Frequently Asked Questions
I probably should have put this FAQ for SpyParty up a long time ago, but “better late than never”, I guess!
I’ve tried to look over most of the comments on the blog and roll them into this FAQ, but I’m sure I missed some, and I’m sure people will come up with more questions as time goes on.
If you have a question that’s not answered here but should be, or if you want clarifications on any of the answers, please post in the comments below, and I’ll promote them up to the page.
- When are you shipping?
- What!?! Why do I have to wait so long?
- Will there be a demo?
- Will there be a beta? Can I help you playtest SpyParty?
- Okay, there’s a beta, but why is it going so slowly?
- Where can I find the infamous Four Page Instruction Manual so I can read it and not get completely owned the first time I play?
- What platforms will SpyParty be on?
- What will the hardware requirements look like?
- How much will the game cost?
- How is SpyParty different from ______?
- Will there be other modes besides just two-player Spy vs. Sniper?
- Will the Spy and the Sniper be able to play on the same screen, like on a couch?
- Will there be other settings besides parties?
- How many maps will there be?
- How many missions will there be?
- Will the Sniper be able to do anything else besides observe the party?
- Can the Sniper influence the Spy and/or partygoers?
- How many characters will there be?
- Will each character have different behaviors? What about genders, races, ages, etc.?
- How can the Spy see the laser sight but no one else at the party can?
- Will the Spy be able to make distractions?
- Will there be a Spectator mode?
- Will there be a single-player mode?
- Will there be LAN support? Spawned copies? Can I run my own dedicated server?
- What is the art/music style going to be? Will it be stylized or realistic?
- What about dialog?
- What about plot, or campaigns?
- Will I be able to play with the current prototype graphics?
- Banana Bread.
- If the game is hard core player-skill, how will new players not just get owned? Will I have to read a manual when the game is released?
- I’ve heard you have a mechanic like Gears of War’s Active Reload, doesn’t that detract from the psychological skill and make the game more about twitch skills?
- What language is SpyParty written in? What engine do you use? What’s your development environment?
- What kind of animations will SpyParty use?
- What are your inspirations for SpyParty?
- What are your aesthetic goals for the game?
- How did you name the game? What about the poor Sniper, doesn’t he or she feel left out?
- How many people work on SpyParty? Are you hiring?
- Will there be any kind of User Generated Content, or customization, or XBox Live Avatar support, etc.?
- Can I put on a SpyParty LARP?
When are you shipping?
The short answer is: I don’t know. The long answer is: probably a couple years from now, where ‘now’ is spring, 2011.
What!?! Why do I have to wait so long?
I want SpyParty to be perfect. I think the game has a lot of potential to explore themes and mechanics rarely explored in this medium, like perception, deception, and performance, and others I mention below. I want the the game to be deeply tuned so it supports competition-level player skills,1 but instead of being twitch skills, they’re psychological skills. I also want the game to be beautiful artistically and aurally. All of these things take time to do right. I talk more about each of these topics below.
Will there be a demo?
I assume so, but I’m not sure yet.
Will there be a beta? Can I help you playtest SpyParty?
Yes you can! Please head over to the Early-Access Beta Sign Up Page and read about the beta plan.
Okay, there’s a beta, but why is it going so slowly?
I’m really sorry the invites to the Early-Access Beta are trickling out so slowly. The quick answer is, I would love to invite everybody in at once, but my server would melt. Making the game’s back end servers scale to the 12000 people signed up so far is going to be a lot of work, and there are going to be (and have been) a lot of bugs that need fixing along the way. Trust me, I want to invite you in more than you want to be invited in, I just can’t go faster yet! This blog post talks about the roll-out plan in more detail.
Where can I find the infamous Four Page Instruction Manual so I can read it and not get completely owned the first time I play?
Thank you for asking! Reading the manual is the best way (short of actually playing) to get a feel for SpyParty! You can find the latest version here.
What platforms will SpyParty be on?
I hope to have it on all the major platforms that will run it. This includes PC and Mac (on Steam and other distribution sites, including this website, and they will all be able to play each other), Xbox Live Arcade, and PlayStation Network. I’ve been talking to Nintendo about their next generation console, and if the controller screen (exists and) is good, that could solve one of my “couch issues” I talk about below, so that could be cool. (Clarification for the Internet: I have not signed an NDA, but I read the same rumors as other people, and when I talked to some Nintendo folks recently, I said, “I know you can’t confirm or deny, but if the controller screen is good, then that might make it a perfect SpyParty machine because of my ‘couch problem’.”) Also, the iPad is another solution to this problem of how to have players in the same room, so I’ll probably look into that as well. Linux is a real possibility too, especially since the successes of the Humble Bundles with Linux users.
