June 7, 2007 - Sony Online Entertainment's Seattle division is sick of the high fantasy, men in tights type of MMO. The team said so at a recent SOE event, which was a surprising statement considering that the EverQuest 2 and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes development staff was only feet away. Titled The Agency, the studio's upcoming game will be a first-person shooter MMO with spy and espionage themes. No release date is yet available (except that it won't be in 2007), but the Agency is in development for PS3 and PC, with the possibility of cross-platform interconnectivity. In an interview with IGN, Matt Wilson, Studio Manager for SOE Seattle, said, "We are definitely considering it. It's not something that we're committed to at the moment, I mean there's a lot of gameplay ramifications to that kind of experience, but it is very interesting to us to explore both the PC and PS3 and maybe how they might interact together." When starting the game players will pick between Unite, a traditional James Bond type of spy outfit, and Paragon, a brasher, up-front type of organization. Through them you'll get early missions for rewards and rise in rank, but eventually the goal is to break out and start your own of organization. The majority of the game's missions will take place in instanced spaces. For those unfamiliar, an instanced space differs from public space in an MMO in that only yourself and those in your group exist there -- it's a unique version of the game world specifically for you. Enemies will drop items, but SOE Seattle is planning is keeping mission focus on completion, not individual takedowns and drops. Beating missions gives you points to rank up, and after successive rank ups you open up access to more missions and better items, and other things the studio wouldn't reveal. We were told several forms of experience would be in the game, but their precise mechanics have yet to be determined. Within missions of the main quest and sidequest variety you'll blast foes with a wide range of guns such as sniper rifles and SMGs, call in vehicles for support, and attempt to trigger specialized Agency moments.
These moments will be of the more spectacular variety, such as hopping on a merry-go-round and firing while spinning, or driving a jeep off a cliff into a helicopter. At the end of a successful mission, players will earn money rewards, items, and eventually NPC operatives who function as the game's crafting system. These NPCs can be given schematics obtained from beating missions and commissioned to make new items for you like modded guns, vehicles equipped with special gadgets and weaponry, and other things. Once an order is placed, players will have to wait a certain amount of time before the item is ready, a process that progresses even while offline. Since every player will be compiling different sets of operatives, it'll encourage social interaction since some operatives will require items only produced by others. If you don't have all the necessary operatives in your pool, you'll need to ask around. Eventually the goal is to become powerful or experienced enough to create your own spy organization with other players, something SOE Seattle is calling "World Domination mode." It's The Agency's endgame, but unfortunately they wouldn't mention exactly how it'll play out aside from it somehow involving player-versus-player combat on a large scale with some sort of mission elements. Aside from in world domination, it seems at any point players can engage in PvP, though to what degree isn't clear. "One of the things we want to do in the game is really provide what we call PvP anytime," says Wilson. "It's the ability for someone to jump in, shoot it up with their friends, and shoot it up against their friends." In addition to the instanced mission areas, there'll be public spaces set around the globe where players can chat, party up, and play mini-games around towns such as Prague, Czech Republic. The game has a dynamic class system, where your role is determined by your uniform, of which there are three types. The Combat outfit type is geared more toward offensive maneuvers, Support outfits give you options for healing and hacking, and Stealth offers a more specialized skill set. How class skills balance each other we're not sure, but you're free to switch classes at will, at least before heading into an instance. Completing missions allows your character to rise in rank and open up new skills for use. The skill element is still being worked on, but players can expect things like grenade tossing, melee bashing, and more dramatic actions. Though this could still all change, we were told the current group limit is set at four, though some spaces will accommodate more than one group. Each class outfit will come in multiple types, all of which have different numbers of slots for how many items and weapons you can bring into battle. Doing quests with groups will generally net better rewards than completing them solo; should you run out of ammunition during an instanced quest, we were told it's possible to pick up those from your enemies.
SOE Seattle is also planning on including an auction house, but no specifics were available. We didn't really get to see much of the game at the event, just a few brief gameplay snippets and some cinematics. From what was shown, it certainly looks like it plays as a first-person shooter. The game seems to possess an excellent sense of humor, something missing from many MMOs out there. SOE Seattle says there will actually be a storyline in the game that plays out along a series of main quests, though wouldn't provide any specifics. After the somewhat limited showing, we're still looking forward to the game, mostly because of SOE Seattle's insistence in trying to make a different kind of MMO. We'd agree that there are far too man high fantasy MMOs out there - we need something different. Whether the gameplay will hold up remains to be seen. When last we talked with SOE Seattle, no pricing structure had been determined.