The Agency: E3 Progress Report
When MMORPG.com writer Carolyn Koh attended this year's E3, one of the "must-see" games had to be The Agency rom Sony Online Entertanment. A first in the genre, The Agency will put players into the world of super spies and mercenaries. Today, Carolyn files this report.
"It's a spy adventure. You go into it for the action, the lust, the adventure, the intrigue, the romance! Think of James Bond. Espionage. The Bourne Identity," enthused Corey Dangel, Art Director for The Agency. The Agency by Sony Online Entertainment was announced just weeks earlier at their Gamer Day. Set in the modern age, it will be their AAA spy thriller MMOG. Players can approach the world of espionage in two different ways. Join U.N.I.T.E or ParaGON. I asked Corey what the attractions of each faction were.
"Well," he answered, "U.N.I.T.E. is the 'official' agency. They project a suave, sophisticated image. Think of the James Bond type. ParaGON, on the other hand, will evoke images of the freelance bounty hunter types." He continued telling me of the variances in gameplay between the two. The U.N.I.T.E. agent might use sophisticated methods of getting through to an old booby-trapped warehouse to gain an objective, such as obtaining the codes to the security system or disarming it somehow, sleeping the guards with gas; while the ParaGON agent might just storm the gates with a truck and bazooka, tossing a few grenades along the way. Hmm... somewhat like Bruce Wayne in comparison to Frank Castle? I asked this question, comparing two famous comic book vigilantes. Corey admitted to not being familiar with Frank Castle (The Punisher), but told me that they were working on the creating the two agencies' recruitment videos which would be part of the game and show what the two groups are about.
Set in the high-brow spy-thriller world, players will be visiting places like old Amsterdam with their "evening establishments," negotiating with or neutralizing the Tongs of exotic old Shanghai, participating in high-speed boat chases in the canals of Venice, playing some roulette in Monte Carlo - all the exotic, sophisticated places that you've ever dreamt of visiting, all with their seedier, more dangerous elements.
The Agency does away with the class system. Instead, their motto is: "You are what you wear." Corey showed me what he meant as we watched the video. Finesse and gaining intelligence or a pass might require slinky dress and cleavage for the evening, and then body armor the next day when you are disrupting a drug runner's activities. Both factions are working "for the greater good" although they are rivals, and sometimes may disrupt each other's missions if they are working toward the same goal. I asked Corey to expand on that, and he did. There will be global as well as instanced areas in The Agency, depending on the mission type. "Competition is more for resources, although in some scenarios, the factions may be adversaries." My ears perked up. PvP? "Yes, there will be PvE as well as PvP," he continued, "there are arenas for 8 on 8 and 16 on 16 scenarios." They will not be straight out PvP, however, as they will be mission based.
"The higher level missions will require cooperation," Corey revealed. They have yet to work out the specifics of how that will be done, so all my next questions were for naught as I speculated on faction - faction cooperation via in-game "mini-agencies" as they had yet to name how player groups we've familiarized ourselves with as "Guilds" will work. I'm sure they have some idea, but Corey wasn't talking. A team will be maxed at four players and battlefields (raids in fantasy mmog-speak) will allow as many as 16 players to group together. The Agency will facilitate communication with voice chat (via Teamspeak) through the game.
Since this was the Art Director I was talking to, I asked about the art. Currently, for each gender, there are seven body types and 70 heads. I asked the reasoning behind the decision not to allow players to customize their avatars more finely, especially with their motto of "You are what you wear" personalization of the online experience. "Firstly," he responded, "we are a shooter. This isn't lock, load and fire. There's no target locking. Frame rate is key. We have to restrict the amount of memory that will be required to draw each avatar. Secondly, we want to make this aesthetically 'bad ass' and we'd rather produce a finite set of finely crafted pieces to keep with the theme, the image we are projecting." Ahh... no wedding dresses on male avatars then, I joked.
What do your dollars buy in this game? Upgrades, accessories and access. Access? Yes. A pass to a restricted area. Safe passage. Ahhh... I responded. Bribes, blood money. Fake passports and IDs. "Well, it could be, and yes!" admitted Corey but would not elaborate on how the fake passports and IDs would work.
As you level in this game, you acquire operatives, in essence acquiring a mini-agency of your own. These are your support staff. People that you've rescued and are grateful to you, assisting you in your mission against crime whether it is by retrofitting your car with new headlight lasers or gathering intelligence about crime lords. They are your Qs and Moneypennys, your Microchips, your Oracles. Your operatives work behind the scenes and while you are offline. The Agency will include communication methods that you can choose to opt into or out of, that will send you text messages via IM or your cell phone to let you know when the upgrade to your weapon or vehicle is ready. This is all part of the game design - to keep the player feeling as if he is indeed part of this world of espionage.
The vehicles. Ah yes... in the movie, we were shown a great little sports car, kitted out to something that the Punisher would have been proud of, and a super power-bike. Corey did warn that the vehicles were yet to be finalized, so I can't report as to whether players will be able to obtain more than one, or if the motorcycle will be in game. A pity... the motorcycle was... in one word, hot! Well, so was the chick on it. Yes, avatars will be heroic is all respects; beautiful women and handsome men with stylized comic-book heroic proportions.
We watched as the movie progressed to an area where the operatives were at a children's playground, and I saw some text rotating above the merry-go-round. The operatives ran at it and the text focused into "Agency Moment." Both jumped on and we went into a cut-scene with the operatives spraying bullets at their enemies as the merry-go-round spun around. "It brings the player right into the movie," said Corey. "It's unusual as we'll be doing this with player characters, in the clothes they've chosen to wear, the weapons they've chosen to [use]. Until now, the only cut scenes you see involving the character are the standard single-player game characters."
This was quite a presentation. We're seeing a new, original IP based on the spy world. Something different from your elves and orcs. So when will we get a chance to see more? "Alpha is planned for the end of 2007," Corey imparted, "and we're planning the closed beta for mid 2008." It is quite an idea. As a fan of Ian Fleming's James Bond as well as Robert Ludlum's Bourne series, I'm looking forward to more of The Agency.