Todd Harris, the Executive Producer of Global Agenda, has taken the time to answer our questions as they finally reveal their futuristic spy MMORPG to the world at large. This article represents some of the first concrete information available online about the game, who also debuted their trailer across the web today.
Answers by Todd Harris, Hi-Rez Studios COO & Executive Producer
Questions by Dana Massey
WarCry: As Pirates die out, the spy-MMO looks like it might be the next big MMO fad. Ideazon and yourself are confirmed in the genre and SOE is likely headed that direction. Are you worried about the competition in a previously unexplored genre?
Todd Harris: Global Agenda is truly a hybrid in both genre and game-play, so we are in no way worried about overlap with any other MMO project. Our focus is on implementing and refining our own ambitious set of features.
The espionage genre is very popular in books, TV, and film and there is room for a variety of treatments, from an edgy Casino Royale to a campy and over-the-top Austin Powers. Surprisingly, despite all the spies in pop culture, no MMO currently exists for players wanting to enter the world of special agents.
Over two years ago we recognized that action-espionage themes would make for a great MMO. We were inspired by the fun and drama of television shows like 24, Alias, and the original Mission: Impossible, but wanted to set our agents in a more futuristic setting. Action espionage has been done very well in some single-player games, but it will be even more compelling within a persistent world where players advance their competing and often hidden agendas.
Of course, given a few games with similar themes, the game-play can still be very different. Global Agenda is not at all the traditional tab-target, turn-based, and level-grind approach. Our game-play innovations should stand out from other offerings enough for people to notice a distinct and appealing difference. The game will succeed or fail on its own merits and we are working hard to make an MMO that will be fun and accessible on the first day of play yet remain challenging and interesting many years later.
WarCry: For a start-up, the Unreal 3 engine is a big time investment and testament to the confidence you have in your product. Why did you select it and what advantages does it provide you over other engines?
Todd Harris: Unreal Engine 3 enables the high end graphics we want for Global Agenda and provides a very powerful toolset for our artists. By combining this next-generation graphics engine with a programming team experienced in backend server and network technologies, we’re well positioned to create a truly exceptional product. To get the most out of Unreal 3 we’ve gathered a team from some of the biggest names in the industry, people who lent their talents to Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, City of Heroes, the Call of Duty franchise and more. By combining the best technology with the best people, we think we have a recipe for success.
WarCry: Set in 22nd century Earth, your game has a distinct sci-fi flavor. Why did you choose to move to the future – not typically the location of spy movies, books and other popular culture – and not a contemporary or historical setting?
Todd Harris: Yes, spy drama often incorporates modern gadgetry, but is typically set in a Cold War context or contemporary setting. We chose a different approach, aiming to explore classical spy themes and situations but within a future world.
We use the term “Spy-Fi” to describe the flavor of action, espionage, and future technology that characterizes the genre of Global Agenda. And we chose this Spy-Fi flavor for a few different reasons.
First, a future setting allows us to exaggerate and expand the universe of cool gadgets and devices available to player agents. Like any good spy, you want the best gear. A future setting gives players a tremendous number of options – including plenty of firepower and melee devices but also a variety of robots, force-fields, stealth, and disguise devices to name just a few.
The Global Agenda IP and story arcs project how radical technology advances might impact humanity in the future and give context to player conflict and decisions. Given future revolutions in computing power, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering, what do Earth cities look like? What does the planet itself look like? What NPC and player factions emerge? How does the government behave? What is allowed and what is forbidden? And how will a well equipped, well trained and motivated individual agent impact the world? These themes are interesting to us and we chose a future setting that allows the player community to explore them as well.
WarCry: Your initial press release makes reference to “protecting your secret identity”, one of the more vague and inspiring allusions in that article. Any chance you can tell us a bit more about what this entails?
Todd Harris: Information matters in our game world and we are exploring a number of different mechanics around how players maintain, reveal, and/or exchange key information about themselves or others. However, we are not communicating details in this area yet.
WarCry: It seems a lot of new games are traveling the console route. What do you think of the PS3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii respectively, speaking specifically to their potential in the MMO genre?
Todd Harris: Hi-Rez Studios was formed around the vision that MMOs and virtual worlds are really the future of entertainment. And we see consoles introducing more and more features consistent with this vision.
To many people, the term MMO implies a traditional role-playing formula, but we see a broad and growing market for titles that offer very different game play while still preserving the essence of the MMO including: 1 – persistent entities in a virtual world, 2 – integrated online multi-user play, and 3 – player avatar customization. Given the excellent advancements consoles are making in these areas I think we will see successful MMO-type offerings on consoles.
That being said, we’ll continue to see the most innovative MMO treatments originating on the PC platform, which is why we are currently dedicated and focused on the PC for Global Agenda.
