The Agency: Fan Faire 2009 Report

The Agency is Sony Online Entertainment's upcoming action spy game and Dalmarus was on hand for the recent discussion panel held at Fan Faire 2009. See why this game nabbed his interest out of the blue in true super spy fashion. As highlighted by the room I was in (though there was little doubt), *everyone* knows who James Bond is. And while he's not part of the game, or the name, you can instantly explain the concept of the game to anyone, including your parents or grandparents. That's an unbelievably powerful tool. To read the rest of The Agency: Fan Faire 2009 Report, click here!

The team behind SOE's upcoming spy title, The Agency, was in full force at this year's annual Fan Faire event. I'm glad I was able to attend one of the team's panel discussions before a nasty bug took me out for the rest of my Vegas trip. Matt Wilson, Creative Director for The Agency, is a force to be reckoned with in person. He's a ball of energy and obviously full of passion for the project, so it made for an entertaining hour.

One of the core principles of The Agency is the concept of "Fun now - no waiting." It may sound like yet another platitude spewed forth from the mouths of marketing gurus around the world, but from what I saw, it was obvious the team meant it. Every system in the game should be easy to access, easy to understand, etc. That doesn't mean players won't have to wait for some things at different points in time, but it does mean the team tries to eliminate the standard "hurry up and wait" mentality we've all had to deal with in MMOG's for years.

Part of this comes into play when talking about the world. Prague and Kiev may be interesting places to explore, but if you have to travel between the two of them, do you want to spend your time walking, or hopping on a jet and get there in style? Would James Bond put on his jogging shoes and run the distance? Of course not! Not only would that make for an unbelievably boring movie, but the same can be said for gameplay. The team members at the SOE Seattle studio seem sincere in their commitment to make you *feel* like a super spy.

One of the more interesting things that came up during the panel was the discussion about finding a balance between realism and fun. For example, if you have traveled to Prague before and then saw it within The Agency, you'd still feel like you recognize the city. Landmarks, architecture, and other aspects of the city would feel familiar to you. That flower vendor you saw on the corner during your trip may be there, but now he might also be a contact that will show you where the secret entrance to an enemy base may be. Is that gentleman sitting across from you actually reading that newspaper, or is he taking pictures of you with a micro camera? So while the setting itself will be familiar, you can never quite be sure of what's going on around you.

When you create a character, you'll need to decide which of two spy factions you want to belong to: Paragon or United. Paragon is full of down and dirty mercenary types. They like to hang out in bars, pool halls, and have a tendency to shoot first and try to get answers from whatever is left. They're the hands on, in your face type of players. United is more of an upscale, high class, James Bond type of spy. They enjoy ballrooms, museums, and living the high life. Stealth and intelligence are their tools of trade. Surprisingly, when asked by Matt, the majority of the room voted for Paragon when asked which one people felt they would start with.

Speaking of spies, or James Bond in particular, Matt brought up a very good point early in the panel, though it was posed as a humorous question. He asked the room how many people knew who James Bond is? It may seem like a simple thing, but in today's MMOG market, accessibility is an important concept. As highlighted by the room I was in (though there was little doubt), *everyone* knows who James Bond is. And while he's not part of the game, or the name, you can instantly explain the concept of the game to anyone, including your parents or grandparents. That's an unbelievably powerful tool.

A system that may not be as easy to explain as James Bond, but is no less exciting is the idea of living loot, or the operative system. Every super spy needs their own network of helpers, right? That's where the operative system comes in. Matt said he couldn't go into too many details, but each operative will have their own set of skills. The names of your operatives will also give you clues into their usefulness. While on the surface and operative with the name of "Butterfingers" may sound useless, they still may prove worthwhile as cannon fodder on a mission.

Operatives are also the key to the crafting system within The Agency. No one wants to sit at their computer and continually click your mouse until your fingers fall off while building stuff. Fortunately for you, operatives are there to build things for you. As an example, imagine you want to build a golden gun. When you assign it to an operative, he may tell you it will take five hours to complete. That's five hours of real time, whether you're online or off. You can go do some other missions, travel around the world, or even log off. This all goes back to the concept of "Fun now - no waiting."

After listening to the team last weekend, I have to say, not only is it a core principle of The Agency, but it's how I'm feeling right now. Before this year's Fan Faire, I was only half paying attention to what I've been hearing about the game. After Matt's presentation though, The Agency has definitely been added to my list of hotly anticipated games.

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