love the new characters, especially Ms. F! Speaking of her, will there be more Asian characters?

  17. Quirken says:

    Speaking of ‘next steps’… even if it’s just an April Fools gag next year, I’d love to see a map that was half the new characters and half the old. Especially if, like “Mr. G,” they’re the old and new versions of the same character

  18. General Goose says:

    Old post, I know, but I love how you explain your design process with the characters. Re: income level/class, perhaps one way of getting diversity in that field is a union leader, or some kind of social activist with blue-collar roots? That kind of nouveau riche may fit in well at such an event. 

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