However, I am 100% focused on making the game as deep and as awesome as I can right now, and I’ll worry about the platforms later, after I’ve got the gameplay where I want it.
In some updated platform news, some beta testers have gotten SpyParty working with Wineskin, a Windows emulator for MacOS! There’s a thread about how to set it up in the beta forums, so once you’re invited into the beta you can try that if you’re a MacOS user. It is incredibly easy to install and it works really well, I just tried it myself!
What will the hardware requirements look like?
It’s too early to say for sure. Right now, it runs on incredibly low end laptops (even netbooks!), but obviously the graphics are going to improve a lot and that’s going to cost some performance. However, I want as many poeple as possible to be able to play SpyParty, and that’s vital for a multiplayer indie game, so I want to keep the hardware requirements as minimal as possible. I do all of my development on an old Lenovo T500 laptop, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, so that’s another thing that will help keep me honest and the specs low.
How much will the game cost?
I assume it will cost $15, but I don’t know for sure. $15 is kind of the “AAA Indie” price point these days, and I think it’s good for the industry to standardize on a single price in this segment so players have a basic intuition for what level of polish and production values they will get for their money. Update: I figured out and posted the pricing model here.
How is SpyParty different from ______?
SpyParty is not the first game to explore psychological themes, nor pretending to be an NPC, nor hiding in plain sight, nor any of these concepts. I think it is a particularly interesting take on them, but there have been many games before with similarities. These include:
- The Ship and Bloody Good Time, by Outerlight, and the multiplayer modes in Assassin’s Creed by Ubisoft. These are basically games of Assassin, which is a popular live-action game played on college campuses. They’re mostly symmetric, meaning each player is playing the same role, they use large maps where occlusion and environment traversal is a big part of the gameplay so they have features like radars for telling where your target is, and they don’t focus on the same level of behavioral performance and perception that I’m going for in SpyParty. I have a long post I’m writing that will do a detailed analysis of these games, that I’ll link to here when it’s finished. People ask if I’m worried about these games, and the opposite is true, actually. I wish they explored subtle psychological gameplay more than they currently do, because we need more games pushing in these subtle behavioral directions, not fewer!
- Puji, Ninja Convention, Lucas Debes, SPY PARTY, Remote Shepherd, Hidden in Plain Sight, Nintendo Game & Wario’s Thief, Betraille: Part Deux, Crime Scene, A Letter to my Valentine, XX13, inconSPYcuous. There are a bunch of “demakes”, clones, games inspired by SpyParty, or games designed totally independently that just have a similar mechanic! I collect links to these and love to hear about them, so if you know of one not on this list, please comment below so I can check it out. It’s fun to see different interpretations of the idea. I’ve thought about having a game console in a room in SpyParty, with some of the 2D games running on it, and the two players can “push the stack” and go play one of these in the middle of their normal SpyParty game. That’s probably a pipe dream though, but it’s a cool idea! Most of these differ from SpyParty because they’re done as “Jam games”, or for competitions, or just for fun, and the developer isn’t trying to take them to a full polished game. Daniel Benmergui has an awesome SpyParty 2D demake design he’s been kicking around, so hopefully I’ll be able to convince him to make it. People often ask me what I think about other developers making these kinds of games relative to my work, so here’s a link where I discuss it a bit with the developer of Hidden in Plain Sight (also read the comments). The short answer is, as I wrote to Adam:
My attitude towards derivative game designs is that they can contribute significant value to the art form, they simply have to move the game design ball forward. If they’re just clones of an existing thing without pushing in any new directions, then that can be fine for game development practice (just like copying a painting at the museum while you’re training to be an artist is an effective learning tool), but it’s not something you want to focus on as an end goal.
In general, I want more experimentation with subtle psychological gameplay!
- Hitman by IO Interactive. There is some disguise in Hitman, but they don’t explore it very much. Hopefully they will more in the future. There’s a level where you dress up as a waiter in a restaurant, for example. Also, Mission: Impossible on N64 has a deception level where NPCs react to your behavior.
- Team Fortress 2 by Valve. They have a fictional Spy and Sniper rivalry, but that’s about it! But hey, people ask, so here it is.
- There is also a whole genre of Flash “Sniper Games”, where you’re given a description of somebody and you have to find them in a crowd (usually of stick figures!).
- Werewolf/Mafia. These are great party games, and have a different take on the performance and deception idea. Because they’re real people in a real room, they tend to be more about politics and bluffing.
