I’ve been addicted to SpyParty for over four years.
I tend to throw myself into whatever game I’m playing, forgetting to pace myself. I burn out on most of them, and move on to a new game. And I’m worried that is happening with SpyParty. This is a pretty normal cycle for me when it comes to playing video games. The unusual part is, with SpyParty, I don’t want to burn out.
I think of my time with SpyParty as consisting of four phases: Sprinting, Jogging, Stumbling, and Crawling.
On April 17th, 2012, I was lucky enough to become one of the first internet strangers to play SpyParty. And boy did I play. This was the sprinting: every day after work I would jump into the lobby and wait for someone to join. But as is the case with every other game I’ve played, I wasn’t satisfied just by playing it. I wanted to delve into the mechanics of the game, and with SpyParty that meant studying the AI.
Studying the AI wasn’t easy back then: we didn’t have replays, guides, or even veteran players. Everything was fresh. Everything still had to be discovered, learned, and shared. So I got to it.
I spent several weeks developing theories about AI behavior, and then testing my hypothesis’, before I shared what I’d learned with the community. On May 11th, 2012, I started a thread on the beta forums called “Into the Mind of an AI.” The thread contained detailed information about how the AI behaves in various situations.
This ended up being a peak of sorts: after posting this, my interest waned. This was the jogging. I still spent many hours hanging out in the lobby and discussing tactics with new players. I mentored countless people during this time period. I refined the post that started “Into the Mind of an AI” post over and over; I’ve amassed 78 edits at the time of this writing.
On August 30th, 2013, I made my way to PAX. It was a wonderful experience, but also draining. After a year of incorporating SpyParty into my daily routine, I was done playing and mentoring for awhile. This was the stumbling. After thousands of games, I needed a break.
Just a few months later, I officially joined the SpyParty team, as a Community Manager. I did a bit of this, and a bit of that, and before I knew it a year and a half had passed. I noticed my activity had slowed.
Candidly, playing the game became kind of a chore. Mentoring new players was a chore. Posting bugs was a chore. Even being in the lobby felt like a chore because there weren’t usually many people on at any given time, and when there are few people there, the feeling of obligation to play with them, mentor them, or answer questions, is stronger. The fun was outweighed by the sense of responsibility. So, I did less. I crawled.
I never stopped completely, though. There were a number of tournaments to participate in. I didn’t join the SpyParty Competitive League (SCL) right away, and spectating games never appealed to me, but I found myself eagerly awaiting the Sunday cast, and watched the whole thing.
I’m not quite sure why I kept watching; it was a big time investment to watch it. The casts would often span several hours, during which I’d often refuse game invitations in order to keep watching it. Maybe it was a sense of obligation, being Community Manager. Or maybe I just wanted a way to hang out with all the other players. There were fun and interesting games to watch, but my attention was usually on the chat.
For awhile, this was my only regular interaction with the game: my game count hadn’t budged, my forum post total rarely did, and my game was almost a full two patches behind everyone else’s game. Based on past behavior, all signs pointed to this being the moment I’d move to a new game.
But I didn’t want to move on; something kept me crawling along. I blame my Grandmother’s hereditary stubbornness. I wasn’t moving as fast, but I was still moving in the same direction: towards SpyParty.
But how do you decide to be more interested in something?
At first, I just forced myself. I asked friends to play even when I don’t particularly want to play. I didn’t hate it…but I didn’t particularly like it, either. It was a neutral experience. And with so many other competing experiences vying for my time, playing SpyParty has to be more than just neutral. I decide forcing myself to be interested won’t work: I need something new to get me excited about it. Some new mystery to solve, some new challenge to meet.
I have a long history of playing sports and video games competitively, so playing SpyParty regularly with actual stakes, and an incentive to practice in between, seemed like a good first step. So I joined the SpyParty Competitive League. You may have heard of it.
The practice has been an important part, because it sets off a chain reaction. We have new characters, new maps, new missions, and new algorithms. Most of these are mysterious to me. It’s been a long time (and more than a few patches) since I’ve played, so I need to brush-up on any new AI behaviors. I assume the briefcase has changed again.
Studying the AI, in turn, will tempt me to perform experiments and document the results. And the logical step from that is a sequel to “Into the Mind of an AI.” And that brings me back to the things that interested me from the very beginning: discovering how things work, improving my play with that knowledge, and sharing/discussing what I find. The SCL lends an urgency to this process by tapping into my competitive side. And it means people are counting on me to show up and play my best.
That’s the “how.” But what about the “why”? Why do I feel compelled to even do this?
Sometime last year a good friend of mine noted the difference between my relationship with this game, and my relationship with other projects: “I know you’ve been with TeamSpeak 3 throughout their development and release but I don’t think you’ve quite been as emotionally invested in something like SpyParty before.”
There are a few reasons why I’ve been so emotionally invested in SpyParty. The primary reason is simply a person: Chris Hecker. I’ve poured hours into SpyParty as a job, spent many late nights documenting AI behavior, and I’ve played many memorable games with friends over the years. But Chris is the reason I stay involved.
If SpyParty were made by someone else, I’d still be attached to it. But I wouldn’t be anchored to it. Throughout the years, I’ve come to know Chris as a colleague, game developer, and friend. He doesn’t just want to make some money: he wants to make a truly great game. And I want the same thing. I want this game to succeed. I haven’t wanted that for any other game.
And I want to give the game my all. And as long as I can still crawl, I’m still in the race.
The following is a message I sent to Chris, warning him about my tendency to burn out on the games I throw myself into. It’s been slightly edited for length:
Over the years I have developed certain tendencies with regards to video games and testing. It started with teamspeak where I was invited to the alpha to test for them. I tested the shit out of that program for a few years. I found bugs, I did a few graphics for them, and edited their english translations. During that time I was super involved with the community whether it be tech support or moderating their public server. But for a few reasons I eventually stopped coming around.
Shortly after was a tower defense/fps called Sanctum. Sanctum was already released and when I bought it I became heavily involved with the community. I tested towers and guns and wrote big long posts with cool graphics about my findings. When I ran out of towers and things to test, I stopped showing up.
And shortly after that i came to a game called SpyParty. For a year I tested the hell out of it. I was heavily involved in the community. I tested theories and tried different strategies and I tested the Ai and wrote a big long post with cool graphics about my findings.
All good things must come to an end and spyparty is definitely a good thing. I don’t know when but eventually I will stop coming around. I don’t think it’ll happen tomorrow or a month or even a year from now but it will soon enough. However I must note that I can’t predict with any accuracy. After all, a lot changes in a year.
When it does happen:
1. I’m sorry if I’m an ass and don’t say ‘goodbye’. Don’t take it personally.
2. I’ve enjoyed every moment of being a tester for your game.+
3. I will always root for spyparty to be a success.
So, as far as I can tell, this will be the future of spyparty and myself. No surprises. I will eventually vanish and watch from afar.
I sent this message over three years ago. But I’m still here, and still playing. Still coming back.