Ah, first appointment of E3. It’s special every year, no matter who it is. This year happened to be Sony Online Entertainment, who was showing off a host of games, including a new Stargate Online and what might be the coolest game at E3, The Agency. I think I may be in love.
I spoke to Even Lorentz of SOE Denver (for more on SOE Denver, check out Dave Thomas’ “EverQuest Strikes Back” in The Escapist No. 105) about their online variant of the Stargate Trading Card Game, which looked a lot like an upgraded version of Magic: The Gathering Online.
The Stargate CCG itself works a bit differently than Magic, mostly because each game is mission- and plot-based as opposed to straight duels between players. Throughout the course of the game, each player takes on the role of both the good and bad guys (during your turn, you’re the good guy; in the other guy’s turn, you’re bad), and you’re able to build up your “core team’s” (a group of four Stargate main characters) skills, as well as trigger special events that either help your team or hurt your opponent’s.
The game itself mirrors the tabletop version pretty closely, even down to the 50 or so foil cards players randomly pick out of “Booster Packs,” 11-card packages available for purchase directly from SOE. There are 300 cards available, and if you should happen to acquire each one, you have the option of trading them for their real-world counterparts; afterward, the online versions get taken out of your collection. SOE sponsors tournaments with “Event Ticket” buy-ins, and the winner usually receives more cards than the buy-in cost – pretty much like a poker tournament. And although they offer a robust trading system for players to exchange cards – including an auction-based system – I imagine most of the real trading is going to occur, like in MTGO, on eBay.
Whoa, nelly. I know it’s the first day, but The Agency may just be the coolest thing since Sean Connery. Imagine, if you will, a primarily instance-based MMOG where you’re able to play a freakin’ spy. A tuxedo-wearing, gadget-slinging, fast-car-driving international man of mystery. I spoke to Cory Dangel, the Art Director on the project, and he told me the team is planning to “rip off every filmmaking device possible” to make The Agency look and feel like a spy movie. And based on their gameplay demo, they’ve come through in spades.
The scene opened in Prague. A beautiful woman and handsome man enter from the right, both dressed to the nines for a dinner party. They’re in “Alias mode,” keeping their heads down in a city square while they wait for their next assignment. In The Agency, “you are what you wear,” says Dangel, who said characters can assume various different outfits ranging from tuxes and T-shirts to urban assault gear. It’s your outfit that determines your capabilities in a given area. So, when you wear your commando gear, you have access to a bevy of firearms and other combat tools, whereas if you’re in evening wear, you’ll most likely have special equipment for SOE’s planned “non-violent missions.”
After the male character’s sports car (it featured an actual BMW, but Dangel claims they’re still working on licensing real-world gadgets and cars) arrives via air-dropped helicopter, both characters hop in and arrive in Prague’s red-light district, where they’re charged with picking up a stolen briefcase being guarded by a street gang known as The Bones. They change into their combat gear, and the camera pans in behind the man, who’s holding a machine gun and staring down an assortment of angry gang members.
Combat in The Agency, while affected by what skills a character possesses, is player-skill based, which for an old FPS hat like me is great news. As the player’s hand goes, so goes the gun. The character skills come in as modifiers and special attacks, like a rapid shots and stuff.
The coolest aspect of the demo, by far, were all the cinematics spliced between all the action. When boss characters show up, the camera pans in on them for a close-up, like a Guy Richie movie. After you clear a level, you get the opportunity to watch yourself be a badass in “Agency moments,” which pull the camera away and display what you and your group kicking automated ass, John Woo style. In this particular demo, the two characters jumped into a merry-go-round and unloaded automatic weapons into a crowd of advancing Bone members.
The game itself isn’t going to be playable until sometime next year, but what’s there now looks incredibly promising.
Tune In Next Time
Stay tuned for a bit more from SOE, including a bit about their cocktail party and some interesting commentary from the Pirates of the Burning Sea fellas.