The Agency: E3 2007 Preview


SOE Seattle once again showed off The Agency during E3. There was not a lot new – the demo was identical – but with some impressive spying skills of our won, we ferreted out a few nuggets of information. Read on for the goods:

E3 2007: The Agency
SOE (Publisher) / SOE Seattle (Developer)
Article by Dana Massey

Cassie Nova and Gavin Eissen

Cassie Nova and Gavin Eissen

E3’s demonstration of The Agency was not altogether different from what we saw at SOE Gamer Day and SOE Seattle’s Corey Dangel, an Art Director on the game, admitted that was intentional. They showed the same videos and gameplay, but unlike Gamer Day, E3 afforded (oh how the world has turned on its head) more of a chance to actually sit down and talk to them about their game.

The Agency is a spy-themed MMORPG from the guys who had originally developed the canceled Mythica for Microsoft. Now at SOE, they’ve made a game that looks downright really nice, from the limited amounts they’ve shown. It’s exciting, it’s got style and it lets you go around and create your own James Bond.

The world is intentionally exaggerated. This is not quite Austin Powers, but it’s closer to that than Daniel Craig’s Bond. Cars have weapons hidden throughout and spies can change from evening gowns to cleavage emphasizing battle gear in a flash. The look is slightly comic-inspired. It’s stylized to a point where there is no uncomfortable photorealism, but not to the point where it is completely detached from reality.

The game itself is an online FPS with RPG elements. Players enter into missions and shoot with their own skill, not their character’s, but can earn new skills, abilities and weapons through an advancement track.

Beware of sniper fire, Cassie!

Beware of sniper fire, Cassie!

“You are what you wear,” is their design mantra. That means if you put on a heavy armor, you’re going to blow the hell out of something. If you put on a push-up bra and high heels, you’re likely at a cocktail party in disguise.

The game relies heavily on instancing, but hopes to make it something that is as unobtrusive as possible. He explained what they’re calling “seamless instancing”. He gave us this example: A player is in a public space, let’s say a bar. There are dozens of players and NPCs dancing up a storm, but in the corner is a quest NPC. He talks to that NPC and is told of a big bad guy hanging out backstage and warned that if anyone sees them talking, trouble could follow. At this point, the quest NPC’s indicator turns red and the players know that if they talk to them again, they’re going to go into an encounter. That gives them time to load their weapons and get their friends together. Once ready, they bug the guy again and boom, they’re in an instance. The real players in the club fade away and the bad guy comes crashing through the back door. Without loading screens, a social situation turned deadly, just like they do in the movies.

At Gamer Day they showed us “Agency moments”, which are environmental hot spots that create signature moves. In the demo example a merry-go-round was used to annihilate enemies as it spun. That is a cut scene. The player just sits back and watches as his character and the group fire as they spin. Dangel revealed that this is not always the case. Some are in-engine cinematics, but others are actually interactive and have their own mini-games players need to complete in order to achieve maximum efficiency.

They fight The Bones gang

They fight The Bones gang

The problem gamblers we are, we also wanted to know if we could sit down for a little poker in there.

“Oh god, we want some high stakes gambling!” Dangel told us with emphasis. Obviously, no real money (don’t worry FBI) would change hands, but gambling is part of spy culture and they’re definitely hoping to bring it to The Agency. Hopefully that doesn’t pose too many problems when people think about the implications of the secondary market and virtual gambling. Oh well, if they can do it, I’m there!

The Agency has nothing resembling a release date, but looks like it did last time, really cool. Let’s hope they can stick to it and bring some semblance of we’ve seen to market in the next few years.

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