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Jeu du moment: Spy Party - Suit up, son! You're going to Mars! [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Suit up, son! You're going to Mars!

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Jeu du moment: Spy Party [Nov. 16th, 2011|09:21 pm]
Suit up, son! You're going to Mars!
I played a bunch of Checker's game, Spy Party at PAX. I thought it deserved its own post:

So there's a cocktail party full of AIs, and two human players. One human player is the spy, who is trying to mingle in the cocktail party and complete a laundry list of spy missions (e.g. bug the ambassador) without getting noticed by the sniper. The sniper is watching the party from afar, and is trying to spot the spy and shoot him. The sniper only gets one shot. After he shoots, needless to say, the party breaks up. So the game is kind of an anti-Turing test, with the spy trying to blend in with the AIs, and the sniper trying to pick him out from the crowd.

As an exercise in drama, this game is definitely a success. I had to spend a few seconds after each game coming down from an adrenaline rush.

I'm a little concerned, though, about the design of the spy missions. Or perhaps its more accurate to say that I am concerned about the design space that these missions are required to inhabit. Let me describe two different missions:

  1. Bug the ambassador: There's a particular NPC who is the ambassador. To bug him, you have to stand near him (probably by nonchalantly joining his "cocktail party conversation circle.") and push a controller button. Like all missions, when you push the button, you play a little golf-swing-meter timing game which determines how "sneaky" you were in your bugging. If you fail the timing game, your avatar performs a more clumsy and recognizable animation of bugging the ambassedor than if you didn't.
  2. Switch the statues: There's 6 little throw-me-the-idol-I'll-throw-you-the-whip-sized statues on display throughout the ballroom. You need to pick one up, swap it with a differently-shaped one that you're carrying in your Very Deep Pockets and put it back. Thankfully, the NPCs in the ballroom are quite fond if picking up the statues and admiring them, so picking one up isn't incriminating by itself. If you win the "golf-swing-meter" while swapping the statue, then the sniper's view of the world continues to show the old statue for a few seconds, giving you time to get away before the sniper can notice that it's a different statue.
These are two of the four missions in the basic game. Hopefully they illustrate the kind of design problem the spy missions are trying to solve: they need to be the sort of tasks that can be camouflaged as "ordinary party behavior," but they also need to have "tells" that the sniper can pick up on. "Bug the ambassador" represents one extreme of the spectrum, where the task basically involves ordinary party activity, and the "tell" is essentially a media clip (in this case a character animation) that might or might not be within the snipers FOV at the time. "Switch the statues," represents the other end, where the "tell" is left behind in the world state. I guess my problem with this whole space of possible spy missions is that it fundamentally leads to a game where the play skill—especially as the sniper—involves gaining encyclopedic knowledge of the spy missions and their tells. It seems likely to me that skill at defeating a particular mission (e.g. memorize the (random) shapes of the statues so that you know when they've changed) is unlikely to transfer to some new mission that you have never seen. I don't really see how I'm going to learn about new spy missions in the final game, except by failing at them a lot. Maybe some kind of "preview video" of the missions would help.

I find myself wondering what the "time shifted" version of this game would be like; where I commit the crime, and then my facebook friends later pore over the security camera footage to see if they can catch me. </ol>

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Comments:
From: chrishecker.myopenid.com
2011-11-17 08:33 pm (UTC)

different types of tells

Hey MAHK, thanks for the post and for playing at PAX! I should bring it to the Château some time, and sign up for the beta (http://www.spyparty.com/beta-sign-up) and I'll bump you to the front of the line!

For the tells, I've identified three different high level categories:

1. "hard tells" - these are things like the bugging animation you mention, where no other partygoer will perform them

2. "soft tells" - these are more deductive in nature, and don't positively idenfity the Spy, but allow the Sniper to build a case, like the "banana bread" double agent thing...you know somebody in conversation is is, but not exactly who

3. "behavioral tells" - these are things that the NPCs do in the small, but they don't do in the large, like put a book away at the wrong bookshelf, or beeline from one mission site to another without stopping for conversation, etc.

I originally thought I wanted to have all the tells be at the behavioral level, since that matches how I talk about the game as "exploring human behavior", but I realized while playtesting that the other tell types are very useful for moderating the tension levels (as you mention, the game is a bit like chewing nails right now, stress-wise). For example, if you execute a mission with a hard tell, and you're alive 5 seconds later, you can be pretty confident you got away with it, which is a big mid-game stress relief.

For the "Action Test" golf-swing bar, it had an interesting unintended side-effect that came out during playtests, which is that at elite levels it forces the Sniper to look for overall behavioral tells, because they can't rely on catching Spies in the act anymore (or, at least they can't count on it, so it's less risky for elite Snipers to simply ignore the hard tells and to pay attention to behavior).

The combination of these factors makes the elite game much more about looking for people "acting funny" than it is cataloguing a zillion tells. Now, as I add more missions, that may change, we shall see when I finally launch the public beta soon, but I'm pretty happy with how it has turned out not to be a problem yet.

> I find myself wondering what the "time shifted" version of this game would be like

I've also thought about this. In fact, the first prototype I sent out was actually a FRAPS capture of me walking around a party of NPCs, just having conversations. I wanted to see if people could tell which character I was before I started implementing the actual gameplay. I think this'll make replays fun, because you can actually play along with the Sniper during a reply, so unlike most games with replays of the elite players, like Go or Starcraft, here you'll be able to (mostly) play the Sniper side of a top ranked game. I've also thought a bit about the async and hot-seat versions of the game, both because there's no good couch-play version of the game on a single console yet (WiiU to the rescue), and because if I do crack the async design then I could easily put it on facebook or whatever. Not a high priority, but it's worth a low priority background thread.

Chris
http://www.spyparty.com (http://www.spyparty.com)
(Reply) (Thread)
From: chrishecker.myopenid.com
2011-11-17 08:35 pm (UTC)

Re: different types of tells

Annoying, lj displayed the links differently in preview!
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