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What is SpyParty?

SpyParty is a spy game about human behavior, performance, perception, and deception. While most espionage games have you spend your time shooting stuff, blowing stuff up, and driving fast, SpyParty has you hide in plain sight, deceive your opponent, and detect subtle behavioral tells to achieve your objectives.

Category Archives: PAX West 2015

How Chris Hecker Changed My Life: A Multi-PAX Story

When I first started playing SpyParty, I never thought any game (much less an indie game) could have such an impact on my life. For years I’ve considered Mother 3 to be my favorite game. I didn’t expect much to come of my SpyParty career, in the game or outside of it. But that all changed at an event called the Penny Arcade Expo, and I believe that change has altered the direction of my life.

Before PAX 2013

Prior to PAX Prime (now PAX West) in 2013, I hadn’t been doing much with my life. I didn’t have a job, I was living at home, and although this article made me want to become a game designer, I wasn’t doing anything to reach that goal. I had an active social life and was enjoying myself playing video games (and learning about board games), but I wasn’t progressing.

One thing I was doing was streaming this fun little indie game called SpyParty. I’d started in October of 2012, and had a small (but loyal) audience. I wasn’t very good at the game, but the other people playing were welcoming and nice, and the creator tweeted out a link to my stream anyway, which meant the world to me.

I played nearly every day, and eventually reached the point where I felt comfortable talking to other community members. I started playing players with huge game totals (over 3,000 games played!). I remember Chris, on Twitter, referring to me as the “LNS” (Late Night Streamer), because I would always stream at midnight PDT.

For my 100th stream, I started using a webcam and added an overlay, which changed how I interacted with the people in my chat. The audience was still small, but also still loyal.

After streaming for awhile and interacting with the rest of the community, I found my own style and voice. Posting to the forums wasn’t so stressful any more, and talking with Chris was more like talking to a friend than an authority figure. So as PAX 2013 approached, I posted this:
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Essay on PAX, the Game, and the Community

About a month ago I posted a quick diary of my time at PAX. This morning, I posted a more in-depth essay on the the trip, the game, and the community that makes it all possible. It’s my attempt at explaining, to people outside the community, just what it’s like to be a part of it, and why the game engenders the interest and loyalty it does. I hope you enjoy it.

Shaking the Hand of Someone You’ve Shot

The PAX Prime 2015 Diary

My wife and I arrive in Seattle on August 27th, the night before PAX begins. A handful of other players have arrived already, and a couple others will arrive a few hours after. It’s been a long day (travel is stressful, and flying is particularly so), but we’ve arrived safe and sound and we’ve magically gained an extra three hours for our trouble to spend on the town. We arrive at the hotel and before we get to the door, I get a call from virifaux, who has the single most games of any SpyParty player: “I just saw you walk by,” he says. Sixty seconds later, 56,000 games spread out over four people come walking out the front door to greet us.

We all say hello and talk so animatedly (and un-Spylike, it has to be said) in the hotel lobby that the manager asks us to keep it down, which is our cue to venture out into the city in search of food. After a lot of walking and talking for its own sake, we settle on the Hard Rock Cafe on Pike Street. We eat much, stay long, and talk loudly. That last thing will turn out to be a mistake.

Day 1

Chris Hecker is the sole developer of SpyParty, and he’s exactly what I expected. Our introduction is a perfect microcosm of everything I know about him: it’s friendly, familiar, and fast, and within a minute and a half of meeting him in front of the Washington State Convention Center, we’re already upstairs walking onto the exhibition floor as he waves a fistful of badges in front of a guard.

You learn a lot on your first day volunteering at the SpyParty booth, most of which seems obvious in retrospect. You learn that you’re further removed from your beginnings than you thought, and that you have to forget a lot of what you know in order to intelligibly explain how it works to new players. You also learn that cough drops are worth their weight in gold. Five or six hours into the first day, most of us sound like Kermit the Frog choking on a fly. I tell Hecker I feel dumb for not bringing any. “How do you think I feel?” he replies. “I didn’t think to bring any and I’ve been doing this four years.” Maybe this year’s volunteers are just more talkative.