- Trouble in Terrorist Town by BadKing. This is a Garry’s Mod mod, and I haven’t played it yet, but it sounds interesting. It sounds a bit more like Werewolf than The Ship. There are a few other mods like this, like the Bystander mod for Quake, and Prop Hunt for TF2 and Counter-Strike: Source, which sounds hilarious from the description.
If you have others that should be on this list, add a comment below!
Will there be other modes besides just two-player Spy vs. Sniper?
Yes, definitely! I’m just focusing on Spy vs. Sniper 1v1 right now because it’s the most “pure” asymmetric mode that gets to the heart of the core game design. After it’s where I want it, I will branch out into multiple players on both sides, Spy/Sniper teams, Snipers who can be at the party, and all kinds of other craziness.
I’ve gotten a bunch of ideas for different game modes and features from fans, so if you have an idea for the game, don’t hesitate to suggest it in the comments!
Will the Spy and the Sniper be able to play on the same screen, like on a couch?
This is hard. As I mention above, the Wii 2 and iPad might help with this. It’s also been suggested that the Spy player be able to play through the Sniper’s view, but that presents a lot of problems. A hot-seat design is also on the back burner. This is an important play style for some people, so I’m going to try to do something here, but it definitely is not a natural fit for SpyParty. That said, the Sniper side scales well to groups of people sitting together, and it stays fun (although multiple people watching the Sniper view and cooperating makes the game very challenging for the Spy).
Will there be other settings besides parties?
Yes, basically any place people gather where a limited and stylized set of social mores express the basic interactions will work, so this could mean a nightclub, a queue outside the velvet rope of a nightclub, a park during the day, a classroom, lunch at a cafe, etc.
How many maps will there be?
I don’t know yet, but hopefully lots. I’m still focusing on the core game loop, and I haven’t run out of gameplay depth there without having to resort to making more maps, so I’m going to keep digging. I have done two more maps as an experiment to see how it changes the gameplay and that’s been successful in playtests, but I’m not going to focus on map building right now, since it’s a lot easier to build maps than getting the core design solid, so I’m not worried about it as a risk.
How many missions will there be?
Again, hopefully a lot. There are 6 right now (Bug Ambassador, Swap Statue, Transfer Microfilm, Contact Double Agent, Inspect Statues, and Seduce Target), and a couple more that are partially implemented (Steal Plans and Poison Drink). I tend to do new missions to explore completely new types of tells, like trying out an audio tell, or figuring out if the Sniper can perceive when two people at the party are spending a lot of time together. There are three main categories of tells: 1) hard tells, which are when a character plays an animation no NPC will play, and if it is seen, identifies him or her as the Spy, 2) soft tells, which allow the Sniper to reduce the number of suspects, but not positively identify the Spy, and 3) behavioral tells, which are cues like “that character is acting funny” but that don’t have any specific indentifying characteristics. The space of these tells is a very large design space to explore, so I’m confident I’ll be able to add many missions that are completely different from each other.
Will the Sniper be able to do anything else besides observe the party?
Yes, that is the plan, although I’ve been surprised by how much gameplay there is in just trying to perceive without have any other verbs available. But, the plan is to add things like the Sniper can control a video camera to record areas of the party that are offscreen, but rewinding and playing back the tape takes attention, and the Spy knows when you’re doing it, and having the Sniper be able to ask the Security Guard to take someone aside and ask them questions from their dossier. Both the Spy and the Sniper need to know the correct answers, of course. And, to make it more ludicrous, the Spy could choose to be the Security Guard, so the Sniper can’t even trust that character.
Can the Sniper influence the Spy and/or partygoers?
Right now the only feedback is the laser sight, which definitely influences the Spy’s behavior. In fact, a great “newb test” is to just aim the laser at each character’s head and see which one starts moving—that’s usually the newbie Spy. In the future, I hope to have lots of ways for the Sniper to influence the party, including deciding when it’s time to serve dinner, when the musical act goes on stage, dimming the lights, etc.
How many characters will there be?
I don’t know for sure yet, but I have the number 30 floating around in my head. The game is basically unplayable for a single Sniper with 30 partygoers in a room simultaneously, though, because there’s just too much visual information flooding the screen, but of course each map uses a different number of characters, and eventually there will be modes with multiple Snipers. I have a list of 50 or 70 “spy fiction archetypes” that would be hilarious as SpyParty characters, so it’ll just depend on time, resources, and art direction which ones make it in.
