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E308: Walking through The Agency's trailer

While at E3 2008, we had a great deal of time to talk to Matt Wilson, Executive Director of Development for SOE Seattle, the studio in charge of making the new MMOFPS title, The Agency. While we were sadly unable to procure the video they were showing at E3, we did manage to get oodles of pictures to help illustrate just what we were seeing. Join us now as we take you through Matt WIlson's walkthrough on this great upcoming title!

Matt Wilson: Back in the old days (which was like three years ago) we thought "hey, let's make an MMO that breaks the mold of MMOs." We had worked back in Microsoft on Asheron's Call and a variety of other games that were more geared towards the fantasy MMO space. So, we really wanted to break away from that. Our goal at the very beginning was also to attack the console as a primary platform. However, to really crack the console open, you have to design for the console. You can't just take a PC MMO and cram it onto the console.

Thus, we came up with an idea called The Agency. The whole inspiration for The Agency came from the spy and espionage genre. In all the places I've been, even internationally, everybody knows who James Bond is. It has that kind of broad appeal. It's easy for me to say "hey, what's your favorite Bond moment"; "what's a great villain that you can remember"; or "who was a femme fatale you liked?" All manner of things will come from off the top of your head when I ask those questions. So we figured if we put those elements in the game, players would be able to recognize the world right off the bat.

The video you're seeing is of our pre-alpha build. We are in production currently, thus the alpha state right now. We will hopefully be heading to beta this fall. We're actually in the middle of redoing our character creator at the moment, so I can't show you the new one just at this moment. The idea is to give you different body sizes, different attitudes that you can play, all the way up to the big guys. You'll have different outfits you can pick on UNITE and ParaGON characters; there are a variety of different outfits for both males and females. Now we'll choose a character and get into the game.

I am actually playing this character when we captured it, so you'll see my awesome shooting -- not really. You'll see me miss quite often so please don't judge me for it! [laughs]

This is us entering the game. One of the things we really wanted to do was really express that fun aspect of being a spy in the world. Spies are everywhere in our world. It's not just something that happens over in the corner. It happens all the time. Now that we've caught up to my character, we'll head in to the field office.

This is in a public space right now; we're in the Eastern Europe area -- in Prague, specifically. We want players to be able to jet-set all over the world. Eastern Europe, Central America and Asia are the primary areas for players to go to right now. In each of those locales, you can actually go to your field office, which is your home office to get outfitted and change your role. When you die, it's a place to recover if that's what you choose to do. It's also a space to meet up with other players, kick back, trade, or things like that.

Now we're heading inside, so we'll give you a quick tour of this little field office. There are both Headquarters and Field Offices. Field offices are small, out of the way areas, whereas Headquarters are in bigger areas.

Heading down, over to the right, you'll see our R&D lab, with lots of cool gadgets. This is our big command center over towards the left; a locker-room for loading out different things. As for me, my favorite area is the bar and arcade area because you can play different games.

In this particular case, we have Q-Bert, which is a Sony Pictures game that they've let us use in the game. What we want to do is integrate different little games for people to enjoy. The first games you'll probably run into are more of our casino-type games. But we also want to hide some fun little little games like Q-Bert around the world. As you play the game, it will actually tie into the overall game, letting you get credit for new operatives and other things based on your scores. The goal is to make the world really enjoyable and interactive.

As I mentioned before, my favorite spot is the bar. Every base should have a bar. [laughs] We threw this in to show one of the simple mechanics we're using for our alias system. "You are what you wear" is our concept for roles and outfits, so this means you'll also be able to get aliases, be in disguise and move throughout the world undercover. For example, you won't have access to the coolest dance clubs with an M-60 strapped to your back. You'll have to change your outfit, get the formal wear or get the club wear to get in there. If people start recognizing you, you might have to do something simple like have a drink -- or if you're dressed up like a UPS guy, you might have to mark on a pad to drop their attention. You'll really have to step into those different roles as you progress.

For now we'll head into the R&D area. Again, this is public space in the Field Office area. One of the things we wanted to do is to have some of that "Q" branch feel from Bond; showing off some of the cool gadgets that are being developed. Some of the things here are the exploding teddy bear you see here.

Other things we're showing off are items like the bulletproof bustier -- which protects the bustier very well, but maybe not the agent. Also, it gives you an idea of different gadgets that you might encounter while you're in Prague -- like a bed which has spikes coming up out of it. Good for taking care of sleeping people before they get away from you!

We're going to go on ahead and get our outfit on now. The concept for The Agency's class system is "you are what you wear." Again, it's a really simple class system that is easy for people to use. It is probably more familiar to the shooter players, and less familiar to the typical MMO players. In typical MMOs you're in a hard and fast class; you either roll an alt or re-roll to get going. In our system, if you want to change your outfit, you can at any given time.

You just have to go back to the field office of the HQ and you'll be able to change between support role like Field Medic or Field Technician; to stealth roles like Spec Ops; or Combat roles. The more you use those roles, the more you will get rewarded. Thus, the more they advance and the more you get new skills and other things.

