Gamechanger – Spy vs. Spy

"Spy vs. Spy", by First Star Software.

“Spy vs. Spy”, by First Star Software.

Antonio Prohias was the most celebrated cartoonist in Cuba, winner of multiple awards, and especially known for his biting political cartoons.  In 1959, Fidel Castro honored Prohias personally, but, but by 1960, Castro had, himself, been the subject of too many cartoons.  Prohias was looking-to-get-out-of-Dodge quickly. On June 1, 1960, Prohias left Cuba. In just ten weeks, he  sold his first cartoon to Mad Magazine.  His most famous strip, “Spy vs. Spy” would debut in January 1961 in Number 60 of Mad.  As a kid, I loved Mad. Spy vs. Spy was always one of the highlights for me and I had several of their books.  So, in 1984, when I happened across the official Spy vs. Spy video game, I had to have it.

Spy vs. Spy title screen

Spy vs. Spy title screen

In 1984, First Star Software released Spy vs. Spy for the Atari 8-bit line, Commodore 64, and Apple II. It was an incredible and revolutionary game.  Head-to-head play was nothing new in 1984, most video and computer games had some kind of ‘Player 1 vs Player 2’ element to their design.  What differentiated Spy vs. Spy was that it required detailed planning from players, who could now effect the environment and gameplay through sabotage.

Setting a trap for an unsuspecting spy to find

Setting a trap for an unsuspecting White Spy to find

Lode Runner popularized the ability to set traps for A.I. opponents in 1983.  Spy vs. Spy turned that around, allowing players to set traps against other players, in addition to real-time head-to-head combat.  The basic premise for the game is both the White and Black spies are in an embassy looking for four items.  The first player to exit the building with all four, wins.  To find the items, each Spy must search the building, rifling through desks and filing cabinets, looking behind pictures, etc, all places the opposing player can set traps.  If the Spies encounter each other in the same room, they can fight it out, or run away.  If they encounter a trap – boom – they die.  While reasonably simple at its heart, the game allowed for building with large layouts, and multiple floors.

Carrying the loot

Carrying the loot

Single player, Spy vs. Spy was lots of fun.  Multiplayer, the game became a frenzied race to search the embassy, interrupted by sporadic combat and surprise at – say – getting dowsed by electrified water when opening a door.  Oh, and the horror of dying with everything – the key, the map, the secret files, etc, only to see your rival scoop it all up and run for the exit for the win.  Spy vs. Spy took head-to-head gaming, and added the necessity to plan, as well as the ability to effect the game-environment as a strategy.  And everything from Call of Duty, to Red Dead Redemption and beyond, owes it a debt of gratitude.

You win, for now...

You win, for now, Black Spy…

"Spy vs. Spy", circa 1984.

“Spy vs. Spy”, circa 1984.

Mike Knotts

Mike Knotts was born in 1968 in a small town in southern Indiana. Even when very young, Mike showed a love for all-things technical and sci-fi. Moving with his family to California in the early 80's, he eventually graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in History. Rather than put that to good use, Mike continued to pursue his passion for technology by working for early, regional ISP's in the mid 1990's. He currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, where he works as a project manager for an Internet startup. Mike is a co-founder of Geekometry.

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