Midway through the day, Hecker tells us about a SpyParty board game prototype being developed by Tim Fowers, which he’d like us to play test for him. We do, and it’s not only a good game, but it somehow manages to feel like SpyParty. It generates the same kinds of emotions and exercises the same neurons. We’re still throwing out suggestions and ideas as the game is being packed up.

Day 2

This time, Hecker brings a couple of bags of Halls (which will be supplemented by a bag of Ricola with FAMILY PACK emblazoned on it by the third day), and we go through them like M&Ms. Nearly every time somebody goes into the corner of the booth to grab one, they grab a few extras to stuff in their pockets and offer each of the volunteers one, just in case they’re running low. The cough drops accomplish their ostensible goal: our throats don’t hurt! Unfortunately, they can’t circumvent our physical limitations: by the end of the day, every twelfth word simply refuses to come out, making in-person conversations sound like a Skype call on a sketchy connection.

Just a few hours into the day my tutoring routine has improved considerably. The most common questions have been preemptively incorporated into the spiel, and only a few people have been confused by the notoriously complicated microfilm mission. But the mental grind is starting to catch up to the physical; most of us have our tutorial patter down cold, so the routine has become a little rote. We keep sane by sitting across from each other while our tutored players play, with the tutor on the Sniper side trying to see how quickly they can spot the new Spy. This has to be done in a way that won’t give the game away to the new Sniper, if they happen to see it. We end up resorting to veiled hand signals, which is probably not a coincidence given the state of our collective larynges.

kcmmmmm gets credit for both creating and perfecting this mini game. His greatest charade is miming a person holding up a banner to indicate Alice, the character based on game artist John Cimino’s girlfriend, who’s standing about 15 feet away doing exactly that. Here’s a picture of her cosplaying as the character, though whether you can cosplay as yourself creates a logical mobius strip beyond my ability to comprehend:

Day 3

Increasingly tired and having gotten caught in a torrential downpour the night before (Seattle apparently over correcting for the atypically clear 2.5 days we enjoyed after arriving), I nevertheless come in early to meet krazycaley for a chance to play Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes before the general public swarms the floor and snakes the line. It’s a tremendous game—like SpyParty, very high concept—and we do well, but we forget to put our names (and some reference to SpyParty) on the leaderboard, a mortal sin that Hecker will razz us about for the rest of the convention. Every little bit helps.

Everyone tells me that Saturday is the craziest day, and things will probably be a little slower. Everyone is wrong; things are roughly as busy as they were on Day 2. The line does have a nice natural equilibrium, though: when it’s longer, it wraps around the two open sides of the area and makes it harder for people to see when walking by. When it’s shorter, it’s easier to see, and in turn attracts more onlookers. The result is that the line never gets too huge, and rarely stays too small. And it just keeps coming.

The grind is made easier by little islands of amusement and encouragement. There’s a moment during each explanation of the game’s concept where you can see the genius of it register, and the look on people’s faces when it does is almost addictive. At one point I explain the game to a young woman, and just as I say “…and the Sniper has only one bullet,” her eyes go wide and her mouth drops open, and my brain releases enough dopamine to propel me through the next hour. Later, I tutor a young boy who picks the game up preternaturally. I wonder how long it might be before he’s mopping the floor of the online lobby with most of us. Right now, natural skill takes a backseat to experience and effort, but if the game grows enough in popularity, the top players will increasingly be people who possess an innate talent for it. Maybe the ones I taught will go easy on me.

Day 4

The last day is bittersweet: four days is just long enough to create that “I was just getting the hang of this!” feel right before it all ends. Everyone’s in good spirits, though: virtually all of us feel that the newbie play was much better than expected, which we decide to take as evidence of our explanatory skills.