This is Sophia, who is actually Laurien, our build master. In this particular walk-though, we were all in our proper gender based on who we were in real life.

We also met up with Rex here; he's our field medic and will be helping us through by joining us in the group. Again, this is public space, so you will run into other players here. There are some simple missions you can do -- a lot of intel-related stuff -- and places to go as you work your way through different areas.

In this particular case we formed as a group and we've got our first mission. It's called Follow the Das Komittee Agent. Here he is with a little green circle over his head, so we now basically have to find out where he's going without being seen. As long as we don't get too close to him, we'll be able to follow him fairly well. The closer you get to him, the more he will recognize who you are and where you're at.

The circle will get yellow and then red, and then he'll recognize you. Sophia moves up here just a little bit closer, following where he's going. Part of the mechanic is that every now and then whoever you're following will turn and look around in random directions so you have to keep your cover. You could be in a combat outfit, which means you're not undercover, or you could simply wear an alias and not have to use the cover system.

So, he's going to go ahead and go underneath the embassy area, and we're going to follow him.

And because I'm that guy you don't want to be with when you're playing an MMO -- because I shoot first and ask questions later, so I pull everybody and we all die... and you yell at me [laughs] -- I'm leading ahead, and I kill the guy.

Now I've alerted the AI because I did that, and we've gotta take everyone in here out. In the game we support both first and third person, I'll go ahead and switch up to first here. We have a lot of different skills; everything from grenades, to turrets, to other things that are in MMOs like extra shields, buffs, etc. We really want to have a good support system as you're playing with other players.

The other thing is that you collect new skills as you play. In this particular case I'm going to use a new skill. Since, I now have the Breach skill, I'm going to breach the door. That will give me an advantage on the AI.

Everything is context-sensitive in the world. We really wanted to make sure that the console player doesn't get confused by requiring a keyboard or a mouse. You should be able to play the game on a console or PC with no problems. You'll go up to something and it will know what kind of skills you have right off the bat.

This is another case where we're using Operatives. Operatives are what we call "living loot" -- these are NPCs you collect within the game that become part of your Agency. You can use them for a variety of things, both on-line or off-line. In this particular case, we're going to have one of our operatives overload the steam pipe and try to cause a distraction.

Now, I could have just gone in there and shot those guys. But I would use an Operative to gain more and more experience on my operatives. That way they can give you new missions and other things. So players will want to utilize them as much as possible throughout the space.

Sophia just tried to disarm that bomb, which is something a good Spec Ops person would do but it looks like she was too late. She's not dead -- just like Jason Horne when he got shot in the back like 50 billion times and thrown in the ocean, he still recovered. That's the cool part about this spy world is that you can do that. Rex will step back here and help get her back to normal, and then we're going to split up and attack the next area.

One of the things we want to do with our game is this; in the typical MMOs, you move in pretty much a cluster, and you attack the mobs one after the other. We want people to have an advantage for flanking and other things like that. Maybe I go in and surprise them, and the rest of the party comes in and attacks from the other side. A lot of the levels we are putting in right now take more advantage of that kind of group splitting.

We've now come in and our mission is just basically to keep those pillars intact. Overall, the mechanic is pretty simple.

One of the things we wanted to do with the mission system is to make it really easy for people. So we have the concept of Bronze, Silver and Gold; which is pretty familiar if you are a console player. The idea is that you should be able to come in, and if you're a reasonable player, you're going to be able to get Bronze by yourself. You're not going to need a full team -- you should be able to keep playing through. If you're like 'you know what, I just want to keep playing and progressing on my own," you're going to be able to do that with Bronze.

To get the cooler loot and more operatives, you'll want to go for Silver. Now it's going to be a higher skill level to get Silver than Bronze. In this particular case, you'll have to keep more pillars alive in the process.

To get Gold, you're probably going to need a team of different players. You're not going to be able to do that on your own, and in some cases you might even go for additional achievements, like blowing up all the bombs before they even get placed. We want to have different layers of achievements for players, which gives them that replayability that shooters are really famous for. But again, if you just want to hide or focus on one power, you can.

The last part you see here is an "Agency" moment. These are things that, once you achieve certain objectives, will appear. If you hit them, you get to be the star of your own little Agency cinematic. In this case, I ran up and now I get to be the star.

The whole group gets to see this. You can be the star, or we have group cinematics and other things that other players can participate in together, just to give you a little payoff.

Then the last part of the video here is just a little sneak preview of our ParaGON field office. We saw UNITE at the beginning; theirs was the one where we did the drinks and played Q-bert. This is completely the downtown side, not the uptown side. It's got a bull-riding area.

And this is Roundup, who is one of the operatives that you can get to work for you in ParaGON. She'll help you in fighting Octagon and that kind of thing. ParaGON is definitely more of the rough and tumble tack. For example, they've got 4 bars in the warehouse; all of them only serve whiskey. [laughs]

ParaGON doesn't drink vodka.

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