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The Comic Book Guy: Storytelling in The Agency and Dealing with Superspies

Updated Fri, Jan 23, 2009 by RadarX

The heart of traditional entertainment, especially in comic book culture, lies in a compelling story that tugs at the emotions and motivates excitement. Video games are no different, and attempt to weave a compelling tale into interactive experiences we'll never forget. While story isn't the primary focus of many MMO game designs, certain ones like Sony Online Entertainment's The Agency could depend heavily on it to enhance the entertainment value. How important will it be and what are the biggest challenges they'll face? We're going to take a look at just a few and examine just how pivotal storytelling will be in the super spy world of The Agency.

Bond. Really Violent Bond.

The world of spies has been fascinating millions since the popularization of Ian Fleming’s James Bond in the 1960's. Sexy, sleek, and living in the lap of luxury, these super spy adventurers have provided a beautiful back drop for twenty-four movies (along with two unofficial flicks) making it the longest running character series in history. While other series such as Jason Bourne have brought a more serious and violent look at the spy world, we still cling to the smooth operations of Bond. Translating all this to a videogame and creating an MMO universe might seem like a fairly simple task by just using Bond as a model, but there are a few elements that will complicate things.

For instance, it's common for many games to have difficulty in making players feel different from everyone else. The sense of accomplishment and progression is the white rabbit many a developer have followed down the hole, yet few have made it back out again. In the world of super spies, at least in the movies, there is only one main character. Of course there is always someone Bond works with, but they either turn out to be incompetent or end up snacked on by sharks. So how do you fill a game with not only one, but thousands of super spies each with their own unique abilities and skills? Story must be adjusted to allow for so many spies. Providing players with an epic adventure to follow for their personal characters can meld everyone together into something successful.

Another inherent problem with super spy movies is that you know how things are going to end. James Bond never loses, Jason Bourne disappears, and the hot chick is always with them (or associated with them). The good guys are always going to win and do so by doing the right thing. In a world where players will take a more mercenary-like role, how do you let the unsavory element win? Maybe overthrowing a South American government and inflicting civilian casualties is acceptable to them. That isn't the way of a super spy who may walk the line of right and wrong, but never crosses it. The only way to avoid this is to tell two stories, one of the less refined ParaGON and another of the more disciplined U.N.I.T.E.

If the above two elements weren't challenging enough, The Agency will be moving into untouched territory with its theme. Most games are fantasy with a smattering of science fiction, but no one has tried a modern day setting especially with espionage as the main backdrop. There can't be missions to go slay ten orcs, defeat the evil wizard, or infiltrate a dark dungeon. The evil wizard will now have to be a misguided scientist who could destroy the entire planet with their new biological weaponry. The castle and dungeons we know so well could become a secret volcano lair on a south Pacific island.

This is much bigger than a PPK.

The prognosis however isn't all negative and The Agency does have a few nice advantages. The first is a rich background of spy movies and novels to model their stories after. With so many adventures, it would be simple to simulate Bond's infiltration of Dr. No's island or relive the rooftop fighting of Jason Bourne. There would need to be variations obviously, but it's fun to watch and it's probably even more fun to do. They also have real world locations to pull from that include Prague, Southeast Asia, Africa, and dozens of other hot spots which will provide great scenery for an assassination attempt.

The Agency has a literal crap-ton of potential through use of exciting story, and while there are a few hurdles to leap, the advantages are quite decent. Exotic locations, sexy technology, and humorous spy stereotypes, with proper attention these can open up an environment never seen before. The game has gone strangely quiet with the exception of a Gamefly scare that “canceled” it a few months back. Until they are comfortable under the media spotlight again, we won't learn much more about how storytelling will be used. We can be certain however, it will be action packed with lots of random gun fire. Keep an eye out for The Agency potentially to launch later this year.

What do you think? Does The Agency have what it takes to succeed in the MMO market? Will story be its biggest asset or biggest drawback? If you have an opinion, drop us a line in the forums or send me an email directly!

Next week, The Comic Book Guy examines how some of the biggest names in comic book history are lending their own expertise to their online games and which studio will find the most success through their talented employees.

Worst...story...ever!

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