MI6 caught up with the game design team behind the upcoming massively multiplayer online spy title 'The Agency' from Sony...

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 game 'The Agency' from Sony for the PS3 and PC.

How did the concept for The Agency come about? To what extent have the James Bond movies influenced the design?
After Microsoft cancelled Mythica years ago, some of the core team members started a new studio to continue working on MMOs. 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. You’re going to be running and gunning, and taking cover from enemy fire. This is a game that FPS and third-person shooter fans will enjoy.

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 agent?
We want to make ParaGON and UNITE very well balanced, with neither faction having an edge over the other in a critical area. Each 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 aren’t cops.

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 a charity.

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 shots?

There is a mix of first and third person action in the game. How are the two viewpoints exploited during missions?
It 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 plots 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, if 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 gems, we’ve 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 and accessories. 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?
That particular 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 cameras and more. Your Operatives will process the intel you gather, unlocking new missions and equipment as they reveal your enemies’ secrets.

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.

The game 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 platform 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.


  • Become An Elite Agent: The Agency offers hundreds of unique missions with varied end-goals requiring combat, stealth, and style. With gameplay ranging from sneaky assassinations to all out assaults, from vehicle challenges to casinos loaded with mini-games, there's something for every aspiring agent.
  • Build Your Own Agency: As players advance through the ranks of their faction, they'll also begin building their own Agencies. Players will increase their power even further by creating Joint Agencies with others.
  • Mercenary or spy, the choice is yours: In the Agency, collect the right weaponry, gadgets, vehicles, gear, attire and aliases to gain access to various locales and influence over the people within them.
  • Put Operatives to work: Operatives are collectible non-player characters who provide the goods player's desire, the services to keep them alive, and allow them to concentrate on the mission at hand. Operatives work 24/7, regardless of whether players are logged in, and they can even keep them up-to-date through email and instant messages.
  • Fun Now, No Waiting: The Agency is not about waiting for the fun to start. At any point, players can take a break from their high-flying career to engage in a number of other activities. Veterans and new players alike can take on other players at the card tables, the shooting range, or in head-to-head combat.