This article is in efforts to clarify my ideas while challenging the statements made by Chris Hecker regarding his indie game in progress, Spy Party. I've mentioned the game already a few times on this blog here and here. There's a good buzz surrounding this game and for good reason. It has a fairly unique core concept. I won't bother explaining the game because Hecker does a fantastic job of energetically conveying his concept in this video interview. And it's the statements in this interview that I'll address. It's four minutes long, watch before continuing.
So here are some quotes and my thoughts/responses. I'm giving Hecker a lot of leeway. I know how difficult it can be to talk about video games let alone in an interview situation while playing a video game.
"I want it to be basically e-sports level player skill game right? And to do that you have to have that that that as I said yomi layer thing... You need to have enough richness there that makes it possible to do that."
I've written all about Sirlin's Yomi layers and expanded extensively on precisely defining skill, depth, complexity, strategy, etc. So when I heard that Hecker is aiming to design Spy Party so support high level competitive play, I wished him luck. Based on this interview Hecker has some really neat ideas for balance. I don't see a difference between an great e-spot quality game and a great competitive multiplayer game. So all I can say is that there are many ways to design a great multiplayer game. Generally speaking yomi isn't necessary for a great competitive game.
"The game becomes about deception and performance and perception. It really gets to looking at human behavior."
What competitive multiplayer game isn't about deception (mixups), performance (dexterity, knowledge, timing, adaptation), and perception (reflex skills). Some games aren't so much about deception, but many are. Likewise, human players interacting within a system against each other inherently involves human behavior. Understanding how people think, react under pressure, and/or behave given certain conditions is how many gain an upper hand in competition.
"...and it's a game of very high player skill. Like a game like counter strike. But instead of map navigation and shooting and jumping and those kinds of skills that are the normal player skills for a video game, it's about perception and intuition about human behavior and social pattern matching."
I'm giving Hecker some leeway here. Describing FPS gameplay as "normal player skills" reflects Hecker's possible FPS bias (he admits to loving/playing Counter Strike). And it's not just Hecker, every description of Spy Party I've listen to on various gaming podcast have all somewhat clumsily described the game the same way... ie it's a game that's not a "twitch" based "death match" FPS battle. Perhaps all of these commenters have played far to many shooters so that they think most types of multiplayer matches are twitchy shooters. I've played fighters, shooters, puzzle, racing, strategy, and sports games competitively at a high level. Map navigation, shooting, and jumping are not the norm.
Still, here's one of the main problems I have with how people talk about Spy Party. From what I can tell based on descriptions, interviews, and videos, Spy Party is more like all other multiplayer games than it is some unique interactive system. Forget comparing Spy Part to games like Puji or Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Spy Party is just a game with goals like all games. And like many multiplayer games, you have methods of being covert or ostentatious. You have a wealth of complexities to learn that will give you advantages in competition. You have to adapt to a randomized situation. The game is asymetrical like Phantom Hourglass multiplayer or Pac-Man Vs. Sure, the forms in the game lend themselves naturally to role playing, but this doesn't make Spy Party any more about perception or human behavior than other games. Gamers role play all the time though generally not in the same way in multiplayer matches.
People respond to people. Part of the reason the game industry is culturally ghettoized still is that ... at the end of the day they don't care that much about orcs and space marines... But people never get sick of people. The game industry almost has no experience working with that.
I can't believe how narrow minded these statements are. Obviously Orcs and space marines don't make up the majority of video game experiences. I don't think they make a good example int his case. It's difficult to try and convince me that other people don't care about something when they clearly do. And as I already explained, people are the driving force behind all multiplayer. In fact, people are the driving force behind all art. Whether it's you that is moved (or not moved) by the art, or it's the creator(s) that created it. Yes, the world is fascinated with social networking (see the growth of facebook). But Spy Party isn't a game about social networking or social pattern making any more than Halo or Animal Crossing.
To think that Spy Party is breaking some kind of mold or forging completely untapped territory is a view that's most likely limited by the range of games one considers and how one understands how these games work. If all you know and play are multiplayer shooters, then Spy Party would seem like a completely original game.
"I added the drinks and there is all kinds of interesting gameplay around just having a drink in your hand. Whether you can do certain missions whether you slam the drink really fast in the beginning. Whether you don't. Does that give you away? I didn't expect that to happen."
Such is the power of emergence and the innate human ability to "play." Whether this means role playing or game-playing, play is absolutely expressive and personal. But this is due to what the player brings to the table. In the same way that having a drink in the hand fostered new kinds of play in Spy Party, the DUCK mechanic has emerged to express/mean...
- doing "pushups" or dancing in Super Mario Bros.
- Dancing to the music in Super Smash Brothers Brawl
- Tea Bagging in FPSs
- A sort of Morse code/greeting between team mates in Halo
"I think that a lot of times games developers are the people who enjoy the kind of adolescent power fantasies that we have."
If we begin to marginalize our medium like this we'll only dig our own grave. Regardless of how easy it may be to point at some of the most popular games that feature bald space marines shooting aliens, so be it. If the developers fantasised about being uber powerful dues, that's just one kind of idea with one vehicle of expression that's completely legitimate. It's all art. I never try to devalue the expression of others and those who appreciate it. Because if we really go to the level that Hecker has sort of pointed to, then all video games are pointless wastes of time because they're all fictional events that don't contribute to society (like much art). Just because you put a drink in the player's hand, you're still role playing a spy as a sniper tries to shoot you in a "barrel". Sounds like a "spy fantasy" to me.
There's a lot to potentially consider about even the most derivative shooters. If you want more from you games than some shooters offer, then keep looking and/or be patient. The people who think that video games are capable of telling truly unique and amazing stories are fools. Video games already do this and have done this for a while. Likewise, video games have been evoking emotional responses and representing/commenting on complex social happenings.
I don't mean to be a heckler. Being critical is what I do here. Hecker has a lot of heart and passion for Spy Party. It's a neat game that deserves the buzz it has accrued. Hecker is very articulate, and his words often reflect an impressive understanding of game design. So I can only wonder how he'll respond to this post. I admitedly speak from limited knowledge of Spy Party, but I'm more than confident in my understanding of game design in general.