Will each character have different behaviors? What about genders, races, ages, etc.?
I hope to have different behaviors for all the the characters and characteristics, but this is a stretch goal. I would really like it if the General would “chase skirts” and “drink too much”, and the Mad Scientist would “alienate people in conversations”, and both the Spy and the Sniper would have to learn these behaviors to get good at the game. This makes the game deeper, but even more complicated, and it’s a lot of programming, debugging, and animating, so I’ll have to see how it goes.
How can the Spy see the laser sight but no one else at the party can?
The Spy is wearing infrared sensitive contact lenses. Duh.
Will the Spy be able to make distractions?
Yes, although none are in yet. Spilling a drink on somebody, or asking the Double Agent to spill a drink on somebody are obvious candidates. Making the stereo system start smoking, turning off the lights, drawing the blinds, the list goes on and on.
Will there be a Spectator mode?
Definitely. SpyParty is almost as much fun to watch as it is to play.
Will there be a single-player mode?
Yes, although it remains to be seen what form it will take. There are three levels of single-player: 1) tutorial – I obviously have to have a good tutorial since the game is so different; 2) practice – I want the game to be skill based, so players need to be able to practice on their own; 3) campaign – this is like StarCraft II’s single-player relative to its multiplayer. Obviously all three would be great, but man, I want to ship this game before the heat death of the universe.
Will there be LAN support? Spawned copies? Can I run my own dedicated server?
Hopefully, yes to all these questions. I found this post called An FPS Server guide for developers that I’ll also try to follow, although man, some of that stuff is a lot of work. The game is at its best when played by two people in the same room with their laptops back-to-back, trash talking over the screens, so I definitely want to make that play style possible for people who have the hardware to pull it off.
What is the art/music style going to be? Will it be stylized or realistic?
Definitely stylized, not only because it’s an indie game and even big budget games fall into the Uncanny Valley when they try to do realism, but also because I think it suits the design better. Spy fiction is always absurd and exaggerated and stylish. That said, I don’t know what the aesthetic will be yet. Retro? Modern? Timeless? I don’t know yet! This post has a lot of visual inspirations, and feel free to add suggestions to the comments there.
What about dialog?
It’s a stretch goal due to time and cost, but I would love to have voice acting in the game. More on that later.
What about plot, or campaigns?
For single player, this remains to be seen, as I say above. For multiplayer, the current plan is to do it kind of like Left 4 Dead, where there’s a loose fictional arc to a given multiplayer session, that gives a sense of progression but without any kind of heavy-weight plot.
Will I be able to play with the current prototype graphics?
Really, I get this question a lot! The answer is probably ‘no’, simply because it would take a ton of work to keep them functioning once they’ve been replaced, since all the animations and skeletons will be changed, but then again, the new Monkey Island on XBLA apparently lets you switch between the old and new art, so I guess I’d possible. Of course, that’s a 2D sprite game, so it’s a different level of complexity. However, I really want to encourage developers to make more games with normal people, rather than aliens and orcs, so I’m thinking about how I could open-source the current assets as a “normal people game engine” so other indies could play around with a bunch of animated characters. Too early to say whether that will work, but it would be cool if it does.
If the game is hard core player-skill, how will new players not just get owned? Will I have to read a manual when the game is released?
Right now, I’m doing the Depth-first, Accessibility-later development methodology, which is why you need to read a manual to play. After I nail the depth, then I’ll work on the accessibility. There will be a tutorial and a mentoring system and ranking and matchmaking and all that stuff. But, I secretly hope there will also be a manual, and if you read it, you’ll do better. Maybe I’m just old fashioned that way.
I’ve heard you have a mechanic like Gears of War’s Active Reload, doesn’t that detract from the psychological skill and make the game more about twitch skills?
I call it an Action Test, and no, it didn’t, thankfully! It’s different in a couple of important ways, but the core idea is definitely stolen directly from Gears. This post and its comments talk about these issues, and this post has the results of the Action Test playtest.
What language is SpyParty written in? What engine do you use? What’s your development environment?
SpyParty is mostly custom C++ written by me. I use OpenGL for low level rendering, a modified libjingle for networking, and I’m currently using an open source animation library called Cal3D that I’ve heavily hacked up, but it’s not very good, so I’m going to rewrite it from scratch soon, since achieving high quality character animation is such a vital technology for SpyParty. I talk a bit about the game’s custom AI system in this lecture. I use GNU Emacs for editing code, and Visual C++ for compiling and debugging.
What kind of animations will SpyParty use?
