SpyParty playable at PAX East, two new levels viewable right now

Ready to get your psychological, one-on-one sleuthery on? Well, good, because Chris Hecker's bringing just that with him to PAX East this March, where his reverse Turing Test game SpyParty will be playable by attendees. Hecker revealed as much to us this afternoon when he shot over screens of two new levels, "The Balcony" and "The Veranda," that we first heard about back in January.

Hecker actually hadn't planned on bringing the game to Boston after last year's experience at PAX Prime. He is, after all, just one man. "Late last year I decided not to attempt PAX East, not because I didn't want to, but mostly because doing PAX West almost killed me. Putting a booth together is an insane amount of work, costs a ton of money, and is just totally exhausting," he told us. By this January, however, he had reconsidered -- "I started getting the itch," he admitted.

After some mulling over the opportunity -- plus some help from Slam Bolt Scrappers devs Firehose Games, which is generously sharing a spot on the show floor (#1133) with Hecker and SpyParty -- he changed his mind. One piece of logistics he hasn't worked out yet? Where to sleep. "I still haven't figured out where I'm going to sleep, but that seems like a minor detail. What could possibly go wrong?" Indeed!

Check out Hecker's detailed, hilarious account of how he ended up going to PAX East this year, as well as a handful of new information about new modes in SpyParty, just below the break.%Gallery-117474% Hecker told us:

"Late last year I decided not to attempt PAX East, not because I didn't want to, but mostly because doing PAX West almost killed me. Putting a booth together is an insane amount of work, costs a ton of money, and is just totally exhausting. Plus, Seattle is a lot closer to my home town of Oakland than Boston is, and the longer the distance, the harder and more expensive stuff gets, and to make matters worse, PAX East is the week right after GDC (another conference that always almost kills me). So, I'd pretty much convinced myself there was no way to do it and live to tell the tale.

Flashback: Years ago when we had a baby, immediately after 29 hours of excruciating labor, my wife said, 'There is no way I'm doing that again.' Then, three weeks later, 'Let's have another one!' So it was with me and PAX.

"Can you imagine EA asking Activision if they have a little extra space in their booth, and Activision saying yes?!" - Chris Hecker


In January I started getting the itch. Since SpyParty is lucky enough to be an IGF grand prize finalist, I knew I was going to have a bunch of new stuff in the game for people to play in the IGF Pavilion on the expo floor. However, GDC is mostly an industry show, which means gamers wouldn't be able to try out the new features...hmm, maybe I should just look at the price of plane tickets to Boston ... wow, that's surprisingly cheap ...

I figured it was way too late to get my own booth, but there's no harm in checking, right? I got the booth map from PAX and saw that a bunch of indie friends had booths already. One of the great things about indies is how well they support each other, and so I mailed a few friends to see if they had any extra space.

The guys at Fire Hose Games, who are about to ship the totally insane and awesome Slam Bolt Scrappers on PSN, got back to me and said they could spare a few square feet for me in their booth! Indies rule! Can you imagine EA asking Activision if they have a little extra space in their booth, and Activision saying yes?!

So, now I have a plane ticket and a table on which to set up SpyParty in the back of the Slam Bolt Scrappers booth (#1133). I still haven't figured out where I'm going to sleep, but that seems like a minor detail. What could possibly go wrong?

I'm just really happy that fans are going to be able to play all the new stuff in the game.

Right, new stuff: There's a ton of new stuff in SpyParty, since the last time it was shown publicly back at NYU in November. I've blogged about some of the changes on my website, but when taken in total it makes for an even deeper and richer game. I can't wait to see what people think!

There are a ton of tuning changes to make the game deeper, but the biggest change that affects depth across the whole game is the addition of the Action Test mechanic. This is basically a modified and randomized Gears of War Active Reload bar on performing some Spy actions, and it had some really interesting and unexpected effects. I thought it would make the game deeper for the Spy because it adds a small but important optional skill challenge to performing the tasks, so the Spy can choose to try to accomplish tasks even when he or she knows the Sniper is onto them. That worked as planned (luckily), but what was totally amazing was that it made the elite game even more about subtle behavior and less about watching for tells. Because the Sniper has to assume an elite Spy will be able to get the Action Test a lot, the Sniper has to watch for higher level behavioral tells, like showing too much intentionality by going straight from one mission area to the next, rather than just trying to catch the Spy bugging the Ambassador and whatnot. This blew me away, and I was so happy about it.

There are two or three new missions. The first is the Seduce Target mission, where the Spy picks another partygoer and has to flirt with him or her multiple times, without the Sniper noticing. There is no 'hard tell' for this mission, meaning there is no animation to look for, the Sniper just has to keep track of who is showing up next to who more often than they should. It's been playtested and works well.

The second new mission is Inspect Statues. The existing Swap Statues mission requires the Spy to pick up a statue, and the swap it out for another statue. The Sniper can try to memorize the statues at the beginning of the game, which makes this a hard one to pull off. For Inspect Statues, the Spy has to go pick up and examine each statue in the room, and hold it for a while. Unlike Swap Statue, there is no hard tell here, so the Sniper just needs to notice if a partygoer is visiting each statue in turn. I just got this in, and it hasn't been playtested yet, but I like how it's the yin to Swap Statue's yang...if there are lots of statues in the room, then inspecting them all is harder, but swapping one is easier, and if there are few statues in the room, then vice versa.

I'm also trying to get a Steal the Plans mission in right now. One character, the Mad Scientist is carrying a briefcase containing the secret plans, but he or she keeps leaving it around the room, and partygoers have to keep picking it up and returning it. Of course, the Spy can do this to, and can choose to steal the plans while carrying it. I hope I can get this in, but there's a lot of code still to write.

I also have two new maps, the Balcony, which is tiny and has very few partygoers in it so it's hard for the Spy, and the Veranda, which is huge and has tons of people, and so the Sniper is snowed under with visual information. I'll be very interested to see what the metrics say about how balanced these are for new players."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.