Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Agency interview: part 2

A few months ago, Osbon and I published the first part of an interview we did with SOE Seattle's Matt Staroscik. Matt is Game Designer and Lead Writer for The Agency -- an interesting combination of FPS action, RPG-like character advancement, and classic MMO features. Here's part two of the interview.

Thanks again to Staroscik and SOE; and also to Osbon for inviting me to offer some questions.

(1) Game server - will there be just one game world, like EvE Online or many, like WoW?

There will definitely be more than one server. EvE’s approach is great for their game, but our world has its own specific needs.

(2) What balance of PvE & PvP content will be included in the initial release? Will PvP be optional for players & will there be specific PvP areas?

If we’re talking about the quantity of content customized for PvP vs PvE, PvE is definitely the leader. We’re very much a traditional MMO in that way, but we know our shooter-lovin’ audience demands a quality PvP experience too. We’re putting a lot of work into making great PvP maps and game modes to scratch that itch.

The great thing about PvP is that your opponents provide most of the variety. A few good arenas can go a long way towards a satisfying PvP experience, if you have well balanced weapons and skills to back them up. Everyone reading this article can probably name a few FPS PvP maps that they have come to love over the years. Hopefully, The Agency will add a couple to your list. (‘til then, maybe I will see you in dustbowl!)

Even though PvP is a critical feature for us to nail, PvP is never required in The Agency. We’re going to do our best to lure you in though, with good matchmaking and remorseless gameplay. We’ll also be putting bonuses for the PvE game into PvP spaces—like unlocking side quests. I expect that many of our players will split their time pretty evenly between PvP and PvE, and I’m very optimistic that even people who dislike PvP will have some fun in the arenas anyway.

(3) How much of the game world will be open to the player to explore on release & how much of this will comprise of instance-based areas?

The split between fully public and instanced space is about 50/50.

(4) Prague has been highlighted as one of the cities that players can explore as an open environment - how many other cities will there be like this? Can you name any?

While you can explore a good bit of Prague, I want to make sure that people aren’t expecting a GTA-style open world. The Agency is built on a hub-and-spoke model, where you have a large space that is connected via travel services to smaller spaces. So, you’ll run around in the embassy district looking for trouble, and then grab a limo to take you over to the red-light district, and from there maybe you will get into an instance. One other major locale that’s built in this way is Panama City.

There are many smaller locales, too—a couple of examples are Kiev and Cartagena. We want players to feel like they are traveling all over the world instead of spending all their time in a few cities.

(5) Will players be able to use land/sea/air Vehicles eg like 'mounts' in other MMOs? If so will there be vehicle combat?

I can’t talk much about our plans for vehicles right now. We have some really lofty aspirations, but we have not locked down what we’ll ship with. It’s better not to tease you…

(6) How often will new content be added to the game over time? Will new content always be DLC or are you planning retail expansion packs? Both?

The “Agency Current Episode System” (ACES) will expand on the main storyline that players experience in the PvE game with new, free missions. We intend to deliver new ACES missions every other week.

There will also be expansion packs, of course. Whether they will be downloads or in a box, I don’t know yet. I have a feeling we’ll see some of both.

(7) Will there be a monthly access fee?

Man, everyone asks that!

SOE is very interested in different models than the traditional MMO monthly fee for our next generation of games. What does that mean for The Agency? I can’t let that out of the bag just yet.

The Agency will probably be the first MMO I've played post-beta in years. It seems to have some interesting dynamics, a light-hearted and humorous style, and lots of fun allusions to popular spy and mercenary fiction. Here's a video from a year ago:

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