There are times when the RPS Action News Team 3000 is just too busy. Like that time I missed posting about Half-Life 3's secret crowd-funding effort because I was cleaning the bath (it failed, btw). At those moments, when developers are emailing us exclusives and wiring money to our Swiss bank accounts, we just want the developer to step-up and do the job for us. That actually happened last night. Chris Hecker wanted to talk about Spy Party, but when he e-mailed me I was, er, having a nap. When I came to, my hair was in no fit state for the sort of journalism that RPS demands, so I asked him for a few notes. Well, yada yada yada, he interviewed himself about the upcoming art update to his wonderful game. I intend to do a proper interview with him about Spy Party, but for now here's Chris Hecker journalisming Chris Hecker. Hard.
Chris Hecker: How are you doing?
Chris Hecker: Good, thanks. I'm a little tired since PAX Prime is fast approaching and I have too much work to do between now and then getting the new art into the game. I'm trying not to think about it too much actually; I'm in denial. You?
CH: Good, thanks for asking. Why am I interviewing you?
CH: Because you're interested in the new SpyParty environment art?
CH: No, I mean why am I, specifically, interviewing you?
CH: Oh, well, apparently there are these things called timezones which I didn't really factor into my thinking when I contacted you guys at the last minute about the aforementioned new SpyParty environment art, so Jim and Craig are both asleep right now and you were the only one around to do it. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, "You go to interview with the interviewer you have."
CH: Ah, got it, makes sense. Donald Rumsfeld: the source of many good quotes; defense policies, not so much. Anyway, the new environment art...in my unbiased opinion it looks really pretty!
CH: Yeah, I'm over the moon about it. I feel like it's a similar sized quality jump from the current ugly prototype environments as the new character art we showed last year was from the ugly prototype characters. I feel like we've taken the "illustrative" style we developed for the characters and applied it to the architecture pretty well. It feels like it's from the same timeless world, but it's understated and the lack of textures and bigger flatter shapes and bi-chromatic palette will make sure it stays in the background so the characters pop.
CH: That's pretty important for gameplay, right, given that the game is about the characters and their behavior?
CH: Definitely. If you look at the shots, you will notice a few things about the color and shading choices. First, there's a very intense warm/cool separation between the Spy's territory and the Sniper's territory. Where ever the Spy can go, it's warm tones and lighting, with saturated shadows and a comfortable glow. Where the Sniper moves, it's cool colors, and very low contrast. Second, if you look at the statues in these shots, they're very saturated with bright colors, and have non-physical lighting that make them stand out against even the warm inside colors. Both of these will help players immediately discern where the gameplay can take place, which areas are active and which are just background.
CH: What about the bookcases, those are active gameplay areas in SpyParty, aren't they?
CH: Good catch. Yeah, the bookcases still need this saturation and lighting treatment, they were originally done here in these concept renders along with the background, but they need to be foregrounded so the Transfer Microfilm mission will stand out like the statue missions.
CH: You say "concept renders"...is this what the environments will look like in the game?
CH: These are raytraced renders with all kinds of global illumination and anti-aliasing and post processing, so they're not realtime, but we hope to come close. They're our visual target. The simple shapes and flat colors will help, but the lighting is going to be tricky. Also, let's ignore the water in the pool with all the caustics and refractions and diffusion for now, shall we? I really want to keep the minimum spec machine as low as possible so the maximum number of people can play, that's really important for an indie multiplayer game.
CH: Back on the topic of gameplay, I'm really curious how integrating the new art is going to impact the game...
CH: You and me both. I really don't know, and I'm slightly terrified to find out. I've spent years tuning and balancing the game to the current art with the goal of making a deep competitive system, so I think things are going to be unbalanced on the new art levels for a long time while the game is re-tuned for how easy or hard things are to visually distinguish, and how distracting and noisy the new art is going to be, especially at first. I mean, the game is about perception, and changing what you're perceiving is definitely going to have an impact. I'm going to add the new art on the side and keep the old art around for a long time, since I don't want to screw up the game people play right now.
CH: What is up with that shot of the entire traditional mansion? That's not going to be playable, is it?
CH: Well, not for a long time, but we wanted to see what it'd look like. The goal is to get the core asymmetric 1v1 mode perfect, and then branch out and try other stuff, so you could imagine some crazy multiple-Spy vs multiple-Sniper mode in that mansion at some point in the future.
CH: Ah, yes, "the future". Speaking of the future, is this game ever going to be finished? Platforms?
CH: Well, uh, yes, some day? I mean, the magical thing about open paid betas is if they work, they give us the financial runway to make the game perfect. As long as we're making progress and the paid beta is paying our burn rate, and we're making the game better, and people who want to play can play, who needs ship dates? Actually, I'd like to ship the game sometime before the heat death of the universe, but it is true that when you're making one of these competitive games that you want to stand next to games like Counter-Strike, Street Fighter, Starcraft, and the rest, and you want it to be as beautiful as it is deep, it just takes a long time, especially with a really small team. As for platforms, the answer is: yes. I want it on everything, PC obviously, consoles, probably even tablets, but more importantly, I want interplay between all those platforms, since unlike most player-skill games, there's no real advantage or disadvantage to a controller versus keyboard and mouse, so a console player will be able to play a PC player and they'll have a fair game with no need for crap like aim-assist or nerfed turning speed or anything else that detracts from skill-based competitive games.
CH: Do you think there'll be anything platform-specific about the game at all?
CH: Gameplay-wise, I hope not. Meta-game-wise, almost certainly. I want to do spectation clients and spawned copies and a replay database of all the games ever played, and that sort of stuff will probably happen on PC first because it's an open and flexible platform. I also want to allow mods, at least in terms of custom player-created levels at first, and that's a very PC thing. The console folks are still playing catch-up in these areas.
CH: Is it still just two people making it? That seems insane.
CH: Yeah, it's me doing the programming and design and old art and whatnot, and John Cimino, who I worked with on Spore, doing the new art. John is a significantly better artist than I am, as you can see. He's actually super-human, he can concept, model, texture, animate, he can do characters, environments, even user interface icons! It's funny, I was on RPS earlier today and watched the C&C dev video about their nuke truck process and they were going through all the different teams required to make that truck, and I was thinking, "John is all those people combined into a giant robot!" He's really amazing.
CH: Thanks for you time!
CH: Thank you, and great questions by the way, it was like you were reading my mind!