MI6 caught up with the game design team behind the
upcoming massively multiplayer online
spy title 'The
Designing "The Agency"
28th November 2008
MI6 caught up with SOE Seattle game designer
Matt Staroscik to discuss the upcoming
spy themed, massively multiplayer online
Sony for the PS3 and PC.
How did the concept for The Agency
come about? To what extent have the James Bond movies influenced
After Microsoft cancelled Mythica years ago, some of
the core team members started a new studio to continue working
There were negotiations with a few publishers, but ultimately
SOE is the one that picked the studio up. The Agency was the
product pitch that sold them. The team knew that they wanted
to get away from the typical fantasy fare, and on the short list
of candidate genres, spy-action
looked like a good fit. It’s popular, hasn’t been
done to death in games, and hasn’t been done at all in
an MMO. What’s not to like about the combat, gadgets, exotic
locations, and exotic people the genre provides?
How would you best describe the core
gameplay behind The Agency?
The Agency is a fast-paced action shooter
played in a persistent world. Players will group together into
teams of agents, and
go on missions where they take down supervillains that threaten
global peace and stability. To accomplish their goals, they’ll
use brute combat force, stealth tactics, and high tech gadgets.
In between missions, there will be plenty of social gameplay,
crafting, guild, and mini-game activities to keep everyone coming
back. I want to make it clear that The Agency is an action game.
You do not lock on to a target and go into auto-attack mode.
going to be running and gunning, and taking cover from enemy
fire. This is a game that FPS and third-person shooter fans will
Most James Bond fans will likely join
UNITE over the mercenary ParaGON faction – to what extent
does the faction choice affect the gameplay experience? What
are the advantages and disadvantages of playing as a UNITE secret
We want to make ParaGON and UNITE very well balanced, with
neither faction having an edge over the other in a critical area.
has a full complement of combat and espionage abilities. Where
they differ is style, and the types of stories they encounter.
UNITE is an internationally authorized enforcer, a group of
high tech and highly deadly specialists who are able to take
on threats of the modern world. Global crime syndicates, rogue
governments, and unchecked corporate power draws UNITE’s
attention. When the bad guys are wearing expensive suits instead
of fatigues, UNITE is on the case. But just because UNITE is
a government agency doesn’t mean that they are bound by
red tape. Like Bond himself, UNITE agents often need to do some
questionable things to complete their missions. UNITE agents
ParaGON is the world’s largest mercenary company, with
members drawn from intelligence services and armed forces all
over the globe. It’s a private army and spy outfit for
hire, and the mercs from Madagascar eclipse the power of many
small nations. They even have a small but elite navy and air
force. ParaGON’s motivation is profit. They are not without
morals, but they do have a certain moral flexibility—without
it, they could not operate. If you want to stop a rebellion,
destabilize a small country, or hire elite special forces for
a corporate espionage affair, ParaGON is waiting to take your
call, and easy payment terms are available to qualified clients.
That doesn’t mean that ParaGON won’t fight the good
fight once in a while, pro bono. But they are a business, not
So, that is how your gameplay experience changes. Do you want
to take down a bad guy for the greater good, or for a big paycheck?
Do you want to wear a tuxedo or fatigues? Martinis or tequila
There is a mix of first and third person action in
the game. How are the two viewpoints exploited during missions?
depends on your play style. Some people, those who usually focus
on shooting, exclusively care about first person for precision
aiming. Others, those who focus on stealth or support gameplay,
prefer the wider field of view afforded by third person. The
wisest player will be the one who knows when to go third person
(scoping out the corner ahead) and when to go first person (Weapons
free! Fire at will!)
How has character progression been implemented and
what are the rewards for completing missions? Is there a progressing
storyline to the missions?
As your character gains experience, they’ll become better
at the jobs they do as well as gaining new abilities with the
weapons they use. Say you are a player who prefers the combat
role… You’ll unlock new abilities that make you a
better fighter, and you’ll also unlock special abilities
with the weapons you favor. There definitely is a storyline to
the missions. Players are going to be dealing with bad guys and
that threaten the
entire world. In order to increase your rank within your parent
agency (think clearance level) you’ll need to complete
these career missions. However, career or side missions can be
used to advance your experience with the various roles at your
disposal thanks to our “you are what you wear” system.
Lastly, using your weapons and items in combat will, over time,
increase your effectiveness with those specific items as they
accumulate their own kind of XP.
What can players do while not engaged in a mission?
Every player is a couple of button presses away from a PvP match,
they are looking for something to do. Our matchmaking system
will whisk you away to some consensual, remorseless gunplay whenever
you like. Play spaces will also be populated with mini-games.
