How Monaco met SpyParty: The tale of two PAX-bound indies

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SpyParty and Monaco are among the most promising games in the bigger-than-you’d-think indie scene. There’s only one problem: you — well maybe not you, but some other game-playing individuals, certainly — aren’t even aware that they exist. Yet.

With any luck, that’ll change this September come PAX Prime. Monaco designer Andy Schatz and SpyParty designer Chris Hecker have teamed up to score a booth (lovely #3004, to be specific) at what is considered by many to be the most enjoyable, out-of-control industry event of the year.

Previously, these two games have only been playable for honest-to-goodness game developers and members of the press (see Anthony’s article here). This will be the first time for the general gaming public to get its hands on SpyParty and Monaco, and better yet, a lot has changed since March.

I had the opportunity to chat with Chris and Andy about how the two first met, why they decided to go all out with a booth at PAX, and what’s new with their respective games. If you plan on attending the show, you’ll want to hear their crazy story. If you aren’t going, you’ll definitely want to hear it.

At first glance, Monaco and SpyParty might seem like somewhat of an unusual pairing. How did this collaboration get started, exactly?

It all started after the Game Developers Conference this year. Andy and Monaco had just won the IGF grand prize, and I had played the game a bit at Jonathan Blow’s house, but Andy and I had never actually met. I was thinking about Monaco, and I realized it had a lot in common with SpyParty.

There was the obvious one-dude-in-a-garage indie aspect, but also thematically the games are very similar, with SpyParty going for the kind of slightly retro spy and mystery movie vibe, and Monaco going for the heist movie vibe. Those three film genres are all really close siblings, with the exaggerated characters, fantastic settings, too-cool music, and over-the-top absurd plots.

I knew I was going to be struggling with trying to find the perfect SpyParty visual aesthetic later this year, something stylized that evoked these film and book genres, but without being dated, and I thought I’d talk to Andy since it was clear he’d been thinking about the same stuff.

Also, the games are both single- and multi-player, which is a technical and design challenge (especially when you’re doing it by yourself!), and it’s always good to have other people to bounce ideas off when you’re digging into complicated stuff like this.

So, I cold emailed him, he responded, and we hit it off and became indie e-mail BFFs.

A PAX booth? How in the world do you even begin to justify that purchase? Chris continues:

Fast forward a couple months, and San Diego Comic Con was approaching. Since I’m basically cribbing my entire SpyParty marketing plan from The Behemoth, the undisputed masters of indie game grass roots marketing and PR, I had noticed they always got a booth at Comic Con. I looked into getting a booth there as well, and was told there was a 4-year, 600-person-deep waiting list for booths or tables of any size! Okay, so that wasn’t going to work.

Andy and I were talking about this, since he lives in San Diego and is friends with The Behemoth folks, and we realized PAX was even better for us than Comic Con, because it’s just all gamers, all the time. Unlike Comic Con, nobody goes to PAX to catch a glimpse of Eliza Dushku, they go to talk about and play games with their friends [Ed. note: Except for Hamza, but he’s, well, troubled].

Even better, Monaco and SpyParty sharing a booth made perfect sense given how similar the games are thematically. Not to mention that booths at conventions are insanely expensive and grueling to manage, and so it was clear that rocking it indie-style with the shared booth and being able to team up on getting ready and manning the booth made a ton of sense. Plus, we thought it would be a blast!

We ended up getting a tiny 10’x20′ booth, and we’re going to decorate it with a couch and big TVs so lots of people can gather around and play our games and have a great time. We’re renting a minivan to carry all our stuff, and we’re road-tripping up indie-style with Andy’s wife (on her birthday, no less…what better way to spend a birthday than with your husband and another random indie developer in a rented minivan for 15 hours?!). We basically have no idea what’s going to happen at PAX, but we’re incredibly excited for whatever it is!

So, that’s the backstory on how the PAX booth came together.

What do you hope to get out of the show, besides having as many greasy hands playing the games as humanly possible (and tolerable)?

