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SpyParty And The Indie Ethos: Chris Hecker Speaks
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SpyParty And The Indie Ethos: Chris Hecker Speaks

September 9, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

You know, it's funny because the way you describe the game is if you watch a spy movie, it's all the other stuff from the spy movie that we never concentrate on in games. SpyParty, it's a weird spot, where it seems quite congruent with what we expect from a game in terms of theming and stuff -- so it's not off in left field, it's not Flower or something, right?

CH: Right, literally in a field.

But at the same time it does seem like it's sort of off in left field, because it's the part of that theme we don't ever touch on. It's funny that that really does illustrate how things can be more limited then we think they are, sometimes.

CH: Yeah. I mean a lot of people, I often hear -- you know, I'll say some big thing in a rant, or a philosophical thing at GDC, or something about how games need to change and be about people and blah blah -- and then someone will kind of do a "gotcha" thing, and be like, "Well, your game is about spies! And blah, blah -- how is that not just a gamey thing?"

And, yeah, that's partially true. What I would say there, though, is that -- and I'm going to use an analogy -- I think that Call of Duty, where you shoot normal people in 2011, is a step forward from a game where you shoot space aliens. So even though they're very similar mechanically, just the theme of having people -- regular people -- as opposed to tentacled aliens with jet packs on, is a step in the right direction. Now it's a small step, but it's still a step.

And likewise I think spy fiction is, in some sense, about normal people. It's hyperreal, it's caricatured, but spy fiction for me is a really useful armature to hang all of this research off of, because it's got normal people with normal clothes, without jetpacks, and without all the stuff that separates you from people.

They're holding hands, or having drinks, or telling jokes, or smoking a cigarette. It's got all that stuff that allows you to get to this human stuff, but it's not like an episode of Friends where they're actually supposed to act like normal people. We don't know how to do that yet, so I can caricature. Spy fiction allows me to caricature.

In some sense the bar is lower because it's a spy movie, so it allows me to get to these human behavioral things in a way that doesn't immediately make you go, "Oh, that's not plausible!" Whereas if it really was three of your friends sitting at dinner talking around your table, the bar is so high there for actual behavioral interaction. So, baby steps.

Hopefully we'll eventually be able to do the Seinfeld game, and the Friends game, and games that talk about human behavior without having someone poisoning your drink at the same time. But this allows me to research some of that stuff, without it being basically totally unsolvable.

You've talked about, for example, if you offended me, that's a high level of nuance. You'd be looking in my eyes, you'd be trying to figure out my mood -- trying to guess and gauge from my reaction.

CH: And I'd be trying to [think] "Oh, what did I do wrong?" I'd have to discover that I even did something wrong, and it's so subtle.

And you've talked about with SpyParty, having to make everything more obvious so the sniper can actually stand a chance.

CH: Right. The obviousness is a dial, right? It's a tuning knob all of a sudden. But there's a truism in game design which is -- and I think, what's the false version of a truism? I think it's not a hundred percent true, I guess it's an aphorism -- it's that you can never make it too obvious. You can never make too obvious how to pull the trigger in a shooting game, and you can never make it hard to open the door. You don't want them to have to search around; you just run into the door nowadays.

This is part of what [Braid developer] Jonathan Blow talks about when he talks about how adventure games sort of curled into a ball and killed themselves and ate themselves. They were predicated on making things non-obvious, whereas the trend in game design has been really making the stuff that doesn't need to be obfuscated transparent.

So that's why you just run, and Doom and Quake were kind of a watershed at some point where you just hit the spacebar to open the door. You don't have to like find the doorknob or do anything, you just run up to it and bump into it and go, you know? Because hey, that was not an important part of the affordances they were offering the player, right?

You want to make the stuff that doesn't need to be obfuscated completely obvious and transparent, right? "Obvious" is even the wrong word. Obvious means you're actually recognizing it. You want it to just be transparent. It just shouldn't even be there, right?

Whereas in SpyParty, it's a mechanic about what's obvious versus not, and I'm constantly having to tune, for example, "How obvious is that animation? How much of a tell is there?" And that's one of the ways I plan on handicapping. It's a highly player skill-oriented game, so I need a handicap when I matchmake between two people who are of uneven skill levels.

One way is to make the tells more obvious. More people is harder for the sniper, right? Things like that.

It's interesting, that gets back to the other question about spy fiction as a thing. The game is a hardcore gamer game. I'm not making any apologies for that. Again, I'm using it as a platform for doing research about how to make games about human behavior, but this game in particular is a gamer game, right?

It is a game where two people sit down, and it is completely player skill, and one person will kick the shit out of the other person and go up in the ranking and whatever. It's not trying to be a social game or a game that's really accessible, accessible is the wrong word, that's really casual or anything like that even though it's about people. I want to make a Counter-Strike-level player skill game, but about things that there have never been a Counter-Strike level player skill game about: human behavior, namely.

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