BioWare could have developed a James Bond-style drama alongside the Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises.
It's human nature to look back and wish things could have turned out differently, especially when following geek culture. We still have trouble grasping why Star Wars Battlefront III was never completed, and FOX will probably never live down its cancellation of Joss Whedon's Firefly. The sad truth is that cancellations and canned projects are common in any creative industry, even among teams that have achieved great critical acclaim. Take BioWare for example; back in 2009, the developer behind Baldur's Gate, Mass Effect and the then-upcoming Dragon Age: Origins pitched the idea for a spy RPG that would combine the best elements of James Bond and Jason Bourne movies. Sadly, the concept never took off, but based on how game director Trent Oster describes it, we could have had a fine game indeed.
"The concept was to do the other half of GoldenEye," Oster said. "The idea being that James Bond isn't just a gun that walks around the world and shoots people. He's a suave manipulator, he's a talented martial artist, he's a secret agent. We wanted to cross that 007 with Jason Bourne, where he's been modified in some way; you're not sure what, but he's definitely deadly."
The undeveloped spy RPG, given the working title Agent, was heavily inspired by Casino Royale and the Bourne Trilogy. Agent would have allowed for a mix of intense action and espionage-inspired drama, and would rely heavily on digital acting sequences. "We really wanted to be very high drama, very intense scenes," Oster continued. "I always think of the scene in the second Bourne movie where Jason Bourne's choking the guy out with a book and he's right in his face and it's this very intense moment. That was one of the key things we wanted to carry off."
Sadly, Electronic Arts didn't feel the same way about Agent, and BioWare was forced to move on to other projects. "Fundamentally EA didn't believe in the concept," Oster explained, "and if the company's not behind it, it doesn't matter how hard you struggle you just can't make it happen."
It's a shame not simply because the concept is intriguing, but because Agent would be a perfect fit for BioWare. BioWare games tend to strike a fine balance between epic action sequences and detailed character development, something that spy games rarely take advantage of. Alpha Protocol had the right idea, but its story and characters never reached the level of appeal that BioWare's Mass Effect or Dragon Age franchises held. Perhaps one day another developer will take a chance on the genre, and I'm hoping that game will go beyond the initial concept stage.