A while back, David kindly asked if I wanted to join him in interviewing the SOE Seattle team behind The Agency.
Of course, I immediately said "hell yes!" and sent him half-a-dozen questions. Then I realized that, not only was David going to use all of my questions, but he also used over a dozen questions of his own! Much to my surprise, SOE was willing to answer most or all of them, so this interview will be in multiple parts.
Anyway, here's the first part of the Q&A with Matt Staroscik, Game Designer and Lead Writer for The Agency.
(1) The Agency seems to break new ground for MMOs in many ways. But what aspects of the game might feel familiar to veteran MMO gamers?
"The persistent world, interlocking quests, team play and other social elements of The Agency will be pretty familiar to MMO veterans. Players will also work on building influence in the game world, another genre staple... There is also a crafting system, though the way you research and build things will be different in The Agency from other games. (You’ll be directing a team of Operatives, collectible NPCs, who do the work for you.)"
(2) You've cited 007 films as one inspiration for the game's setting and characters. What are some other key inspirations?
"The Bourne movies are up there, and so are the TV shows Alias and Chuck. Even Get Smart and Austin Powers provide some good reference for us. The Agency isn’t a comedy, but those properties show spies and supervillains with elaborate, global operations, and fancy headquarters to match their ambitions. We are all about that!"
(3) Many current MMOs are dependant on good social interaction within the game which is normally conducted via keyboard or voice chat. Has this made you consider shipping the game with a keyboard/headset?
"Nothing has been decided, but we do know that PC players already have keyboards, and if they enjoy voice comms, they’ve probably got a headset as well. Recently the Wireless Keypad and official Bluetooth Headset were announced for the PS3 and I’m sure these peripherals will lead to even more of our potential players being voice equipped from the beginning."
(4) PC & PS3 release but are you considering releasing on other platforms in the future? Will the PC & PS3 launch on the same date?
"The Agency will be exclusive to the PC and PS3, and we intend to launch both versions simultaneously.
I have high hopes that we will find some ways to put Agency-related content on the PSP someday. But please, don’t take that as a leak, it’s just me thinking out loud. We’re far too busy with The Agency to pursue any kind of spinoffs right now. "
(5) Are any of the team regular MMO players? Do you have any current favorites, current or past?
"Many of the team members, especially designers and developers, are MMO players. Walk around the office at lunch and you’ll see people logged in to lots of different games. We’re always talking about the latest betas and other industry news, too. It’s not all MMOs here, though. There are many different tastes represented among the staff, including board and card games, and I think that diversity is good for us.
Me? Well, one of the reasons I am so happy to be working on The Agency is that I honestly don’t care for the traditional EQ/WOW type of MMO. Oh, I’ve tried, but when you find a 10 second FPS respawn timer to be a long wait, as I do... the pace of most MMOs is unappealing.
I spend most of my time on single-player shooters or rapid-respawn multiplayer games like Team Fortress 2. Planetside is a good game, and I dabble in it, but have never been a serious player. I also log a lot of time in puzzle and strategy games on my PSP and DS Lite.
The combination of features in The Agency really makes it a game I want to play and I think that a lot of other shooter fans will come to feel the same way."
(6) What do you consider the main feature of any MMO that players look for & expect to see well done?
"Most players won’t see stability as a feature, but if the zones always come crashing down, it doesn’t matter how great the game is. You never think about stability until you don’t have it. Game balance is the same way. No one wants to feel the sting of the nerf bat.
Aside from that low-level stuff, the social tools in any MMO need to be well developed. You need to be massively multiplayer, not moderately multiplayer. That means good chat features, friends lists, and guilds. I think we should all demand good matchmaking services, too."
Thanks to Staroscik, and to Osbon, for the interview opportunity.
The Agency has been on my watch list for a long time now. Like Staroscik, the thing I like least about MMOs is the combat, but the RPG elements are still important to me. The game seems to have a nice blend of action, intrigue, and humor. And I'm a big fan of espionage stories, both tongue-in-cheek stories like Bond and more serious ones like the novels of Frederick Forsyth. Operatives sound fun.
And no, I haven't figured out yet if I'll choose ParaGON or U.N.I.T.E. The sniper rifle and shotgun have equal appeal to me.