PAX Coverage: SpyParty and Monaco

By Mumbles
on Sep 13, 2010
Filed under:
Nerd Culture

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If there were two booths that I lurked around the most at PAX, it had to have been Monaco and SpyParty. With other game booths, especially the big ones, people seemed to be very determined and slightly annoyed while standing in line and playing the games. In fact, the people playing Fallout: New Vegas didn’t appear to be that different from someone who was wine tasting. They understood that they’d only be given a hint of a particularly expensive game and needed to gather as much information as they could with such a small sample. Instead of trying to guess if there was an oak or nutty flavor, players were silently asking questions. What was the gameplay like? How much of the story can I get a peek at? Is this game going to be worth my money and time?

Meanwhile, the Monaco and SpyParty booths reminded me more of a late-night college common room. People were laughing, joking with each other, shouting and even holding meaningful conversations off to the side. Both of these indie games knew they were going into the convention as underdogs, so they had to prove how fun their game was going to be or people would walk right on past. Along with an upbeat energy, both games exhibited extremely unique multiplayer features that caught the attention of gamers and turned their little section of the con into something of an arcade.

SPYPARTY

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A game based completely in deception of the highest form, SpyParty is all about trying to blend in while carrying out an important mission. One player is dropped into a party with a bunch of computer controlled bots who are walking around, chatting and inspecting items. Meanwhile, the second player sits across the way with a sniper rifle and tries to find the spy in order to shoot him in the face. If the spy carries out his objective (planting a bug, stealing some priceless art) without being killed, he wins. If the sniper can figure out who the spy is before that and kills him, then he wins. The sniper only has one chance to get it right and the spy has to carry out his objective quickly so the sniper doesn’t have time to pick up on subtle human error.

When I tell people about the premise of this game, most of the time their first reaction is: “Why the hell hasn’t someone thought of this before?” The moment computer controlled players have been introduced into gaming (Pong?), someone had to wonder if they could mimic them to the point of fooling their friends. What I love about SpyParty is that it’s not about the combat system or bright, shiny graphics to jangle in front of the player, it’s all about this single concept that can blossom into entertaining game play. Great video games are built on such foundation and are solid proof the industry hasn’t run out of ideas just yet.

The concept also makes for a very interesting spin on multiplayer. Usually, we work together with other people for a common goal or try to out do them through combat based skill, but in SpyParty you’re pitted against a player in a headgame. It’s all about outsmarting the other person with no other tool besides a good eye for detail or substantial skill in subtlety. I imagine the game was meant to be played online against a faceless foe, but at PAX you had to sit across from the person who was trying to outsmart you. This turned into a battle of wits and pokerfaces as you can see from this video of Anthony Burch of Destructoid playing as the sniper. Notice how he barely moves and descends into deep concentration…only to shoot an innocent bystander on accident. And, just like any gentlemanly contest, the two have to shake after the game is over. I love that all through PAX, mostly everyone who sat down to play this game shook hands afterwards. True sportsmanship and friendly competition can sometimes be hard to find these days.

The problem most people seem to have with this game (that tends to be a frequent complaint with indie games in general) is that it’s pretty one-dimensional. A single concept in a two-player only game will be fun the first dozen or so times you play it with your friends, but then it might just turn into a time waster. PC gamers who enjoy multiplayer tend to have one or a couple groups of people they like to play games with, so a two-player game won’t work when four or five people are sitting in Ventrilo bored out of their skulls. The developers of SpyParty must understand this in order to make a well-rounded game instead of a gimmicky one. The good news is that it’s still being worked on. The graphics aren’t finalized and neither is the game, so it might even drastically change by the time it is released.

MONACO

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As probably one of the most colorful and fun games at PAX, Monaco was absolutely a treat to play. It’s a top down thief caper that you can play with four people (or by yourself) where you have to score as much loot possible and then escape successfully. There are different classes to play that have specific abilities, like the Prowler who has smoke bombs and a wider field of view. All of the loot is randomized, along with the security guards and the dogs who will chase you down and try to kill you. The game is extremely fast paced and can get out of control very easily if you don’t keep your wits about you. Once someone alerts the guards, people tend to start panicking and then spreading out, only to be individually picked off by the cops. I was lucky that no such thing happened to the group I played with.

The first thing you need to do at PAX is to get over any fear of playing video games with strangers face to face. Since the only other person I knew at PAX was Josh, if I wanted to play Monaco, I had to play it with two other strangers. I raised my hand to call next after the group before finished their round and two guys instantly plopped down on the couch next to me. Before I knew it, they were changing the difficulty to hard as I was trying to figure out how to play the game.

