Not just one old person. A few of them. Not just one shade of brown person but lighter and darker tones. Not just able-bodied people. People in wheelchairs, too.
A whole new crop of character models are coming to SpyParty and, when it eventually comes out, the cat-and-mouse game might wind up looking more like the real world than any other video game ever.
The people playing as a spy or sniper in SpyParty are either trying to mask human identity or expose it. That key dynamic is one of the reasons a broad range of characters is so important to Chris Hecker's asymmetrical assassination title. As one player glides through an AI-populated cocktail party, the other tries to suss him/her out or shoot them dead. Hecker wants this cocktail party to be fancy as all heck but not exclusionary.
"I really want SpyParty to be the most diverse game ever in terms of the kinds of playable characters it presents," Hecker told me over e-mail. "When we're concepting and building characters, we actively think about a lot of different axes of diversity, including race, gender, age, ability, and body shape. We don't worry about sexual orientation in the character model art, because that's actually a mechanic in the game already with the Seduce Target mission!" (Hecker means that you can try and charm whoever you want when playing as the Spy.)
"The only kind of diversity we consciously aren't playing with is class/income diversity; since the game is at a fancy high society cocktail party, that axis doesn't really make sense, but we hope to explore the others as fully as we can in 20 characters."
One of the new models is a re-imagined version of the General from the original art style. The new Partiers aren't an example of diversity for its own sake, either. Hecker's also thinking about how different characters will add to the mindgame that makes SpyParty tick. Take the temporarily named Mr. I.
"He's in a wheelchair, so in effect we just added vehicles to SpyParty," Hecker said. "Initially he's going to move around like the other characters, which will probably look terrible since wheelchairs do not move like walking people, but eventually he'll have a completely custom movement system. He's lower to the ground, so he might be a good choice as Spy because he'll always have good cover, but then again, that makes him suspicious. I think the dot-com turtleneck snob look is going to get him shot a lot."
And when taking the new character's differences into account, Hecker and his crew haven't stopped at just faces and bodies. That big bouncy hair on Ms. H? It's going to move in potentially distracting ways. "SpyParty characters are about 12000 triangles or so. Ms. H's hair has 23767 triangles in it, so there are two full characters' worth of triangles in her hair alone," the designer told me.
"It's also rigged, so it has a skeleton inside it so it can move plausibly while she talks. It's worth it because it looks so awesome, and really makes her silhouette distinct. We focus on silhouettes a lot when we develop characters, which is why things like hats and hair are so important. We actually spent a ton of time during the character art style development phase working on how hair should look. I think hair simulation looks terrible in games (and CG movies), so we wanted something stylized and illustrative and animatable but that didn't need a zillion bones or a special hair system. This style we settled on, where the hair is kind of 'clay-like' works really well with the illustrative style."
SpyParty's new additions aren't just human, either. The game-makers have included a small yappy dog with dowager character Ms. J. Are players going to try and shoot it? Probably.
"Yes, the dog is fully animated. Well, it doesn't have a lower body, but the head is articulated and it can look around and react to what's happening," Hecker explained. "I don't know if people are going to shoot the dog or not. Technically, it's part of her mesh and skeleton, so you can shoot Ms. J by shooting the dog, so I'd have to add special code to disallow shooting the dog, but on the other hand, I can't imagine adding a sound effect for shooting the dog, that seems like it's going too far. However, there's a glass breaking sound if you shoot somebody having a drink, so there is precedent. This needs serious design thought, and consultation with an ethics committee."
Hecker's joking about that last point. We think. Yes, SpyParty's taking a very long time to metamorphose into its final form. But the ambition and thought going into the game's models and design might explain why it's taking so long. And, hey, there's a beta that anyone can play right now. I can only hope that, when it comes to the looks of its playable characters, other video games catch up to SpyParty whenever it comes out.