Thursday, October 11, 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.


  1. Hey Adam, thanks for the kind words, and for taking the time to write up your thoughts on this. I figure I'll just post another quote from the mail I sent you a while back to reinforce how I feel about this issue:

    "I think psychological behavioral gameplay like I'm trying to explore in SpyParty is a really rich area to mine, and I always encourage developers to get in here and poke around. People ask if I was bummed with AC Brotherhood's multiplayer was released, and the opposite was true: I wish they'd made it more subtle and behavioral and explored the space more so I could learn from it too. That said, if they simply cloned SpyParty exactly in the next version I'd obviously be bummed, not only because hey, that's the game I'm doing, but also I'm doing it because it's the personal expression of the game design I'm interested in, and I think if another designer truly explored their own deep interests and emotions, they'd naturally come up with a different design because all people are different. So, a pure clone indicates a kind of thoughtlessness and cynical approach to creating products, not works of personal expression."

    So, for the record, I want more games that deeply explore psychological game mechanics!


  2. I wondered if this post would show up on your radar... :) Thanks for the comment!

  3. Hi. I was the one posting that comment on your video. And I totally respect your idea and thanks for taking the time to adress this issue. yes "rip-off" is a hard word, sorry for that. but I just wanted (not only me) to know how did you come up with the idea. and you sure answered it, haha. Hope you make more psychological games and thanks again.

  4. Boy, that Chris guy really comes off as a jerk; stamping down on other developers. :)

    I get sweaty palmed just reading about Spy Party.

  5. Adam --

    I am one of the creators of Puji (along with Pat Kemp and Matt McKnett.) Like Chris, I'm a big believer in advancing other people's work. Not to sound overly dramatic but it's this building on the works of others that makes humanity advance. Just look at this year's Nobel prize in Medicine: Dr. Yamanaka built on Dr. Gurdon's work and "together" they discovered something that could make many people's lives better.

    That said, it's really nice when someone gives credit to their inspiration(s.) So thank you for citing our work and thank you for building on it.

    Some random extra thoughts:

    +There are some advanced strategies that can make the Puji stalemate end. However, they aren't all very obvious (in fact, I didn't think of many of these.) You can read about them here:
    Your addition of statues is a nice IN GAME way of the breaking the stalemate. Puji's advanced strategies must be discovered and created by the player... and not many people discover them. In general I agree about having a secondary objective to force the game to conclusion and encourage hidden players to act out.

    +On hearing about Puji, many people said, "Oh, kind of like Spy Party?" Hey Chris, do you have a more generic name for this genre? (I'm sure you'd like "Spy Party Games.")

    +Puji is built on a game idea I wrote for a Career Fair for fifth graders called "Insurgency." It's a two player game, with 1 soldier, 1 insurgent who looks like an AI, and many AIs. The soldier has a single bullet and the insurgent can detonate near the soldier, if she gets close enough. It suffered the same problems as Puji in that there was no secondary goal. The soldier had to figure out who the insurgent was based only on the insurgent's movement. The game often ended with the insurgent patiently waiting, the soldier getting impatient and killing an innocent AI. As a game, it wasn't much fun, but as a political message game, it actually worked quite well.

    Thanks and good luck with your game.


  6. Oreos: No worries, man. This wasn't directly solely at you. This game has been out for almost a year now, and I've heard a lot of Spy Party comparisons (some valid and some snidely made in passing). So I just wanted to address it in an "official" sort of way.

    Norm: :)

    Alexander: I'm so glad you posted! In prototype of this game, I included a straight Puji game, and playtested it with my friends. We all felt like there was nothing to do. There was no motivation to attack anyone, since doing so would "out" the player with little chance of actually successfully killing someone. When I added the secondary objective, it immediately opened up some layers of strategy.

    Forgive my blunt statement that "Puji is flawed". Perhaps we just weren't patient enough to uncover the deeper aspects of it. But I'm happy with the addition of statues. And having a hiding place is a fun little addition, to boot.

    I agree that a name should be given to this genre. "Hidden role" isn't really accurate, and "Reverse Turing Test" is too esoteric...

  7. Spy Party is the Kleenex of the Reverse Turing Test genre.

  8. Norm, I think you should use the Kleenex to dry off the sweaty palms! ;)

    I usually use the phrase "deception and perception" when talking about SpyParty's core mechanics and asymmetry, and that applies to games of Assassin (The Ship, Assassin's Creed multiplayer), deductive games (Clue(do), Guess Who?), and find-the-guy games (Puji, HIPS, the WiiU Fruit game, etc.). There's actually a list of these games on the SpyParty FAQ page with links, and I add them whenever anybody points out a new one. I also use the phrase "psychological behavioral gameplay" a lot, but that applies to most competitive multiplayer games, so it's not as specific. Sometimes I say "games without space aliens and orcs". :)

    Anyway, my hope for these kinds of games is people explore more of the psychology and behavior aspects, which probably means steering towards more expression, and away from the easier stuff like powerups and items and whatnot. The smoke bomb in AC is a good example of something that detracts from the psychology in my opinion, for example.

    I just played Thirty Flights of Loving and replayed Gravity Bone, and I love Brendan's games. I'm going to have him do a map for SpyParty in his style, I think. Those games show you can do a ton with simple human behavior and setting, just by making careful and stylish art and design choices, and you don't have to dive headfirst into as much technology, art, AI, and design as I am with SpyParty.


  9. Hey Adam, I just heard about your game Hidden in Plain Sight last night, and played it. I think these "psychological behavioral games" are awesome, and I really enjoyed playing with my brother - Great stuff! Note, I may need to play with 2 more people to get a better gist of everything.

    One favourite was probably Ninja Party, as getting all the statues without looking suspicious is tricky (i.e. do it when you see a NPC crossing one!)

    Catch a Thief is fun but the hardest, because you have to be choosy with your 3 bullets and the coins don't disappear on touch - perhaps there should be an option to have them disappear?

    Death Race we really liked, but it's hard not to be caught when you see your rivals reaching closer to the finish. I think I need to play with 4 people instead of 2 on this one! Also, a creative scenario - perhaps have the end of the race be a huge steal i.e. open bank safe, large diamondy heirloom. It might just seem better to put a scenario to a 'just a race'.

    Knights vs Ninjas - now this is awesome! Though I hated how the Royals were walking into bunches of ninjas! I think this would be too much as a 4 player game. Suggested scenario again, maybe have the Royals visiting a ninja festival or something?!

    Assassin - this mode is perfect how it is. My only suggestion is to have the scenery change again.

    So yeah, many of my comments are based on narrative - so sorry about that, I'm just being picky. I hope adding those things, as well as the graphics (bigger sprites etc.) will make for a bigger game!

    Perhaps you and Chris should work on something ;)

  10. Spy Party is the Kleenex of the Reverse Turing Test genre.

  11. Anyway hope to have it works on windows without xbox controllers?
    Nice game anyway

    1. Windows:
      x360ce working
      up to date: directX and visual C++ , required
      just run x360ce.exe