Halfway through the day I bite down on one of the aforementioned cough drops—it’s hard not to do while talking—and either chip a part of my tooth or lose a filling (I’m still not entirely sure which). When I tell Hecker and Caley they seem alarmed, but thankfully it doesn’t hurt, which allows me to look tougher than I am by only missing a few minutes of tutoring time. Hecker tells me not to tongue at it, though this is as futile as me telling him not to Purloin.

When the final day ends, the convention’s “Enforcers” sweep through the hall and politely boot anyone without an Exhibitor badge. When they’re done, a voice comes over the loudspeaker: “PAX 2015 is now over!” A cry goes up from everyone on the floor. SpyParty‘s contribution to the sound is minimal, both because of our size and our shredded tracheas, but it’s there. We begin the process of packing up the booth’s materials, which Chris, John, and Alice do with learned efficiency. The whole thing folds up into just a few bags and half a dozen flat panel TV boxes. I think to myself that it’s an appropriate metaphor for the entire game that so much can come from so little.

We walk back to the hotel as a group (sans krazycaley, who had an early flight) and meet up with our non-Exhibitor-badged brethren. I remind everyone that zerotka, one of the first SpyParty players, requested that we take a group selfie. We squeeze 82,000 games, eight people, and three nationalities into one fuzzy photo. Wildly different people, drawn to the same place for a few days because we share this one thing in common.

The PAX Prime 2015 Diary: Pre-PAX

In 72 hours, I’ll be in Washington, D.C. I don’t know anyone there, and have no business there. I’m only going to Washington, D.C. to catch a plane to Washington, the state. Because that state is home to Seattle, Seattle is home to PAX Prime, and this year’s PAX Prime is home to the largest gathering of elite SpyParty players ever assembled.

This wasn’t explicitly planned; each year, developer Chris Hecker hands out exhibitor badges to a handful of dedicated fans who volunteer to work the game’s booth. In years past, the number of volunteers seems to have roughly matched the number of badges available, and contained a mix of experience levels. But the last couple of years, demand has outstripped supply. There is an unofficial calculus by which people are chosen, and this year it chose nearly all of the world’s top players, with the most notable exception (an incidental exception, I should note) raising money to go, anyway. The end result is that the top four players, and seven of the top ten (including myself), are all going to be in the same place at once.

This’ll be my first video game convention of any kind, and my first time meeting the people I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing against. People I’ve shot and been shot by, coughed and clanked at, talked to and tutored.

Rather than merely take in this experience and enjoy it to its fullest, I’ll be sullying it by taking lots of pictures and writing about what I see and hear, all for you to read and enjoy. And you probably won’t even appreciate it. Honestly, I don’t even know why I bother.

But bother I will. Whether or not it’ll be daily updates or one big retroactively-dated series will depend on just how much time is available inbetween managing the lines, answering questions, and getting up to whatever kind of quasi-trouble a bunch of game nerds can get up to in a place like Seattle (my money’s on something super cool like staying up really late). But for now, it’s all preparation: stuffing suitcases, printing itineraries, and, well, writing this.

More soon, so watch this space, and/or follow us on Twitter for updates.

Confirmed: New Art Ballroom is Next Map

Earlier today Chris Hecker confirmed that there are plans to release a new map by PAX Prime, in addition to the six new characters detailed in April. The two pieces of news are linked, because the new map is going to be a high resolution version of Ballroom, which has more party goers than there are (current) new art character models.

No word yet on how much this new map might resemble the existing Ballroom…

…as opposed to the ballroom concept art released in October of 2013:

SpyParty players have often expressed a desire for direct translations of old maps, as well as for more populous new art maps to allow for more high level competitive play within the new style. This exact topic was discussed at length on Drawnonward’s Talk Show in late March (relevant discussion starting at 3:05).

UPDATE: the new map will be a fresh recreation of the existing Ballroom map, and not a playable version of the early concept art.