If you want to go gambling or have a need to match some colored
got you covered there too. The UNITE HQ in Prague even has a
Q*bert arcade game in it, though we may put it somewhere else
by the time we ship. If you are in to crafting, you’ll
also find things to do. Collect schematics and materials during
missions and you’ll
be able to make new weapons and gadgets. Best of all, you will
actually have a staff to do the research and manufacturing for
you! Every agent can assemble a set of Operatives, collectible
NPCs that work for you whether you are online of offline. In
The Agency, you are building your own agency.
Akin to James Bond movies, The Agency features many
diverse and exotic locals. Can you tell us a bit about the locations
and how they are linked via the gameplay?
The first act of the game
takes place in Central and South America. Panama is one of the
key locations in this part of the game,
but players will visit other cities in the region, like Cartagena—and
secret bases deep in the jungles. After discovering and taking
out this region’s supervillain, the players will be transferred
to Europe. This time, Prague is their home base, and again the
action takes place all over the region. Kiev and Warsaw are but
a couple of the places the players will jet off to. In each region,
the action happens not only on in urban settings, but in exotic
and exciting places that players will love. There
are forgotten military bunkers, laboratories full of forbidden
superscience, high roller casinos, posh lairs of wealthy secret
societies, undersea bases—all kinds of good stuff!
How do the role outfits work and how do they differ
from alias outfits?
Role outfits equip you for action. If you are
on the front lines of a raid, you might be in a Combat role outfit,
or you might
be providing your teammates with healing via a Support role outfit.
Alias outfits equip you for subterfuge, and this is where you
will find all kinds of street clothes. Depending on the mission,
you might be in a tuxedo (or swanky dress), a technician’s
jumpsuit, an enemy guard’s uniform—there are going
to be many options here. Sometimes you will bluff your way through
an area with an alias, and then change into a role outfit for
the next part of the mission. The quality of your gear is important
in The Agency, so you will always be looking for improved outfits
Better role outfits provide you with new and improved role abilities.
For example, a more elite Combat outfit would provide better
stamina buffs. Better alias outfits help you do a better job
of keeping that alias intact, deflecting suspicion for a longer
period of time. An expensive tux might have a skill that boosts
your alias strength when you fiddle with your boutonnière.
A modified cocktail dress could be capable of giving out a glittering
flash that temporarily stuns enemies in the area.
How big are the public spaces in the game and how do
you balance size against performance and stability?
balancing act is very important. We need to create spaces that
are big enough to feel, well, big—but
we have a finite amount of system memory and rendering power
to work with. For that reason, The Agency and any game like it
won’t be piling hundreds of players into a vast space like
a soccer field, but we will be providing many roomy outdoor urban
spaces that are well suited to gunplay. Go look at a typical
boulevard, intersection or plaza in a big city, and that’s
what you’ll see in The Agency. Our level designers are
very good at making our cities feel spacious while working within
the view distance and art asset
limitations set by the developers. They are really some of the
unsung heroes of the project.
What sort of gadgets and vehicles can we expect to
see? How are they utilised during missions?
Well, no spy-themed
game is going to get very far without gadgets! First of all,
our agents will be provided with a vast arsenal
of weapons. Shooter fans will find all of their familiar firing
friends in The Agency, plus a suite of grenades and other instruments
of mayhem. Some of them will be unusual and high-tech, pushing
a bit into sci-fi territory. The Agency is not a modern combat
sim. It’s a spy-action thriller, and that means some exotic
hardware to spice things up!
There are high-tech gadgets too, for tapping into enemy networks,
taking out security cameras, and unlocking electronic doors.
You like setting up sentry guns? We’ll have those too,
plus the medical technology and ammo stations you’ll need
to get back into the action when you get shot up. Players who
prefer the Support role will get a lot of time with these toys.
Gathering intelligence is a big part of the game, and that means
and more. Your Operatives will process the intel you
gather, unlocking new missions and equipment as they reveal your
Vehicles are something I can’t say much about yet, except
that we plan to eventually have vehicle challenges scattered
among the missions. Agents will race, or sometimes just drive
for their lives! However, we are focused on releasing a polished
game, not just a collection of half-baked features. With that
in mind, we designed vehicles as a modular system that can be
introduced when it’s as great as it should be.
is being released on both PC and PS3 – does
the game experience differ on the two formats?
Console players will
mostly be using a gamepad and PC players will mostly be
using a mouse and keyboard. Aside from tuning
the versions for differing controls, we intend for the
gameplay experience to be identical. There is no second-class
for The Agency.
About The Agency
The Agency is a fast-paced, online persistent
shooter in a modern setting of bullets, bomb blasts, and betrayal.
Live the life
of an elite agent in a world of super spies and rugged mercenaries,
who use both the highest technology and the lowest tactics to
accomplish their goals. Featuring cooperative and competitive
play, The Agency is designed to provide instant action and long-term
strategy for all fans of espionage, intrigue, and explosive gameplay.
The Agency ships this year for PC and PlayStation 3.