Six more characters have been invited to Chris Hecker's stylish SpyParty, the competitive multiplayer game of wits and espionage, the developer revealed today. The latest batch shows off more of the game's diversity in character design, and adds a bright shock of color to Hecker's game.
The new characters also introduce a potentially gameplay-altering pair of characters, a set of gender-ambiguous identical twins.
SpyParty's newest revelers bring the number of playable characters to 16. Hecker plans to introduce five more, as well as some non-playable background characters. The newly revealed sextet pushes SpyParty ever closer to being "finished" — though Hecker, who's been crafting the game for the past six years, said he has a long list of new features, tweaks and improvements planned.
We spoke to Hecker recently about the work that he and artist John Cimino, who's designing and animating SpyParty's cast, have put into the game since last year — and since SpyParty's stylish makeover kicked off three years ago.
First, let's meet the new characters.
The man known as Mr. K is the game's "best-dressed guest," Hecker said, and its first Sikh character. Hecker said Mr. K — the game's single-letter names for characters are placeholder, and real names will be coming at a later date — was inspired by a fashionable real-world person.
One source of inspiration for Mr. K was actor/model Waris Ahluwalia, who players may know from Wes Anderson films like The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou — though Hecker said Mr. K is an amalgamation of multiple people. Thanks to his turban, he cuts an easily identifiable silhouette, which is important to SpyParty gameplay, Hecker said.
"We'll need to be respectful with how we treat the Sikh aspects of the character, so for example his beard is long and untrimmed and he'll drink water [instead of alcohol]," Hecker said. "Hopefully, folks will let us know if we make any mistakes here so we can correct them."
Hecker described Ms. L as a "rocker," and name-checked singers Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith as sources of inspiration. Her look, however, is based on Hecker's real-life girlfriend. (Cimino's girlfriend is also the source of inspiration for another character).
I asked Hecker how his girlfriend felt about being a potential assassination target in SpyParty, and he said her first reaction was "I would never wear that shirt." But Hecker and Cimino were pushing for more color, greater contrast against the game's previously revealed characters, and at least he seems happy with her choice of outfit.
"We went with the leopard sleeved leather jacket and the silk shirt so we could really push the bright yellow," he said. "She's got our most saturated primary colors in her outfit."
Drs. M & N
The doctors are identical twins, and Hecker said he isn't sure yet how they'll affect gameplay. But the idea is that both twins, who are referred to by the gender-neutral title Dr., could be invited to a round of SpyParty or only one could.
"It'll be an interesting/weird part of the game when they're both in there," Hecker said, which will "lead to some wacky hijinks, but still be skill-based."
There are some subtle differences between the twins' appearance. Their jewelry — earring, tie clip, ring — will be slightly different, which could lead to the spy player having a slight advantage. When talking about the twins, Hecker said he's thinking about adding a pick/ban phase prior to games of SpyParty, similar to team selection in games like Dota 2.
"I'll be very interested to see how the twins are treated in that environment. Will the Sniper allow them both, then highlight or lowlight one to tell them apart? Will the Spy use them as a diversion, or pick to be one of them? So much stuff to play with here!"
Hecker described Ms. O as of Mediterranean origin, "maybe Greek or Italian." He and Cimino pushed her color saturation to give her a brighter, bolder appearance than some of the game's other characters
About half the cast will be female, Hecker said, and gender is just one of the characteristics that the developer is focusing on to bring diversity to the cast. Race, body shape, age and ability are some of the others.
"The more individuality you have there ... the more characters you have, the more you can differentiate characters when you're playing," he said. "SpyParty's a great game for that. It doesn't feel forced, it feels natural."
Finally, we have Mr. P, who Hecker said was partially inspired by Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican businessman who once ranked as the richest man in the world.
But the bright vaquero look of Mr. P is also another exploration in silhouette. His rounder body shape and cowboy hat help distinguish him from the rest of the cast visually. And that bright magenta suit helps him stand out in the crowd.
"We'll have to name him Salvador Perez or something similar to have plausible deniability that we didn't put the video game's name on a character's belt buckle," Hecker said in an email.
What's next for SpyParty
Cimino is just starting to animate the new characters, Hecker said, so they won't appear in SpyParty for a while. As with most things SpyParty related, it's slow going.
Hecker talked about some of his other plans for SpyParty for this year and beyond, including bringing the game to Steam Early Access, adding a single-player component and working on features that will improve spectating for tournaments.
Spectating is something Hecker is working on now, though, initially, he said he's "hacking a crappy version to get it going" in time for an upcoming tournament. Eventually, he said he has grander plans to improve spectator views for streaming and tournament purposes, including the option to let viewers make bets on players.
While SpyParty is primarily a two-player game between one Sniper and one Spy, Hecker said he also has plans to add Spy teams and a single-player mode. The latter is inspired, he said, by Blizzard's competitive card game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.
"John [Cimino] has had this amazing experience with Hearthstone," Hecker said. "He never played a competitive online game before, but the fact that it eased him in through single-player and the multiplayer ranked mode is so similar — there's not a lot of chat — he's become a hardcore online ranked player now. If a game can get John doing that ... I want to follow in those footsteps. I think an interesting single-player AI is the key to that. I've always wanted to explore single-player, but it seems more important than ever before. That's the way to get people [in].
"I want to take a crack at that, even if it's just the simplest thing."
Hecker hopes that single-player will train new players on the game's finer points, without having to jump into the intimidating world of competitive SpyParty play.
"Right now you load up the game it's this ugly lobby, you hit the play button and you're matched up against something who's played 10,000 games," he said. "And you're like, 'Uhhhh. Disconnect!' Single-player is a way of easing that and it will increase the skill of players as they come into the lobby."
Hecker said he thinks the single-player Spy AI will be the easy part. The harder part will be creating a convincing AI-controlled Sniper. He said that SpyParty players learn a lot from chatting with their opponent after the match; they'll often tell each other where they went wrong as the Spy, how they gave their identity away. Ultimately, Hecker wants his Sniper AI to be able to convey that information to a human Spy player, possibly by providing a player with replays.
The "insane version" of the Sniper AI would let players ask it questions about where they went wrong. "That's nutballs, though you could imagine how cool that would be," Hecker admitted. "Even the dumb version of that [AI] will still be good for new players."
Finally, Hecker said he has plans to put SpyParty, which has been in beta for years, on Steam Early Access later this year. Hecker said he's "terrified of the number of players that might bring in" to SpyParty, so he might not promote it that heavily. But the influx of new players will offer all-new multiplayer data, and for a finely balanced competitive game like SpyParty, that's instrumental to the game's design.