In SpyParty’s Bloodless Cat-and-Mouse Chase, Your Life Ends Here

Beautiful place for a headshot, no? And players won’t need to worry about staining the handsome furnishings after killing someone in SpyParty because there won’t be any blood.

The images above come from lavish environments that will be going into SpyParty's next graphical update, which will be on display at this year’s PAX Prime. The new maps fall in line with the updated character models previously revealed for developer Chris Hecker’s dodge-and-hunt espionage game.

It needs to be said that these images are pie-in-the-sky concept art. The versions that will be running in SpyParty’s final version won’t be quite as shiny. But the difference in color tones—warm and glowy in the interiors, darker and foreboding on the outside—will still be there. When I spoke to him yesterday, Hecker said that the warm/cool separation is a design decision that helps to delineate and motivate each player’s role. “A simple thing like that lends a different emotional tone to [each player’s experiences],” explained Hecker.

SpyParty’s a different sort of multiplayer game. One person plays as a spy, trying to fulfill secretive micro-objectives while attempting to blend in with computer AI-controlled partygoers. That player’s opponent is a sniper who only gets one shot at firing a bullet that eliminates the spy. The environments need to accommodate the asymmetrical style of play. “The relationship the two players have to the map is interesting. It’s kind of an adversary on the sniper side and an ally on the spy side.”

In SpyParty’s Bloodless Cat-and-Mouse Chase, Your Life Ends Here

So, those color choices are more than just aesthetics. “It creates the whole ‘snipers out in the cold’ kind of vibe. People already joke about that in the forums, like ‘Why can’t I come to the party?’ It’s a very separated experience and we wanted the environments to reflect the divide between the people controlling the sniper and the spy.”

Hecker says that there are currently six maps in the current, ugly version of SpyParty that’s in alpha open beta right now. He’s aiming to have 10 maps in the final, done-when-it’s-done version. “I’ve got proof that people will play an ugly game,” he offered. Revealing the environment art now supports the message I’ve been saying all along, which is that I care about gameplay first. No one believed me when I said that the game was going to be beautiful. But slowly people are starting to get convinced."

In SpyParty’s Bloodless Cat-and-Mouse Chase, Your Life Ends Here

"The game will be gorgeous but the key, the most important thing is the gameplay. And making it beautiful from a design perspective first. The game is awesome already. It’s not dependent on being beautiful to be a good game.”

One of the things worth paying attention to in SpyParty’s new look is how it tries to avoid realism. “These maps aren’t trying to look like any one real place. But they also don’t look like cartoons. We’re trying desperately hard to avoid falling into the Uncanny Valley. I feel like we’re not going to be able to get out of the Uncanny Valley for a very long time, as an industry or an artform.”

In SpyParty’s Bloodless Cat-and-Mouse Chase, Your Life Ends Here

I asked Hecker how SpyParty was going to avoid the dangers of the Uncanny Valley and realism that’s off-putting. His answer was to explain why his game wouldn’t have blood. “There’s not going to be any blood in this game. It’s just not appropriate,” he answered. “Let’s be clear: there’s no violence in the game proper.

“I liken it to the Hitchockian use of violence. In those films, it’s just the threat of violence,” he continued. “Violence is in the air in a Hitchcock film but rarely is it like a modern film like, say, Die Hard where bullets and bodies are flying everywhere. Having a giant bloodspray or things like that doesn’t even work with the game mechanically. SpyParty plays on the tension of someone outside looking for you to kill you, and doesn’t really focus on the whole ‘gonna blow your head off’ thing. The second the sniper pulls the trigger, the game’s over. That’s the tension release. Even when you’re the one who gets shot, it’s a huge relief that the whole thing’s over. Adding blood wouldn’t change the game at all. It would just be kind of a masturbation in some sense, because we’re not going for realism.”

Hecker will be showing a new map in the updated art style at this year’s PAX fan gathering. While this map will be semi-playable, he says it’s meant as more of a tech demo that provides a glimpse of SpyParty’s future. The long-brewing indie experiment is already unique from a gameplay perspective and its shiny new coat of polygons means that SpyParty will look different from loads of other games, too.