In this bumper two-part feature, we get to grips with Global Agenda's new open zones, warzones and game-mode updates. We tackle the issues you asked for as we quiz Erez Goren on whether the game may be on its last legs, the game's shift in focus to PvE and what new game mechanics the team have up their sleeves.
For Erez Goren, feedback from players is an essential part of the development process. The studio takes in a lot of feedback from players on what they want to see in the game and what direction it should be taken. "We worked for the first several years to get our combat and the general feel of the game solid," he told us, adding that their intent has always been to later "expand on the content and the various experiences that people would have." The current goals he sets out for Global Agenda are to get more immersion in the game, to involve the player in the story and create an "easier transition from an MMO feel that some people weren't getting." One of the main things that has stood in his way is the new player experience. After getting through the tutorial, new players would be confronted with an unfamiliar mission screen and little direction.
To meet those goals, the first zone Hi-Rez Studios is focusing on will be an open desert zone outside Dome City. This massive open-land zone would take you 15 minutes to cross on foot, but thankfully walking has long since been made obsolete with the magic of jet-packs. Erez explained that "the whole thing is one big instance" but that from a player perspective it's intended to function "a little bit more like a traditional MMO." The zone will feature quests, which can be completed at your leisure. To keep the number of people in the zone to a manageable level, the instance will support about 30 to 40 players working together on their various quests. The details of these quests forms a continuous storyline that builds up and helps tell the story of the world. The quest rewards can be anything in their system, from dyes to new weapons.
Shiny new things
"We figured it's better to release a little bit earlier and get all the feedback and evolve the game instead of just trying to do it all at once ..."
In a live demo of Sandstorm Phase 2, Sera got to see some of the new features and changes this patch will bring to the game. In addition to a new long range grenade launcher and other new weapons, most of the guns have been given a much faster rate of fire based on player feedback. The new guns feel a lot better and have had their accuracy tightened up. Erez went on to explain that with the patch they're trying to bring players "more of the MMO conventions that people are more used to and want to see in the game." Subtle changes have been made, like getting XP and additional money on the fly, to make the game conform more with what players have come to expect from their MMOs.
It's remarkable how much Global Agenda has changed since release. Erez explained that in the beginning they worked extremely hard on the foundations of the game, with future development already in mind. "When we released," he said, "to us that was the beginning of the game, not the end." In contrast to other studios that release games, then cut the team down to a skeleton crew for maintenance and expansions, Hi-Rez has actually made the Global Agenda team bigger since launch. Erez reiterated the core belief that player feedback plays an integral role in the game's development. "We figured it's better to release a little bit earlier and get all the feedback and evolve the game," he explained, "instead of just trying to do it all at once, find all the mistakes then and it's kind of too late to change anything."
Something a lot of current GA players are excited for are the massive new warzones. These are new PvP areas with very large maps, potentially as large as the new open desert zone outside Dome City. Warzones and open zones are some of the newest tools Hi-Rez are employing in the battle for immersion, hoping to involve the player in the storyline. The entrances to instances that are used for some missions will now be given locations within these zones, putting them in the context of the world. Erez explained that you'll need to visit the instance entrance "to imprint your DNA signature," after which you can accept missions in the instance and be teleported there instantly. This makes players explore the game world to find mission locations, putting the missions in a locational context all players can relate to.
In addition to an overhaul of the mission instance system, an entirely new type of mission is on the way for level 30 players. The new "defense" missions will be 10-player challenges in which an invading enemy is attacking the city. "They're not active all the time," explained Erez, "all of the sudden there'll be lights and alarms going off in the city and then they'll be available because there'll be an attack on the city." The missions will appear roughly once per hour on a set timer and so can't be run repetitively.
On the other end of the scale, the quests in open zones are a much more relaxed affair. They aren't timed like instances so you can take your time doing them. As is the case with other MMOs, you can join instance or mission queues while questing so you have something to do during the wait. They've also added solo missions, something a lot of people have been asking for. Erez discussed how solo missions provide "a very different gameplay experience than the team one," adding that "you feel a lot more spyish and like an agent doing it." Similarly, team matches can now be done with less than four people and all the rewards will scale to match the number of people involved. "So a solo expert is a very high reward," said Erez, confirming that the game would "give you a better reward for always doing something with less people."