[Chris Hecker, the designer-programmer of the upcoming SpyParty delves into his creative ethos and how he sees the industry in this interview that takes in the game's design and the shape of today's indie and mainstream spaces.]
Video game industry veteran Chris Hecker describes SpyParty like this: "It's an espionage game, so, it's about spies." Which makes the former Maxis developer's new independent project sound very simple. It really isn't.
Taking to the stage at Nottingham's Game City event this fall, Hecker lays it out: "Think about your favorite spy movie and there are certainly explosions and gunfire and car chases and whatnot -- it's fine."
"But if you think about it, the majority of the film, the majority of the story, the experience you have, it's about watching the spy guys or spy girls be cool. They're sneaking around or they're acting cool and hiding in plain sight and whatnot.
"The games are almost all shooting and car chases. I wanted to make a game that was less of this..." Hecker pulls up a slide of Roger Moore on skis, leaping away from an explosion, stabbing at the air with his ski poles like some eager assassin of the sky. "...and more of this..." A slide of Sean Connery appears, all suited up and drinking brandy with a wry smirk, as if to say "Oh yes. Roger Moore. He's all right, I suppose."
"Because for me," Hecker continues, "this is the cool part about spy fiction. You know, Sean Connery acting cool with his snifter of Cognac or whatever."
Then it gets complicated. SpyParty is explained as a two-player game in which one person plays a spy at a cocktail party and the other plays a sniper looking through the window. The spy has to fulfil his mission criteria.
Plant a bug on an ambassador, retrieve microfilm from a book in a bookcase, swap a statue on a pedestal around and make contact with a double agent. It's the sniper's job to stop the spy from achieving all of those goals -- but his rifle only has one bullet.
And he has no idea which character is the spy. The other guests at the party all act according to the AI's whims. The trick the spy has to learn is how to act like a computer character to avoid getting caught, in a similar way to the multiplayer of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood.
Talking to Hecker after his presentation at the Game City Festival in Nottingham, he is keen to highlight the differences between how his game and how games like The Ship and AC: Brotherhood incorporate this inverse Turing Test into gameplay.
"They don't do the inverse Turing Test the same way," he says. "Those games are basically like games of Assassin, which is that college campus game, and they're actually, like, for the most part, a symmetric game. In other words, I'm hunting someone and someone else is hunting me. So everyone is playing the same role.
"What happens in those games, or at least the ones I played, [is that] because you have to watch your back all the time you can never really relax into that performance role, and you can never really relax into the perception role either right?"
At the time of interview, Brotherhood had still not been released. In the interest of fairness, the multiplayer's Manhunt mode is an asymmetric hide-and-seek game where players take it in turns to hunt and be hunted. This would probably please Hecker more than the regular mode. That said, it still has the radar, which he isn't keen on.
"When I played AC: Brotherhood multiplayer at E3, the one crowning thing they did that I wish they would fix -- they have a radar. It's right out. It's not about behavior when there's a radar. You run around the map looking for the guy, you get, you know, 5 meters away from him and then you, like, walk slowly so that you don't set off the radar beeper.
"Yeah, I think AC: Brotherhood would be awesome if they took the radar out and made it in the town square. Not the entire town. Because in the entire town what you end up doing is scaling the walls running across the rooftops until you get close to your target. And so it's like, 'There's dudes running on the rooftops!' And the kills in there are these big flourishy kills and none of the NPCs react at all. Like, someone isn't all 'Someone over there is getting killed!' It doesn't try and be a kind of naturalistic space.
"And so, for me, like, I think they're interesting [features] but it would be way more interesting if they pushed in the direction of -- remove the radar and have more character models so that blending in becomes something more behavioral as opposed to just all six of those models of the same monk guy. You don't know [who your target is] because it's confusing, not because you're blending. You're not blending behaviourally, you're just the same 3D model as those guys, you know what I mean?
"I would like AC: Brotherhood to be as behavioral as possible because I want people to expand this market. I want more people playing in this field."