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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.



Interrupt Speaker: A Quick PAX 2016 Oral History

On the new art characters

steph: My favourite new character is the Duke, because all of his animations are really angry.

kcmmmmm: Evil Bondo. He has a very dominant, imposing stature, and wears princely clothes; he just looks really cool. Also, his “neutral” animation position places his hand behind his back, so I kind of wonder how it’s going to feel to track animation cycles with him.

virifaux: I think of the blonde character as “More Handsome kcm.”

evilsnake: The short guy made the biggest impression on me. He will be very interesting to play as.

pwndnoob: Little DeVito. I’m a sucker for a unique bar animation.

elvisnake: His size will provide interesting opportunities for cover, and I love Toby’s kneeling animation when you get a drink.

slappydavis: I think DeVito is the most interesting gameplay-wise (obviously), but I’m really not looking forward to him likely being the de facto “Guess Who meta” character when streamers play the game.

igounseen: I’m looking forward to the It’s Always Sunny references.

warningtrack: “Frank Bugs the Ambassador.”

drawnonward: Easily Orange Dress. I love how Chris managed to sneak in a reference for us old-timers.

elvisnake: Honorable mention goes to blue dress, solely for that eyeball glitch.

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Burning Out, But Refusing to Fade Away

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.

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Cookies, Cough Drops, and Locked Rooms

“Welcome, to SpyParty! Have you read the manual?”

That’s what magician1099 said to me when I entered the lobby. I hadn’t read the manual. I played as spy anyway, twitched, and got shot. I played as spy again, twitched again, and got shot again. I thought to myself “I should probably read the manual.”

May 31st, 2016

I’d joined the beta on January 10th after watching lthummus stream a few sets, and it took me three months to decide that this was a game that I needed to have. I threw myself into it, and shortly after, threw my name into the PAX volunteer hat. I didn’t think there was any chance I’d be chosen.

Fittingly, it was lthummus that told me it had happened: “Hey Steph, it seems like you’re going to be a booth slave.” Apparently he’d seen a forum post about it before I had. I was in shock: me, representing SpyParty at PAX West? I’d had the game for 150 days, and I had 6,000 fewer games than any of the other selected volunteers. I got this crazily exciting news at midnight, and barely slept.

I’d never been to any gaming convention before. But I’d heard and read many stories about what they were like (Shaking the Hand of Someone You’ve Shot, Caley’s PAX Diary). I’ve read about sleeping in cars, in parks, and in a room with seven other people. I’ve learned that there are four things I definitely need to bring with me:

  1. Water, for thirst.
  2. Hand sanitizer, so that I don’t get sick.
  3. Cough drops, so that I don’t lose my voice.
  4. Deodorant, so that I don’t add to the smell that I’ve heard occurs at PAX.

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PAXcast: An Impromptu Podcast

Big thanks to virifaux for bringing some recording equipment and capturing some first impressions of the new PAX build. Featuring virifaux, drawnonward, wodar, cleetose, and slappydavis.

A Little Light Reading on the Flight to PAX

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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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The Three Stages of Talking to Drawnonward

As performed by SpyParty artist John Cimino:

drawn_talk_1

1. Clarification
“Wait, are you saying _____?”

drawn_talk_2

2. Processing
“Okay…”

drawn_talk_3

3. Disbelief
*stares*

It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To

Within the SpyParty community I’m known for being from Lithuania (wherever that is), but more so for playing SpyParty a lot, talking a lot, and generally doing everything a lot. And that‘s the kind of person I am–when I love something, it takes up a big part of my thoughts, my emotions, and my life. And that‘s why SpyParty has made me cry more times than some of my crushes.

As I write this, I have about 5,000 games played. When I started playing this number was unthinkable, and I assumed anyone who’d played that many games must be a pro. But now that I’ve reached it, I don’t feel like a pro. I still second guess my decisions. I still question my assumptions and doubt my ability to understand things. I still get fooled by AI pathing, and I’m still not sure when a briefcase return is suspicious. I don’t feel as good as my game total. And sometimes, the difference between my experience and my expertise can be discouraging.
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Which SpyParty Player Are You?

The inimitable Drawnonward has created a quiz called Which SpyParty Player Are You? I took it and didn’t get myself, so it’s obviously a huge fraud and a tremendous waste of time. But you should take it anyway!

What’d I Miss?

It’s been over a year since I posted this message and took a leave of absence from the SpyParty community. Now, I find myself drawn back to both the game and its still-welcoming community. Some things are different. Some things aren’t.

