11 May 2019

Peering in on SpyParty

Around this time last year, after nearly a decade of development, Chris Hecker's SpyParty went into Early Access.

A networked, asymmetric duel of deception, SpyParty is what Hecker likes to call a "reverse Turing test." One player, the spy, attempts to blend in with the crowd at a cocktail party while indulging in such infamous plenipotentiary antics as seducing the Queen of England, blurting out non sequiturs, and pretending to read books before putting them back in the wrong shelf. Player 2, as the sniper, watches in on the affair from a distance, trying to sniff out their human enemy among the motley jumble of schmoozing NPCs.

The spy has a checklist of missions. The sniper has one shot. 3 minutes, give or take, on the clock.

Will the spy go undetected?

Will the sniper shoot on a hunch?

Will an innocent civilian eat a lead hors d'oeuvre?

It's a million dollar idea. A premise from on high. And, having gotten my hands dirty this last year dead dropping microfilms and zooming in on ambassadors' asses, I'm struck more and more not just by the game's elegant high concept but by the genuinely sui generis and even quietly subversive ingenuity of its execution, from the density of visual detail to the unorthodox control scheme.

Before we get into the practicals, though, I do think a bit of pipe puffing is in order.