“Don’t worry, just press up against stuff to make it work.” The redhead next to me instructed with an eager smile. “All you gotta do is find the door!” Now that last part wasn’t exactly true since the objective is to steal stuff and then escape. Whether or not he knew that the point of breaking and entering was usually to steal things is still a mystery. In any case, when someone tells me to press up against mystery boxes, I’m going to throw my little pixelated body onto anything that looks at me funny. Well, except the guards…and their dogs. Of course, I learned that one the hard way.

By the second level I was cornered by angry guards with bright flashlights as they tried to shoot all the blood out of me. When I asked for help, the redhead insisted that it was good I was keeping the cops busy. I should have been mad that I was officially police bait, but I found myself laughing as I let them chase me around like Benny Hill was playing in the background. I did finally get shot down, but being the true gaming bros that these guys were, one of them stopped to help me up so we could all complete the level together. We spent the rest of the game in similar situations that would fit more appropriately in a joke spy movie. Highlights included everyone screaming “GET TO THE CAR” over and over, along with my daring rescue complete with enough smoke bombs to give the cops lung cancer. After we had completed the demo on hard, the redhead turned to give me a high five and we went our separate ways.

I’m never going to see that guy again, but I think I’m going to remember that particular high-five for a long time.

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From the Archives:

  1. SolkaTruesilver says:

    So, Sniper game is effectively Murder A Fellow Player Simulation?

    The media watchdogs will be confused. After all, murder simulator is bad. But killing gamers is good.

  2. Zeta Kai says:

    That was a cool moment of personal connection, the kind of thing that game developers are ripping their hair out trying to engender in the current console generation. I have met many people in my life that I knew only briefly; they came, they made their mark, & they left, all in a short time span. I often wonder whatever happened to so-&-so, where they went, what they did. Every once in a while, I’ll actually hear about someone from the past, living an interesting life elsewhere. While online play is less visceral than face-to-face interactions, it can still create those fleeting moments of poingant connection that we remember forever, & that makes the gaming truly worth it.

    It’s not the shaders, or the polygon counts. It’s not the FPS, or the DPS, or any other acronym. It’s about the experiences that we have with the media, the journeys that these games take us on. Those are what we take with us, & those are what we are really looking for in a game. I can be wooed by graphics, but I can only be enchanted by a game that gives me a powerful experience.

    • SolkaTruesilver says:

      When I will churn out the money to produce a video game (’cause that’s one of my life objective, albeit one with mild-probability of monetary return) I will put 60% of the budget into brillant gameplay, 30% into publicity, 10% into graphics.

      And indy game can get away with crappy graphics but interesting gameplay. If you perfect an existing gameplay with sound and clever elements (like Halo did with FPS) you can gather a large ennough fanbase to support the release of a sequel game that has much better budget for graphics, and then you become mainstream.

      But ultimately, you are right. It’s the feel you get out of playing this game. If it’s multiplayer, it’s trying to outsmart the other guy, or together outsmarting the game. If it’s single player, it’s thinking an entire different and pleasant way.

  3. UTAlan says:

    I’ve seen that Spy Party game before. Very intriguing. Never heard of Monaco, but that sounds like a lot of fun, too.

  4. RTBones says:

    Oddly enough, with a little fine tuning, it sounds like Spyparty could make a go of it. When you described it, I was reminded of The Ship. The Ship is similar, but takes place on a ship – and you have needs to attend to (somewhat like the Sims).

    EDIT: Should have also said, Monaco sounds like it could be fun.

  5. Brohan says:

    SpyParty reminds me of an idea a friend of mine had like three years ago. It was a multiplayer game that took place on an urban map, a bit larger than the size of a typical multiplayer FPS map, with lots of civilians, buildings, lights, all that stuff. Basically there were two teams. There was the spy team (he gave it some fancy title, but that’s just as appropriate) who looked just like the civilians, consisting of 2-4 cooperating players. Then there was the team of soldiers, consisting of lots of people who wore distinctive uniforms and had fancy guns that killed everything in one shot. The soldier team basically wandered the map and had to distinguish the spies from the AI civilians, and kill them. Of course, if they killed too many civilians then they would lose. Spies could instantaneously kill soldiers by sneaking up behind them. The spies’ objective was to either kill all the soldiers or complete a special map objective (that the soldiers didn’t know about), while the soldiers just had to kill all the spies. Or something along those lines, I don’t remember many of the specifics.

