by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor
There are few more fitting places to hold a demonstration of a spy game
than in the penthouse suites of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Complete with all the grandeur and spectacle of a good secret agent
movie, Sony Online Entertainment had decked out an entire
suite for press to view recent versions of all of their latest games.
While the Ten Ton Hammer staff was attending the 2008 Consumer
Electronics Show, we were invited to view a brief demonstration of the
latest build of The
Agency. To say we were impressed would be an
style="font-style: italic;">In The Agency, it's
all about living the life of an elite agent.
Developed by Sony Online Entertainment’s Seattle development
studio, The Agency
is a direct translation of some of the world’s most popular
spy movies and television shows. “The inspiration of the game
is really secret agents and espionage; titles like James Bond, the
Bourne series, Alias, and all of the major spy shows that
we’ve watched over the years,” said Matt Wilson, style="font-style: italic;">The Agency’s
director of development. “You’ve probably seen a
Bond or a Bourne movie, and you can probably tell me what your favorite
movie or mission was. It’s a very commonly watched film
Unlike traditional massively multiplayer role-playing games, The Agency
will be using a shooter-based combat system, where the players can
switch between third- and first-person modes on the fly. According to
Wilson, the Seattle-based development studio made a conscious decision
to make the game more along the lines of an FPS than a traditional MMOG.
“Games like Halo,
are what we’re drawing our mechanics from, so people should
be able to jump into our game immediately without an incredibly
difficult learning curve,” Wilson explained.
“We’re creating a brand new IP, and we
didn’t want people to struggle with [the combat system] on
top of everything else. We wanted to hit something familiar that people
could really understand.”
Although many of today’s traditional MMORPGs have you filling
the shoes of the lowliest peon, the developers at SOE Seattle wanted to
avoid that stigma at all costs. Instead of being a simple gun-toting
thug, the SOE Seattle crew allows you to create a full-fledged super
“When we start you off in the game, we really want you to
immediately grasp the concept that you’re living life as an
elite agent,” Wilson said. “That means we need to
give you the lifestyles, intrigues, and actions that you’re
used to in that space. That’s jet-setting, the martini
lifestyle, awesome cars, and access to areas you’ve never
been to before in the world. From an action standpoint, it’s
over-the-top action. It’s not just run-and-gun;
it’s driving jeeps into hovering helicopters. The intrigue
perspective is all about stories that are fun. Tales of betrayal.
Getting in with the other side and selling them out for whatever money
you can get.”
To begin the game, players will start in one of two pre-made spy
agencies, either Unite or Paragon. While the two agencies are both
fighting against common causes, they both have their distinct
differences. Wilson went on to explain the unique qualities of the two
style="font-style: italic;">The game makes you
choose either between the agencies, Unite or Paragon.
“Unite is our uptown spy agency. This is where James Bond
would have started. It’s got your exotic cars and fancy
gadgets. They’re really living the martini
lifestyle,” Wilson said. “On the other side of the
tracks you’ve got Paragon. The Paragon members love getting
down and dirty. These guys are the mercs; the guns for hire. They drink
Jack Daniels instead of vodka. They break doors down.
Once the player is established in either Paragon or Unite, they
actually get to work their way through the ranks of their agency. You
start off by working through some missions, but eventually
you’ll break out and start your own agency with your own set
However, it’s not as easy as it sounds. While advancing
missions may be the objective of most MMOGs, you’ll also need
to acquire a fair number of operatives before you can actually handle
the struggles of a full-blown spy agency. “In style="font-style: italic;">The Agency, we
start you off with your first operative,” Wilson explained.
“Past MMOGs had you collecting pelts, swords, and shields to
begin the game. In our game you’re collecting operatives.
They’re what we refer to as ‘living
loot.’ The simplest way to describe the operatives are like
the sort of people that Moneypenny and Q were in James Bond.
It’s someone that helps you out and really directs where you
need to go.”
“Let’s say in your second mission, you save a
scientist,” he continued “She might say,
‘Hey, I want to join your agency!’ Then you respond
by asking them what they can do for you. They may tell you that they
can build exotic cars, and it’s up to you to determine if
you’re going to bring them onboard or not.”
According to Wilson, what these particular operatives do is provide you
with goods and services throughout the game. Typical MMOGs feature a
click-based crafting system (e.g. you click your mouse to craft and
item). However, that’s not the case in style="font-style: italic;">The Agency.
“All of our crafting is done in real-time,” Wilson
said. “Agents don’t click to craft. If you want
that cool car made, you go through your operative. It may take a week,
but it happens no matter if you’re offline or online.
Let’s say your doing some interviews, jet-setting around the
world in your real life. Eventually you’ll receive an SMS
from your operative saying, ‘Hey, you’re car is
ready.’ Then you’ll head back into the game and try
This sort of offline gameplay actually allows you to earn experience
and advance the story in the game as well. Wilson was quite excited
about this particular portion of the gameplay, as it involves your
operatives along with some interesting nuances concerning character
personality. “Let’s say the story involves you
investigating a particular drug lord in Central America and you send an
operative out there to check it out,” Wilson stated.
“Now you’re at a bar – in the real world
mind you – and your cell phone goes off again. It’s
your operative and he texts you, ‘Good news, I found him. Bad
news, they have me.’ Then you’re presented with two
options. You can either transfer a million dollars to the drug lord in
Central America, or you can let him die. You either press 1 or 2 on
your phone to make this happen.”
style="font-style: italic;">Action in The
Agency is over-the-top, not just run-and-gun.
While that particular portion of the game sounds exciting, what about
any experience that your operatives gain while out on a mission? We
asked this question to Wilson, and he was very forthcoming with his
answer. “One of the other things we found when we studied
MMOGs is that there’s a very negative feeling associated with
players outleveling you,” he said. “We really
don’t want that. We want players to be able to gain
experience all the time, albeit through their operatives. While we
don’t want players gaining as much experience using their
operatives as they get by simply playing their character, but we do
want players – if they’re going to stay with us
from month to month – to continue to advance in the
Sending out operatives can even be a fun little experience in itself.
According to Wilson, rather than making bland mission reports for you
to read, the missions you send your operatives on will be hilarious
escapades that you can later discover when you’re getting
their briefing. “You send two operatives – a male
and a female – off on an assignment,” Wilson said,
barely containing his laughter. “Maybe they don’t
come back right away. You later learn that it’s because
they’re taking their own little
‘personal’ vacation. Or maybe it’ll be
something like, ‘I’m never going to work with that
guy again.’ And it turns out that they really can’t
work together anymore. It’s these little nuances in the text
that allows you to put some personality into the game.”
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our The Agency Game Page.