Thursday, 11 October 2012

Hidden in Plain Sight vs. Spy Party


“Did you rip-off Spy Party? Looks like it.”

I just got this comment on my YouTube video preview for “Hidden in Plain Sight”.


This is not the first time I've heard this comment, so I thought I'd take some time to officially address this.

First, it’s no secret that Hidden in Plain Sight was inspired by my discovery Spy Party.  I first read about Spy Party probably close to two years ago, and I thought the idea sounded fascinating.  I've been following along with its progress since then.

Shortly after reading about Spy Party, I wondered if it needed to be a complicated 3D game.  I wondered if the main essence of the game could be created in a simplified 2D format.  I actually created a little prototype called SpyParty2D.  Now THAT was a ripoff of Spy Party.  It was a two-person networked game where one person was the spy trying to open boxes, and the other person was the sniper, trying to find and shoot the spy.

I only showed that prototype to a handful of people (including Monaco developer Andy Schatz, who introduced me via email to Chris Hecker, Spy Party’s developer).  I never did anything further with it.  This was in September, 2010.

I then went on to make and release two Xbox Live Indie Games (“Bad Golf” and “Battle for Venga Islands”).

Then, near the end of 2011, I returned to the idea of Spy Party.  I boiled the game down to two main mechanics that I wanted to play with.  First, I wanted the player to have to blend in with NPCs or risk elimination.  This is not unique to Spy Party.  This has roots in board games (Saboteur, for example), Mafia/Werewolf, etc.  Second, I wanted to put the player in a state of conflict.  I wanted the player to want to accomplish goals, but in a way that introduced some risk.  Again, this isn’t specific to any one game.

With those two key concepts in mind, I came up with the game modes for Hidden in Plain Sight.

1)  Ninja Party -- this is highly influenced by a web game called Puji.  However, I believe Puji has a key flaw.  Imagine Ninja Party, but without any statues.  There is nothing for the player to do.  It’s easy to look like an NPC, so basically someone just has to wait until someone gets bored and does a random attack.  By introducing statues and an alternate path to victory, I believe this enhanced the depth of the game a lot.

2)  Catch a Thief -- If anything, this is the most straightforward “rip off” of Spy Party.  And frankly, in my opinion, it’s the least fun game mode.  However, note that this is a four-player game played on the same screen.  That alone should considered enough of a distinguishing factor.

3)  Death Race -- This is a wholly original idea, and commonly accepted as the best, most fun game.  Death Race is a total thought experiment which I came up with independently and without any inspiration.  I was thinking “What if there was a race, but everyone in the race had a gun with one bullet.  How would it play out?”  I've never heard of anything like it, and if another game came out within the next year that had a similar mechanic, I'd wonder if they got the idea from my game.

4)  Knights vs. Ninjas -- Another original game idea, arrived at without any specific inspiration.  First off, I love the name of the game.  I’d done an online version of this game as a prototype, and folded it into Hidden in Plain Sight.

5)  Assassin -- this is a computer version of the Werewolf/Mafia type gameplay.  Also the “wink” game I used to play as a kid, where people would look around at each other, with one of the people being “it” and winking to kill other people.  It was suggested by Andy Schatz.

So there you go.  The motivation for each of the game modes.

Now with specific regard to Spy Party, let me address some issues.

First, I contacted Chris Hecker before releasing the game to let him know I was working on something that was similar to his game.  He wrote a very eloquent email in which he said:

My attitude towards derivative game designs is that they can contribute significant value to the art form, they simply have to move the game design ball forward.  If they're just clones of an existing thing without pushing in any new directions, then that can be fine for game development practice (just like copying a painting at the museum while you're training to be an artist is an effective learning tool), but it's not something you want to focus on as an end goal.

I firmly believe that Hidden in Plain Sight is “moving the design ball forward”.  Or, at least, that was my honest attempt to do so.  But regardless of this, even if he ranted and raved that I was copying him and I shouldn’t release my game, I still could have been well within my rights to do so.  He does not hold a monopoly on this idea, and I am not infringing on any copyrights or patents.

In addition, I was recently accepted into the Spy Party beta.  I haven’t played too many games, but as soon as I did, I was immediately relieved to know that my game wasn’t anything like it.  Spy Party is a brilliant game.  It is a 1v1 game, played over a network (most often).  To that end, you are sitting in your room, probably by yourself, staring at your screen with intense focus and concentration.  It’s very tense, and very well executed.

Hidden in Plain Sight, by contrast, is most rightly characterized as a “party game”.  Each game mode supports up to four players (and, in fact, plays exponentially better with more players).  It’s is local-multiplayer only, which means you are necessarily in the same room with your opponents.  So while it shares some vague similarities with Spy Party, the whole vibe of the game is totally different.  Game rounds can be tense, but are generally short and light-hearted.  There is usually lots of laughing and friendly yelling involved. It's like the difference between chess and Hungry-Hungry-Hippos.

So there you go.  I hope that clarifies some of my design choices, and answers the “Spy Party ripoff” claims.  It was never my intention to make a quick buck by stealing anyone else’s ideas and making a CLONE of a game.  But I freely admit that I did draw inspiration from some sources (who doesn't?!), and in each case tried to enhance those ideas with twists of my own (the addition of statues in Ninja Party, for example, or making design choices that allow for four players to share a single screen (which was more difficult than it sounds, by the way)).

If you have any questions, please let me know.

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