I've been impressed with SpyParty since the day I first played it, but soon you'll no longer have to take my word for it. The game's creator, Chris Hecker, is about to pull a Minecraft and launch a $15 beta.
You'll be able to join by signing up at an official web page (this one). Hecker will then start sending out invites over the next few weeks.
Those who pay $15 for the beta will receive all updated versions of the game, including its officially-released form. So you won't need to buy it all over again.
SpyParty is a two-player game that pits one person as a spy and another as a sniper. The spy player must blend in with computer-controlled characters, all of them attending a party, where the spy must smoothly complete a handful of missions (bug the ambassador, poison a drink, etc.) The sniper player gets to watch the party from outside, training their sniper scope and laser sight on any of the guests. The sniper gets one shot to ID the spy and shoot. The bullet won't miss, but they'd best be correct about who they shoot. It's subtle, complicated and clever.
A match of SpyParty is nerve-wracking. As a spy, you have to worry about any little hitch in your character's movement that just might give everything away. As the sniper, you have that one shot, so you keep doubting.
"My most important goal for the Early-Access Beta is to tune and balance the game to as close to perfect as I can get it, and to make it as deeply player-skill focused as I can," Hecker told me. "Basically, I'm trying to make a Counter-Strike or a Starcraft II here, at least in terms of the importance of player-skill to the outcome of a match. Those kinds of games need (and had) long-term large-scale betas for tuning and balancing, and the same is true for SpyParty."
The beta will be for Windows PC players only, for now. Hecker isn't sure of the specs required, but he said he plays it on a two-year-old laptop (and not a beast of one, as I can attest from having played the game at multiple trade shows).
The initial beta build will essentially be the version Hecker showed to long lines of fans at the PAX East show in March. It will consist of three maps (think: party rooms), six missions ("Bug Ambassador, Contact Double Agent, Transfer Microfilm, Swap Statue, Seduce Target, and Inspect Statues. Two more are half done, Poison Drink and Steal Plans"), three game types ("Call Your Shot, where the Spy has to complete N missions and the Sniper knows which ones (the missions and N depend on the map and skill levels), Subset, where the Spy has to complete N of M missions chosen in advance, and the Sniper only knows the M missions, and Any Subset, which is like Subset, but where the Spy can pick the missions opportunistically as he or she plays"), and 20 or so characters ("all the ugly prototype art everyone loves to hate.") There will be a lobby for text-chatting and primitive matchmaking, with more traditional matchmaking services being added as the beta continues.
In the first phase of the beta, which will start "very soon, maybe within weeks," Hecker will start adding five to 10 players at time. Throughout the spring and summer he'll add bigger and bigger groups of people and is considering running contests to let some people who have signed up skip ahead. Everyone who signs up should be playing by early fall, at the latest. He hopes to eventually have thousands of beta testers. Everyone will compete online at first, with LAN and player server support only coming later.
One of his reasons for doing the paid beta was simply because so many people have told him, at places like PAX East, that they'd pay for the game even in its raw, programmer-art state. "[That] kind of blew me away," he said. "Combine that phenomenon with the knowledge that I had to do a large open beta anyway, and it could mean I don't have to take any investment money at all, which would be amazing, because even friends and family investments come with strings attached. I think games like Minecraft and Overgrowth have really opened up this funding model for indies. I have no idea if it will work for SpyParty, but if it does, that will allow me to make the game exactly the game I think it deserves to be. My fingers are crossed."
Hecker still has no release date for the game. As he has intimated, the game is enjoyable as it is. It just looks crude and doesn't work too well when an expert player competes with a novice, but those are the exact areas that Hecker wants to explore next.
If you're interested, go sign up.
You could soon be playing the game and look just like this guy.