    He never got any further than a crude tech demo, and he said that even if he had the resources for a real project, balancing the gameplay would have been too difficult to be a realistic goal. In retrospect, I think he was just knocking of the Splinter Cell series’ multiplayer and replacing sneaking around with blending in with the crowds. Still I guess it was a nice concept and I like to think he’ll make it as an actual game dev someday. Though if he does become one, it looks like someone beat him to the punch for his first idea, ha.

  6. Irridium says:

    About those indie games, any of you catch The Witness?

    http://the-witness.net/news/?p=471

    Its basically Jonathan Blow’s(creator of Braid) next game, and was hiding right next to the Monaco and SpyParty booths.

    And Spy Party looks like great fun. Definitely very interesting.

    • Mumbles says:

      I meant to reply to you last time, I swear. It’s funny, every time I checked on the booth, someone was sitting at the Witness and playing it. I did want to check it out and I’m kicking myself for not doing it, but I always hate leering over people’s shoulders.

  7. Old_Geek says:

    It’s going to take awhile to get used to reading articles here written by someone other than Shamus. I automatically start hearing his voice in my head, then have to correct it.

  8. Nidokoenig says:

    The thing about Spy Party being a head game reminds me of Dave Sirlin’s analyses of yomi(roughly, reading your opponent and predicting their actions), and how it basically applies to any competitive game that hasn’t been “solved” or where a cast-iron solution isn’t being used. Spy Party is just a trivially simple interface for this interaction(I’m not being nasty. It’s deliberately simple to cut straight to the business). I can see it being very common that people will just beeline for their objective, hoping the sniper will think nobody could be that stupid. Even better, make an AI that does just that to mess with people.

    The problem of the game getting stale could be lessened using various scenarios with different AI behaviour(e.g. infiltrating a military base to steal documents requires different behaviour than sneaking into a dinner party). Having multiple spies with different goals would be an interesting addition.

    Ah! Just realised what else it reminds me of! Werewolves! So, a game mode where the other people are actual players, and they and the spies are phoning in their “suspicions” to the sniper could be creepy.

  9. Lochiel says:

    “I’m never going to see that guy again, but I think I’m going to remember that particular high-five for a long time.” I’ve got a small and growing group of “PAX buddies”. After 4 years of going to PAX, I’ve started hanging out with the same ppl. We never see each other outside of PAX, but come PAX time we meet up again.

  10. Chris Hecker says:

    Thanks for the kind words about SpyParty and Monaco, we really appreciate the coverage! As mentioned at the bottom of the SpyParty section, there are definitely going to be lots of different game modes, I’m just focusing on the Spy vs. Sniper asymmetric one now to get to the core of the game mechanics. There will eventually be multiple Spies, multiple Snipers, Spy+Sniper teams, single player, etc.

    Oh, and Indie Game Bonus…the guy in front of the SpyParty hdtv in that first picture is Dino Patti, CEO of Playdead, the makers of LIMBO. :)

    • AGrey says:

      A friend of mine tried out SpyParty, and he loved it.

      I can’t wait to try it out, any plans to make it a PC game, or are you sticking with the 360 for now?

      And yea, a ‘team play’ mode with one spy+sniper team vs another spy+sniper team would be excellent, especially if the spies have conflicting missions. a whole new dynamic, where the spies have to try and spot eachother to call out targets for their snipers, while at the same time competing to be the first to steal the files or whatnot.

  11. Nick says:

    Spyparty: the reverse Turing test.

    It would be a good game to play wirelessly with a stranger on a bus or train with an Android device (or :( an iPhone). Have the game listen for anyone requesting a game and as soon as two devices get in range, the game can start. You don’t even have to meet the person you are playing against.

  12. Adam says:

    I’m surprised nobody’s commented yet that MONACO seems at first blush to be heavily influenced by CLUE MUSEUM – which for my money was double the fun of the original board game. I’d be interested to know if this is true.

    • Matt K says:

      I was thinking the exact same thing (which bodes well for Monaco). Clue Museum was a very fun game what with setting up the alarms and the motion detectors (for those who don’t know in Clue one person plays the theif and the rest try to catch him).

  13. DaveMc says:

    “Along with an upbeat energy, both games exhibited extremely unique multiplayer features that caught the attention of gamers and turned their little section of the con into something of an arcade.”

    How much did that arcade cost to enter? Was it one cent? I really hope so.

  14. Wolfwood says:

    Can’t wait to see the algorithm they use for making the A.I. move like a player character. below is what i always see to make them more ‘human.’

    Always run when moving.
    Snap turns.
    Stand still for long periods of time randomly.
    Random dance emotes.

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