The Agency - interview

Last month Sony Online Entertainment drew back the curtain on The Agency, an espionage-themed MMOG for PC and PS3 that the developer describes as a "fast-paced online action shooter filled with espionage, intrigue and betrayal" and a "pick-up-and-play experience."

We caught up with the game's lead designer, Hal Milton, to discover more...

Exactly how massively multiplayer is The Agency?

Hal Milton: The game world will support many, many people in a variety of public and private social and encounter areas. However, we are not supporting Planetside style encounters with hundreds of players blasting each other at the same time. Our game is about social and encounter areas that support the appropriate number of folks to keep not only the gameplay amazing, but the speed where it needs to be for a real action shooter.

Is the game cross-platform? What challenges has getting that to operate smoothly thrown up?

We're evaluating this, however, we're not prepared to make a statement at this time.

Has SOE's experience with Planetside had impact of any sort on the development process?

HM: Absolutely. Planetside gives us a technological leg up on how to solve the complexities of a shooter within a persistent online environment. Server technology in particular has benefited from this experience.

Why did you opt for the cartoon-ish art style over something more realistic?

We wanted to take a stylized approach for a number of reasons. There are more than enough fantastically gritty titles that make photo-realism their focus. For us, we wanted to create a world that was more fun and engaging than the real world we actually live in.

We also wanted to create something a little more timeless than a title that relies solely on technological bells and whistles can hope for.

It's far easier to sustain a stylized look over a long time period than it is a detailed representative one. I think our amazing art director Corey Dangel could probably speak about this with more authority than I, however, I'm amazed at the amount of emotion, character, and impact our stylized choices have presented us.

In the press announcement on the game it was mentioned that SOE is looking to take the online gaming industry to new places with The Agency in terms of its design - could you elaborate?

HM: We're attempting to evolve the genre by taking the things that work and enhancing those, while minimizing some of the things that make a standard online game feel more like a going to work simulator than a fun experience.

We're addressing things like character creation and progression complexity and remorse with our "You are what you wear" system.

With the Operatives system, we are giving the player the ability to stay involved in the game even when they aren't logged in at home. We're tackling the tedium of waiting for days to participate in fun casual and official competitive encounters by letting players jump into casual and official matches from the very start.