Andy and Chris are going to Seattle this weekend. They are going to the Penny Arcade Expo where they will share a booth and let the public, for the first time, try their games. Things are looking good... for Andy.
Andy and Chris are Andy Schatz and Chris Hecker, veterans of big video game companies like EA and now indie developers. They have spent the last year or so toiling on games they are making almost by themselves. Schatz is making Monaco, a multiplayer class-based heist game that took the top award at the Independent Games Festival last spring. Hecker is making Spy Party, a game that we ran a popular preview of on Kotaku but maybe is summed up best by Hecker: "People will come up to it and say, 'Is that like the Sims?' Well, sort of, with a sniper rifle."
(When Kotaku once gave Schatz a chance to describe Monaco in three sentences, he didn't even use all of them.)
Chris's problem is that his game is ugly and "completely inaccessible". He knows this. He volunteers this analysis. He says he's taking the Blizzard approach of going for depth first and accessibility later. That makes for good Spy Party demos with the press, where Hecker and a reporter can take turns: I'm the virtual party-goer trying to act normal while planting bugs and handing off files, while Hecker is the sniper outside armed with a single bullet that he can fire at whichever partygoer he thinks is me; and then vice versa.
This game is not picked up easily or casually.
The Hecker solution for Spy Party's public debut at PAX: "I'm expecting people to RTFM in my booth." (That's "Read the F'ing Manual"). He's drafted two pages of it already.
Tough sell, for PAX attendees operating at high speeds.
Schatz does not have Hecker's afflictions. He'll have a couch incoming from Ikea for people to cosily play Monaco at the booth. He'll have 400 one-carat Cubic Zirconia pieces to give out, 10 per hour to winners of a Monaco contest he'll run at the show. "Each faux diamond would be a thousand-dollar diamond," he says, clearly justified in expecting his game will draw a crowd. Oh, he's even giving that couch away at the end of the show. "I'm giving it a second life." How can this man lose?
Monaco has another thing going for it. Both Chris and Andy's games - which I've played - are fun and already entertaining. But Monaco was also already visually impressive and Schatz recently re-did his graphics to make them even retro-better.
Monaco already plays like a terrific co-op jewel robbery, a top-down raid enabled by a cast of player characters who have different sneaking, fighting and hacking skills. You snoop. You avoid guards (or chloroform them). You grab money. You race to the getaway car. Schatz has been adding features. He recently dropped in shrubs in which players can hide their characters. He's adding bad guys and altering how hacking works.
"I'm kind of hoping there will be no line," Hecker says, wary of how a crowd might stampede into misunderstanding his game.
"I hope there will be a crowd," Schatz said.
Well, one of them will be sorry.
Let's help Hecker out a little. Here is he explaining in an e-mail how his partial addition of drinks to his game might make things more interesting. He is simultaneously acknowledging that he didn't have time yet to enable his spy player to poison another character's drink - he merely added drinks to the game:
"I didn't get the Poison Drink mission in," he writes, "But just having the drinks themselves is deep and interesting: As the Spy you don't really want a drink in your hand because it prevents you from doing some of the missions, but you don't want to look like you don't want a drink, because that's suspicious. Plus, I randomly start the Spy with a drink sometimes, so you might try to chug it to get rid of it quickly. But an observant Sniper could notice that. Eventually, I'll add the idea of drinking too much and spilling drinks!"
That's the kind of depth you get excited about once you read about it - maybe in a four-page manual.
If anyone wants to slow Schatz down at PAX, maybe trip up his promising fake-diamond-distributing, couch-comfortable Monaco presentation by asking him when the game will be out or what platform it'll be on. He doesn't know, but people always ask. Still, that may be the only weak spot at the Schatz end of the booth.
Seattle's Penny Arcade Expostarts Friday and runs through to Sunday. Spy Party and Monaco will both be on the PAX exhibition floor in a shared space. Kotaku will be in town for the event, but probably won't have time to read f'ing manual.