Fan Faire: Enter the World of Espionage

We are pleased to present this guest Fan Faire review of The Agency, by Qwash.

At Fan Faire 2007, Sony Online Entertainment announced the start of a new project dubbed The Agency(TM) that would allow people to live the life of an elite agent in an online persistent world. In 2008, Fan Faire attendees were treated to another look at this new game that will be available for both the PC and the PLAYSTATION®3. The design team was there to answer questions about their game to those curious enough to step up to their booth, but the real treat was watching the "Sneak Peek" and picking the developers minds at their panel. The only question you have to ask yourself is, are you a UNITE or ParaGON agent?

The Agency is a new MMORPG with a very unique goal, to bring mainstream gaming to the PS3 and MMOs. This is not as easy a task as one might think, with so many variables to consider from artwork, locales, to frame rates and lag. However, the development team has many tools at their disposal to make this concept a reality. The first and biggest hurdle is trying to create locations that would be visually appealing, but would also allow for very intense game play. The solution was software that allowed the design team to almost literally sculpt and draw their three-dimensional wireframe buildings as opposed to building them one by one. This allows for the team to reduce the design time by months and still have high quality environments to walk and run around in, ranging from exotic city locales, to dark warehouses, to lush resorts and damp jungles. This design also allows for very seamless linking to public and private areas for missions, in MMO-gamer terms, a linking between the persistent and instanced zones.

The next was designing a user interface (UI) that would be simple and easy to use, but would not be cluttered up with hot bars full of skills and abilities that might not be used for any or all given encounters. The solution was to incorporate radial menus that would activate only the necessary abilities equivalent to a certain object, such as drinking a martini, or, when on a mission, the use of Operatives.

Operatives are NPC team members that you can acquire, trade, and use during missions, or send out on missions of their own to areas that you can't go yet. Some of your Operatives will become stars, deadly minions doing your bidding all over the globe. Others with less potential you may find are best consumed in suicide missions. You're the boss-you make the call. You can trade Operatives between fellow agents (Player characters), but be careful as the Operatives do have unique personalities, and a ParaGON Operative might not enjoy working along side a whole bunch of UNITE Operatives. The missions that you can send your Operatives on will affect you, but will also affect them. If they are "killed" on an assignment, they get a strike on their record. If an Operative gets three strikes then that Operative is gone and you must replace him.

As you increase in rank within your respective organization, you can acquire more Operatives, allowing you to build your own agency. The agents can, if they choose to, join their agencies together and form joint agencies, which many would better understand as guilds. The developers mentioned that an interesting part of game play would be that the joint agencies would be able to compete against each other for prestige. To help in this there are some missions that only joint agencies can do and would require the use of sharing operatives from all the agencies in that joint agency.

Now, how does the agent actually do his job as a "James Bond" type superspy if he's sending out operatives to do all his work? Well, really they aren't. They operatives are there to assist the agent by doing what he can't, either through skills or through locations. When it comes to actual missions, the agent is ultimately responsible. To accomplish these missions, agents will need to group together to form teams. Standard teams will consist of up to four agents, usually all from the same organization, working together, completing different secondary and bonus objectives, but all working towards the primary objective and mission completion. There are several different roles that can be utilized from the "tank" role as team leader/point man, a utility role such as demolitions, and infiltration, and support roles like field medic or field tech. The reason that ParaGON and UNITE do not work together to form teams is primarily due to the goals and objectives of the two different organizations. ParaGON, or Paramilitary Global Operatives Network, is as the name suggests a paramilitary group, a bunch of mercenaries who are hired by different "employers" to complete missions. UNITE, or United Nations Intelligence and Tactical Experts, are more like what one would expect of MI-6 from James Bond films- very clean floors, well lit buildings, a waterfall, a martini bar, and even a stand-up arcade. Obviously, given this, both groups would have different objectives when completing a mission. However, this does not mean that the two cannot work together of sorts. Certain missions would have both organizations working together, though they might not know they are working towards the same goal. The UNITE agents would be working on objectives going in one direction, while ParaGON would be working on similar objectives up a different approach, with both coming together at the end in some form of cohesion or conflict, depending on the situation.


Speaking of missions, each will have certain requirements more than just "find the bad guy, kill the bad guy" objectives. Many missions will have several steps involved and will sometimes have secondary and bonus objectives as well that will improve the success rating of the mission, measured in medals, from bronze to gold. Missions can be completed solo, but do not expect many gold medals when soloing, as you will need a team to complete most missions' with a top rating. While some combat will be involved, there will also be many non-combat abilities such as gathering intel or following a suspect, etc. When following someone, you can attempt to do so in stealth by hiding as much as possible, or by wearing an alias outfit. The NPC that you follow will have UI with color indications ranging from green to red- green indicates that he does not sense or notice you, while yellow indicates that you are being noticed. If you are noticed, you will see red UI above the NPC and combat ensues. This helps to add a level of realism to the game that you otherwise wouldn't have. Now, if you were to have an alias, comprised of not only a sleek outfit suitable to the situation, but also credentials and access, then instead of worrying about whether you are seen or not, you begin to worry about whether your alias is being compromised. To help show this, any time an NPC, especially a potentially hostile NPC, notices you in your alias, you will begin to take alias damage. If that damage reduces your alias to zero (0), then your alias is compromised and you are likely to be ejected from the space you were infiltrating. The nice thing about aliases is that you are able to collect aliases as you increase your rank within your respective organization and eventually convert those aliases into a role outfit. Much as many people who have played a game for a while can begin to notice the graphical differences between the "uber-raid gear" and the normal gear, using an alias as a role outfit will also be a marked indicator of someone who has worked really hard and succeeded where others might have failed.

Many might be wondering about the use of vehicles within the game. Yes, there will be vehicles, and yes there is the possibility of vehicle combat, but, due to the complexity of vehicle chases mixed with foot chases, there will be no mixed tactics like that. It will be vehicle vs. vehicle, or foot vs. foot, but not vehicle vs. foot. There will also be transportation through out the world, though that will be more like the equivalent to "zoning" due to the enormity of attempting to create the world in a virtual setting. In essence, you will be either taking a vehicle or walking/running to the nearest "transportation point" for travel to your destination.

Speaking of destinations, the one "destination" that most super-spies tend to find themselves in is "hot water." This game will be no different. Agents will find themselves in compromised positions often while the super-evil-villain spills all the details about how he "will take over or destroy the planet and there is nothing you can do about it." Of course, you will still have the chance to succeed in grandeur and bring the villain's nefarious plans crumbling down around him. Trigger the "Agency Moment" at the end of the mission, and you will be able to sit back and watch this in glorious cinematic grandeur. Agency Moments may not be required to actually complete the mission objective but provide a nice bonus in the form of a little cinematic. They will be available at the end of most of the more complex missions that players take on.

I hope you enjoyed this first look at The Agency and will be able looking forward to the release of this game from SOE.


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