Infiltrating the Agency - An Exclusive Q&A with Lead Designer Rory McGuire

Updated Fri, Aug 13, 2010 by B. de la Durantaye

It seems like many years ago when we first heard about Sony Online Entertainment's The Agency. Then things went quiet for a while. The silence was broken recently as SOE has let the world know their first person shooter MMOG is shaping up to be an exciting addition to players' libraries. Ten Ton Hammer spoke with Lead Designer Rory McGuire at Fan Faire 2010 to find out more about this hot upcoming title.

Ten Ton Hammer: Where are you guys right now on the development front?

Rory McGuire: Right now we’re marching to alpha, which means we're feature complete and most of the features are in place. On the development side, we're bringing everything together into one piece and making it work. A lot of games wait a long time to do that and I think that they pay for it. For me the biggest thing is, on the MMOG side, is if I can’t see your rewards and if I can’t understand how to get them, then I’m not going to care. Why put all those hours into it if I feel that I’m wasting my time. If that happens, then I’m not going to hunt that content down. We’re doing that soon so that we can keep polishing it and keep polishing it, so that when the game launches, I’ll understand what the rewards will be, there’s not too much information that I’ll being tuning crap out, but that it’s also a constant stream of all the things I can do and places I can go. Basically, we’re fine tuning and polishing it.

Close covered combat in The Agency
Close covered combat in The Agency

Ten Ton Hammer: As you progress towards alpha, now that you are feature complete, are there things that you’re holding back until after launch?

Rory: Yeah, there have been things that have been back-burnered for sure. For the most part, we’ve announced what has been. We’ve been pretty good at announcing if something is on the edge. There’re a couple of things that have been scaled down, but the core things: the shooting game, the AI, the missions, and all that are in live, so it puts us in a good spot.

Ten Ton Hammer: What would you say were some of your biggest challenges on the development side?

Rory: The biggest thing is reconciling the notion of massive multiplayer with a first person shooter, because in an FPS, particularly a military style one, you expect a very precise, an almost razor-thin perfection to it. If you look at Modern Warfare or Battlefield, which has a huge open world, there’s still a ton of detail spent on a very few polygons on your screen – your hands, your weapons, the enemies. Reconciling that with the massively multiplayer side, like why is it compelling for me to go out and get stuff? Why is it compelling for me to keep playing the game? Typically, a first person shooter is done in about ten, fifteen hours. If you move to multiplayer, you’re looking at from 25 to 40 hours. I got about 5 days playing out of games like Modern Warfare 2, so I got a good amount of play out of it, but still all my MMOG accounts have way more than 5 days listed on my playing time. I played the crap out of Modern Warfare 2, so that was an extreme case. So, basically reconciling the fusion of those genres was challenging.

Ten Ton Hammer: How do you make your world feel big and alive, like you’re interacting with a large number of players?

Rory: I think that one of the biggest things is that if you do have the notion of a public space and you’re going off into instances, and I think that that model works, but you need to have them mean something. A couple of games that have had that model, it’s been disconnected, very disjointed kind of thing where I interact with a terminal and then I’m whisked off to somewhere else in the world. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to a player. I still think that you can have a world where people aren't always in combat as long as there’s a sense of something else going on in that world. You just can’t be dudes standing at terminals. With us, we have several different mechanics dealing with public space as well as the fact that the public space has to have more value than just a place to trade stuff. It needs to have meaning for other players. With us, it’s world domination. There are guys securing locations, moving around the world. There’s intelligence where you’re getting photos and recording audio. There are aliases, and then there are all the other things that people are doing. There are things like the auction house to attract people to a specific place. Another thing that we’re doing is rewarding each of the districts where you’re adventuring in and taking that risk on yourself of getting caught by enemy agents, which is something other games don’t really do comparably.

Ten Ton Hammer: I guess one of the things that have been missing from those other FPS games is a sense of exploration, a reward for exploring

Rory: As for exploring, I completely agree. There are cities you can learn, and with the exception of maybe one other game which has pretty big zones, those cities in other titles you can learn extremely fast. There’s no real reward for exploring.

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B. de la Durantaye

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