Our goals for the show are pretty simple: get a lot of gamers to play our games have a great time, give us feedback, become fans on Facebook (MonacoIsMine and SpyParty), and tell their friends about the games. Indie games live and die by word of mouth, and so getting gamers talking about them in forums and on Facebook and Twitter and everywhere is a huge part of making the games successful.

As developers, we can make the games fun, but it’s up to the fans to make them successful. Since we’re lucky enough that our games are already a lot of fun, we figure the best way to get people to be fans is to let them play themselves!

This is the first time gamers will be able to play Monaco and SpyParty, ever! Monaco was on display at the GDC for the IGF, but that’s all professional developers, and SpyParty was shown invite-only to press in my hotel room (Anthony’s Dtoid article was based on him playing then), but at PAX the games will be out in the open, and anybody who can get on the PAX expo floor and over to booth 3004 can play. I think there are going to be something like 70,000 fans there this year, which is amazing!

What’s new and improved with Monaco? Andy takes over:

Monaco won the Grand Prize in the 2010 IGF after only 15 weeks of work. It had placeholder art, a smattering of levels, and just the four basic characters. The game was unbalanced and unpolished. The Monaco of the IGF was the hot secretary BEFORE she takes her glasses off and lets her hair down. The Monaco you’ll see at PAX is not wearing glasses and is sitting suggestively on the corner of your desk.

The art is rebuilt, though still inspired by the abstract look of Roguelikes, and there are double the number of playable characters. It’s sexy, it’s pretty, it’s unique, and yes, it’s even more fun than the IGF build. Now you can crawl through the air ducts, use C4 to blow up walls, and use a silenced pistol to take out guards. But watch out for the motion detectors, the lock-on sweeping lasers, the K9 units that follow your scent, and the dreaded helicopter following your every move so long as you remain outdoors.

And as for SpyParty? It’s back to Chris:

For SpyParty, it’s all about gameplay depth right now. [Ed. note: Chris really, really wants you to know that the visuals aren’t the focus right now. You don’t need to remind him; he knows. I promise!]

Unlike the beautiful Monaco, SpyParty is butt-ugly, and will be for a while! I’m following the Blizzard design methodology called “Depth First, Accessibility Later,” which means go as deep as you can, get the core game loops totally tuned up with as much player skill and replayability as you possibly can, and don’t worry about making the game accessible during that period, since that can come once you have an awesome game for experts.

I heard about this from a lecture Rob Pardo gave a few years back, while I was working on Spore. I realized we were doing the exact opposite with a lot of the Spore design. We worried about accessibility first, and never got to the depth the game deserved. The creature and building editors were the exception to this; we made them deep first and then accessible after, and I think you can tell when you’re playing that game.

So, with SpyParty I’m trying to take it to what I call “Counter-Strike levels of player skill and replayability.”  In fact, the jokey way I describe the game is “Counter-Strike meets The Sims,” which makes almost no sense when you think about it hard, but gets across the idea of how different but deep I want the player-skill-based gameplay to be.

I’ve redesigned the existing missions, making them more subtle for both sides. I’ve played around with mixing what designers call the “meta-game” into the actual game, so for example, the Spy can request more time in the round, but it’s done by doing an action in the game world, so the Sniper can see you do it if they’re watching carefully. I’m adding a mechanic similar to the Active Reload mechanic in Gears of War or the stroke mechanic in golf games, to give the Spy a way to express different levels of subtlety when doing actions, so when you want to bug the Ambassador, you can do it fully James-Bond-suave-style, or mess it up and pull an Austin Powers/Maxwell Smart.

My goal is to get to e-sports levels of player skill, but where the skills are not the normal shooting, jumping, and map-navigating, but instead they’re behavioral things like deception and performance for the Spy, and perception and judgement for the Sniper.

Any last words? Where can we find you guys?

So, to gamers: please come to PAX, say hi, play Monaco and SpyParty, become our biggest and bestest friends on Facebook ( and and follow us on Twitter ( and!

[Ed. note: I, and whoever I can force to come with me, will be checking out both games at PAX. Look forward to it! And again, if you’re going to the convention, you’ll want to see them for yourselves. Don’t make me hunt you down.]

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Jordan Devore
Jordan is a founding member of Destructoid and poster of seemingly random pictures. They are anything but random.