SpyParty update: 5 new characters, possible dog murder, no new launch date

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SpyParty update: 5 new characters, possible dog murder, no new launch date
Chris Hecker has something to say to everyone who thinks he's taking too long to develop SpyParty: "They're right. It's taking too long – but probably not for the reasons they think."

SpyParty has been in development for five years. Hecker says part of the problem is that he just needs to type faster, but really, SpyParty is taking so long because he needs it to be perfect.

That, and the development team is just him and artist John Cimino – no extra PR team, concept art division, website designer or programmers. Hecker and Cimino are all of these things, plus more roles, all of the time.

"It's insane to do a competitive-level, multiplayer, 3D game with 20 custom-animated, high-end, AAA-quality chraracters – with two people," Hecker says. "That's bonkers. You just don't do that. So it just takes time. I'm slow anyway, but it just takes time, even if I were fast."That's right – SpyParty will have 20 playable characters, each done up in the revamped, 3D art style revealed in 2012. Hecker and Cimino unveiled five new characters today, bringing the new-art total to 10. All 10 pretty characters will be playable in a new map at PAX at the end of August, with plans to get them in the beta a few weeks afterward.

Each new character has its own rich (and we do mean rich) development backstory:
  • Ms. F is an Asian woman in an "equestrian fashion" outfit that looks like she "just came in from the polo match." She's modeled after Cimino's girlfriend, Alice.
  • Mr. G is a redesign of the game's current, placeholder general figure. He prefers beer.
  • Ms. H's voluminous hair contains 23,767 triangles – most SpyParty characters take up 12,000 triangles total. This means Ms. H's hair is roughly two full characters, but "it's worth it because it looks so awesome," Hecker says.
  • Mr. I is in a wheelchair. Yep, there are vehicles in SpyParty now. Plus, Hecker thinks "the dot-com turtleneck snob look is going to get him shot a lot."
  • Ms. J is a plump old lady in a stunning purple suit, but the real story here is her purse dog. The little dog head is fully articulated and will react to things around it. Hecker isn't yet sure if he'll allow players to shoot the dog (complete with yappy sound effects).
Dog murder isn't the only serious consideration Hecker and Cimino take on when creating these characters. They both want SpyParty to be a diverse game, and they're designing the playable characters to reflect a wide range of people.

"We're definitely being conscious about the diversity," Hecker says. "We're splitting it right down the middle, male-female gender ratio. That seems like the right thing – which is already insane for a game .... I've identified all these different classes of diversity: There's race, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, body morphology like height and weight."

Hecker and Cimino are attempting to include all the variants they can. Class, however, is one diversity area the game won't hit, since the entire thing centers on a fancy, high-society cocktail party. Everyone is rich by default. Sexual orientation won't be represented by any character's appearance, either – that's represented in the game itself with the "seduce target" mission that allows players to choose same-sex or opposite-sex targets.

"It's one of the only games – it's me and The Sims, basically – that can do that kind of thing," Hecker says. "Fictionally speaking, it totally rewards that kind of diversity. You want the crazy, wacky set of characters. As opposed to your space marine fantasy, where it would be weird if there were an old lady up there. We've got this opportunity and it's a huge weak point of games. It would be a total shame not to do it."

Cimino is now tackling the art and animation for new characters in groups of five, with the previous five characters revealed one year ago. That helps us hone in on a (very) tentative launch window.

"I try to avoid making a timeline because I don't want to get depressed – it's kind of better not to know," Hecker says. "But now that we've got a cadence on the five characters, it's gonna be another year or more just to get the rest of the characters in. And I have plenty of game design stuff to do in that time .... So it's more than a year out. But it's playable and awesome now."

The beta is live now, available for $15 through the SpyParty website. Eventually, SpyParty will hit Steam Early Access, but Hecker wants to make sure the core game and its community are solidified first.

Hecker has concerns about the game's development time – he's still dipping into savings, and he worries about fan and press fatigue. But current players are clocking in 400 hours of playtime at three minutes per game, and he has plans to add three more mechanics that turn SpyParty into a 1,000-hour game on par with Counter-Strike, StarCraft and Dota. After adding those, the core of the game will be done, Hecker says.

At its heart, SpyParty is a deeply competitive, esports-level game that delves into the foundations of human interaction, and that's just what Hecker wants:

"I talk a lot of shit about how games could be the pre-eminent art form of the 21st century, and how we need to do more behavioral stuff about humans, and things that matter – less guns and orcs and space marines and stuff – and I've got this game that's basically cashing the checks I was writing with my mouth five years ago. That's just so satisfying."

We'll see if those checks bounce when – rather, if – SpyParty finally launches.

"It will be perfect when it's done, that's the only thing I can promise. Or I'll be dead," Hecker says. "It'll be perfect or I'll be dead, one of the two."
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