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E308: Matt Wilson briefs us on the state of The Agency

We had a fantastic chance to talk with Matt Wilson about The Agency during E3. While a great deal of the footage they showed was largely identical to the footage we'd previously seen, many of Matt's insights about the direction they're taking The Agency in were quite illuminating. From PvP to operatives to vehicular combat and the eventual beta, Matt was generous enough with both his time and knowledge, and let us in on lots of great news and background.

If you've been hungry for more information on some of the different aspects of this upcoming game, be sure to join us after the break for a great overview on this hot upcoming SOE property.

Massively: What kinds of things have changed between then and now in regards to development of the game since we last saw you?

Matt Wilson: Well this was our pre-alpha build back in January. We're now in full alpha, and will hopefully be rolling into beta this fall. Our goal is to continue playing the game and building out a lot of new content between now and then. We've already added in a lot of new areas that aren't being shown here. Hopefully, we'll show off some of the new things that have come in sometime soon. Our goal right now is to get this to a stage where we can actually get some outside hands on it. That's what we're moving towards -- instead of just watching a demo, actually getting your hands on it and having fun with the game.

Sounds good to us. What kind of financial model are you looking at? Subscription or microtransaction based?

We haven't determined what our financial model will be yet. The PS3 has a lower barrier to entry since console players don't generally do subscriptions. Essentially, we want to make it so that this is accessible to everyone, but how best to accomplish that hasn't been decided. I can say that we're waiting to see how the Free Realms launch goes, as that will let us move forward with better information on our options.

What it's ultimately going to come down to is getting people into the game so that they have fun, and then get them hooked on that sweet item or sweet thing to do. That way the players can decide where the value is in it for them. If the game isn't fun, the financial model won't matter.

How are you addressing the death penalty?

We haven't really decided how steep we're going to go with it. I'm going to go ahead and say we're going to go as lightweight as possible to begin with. Then if it looks like we need to go more than that, we will. But the key is that we want to make it easy for people to restart. You're going to die. Frequently. [laughs] This is primarily because the whole aspect of a shooter is that it's generally fairly lethal to play through it.

Of course, if you have your field tech with you, he or she will be able to set up a teleport. That way if you've died and go back to the base, you can just teleport back to the mission. That way it helps to shorten the time involved in getting back to the action. There's a penalty already enough just in terms of stopping the game play. So it's important to have ways of getting everybody back together so they can get rolling again.

There again, we might throw in something along the lines of, if you die ten times, something occurs that you have to get fixed up in the field office. But if you're playing with a team, you want to make it nice and fast for players overall. We don't want to make it heavily penalizing, because half the fun of playing this game is almost making the kill, or making the kill right before you go out. We want people to play a little more aggressively, without being worried about huge setbacks.

Another thing that comes to mind in watching this, you mentioned having to dress to go to the club, or for missions. In the public areas, there are civilians who are totally ignoring the group running by with guns. Are you going to script it in such a fashion that non-story NPCs will react to weapons being drawn?

We've kind of played around with that. The hard part is that there's going to be a lot of people running around with guns! But we will have areas where people will recognize and react -- like clubs, bars, and other more scriptable areas. Those parts of the game will make it easy for us to make sure it feels right and looks right, as far as people recognizing or reacting to you. On the general streets they're probably going to go about their merry way and not care so much about what you're doing. They are there for more ambient flavor like birds than anything else.

Are you planning world events?

Yes we are planning on it, but I can't go into the specifics. I can say that the key is setting things up so that events don't take a lot of time for people to enjoy them. That's the beauty of ongoing content; if you design for the top tiers, you're spending a lot of time on things that many people won't see. We want to make sure that the content is easily playable for everyone, even if it isn't critical for the storyline you're in.

Do you have any plans for vehicle combat?

We have plans for vehicle combat, and vehicles are definitely something that is important to us. We'll figure out exactly where they come in once we get to launch and after launch. But vehicles are something we definitely have in the plans and are evaluating for the future.

Thanks so much for all your time, Matt! We look forward to hearing more about The Agency.

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