WarCry: I am likely not exaggerating too much when I say that every MMO announced in the last ten years has promised “a dynamic world”. As far as most can say, no one has actually done it. Bluntly, why will you be different?
Todd Harris: Well, to be fair, I think every player probably has something slightly different in mind when they hear “a dynamic world” and with each industry step towards that goal – and there have been some tremendous steps – the community raises its expectations further and higher. If a virtual world was too dynamic or dynamic in the wrong way it would frustrate players. We already have a perfectly dynamic world in real-life, but people like to escape from that every once in a while.
With Global Agenda we are fundamentally creating a very player-driven world. Philosophically we are going for an experience that is less scripted and more emergent. Your experience is somewhat based upon the actions of other players, even for players deciding not to participate in head-to-head PvP game-play.
As an example at the tactical level, players can actually affect certain mission instances before these areas are traversed by other players. We call this “PvPE” for Player vs. Player-modified Environment and we think it will generate a lot of excitement when we release further details on the implementation.
As a different example of strategy, veteran players and player agencies compete for scarce global resources and territory that yields dynamic, political, and player-driven results.
And, at a community and content level, player agencies that are successful and concentrate in-game resources on ideology will actually influence the direction of future world story development and content. That is, based on significant in-game accomplishments of player agencies, they can influence the future content and fiction produced by our development team, thereby affecting the world in a very tangible and recognizable manner.
These are each fairly unconventional features that give a flavour for the type of player driven and emergent game-play we are working toward.
WarCry: The game design seems to center around player agencies, which I assume are akin to guilds in most MMOs. What do you hope to do with “agencies” that is different from the norm?
Todd Harris: Agencies are player-formed groups of like-minded agents pursuing common goals and so they are akin to guilds within other MMOs.
A casual player will be able to join Global Agenda and have a very fun experience without concerning him or herself with the machinations of player run Agencies. However, on a layer above tactical missions and real-time combat, there is a grand strategy game, where player agencies are engaged in conflict for territory, technology, and influence.
We have been inspired by the politics and intrigue offered by Eve Online. They have successfully created a truly player-driven universe albeit one that requires a significant time commitment to experience.
With our agencies, we support player-driven activity and rivalries akin to the corporations of Eve Online, but at the same time have designed the game to be very accessible, very action oriented and playable in small doses for those like myself, who need to be able to tell my spouse when I’m going to be off the computer.
WarCry: Instancing is one of those high-level concepts that polarizes developers and games alike. When I see an Unreal based game, the assumption is that it uses tight levels and is less likely to have wide open spaces. Can you talk about your general beliefs on instancing and its use in MMOs?
Todd Harris: We don’t get worked up at all around instancing. Whether or not instances are appropriate within a virtual world depends entirely upon the specific game design and genre. Even then a particular implementation of instancing can be done very well or very poorly.
In Global Agenda we use instancing heavily. We never envisioned our agents strolling across wide open spaces, exploring the wilderness, or riding a mount for that matter. Rather, the Spy-Fi genre implies focused, engaging encounters with specific objectives. The experience is not at all about travel time across a seamless world but instead about getting a compelling mission briefing and quickly getting into the action solo or with a coordinated team to accomplish your specific objective.
We have both internal and external environments, and our combat system really takes advantage of both because vertical space, line of site, player positioning, and cover are all important. So in Global Agenda there are a number of different instance types, each designed to support a particular game-play goal.
Todd Harris: Global Agenda explores how advanced technology affects humanity and visa-versa. However, we are avoiding the conventions of a post-apocalyptic world or outer space. We’ve spent a lot of design time researching and projecting realistic future technology trends and applied those to produce a slightly exaggerated but possible future reality. The result is a collection of diverse environments where each one reflects technology influences as well as regional and cultural influences.
So, consistent with the classic spy genre we emphasize exotic locations and characters but with a treatment that reflects modern sleekness, transformative technology, and veiled purpose. And, thanks to Unreal 3 and our talented artists, we show it all in Hi-Rez detail…
WarCry: Finally, while you’ve just announced your title, you are two years into development. Any word on your projected timelines in terms of alpha, beta, launch? Could you also give us a few words on exactly what stage of development you’re in right now?
Todd Harris: The Global Agenda development team currently has 40 people and continues to grow. Our alpha milestone this summer will involve friends and family playtesting the core game, which is up and running on internal servers. We are planning on another year of significant feature and content addition while slowly ramping up controlled testing. We have aggressive internal milestones but are not communicating any launch date externally because the quality of the game is much more important to us than hitting an arbitrary date. That’s one of the luxuries we enjoy as an independent studio and we think players will benefit from our focus on quality.
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