I think I’m in a unique position to comment on the evolution of the community, for a few reasons. Without trying to sound pretentious (as if I need to try to sound pretentious), I started playing around the same time as many great, highly influential players: virifaux, KCMmmmm, zeroTKA, and slappydavis to name a few. And the community was small enough that I was streaming earlier and more often than anyone, which gave me more influence on the game and the community than I had expected (KrazyCaley first found the game watching my streams, and lthummus was introduced to higher level strategy through them). I was privileged to host many players regularly who are now among the best in the world, like bloom and canadianbacon. All of this was by accident: I thought streaming would be fun, and no one was doing it, so I did it.

These are the kinds of things I find myself thinking about more after taking some time off. I find myself asking: what’s different? What isn’t? What’d I miss?

What’s New

The most significant change is probably the introduction of the SCL (SpyParty Competitive League). It’s the most sustained and successful attempt thus far at formalizing competitive play. The increase of activity in the lobby is noticeable, and anecdotally it seems like new players are climbing the skill curve faster than ever. It remains under-promoted in formal channels, however, and it’s fair to say the streams, while greatly improved over season one, are still finding their footing.

We’ve had a large influx of players, which has been fantastic. Seeing all these newer players getting really into the game, being driven with such a sense of competition and community has been glorious to watch. Even in the short time that I’ve been back and interacted with these people, they remind me of why I enjoy our community so much, as well as being people I am looking at to be the next big ambassadors of the game – Sure, we have our virifauxs and zeroTKAs who’ve been here forever, but we can’t rely on a handful of passionate players; we need an army of passionate players to spread the word, or else we’re leaving the future of our beloved game to chance. The role the speedrunning community has played (a few prominent speedrunners have found the game through KrazyCaley) as of late cannot be overstated.

The way people talk about the game is different, thanks to the SCL. When I took a break a year ago, many players were commenting that there wasn’t a lot to do after reaching a certain point in the skill curve. The positive side effect of this was that most of the games were casual and fun. The downside is that there weren’t as many being played. Today, it’s the opposite: we’re missing those fun, casual games, but we have lots of more serious matches. Trying to have both may be impossible, but at minimum we can look at the upsides and downsides of both. The upside of the SCL, in addition to the increased activity mentioned earlier, is a corresponding uptick in high-level strategy discussion and analysis. It’s also led to a highly encouraging increase in the number of third-party tools, from lthummus’ SpyParty Draft Tool, to sgnurf’s SCL match database. SpyParty‘s community has always been filled with independent, self-starting, technically-inclined people, so none of this comes as a surprise, but even so, this group has risen to the occasions to fill these needs.

The downsides, apart from pulling the game into a more competitive, high-stress format, is that it standardizes certain game modes through its mere existence. This is probably inevitable, and probably worth it, but it’s part of the trade off.

What’s the Same

The game still isn’t on Steam, still doesn’t have a new UI, and we still don’t have dossiers or recommendations. The first item might be more understandable than the last, because it’s a one-time event from which there’s no going back. And obviously, the new UI has to precede the Steam launch. For better or worse, the state of the game and the community when it launches on Steam is going to have an outsized impact on how it’s perceived going forward. If it seems like I’m being pedantic in talking about the lack of casual games, that’s why: this is one of the biggest inflection points for the mood and tenor of the community.

While we’ve definitely seen a swelling in ranks, the number of regular posts on the forums seems to have not changed at all. I know what you want to say: “What about the Competitions Subforum, Drawn?” It’s true, the SCL itself has led to a lot of forum activity, but it’s segregated: the Competitions subforum feels much like the old Zendo thread that got to over 100 pages; it’s interesting to people involved and mostly ignored by everyone else. Either you’re interacting with it, or you’re not: there is no middle ground. There’s a big, glowing line between those who participate in the SCL, and those who don’t.

Streamers

I think this is an area where the community has been, unfortunately, pretty stagnant. KrazyCaley and elvisnake are the only regular streamers that come to mind. Beyond them, they happen here and there. I had hoped that, when I stopped streaming regularly, someone (or even several people) would fill that gap, but I’ll be the first to admit it’s difficult to find a stable time to stream day in and day out. It’s even harder when you’re playing what’s still a niche game.

Where Are We

Overall, I’m still happy with the state of the SpyParty house. It is, after all, still standing, and most of the rooms look better than when I left it. The structure is still pretty much the same, and that’s largely a good thing. But it’s just about time to hold the big Open House that is Steam. It’s time to show the rest of the world what this game is about.

If you have any comments, whether regarding how poor my writing style is, or perhaps on why you agree with me so much ( ), feel free to post a comment here, hit me up on twitter, or even shoot me a PM on the SpyParty forums.

Thanks for reading,
-Drawn