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SpyParty preview: A triumph of reverse intelligence

Justin McElroy

I know times are tight, especially for one-man indie dev teams, but, as a service to the gamers of Earth, Chris Hecker has got to get a better booth.

In a nondescript corner of PAX, under a nondescript banner and sporting slightly worse than nondescript graphics (all placeholder, Hecker assured) it would have been easy to miss SpyParty. It would have been a particularly unfortunate fate considering it was (drumroll) the best thing I've played at PAX so far.

It's a game for two players, both having drastically different experiences. At a party crowded with several AI characters, one player (the spy) must complete several different objectives, such as pulling a book from a shelf and snatching a piece of microfilm or planting a bug on a character labeled as "the ambassador." The AI characters will perform similar actions to the spy, never the exact same actions. Call it reverse intelligence: The human spy attempts to keep his identity secret by trying to act like a computer.

Meanwhile, his competitor the sniper looks on, watching the action from all the angles. He is, at first, utterly blanketed with information, a room full of characters drinking, talking, rifling through books and basically doing things sort of like but not exactly like the spy is tasked with. Still unclear? Read the full PAX manual right here.

The game is in the question of which will occur first, the spy completing his subterfuge or the sniper finding his target in the herd and picking him or her off. To make things even more tense, the spy can monitor his assailant's aim via a laser constantly training over him and the crowd.

It is, from both sides, thrilling. Easily the most fun I've had at PAX is Hecker yelling at me to "Play it cool!" as I approached a double agent to strike up a conversation, the sniper's laser hovering right at my temple. My (fatal, as it turned out) mistake was letting the ever-diminishing timer spook me. I told myself that, were I given another chance, I'd be better the next time.

The big question is when that chance will come. Hecker insists that the game is still a couple of years out and (though I played with an Xbox 360 controller) there don't seem to be official platforms at the moment.

Although we don't have the when and the how, the what has been answered definitively: SpyParty is the most compelling game concept in recent memory and I can't wait to see more. If you PAX attendees avoid the mistake I almost made and dig up this nondescript booth, I think you'll find you're in the same boat.

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