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The Reasons Behind SpyParty


January 10, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next
 

SpyParty blurs the boundary between software and the psyche. Human psychology effectively forms the game, the characters on the screen are essentially a conduit, something to enable the game to take place between minds.

Even the early demo we played offers what could be termed "true interaction" as opposed to the simple avatar control of most titles. It forces you to really think simultaneously about the computer's actions and your human opponent's actions. In the same way as Portal forced the player to really think about space, and Braid forces you to really think about time, SpyParty forces you to really think about human behavior.

The AI behavior is another avenue Hecker wants to delve into. The idea is that there will be a lot of thought invested in the characters of the party, with each person having their own quirks.

"Technically there's one AI system and all the characters are running it. And so eventually what I want to do is have different personalities for every one of those characters. Different animations and everything.

"The problem with that is two-fold. One -- that's a lot of work," he laughs. "So I haven't gotten to it yet. Two -- that's too hard for newbies. If everyone was acting differently and you had to know all the characters to know what you were supposed to be doing? That's going to have to be an advanced feature anyway.

"In other words, when you first start out -- even in the final game where everything looks beautiful -- there's probably going to be the same AI running on everyone at the beginning just so you can get used to walking around the party. You know how it was when you first played. It was like, 'What the hell is going on here? Aaagh! I'm running into walls!'

"So that's just to get people familiar with the controls and comfortable. And then as you start to get more advanced play it'll start blending in more of the individual personalities. So you need to know that if the Ingénue walks by the General he's going to walk after her and try and hit on her."

"And if you don't do that, you're acting out of character. So now the sniper needs to know that too, so when the sniper sees the Ingénue walk by and the General keeps focusing on the Ambassador -- 'Wait, what's going on?' -- So, eventually I want to do that but that's a way harder-core game than the currently really hardcore game I currently have."

Hecker seems to be one of a few independent developers with a distinctive concern for innovation. He sees the indie community as something that can provide that innovation. But many indies aren't without their own faults, he argues.

"The obvious thing is in a triple-A title, for the most part, people are very risk averse because that's someone's fifty million dollars. People don't tend to want to lose that.

"Because people want a return on investment in the mainstream industry it has a direct impact on design. Because you're not given a very long leash. For doing really creative things you need to be able to fail and meander aimlessly for a while, while you're finding it right?

"I don't actually differentiate. I don't cut indies more slack. Like, a shitty game is a shitty game and a great game is a great game. Like, I don't care whether you did it in flash in your bedroom or whether 400 people did it in Shanghai.

"But the main thing that indies bring is that you can make a game on five grand. As long as you can afford to, you know, eat for a few months you can make a game. That risk aversion is not as big a factor. Which makes it actually even more of a crime against nature that so many indies are content to do just another platformer or another shmup because it's like, 'Dude, you could do anything! You could push in any direction, you have no constraints -- and you chose to do another shmup!? Like, really?'

"Whereas at least you can kind of understand why the infinite stream of totally generic space marine FPS' happens in the mainstream industry -- because they want their money back. But I think that innovation has to happen in both.

"I should be careful with the word 'innovation' because there's innovation for innovation's sake and then there's pushing in the directions that I think are important.

"For me at least I think pushing towards more depth and emotional power, and by [saying] emotional power it's a really of course a way of saying 'things that matter.' You know, speak to the human condition. Things that matter to people. Your mom doesn't play games not because games are inherently stupid. Your mom doesn't play games because she doesn't give a shit about killing space marines. It's just stupid."

He laughs.

"It's, like, a stupid way to spend an afternoon. It's fun and when it's player skill and when it's really, like, a tight, really well-crafted game it's a compelling interactive experience. But content, fiction-wise, it's just creatively bankrupt. I just think that we want to push out into things that people care about. And we just don't know how to make game mechanics about that stuff yet."


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