SpyParty redesign: The new art of espionage

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SpyParty redesign: The new art of espionage
Last year, animator John Cimino turned down a cushy position at Zynga, pre-IPO, to work out of Chris Hecker's garage redesigning Hecker's ambitious, notorious indie game SpyParty. Cimino worked in secret since September 2011 to transform the primary colors and block-based skeletons of SpyParty's characters into the artistic, realistic designs revealed today.

Hecker calls the new style "illustrative," and he's extremely pleased with it.

"We spent a ton of time trying to figure out the best possible art style for the game," Hecker tells Joystiq. "We really wanted the art style to reflect the same level of subtlety that the gameplay has. I didn't want it to be too realistic or too exaggerated, and I think we hit it on this really nice, call it naturalistic or illustrative – they look like illustrations. I'm super excited."%Gallery-163415%It will still be "a while" before the new models are let loose in the game, but when they debut it will be with a new batch of names, rather than disrespecting the current characters by transferring their names over. A lot of people in the beta have grown fond of the current, placeholder characters, so much so that Hecker expects a fair amount of internet backlash when the switch occurs.

"I realized that transferring the old names would be bad, since I want to show respect for them, so I'm going to retire their jerseys, so to speak, and choose all new names," Hecker says.

Hecker expects SpyParty will have a cast of 20-30 characters, and he and Cimino still have to figure out the aesthetic of each environment, build a new animation system, and keep the ongoing beta up and running. For a two-man team, this is a tall order.

"Although we doubled the team size, it's still only two people," as Hecker puts it.

SpyParty redesign The new art of espionage
Cimino and Hecker worked together for six years on Spore, and transferring from mainstream, big-budget development to full-time indie gaming is intimidating for anyone. Hecker talked to Cimino about SpyParty after his time at Maxis ran out, and eventually convinced him to make the leap; SpyParty is, after all, "a character artist's dream," Hecker says.

Besides, Cimino's alternative – working at Zynga – might have turned into a nightmare.

"In retrospect, it was a smart decision," Hecker says. "I was glad he decided that pre-Zynga-IPO because it was clear that he cared about the game. The game was key, the opportunity to really stretch his wings on all of these characters. But now, in retrospect, it was also the right decision financially."

SpyParty's new look is "timeless," drawing inspiration from the ambiguous settings and technologies of Archer and The Incredibles. Characters will simultaneously check pocket watches and cell phones, spanning eras and always remaining relevant.

In a game based on subtlety and the tiniest details, these bold new designs will impact how it plays, of course.

"Gameplay is by far the top priority. If for whatever mystical reason I can't change the art at all without totally fucking up the gameplay, I will ship the current art," Hecker says. "I do not think that will be necessary though. I think that we can make a beautiful game both design-wise and visually."

The new characters are more visually noisy, and at the same time more distinctive, meaning Hecker and Cimino will have to spend a lot of time tuning saturation levels and finding the perfect balance between physical appeal and play.

SpyParty and its cast of new designs will make an appearance at PAX, starting August 31. Hecker has 7-foot-high banners of each new character to place somewhere – somehow – within his 10-by-10 booth.

"I put them up in my living room and you just couldn't move," he says. "But they're really cool looking."

After seeing just the 7-inch-high models, we have to agree.
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