How does the sniper spot the spy? By paying attention to a variety of "tells" -- from the subtle (a human Spy's order of actions may differ from an NPC's) to the "hard" (catch the Spy covertly slip an object to an NPC). As Hecker is keen to point out, SpyParty is a game about human interaction. "You have to decide where you're going, go there and don't look back (basically). Of course, I also make the NPCs fidget occasionally, just to fuck with people," Hecker revealed to a laughing audience. "And that's interesting -- that interplay ... I mean, it's an inverse Turing Test at a certain level."
"The tells are too obvious -- they're not obvious when you're not looking for them, or you're looking in the wrong direction -- if the Sniper is looking right at the Spy, the Spy's not gonna be able to bug the ambassador (or whatever)," Hecker observed. "And this is a problem because one of the core things about the game is I want to turn player skill to 11." His solution, outside of tuning the subtlety (or lack thereof, in some instances) of player animations, is to potentially add a "small player-skill challenge to completing missions more subtly" -- a metagame, for instance, along the lines of Gears of War's active-reload mechanic. This possible answer "Has Potential," but is still very much in the concept phase, Hecker added.
This plays to the aforementioned "e-Sports" level of depth Hecker hopes to achieve with his game, repeatedly stating as much during his talk. "I'll eventually dial it back with handicapping ... you can always make things more accessible, but I wanna go as deep as I possibly can on this mechanic and this concept before I start actually dialing it back."
"I want to turn player skill to 11." - Chris Hecker
His approach to the game's development, he said, was inspired by Rob Pardo, Blizzard's chief game design executive. "Rob Pardo gave this talk at GDC Austin in 2008 [ed. note: he meant 2006] about their different kind of design sensibilities and just how Blizzard goes about doing things. And he made this point about 'depth first, accessibility later,' and I was right in the middle of Spore and we were doing it the other way. We were making sure it was very accessible -- and the fact of the matter is we didn't really ever get the depth there. The Creature Creator, actually, I think has depth -- but we actually did that depth first. We had a really impossibly hard creature creator, that could make arbitrary creatures, and then we backed off from that and made it accessible. Whereas the actual game mechanics, we didn't do that, and I think it shows in the game we ended up shipping. And so, I wanted to not make that mistake again. That laser-like focus is, in some sense, a reaction to that."
NYU Game Center director Frank Lantz, who's also the creative director at Area/Code, developer of the wonderful Drop7, closed the evening out by inviting attendees to join him at -- where else? -- BabyCastles for the "after party." And though Hecker noted that this would be the last time we'd see his game in public for a while, he mentioned during his presentation a possible appearance at GDC in late February. With any luck, SpyParty won't stay incognito for too long.