Animations are critical for both the visual aesthetics and style of SpyParty, but also for the gameplay, so the core of every animation is going to be done by hand, and then there’ll be some light procedural “touch up” done. An example would be picking up a statue…there will be a custom animation done for this motion (and maybe even custom per-character!), and then there will be an Inverse Kinematics system that warps the animation’s target to the statue’s current position relative to the character. This is important for making the character actually grab the statue, but it’s also important for the animation system to be able to deal with misaligned characters. Normal games would just have the NPCs always register themselves properly relative to the statue, but SpyParty has to deal with the Spy player not aligning correctly, and so I also have to have the NPCs not align correctly so the Spy isn’t the only one messing up, which would be a recipe for getting shot.
What are your inspirations for SpyParty?
Game-wise, there are a bunch. Counter-Strike is a huge influence on the player-skill depth and multiplayer community aspects of the game. I played a lot of Left 4 Dead to “research” asymmetric multiplayer games, and I came up with my mentoring plans for SpyParty while playing L4D pubbie pickup games. The Sims is obviously influential in terms of it being one of the only other games about people in a room, talking. More games need to explore this human scale level of interaction. Similarly, Ico shows you can have a very simple mechanic (calling and holding hands), with very simple animations and AI, and very simple controls (push a button to call the Princess) and you can get an immense amount of expressivity and emotion out of it—you don’t have to have a million polygons per-character and solve the Strong AI problem, you just need to be smart about your affordances and feedback. Go, the board game, is the most beautiful game ever created, and also maybe the deepest, so it’s a huge inspiration. Poker is another beautiful and deep game, and the bluffing and psychology aspects are directly relevant to SpyParty. Frank Lantz gave a great GDC talk about Go and Poker you should watch if you’re interested in these games. A big inspiration for the game, and in fact, in some sense the “prequel”, is Thatcher Ulrich’s Indie Game Jam 0 game, Dueling Machine. At IGJ3 I was trying to figure out what a more intimate version of Dueling Machine would be, and came up with the Inverse Turing Test idea, and then the Spy fiction, and then it basically designed itself from there!
What are your aesthetic goals for the game?
I’m interested in exploring a number of themes with SpyParty‘s gameplay. Here’s a list from a recent lecture I gave:
- perception vs. deception & performance
- attention as a resource
- consequential decisions with partial information
- deduction vs. intuition
- analysis paralysis vs. extinct by instinct
- extreme asymmetry
- intense focus on player-skills about subtle human behavior
By the way, I think all game FAQs should be required to answer this question.
How did you name the game? What about the poor Sniper, doesn’t he or she feel left out?
I struggled with the name a fair amount, but at the end of the day, “SpyParty” is punchy, and gets across the vibe of the game, makes you wonder what it’s about, and is unique (well, there are a lot of people throwing spy themed birthday parties for their kids out there, but I finally have them beat on google :). I think names serve a lot of different masters, and being descriptive is one of them, but it’s fairly low on the list compared to being memorable and making people wonder about it. The game was originally called SniperParty, but that set the wrong tone, I think. I also think of both the Spy and the Sniper as spies, fictionally. They just got different assignments!
How many people work on SpyParty? Are you hiring?
It’s currently just me, Chris Hecker, and the amazing artist John Cimino. You can read more about me on my personal site, which is composed mostly of my technical game development writing. I’ve also had some awesome help here and there from various friends (especially Ian and Paul, my elite playtesters, and Ocean Quigley, my friend and rock climbing partner). I am not really looking for more people right now. With AAA indie games, it’s really important to keep your burn-rate as low as possible to give yourself enough time to get the gameplay exactly right.
Will there be any kind of User Generated Content, or customization, or XBox Live Avatar support, etc.?
It’s unclear right now. Customization is hard with this design, because obviously if you have a purple hat, you can’t just wear it, or else you’re going to get shot pretty quick. I think the Avatars design here is to have the party composed of your and all your friend’s avatars, and then you pick one. We’ll see, I’m not worrying about this right now.
Can I put on a SpyParty LARP?
Sure! There have been a few, and I’m going to post a list of the ones I know about at some point. People find it challenging to get the players playing the NPCs to “act normal”, apparently. Let me know how you solve that problem!
- I sometimes use the phrase “e-sports level player-skills”, but some people really hate the word “e-sports”. I actually agree it’s a dumb and problematic word, but it’s also a succinct word that gets the point across in terms of being clear about the difference between a game designed merely for people to battle for fun, versus a game that’s intended to have serious competitive levels of balance, where player-skills are dominant over randomness or items or avatar-skills. [↩]