Chris Hecker wants you to act fake. More precisely, he wants you to act artificial.
“Spy Party”–the in-development title he’s programming all by his lonesome–pits two players against each other on either side of a nerve-racking cat-and-mouse dynamic. One player controls a sniper who views the titular party through the scope of a high-powered rifle. The other player takes on the role of the spy, milling about in a gathering filled computer-controlled partygoers. The spy must fulfill several objectives like bugging an ambassador or planting microfilm under a time limit and the sniper needs to take out the spy before all the objectives get done.
[An early look at “SpyParty.” All art is placeholder and reflects a work-in-progress.]
The twist is that the sniper never knows who the spy is, while the spy can always see the blood-red dot of the rifle’s targeting laser. One player always knows he’s being hunted and the other can always see his prey, if only inadvertently. The result is a delicious tension that quickly becomes addictive. Most intriguingly, the best strategy the spy player can use is to look like one of the AI-controlled party people. How long one stays in a conversation, admires a piece of sculpture or walks back and forth across the room could all tip off the sniper as to who the spy is. However, the partygoers are programmed to act “human” too and the limited animation set makes the difference between person-controlled and computer-controlled characters tough to spot. Essentially, the spy player must act like an artificial intelligence that itself is designed to look like people. It’s a head-turning conceptual axis that can lead to the sniper putting a bullet in the head of an innocent debutante.
Hecker’s an alumnus of EA, having specifically worked on the much-heralded “Spore.” Since he’s working all by himself, Hecker estimates that “SpyParty” is a good two years away from completion. He has, however, been doing a barnstorming tour of playtesting, where he instructs folks on the basics of the game’s mechanics and lets them play each other. “SpyParty” was a smash hit at this year’s PAX fanfest and the San Francisco programmer recently brought the game to NYU’s Game Center for students to play. It got a great reception there but watching players puzzle out the game manual and the actual play experience reminded me of Hecker’s talk at IndieCade in October. The subject of the talk was how single-player modes introduce the game mechanics Many already consider “SpyParty” a success even at this rough, early stage so why even do single-player? It’s an important consideration for a game being made by one guy. In the video that follows, he delves into what a game like “SpyParty”–which is primarily ordered as a multiplayer experience–stands to gain from a single-player component. Be warned, though: Hecker’s an hyper-intelligent fast-talker. There’s no shame in admitting that some of his presentation will go over your head. “SpyParty”–whenever it comes out–won’t.