New developer creates imaginative Cold War video game CounterSpyWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The height of the Cold War was a scary time. As the United States and the Soviet Union postured against one another and phrases like “mutually assured destruction” were batted about in national security conversation, it felt more and more likely that the human race might not see the 21st century.
This background of uncertainty, paranoia and fear might seem an odd choice as a setting for a side-scrolling video game, but it is pulled off with panache in “CounterSpy,” the new title from San Francisco-based independent developer Dynamighty. Playing as a secret agent for COUNTER — a neutral party who works to save humanity from its superpowers’ near-sightedness — the game brings an incredibly fun art style and gameplay mechanics to its quirky setting.
“We wanted to offer something a little new as well as providing a perspective that wasn’t biased towards a particular side, but rather poked fun at both superpowers,” said David Nottingham, co-founder of Dynamighty. “We wanted COUNTER to almost be like SPECTRE from the Bond movies, except they’re actually the good guys and the superpowers are the super villains.”
Nottingham noted that the concept for the game was partially influenced by memories of growing up in that era. “You always heard so much about how the ‘other side’ were these total evil villains but once the wall came down (Berlin Wall in the 80s) you kind of realized that behind government posturing there are just people like you. It’s funny you can kind of see a lot of that in the world today right now. It would be nice if people could see the humanity on both sides of a debate, whether its politics, religion, or who makes the best console!”
Dynamighty’s small team has a great deal of experience dealing with numerous consoles. Though the young company has only ten employees to its name, their collective history working for many powerhouse names in the gaming industry brings this new venture a lifetime of experience.
“Dynamighty was founded in 2011 by myself and John Elliot, along with Mark Erman & Mark Holmes,” Nottingham said. “John and I had worked together at LucasArts, first on a top secret project, then we created a small experimental team creating digital games called Labs. It gave us a taste of getting back to those early memories of the games industry, in which smaller teams could take bold creative, even quirky risks with games.”
“CounterSpy” certainly acts on that impulse. Beyond the unusual setting, the game boasts unique mechanics, such as switching between 2D and 3D perspectives and an interesting stealth system which requires players to maintain a low profile, lest someone with a finger on the button gets antsy. It also extends to the game’s art style, with its angular visuals capturing an aesthetic that feels both vintage yet modern.
Mark Holmes, the game’s art director, noted how the visuals served multiple purposes, including coding the title for numerous platforms. “We needed a style that would read well even on a mobile phone under poor lighting conditions, so we spent a lot of time creating shapes that were simple but distinct, and colors that would contrast each other to make the characters and other elements pop. We also only had a few artists to build the content so creating a very stylized and reductive look also allowed us to be more economic in creating the levels.”
Indeed, the size of the team proved to be a challenge when faced with the task of releasing the title simultaneously across all of Sony’s platforms — versions of “CounterSpy” came out for PlayStation 4, 3 and Vita all the same day, and buying one gives players access to all three.
“This was one of the biggest challenges in the game’s development,” said technical director John Elliot. “Just from a performance and memory point of view, the three platforms have big differences. Since the game is cross-buy and cross-save, we really needed the experience to be completely seamless on transitioning to playing in front of your TV and then leaving the house and continuing your game session on the bus on your Vita.”
David Nottingham noted that, no matter how players experience it, he hopes they appreciate his team’s unique perspective on a complicated time in human history. “We were genuinely trying to make a game that stood out from the crowd, both in setting, visuals and from the perspective shifting gameplay. This is a huge challenge, especially for a new company, and we hope people enjoy playing something a bit different!”
And as far as Dynamighty’s future plans? Nottingham remains coy. “We’d like to tell you but this message is about to self-destruct in 3… 2 …1…”
Tags: Cold War, COUNTER, CounterSpy, David Nottingham, Dynamighty, James Bond, John Elliot, Mark Erman, Mark Holmes, mutually assured destruction, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Sony, Soviet Union, SPECTRE, super villains, United States, video game, Vita