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IGTV: Global Agenda Developer Interview Pt.1

14 Dec 2009  by   Paul Younger
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IncGamers’ Bill Vaughan caught up with executive producer Todd Harris, and vice president of game operations Stewart Chisam to talk about the upcoming Global Agenda, its setting and how it is different to any other MMO out there.  In this, the first of our two part interview, we find out more about the world, the game mechanics and the background to the story.  We start off by asking why we can only play as humans…TH: We do have a variety of non-human elements in the game, but only as combatants – not as player-created characters. So you are going up – Global Agenda’s set on a future planet Earth, in the year 2155, so you’re encountering cyborgs, and quite a bit of robotic creatures and creations and androids as enemies in player vs environment co-op gameplay, and also some things that you can manipulate as a player like mechs, or drivable robots, in our Agency vs Agency persistent-territory play. Butthe basic player-controlled characters are human characters, and it was fundamentally, probably, just a choice of tone, in that we are somewhat of a fantastical take on science fiction – certainly an exaggerated reality – but we did draw some limits there, and we didn’t want to go as far as mutants and things such as that for players.SC: Although our robotics class does have this cool third robotic arm, which is fun. [Laughs]TH: I think we recognised that MMO players, certainly, enjoy customising their character, and so even though we made the choice for them to be human, we tried to put as many customisation options in there as was practical. So, a very robust face customisation system where you can literally adjust the bridge of your nose or the lobe of your ear; and crazy hairstyles; a lot of dye technology so you can get custom suits and custom helmets; and even some off-the-wall seasonal items like the flaming Jack-o’-Lantern for Halloween. Those sort of things certainly let you customise your character, but fundamentally you are still a person – at least on initial release! Who knows, maybe one day we’ll expand it, but humans for now.SC: [Laughs] With a jetpack.TH: At the basic level, some of the concepts are: there are multiple zones within AvA, where a zone is a bunch of contiguous territories, and each piece of territory is represented by a hex map. So there’s a user interface element where I can see the map of hexes on the world within a zone, and I can see which ones that Stew’s Agency owns versus my Agency. We might be in an alliance and working together, or we might be mortal enemies, out to take each other down. Each zone, as currently envisioned, has a basically dwindling supply of energy that’s coming from that zone. It comes through mines that players actually choose where they’re going to put, in the world, and harvest that energy. As that energy is dwindling, we are effectively trying to maximise our take. We want to have more hexes under our control, and we want to have the right mix of mines, factories, labs, that help us produce things like robots, or bigger dropships to transport our agents to battle, or hardened respawn beacons that give us forward spawns in a map and are harder for the enemy to take out. We’re choosing what sort of facilities we want to build and how we’re going to use those resources – effectively, energy coming from the zone, and currency that we can accumulate by doing match-made PvP or PvE and choosing as a group how we’re going to use our currency, how we’re going to best harness that energy, to try to dominate that region, effectively, before the energy wears down.That’s the basic idea, so there’ll be a number of ways to view an Agency and an alliance’s influence and success within a zone, or even multiple zones, whether that’s total net worth, or the most labs, or the most effective when they go into player vs player matches and take out other groups. So we’re really going for a very emergent world there, where small Agencies can make a niche for themselves, and certainly there’ll be some larger alliances really trying to dominate the entire zone, if they can.TH: You can, as a player, actually get to drive around and kind of assume the body of a robot, so for us there are a number of things that are effectively robots but behave like single-player vehicles, so you can inhabit it and manipulate it, and when you do, your camera changes slightly, all your weapon bars change to be those of the robot, and that for us is probably as far as we’ll end up going. We’ll introduce new devices of that type that give you a different gamestyle and let you be a robot for awhile, but ultimately, the player class is still your home and what you would return to for the basic combat.

TH: It is a hybrid game. In our beta community, we draw off of a few different audiences, and we’re expecting that we’ll see that when the game is released, as well. Certainly, fans of class-based shooters – so if you’re playing Team Fortress 2, if you came from Tribes 2 any multiplayer shooter, and particularly one that has a class-based nature, which those games do very well, we think there’ll be a lot for you to like in Global Agenda, because we combine the class-based aspect with jetpacks, but also all the persistent elements we’ve been talking about.At the same time, we’ve got another large portion of our community that come from traditional MMOs and they really like either the hardcore PvP aspect with MMO mechanics, or PvE and the whole complementary gameplay of the tank, healer, DPS combination progressing through a raid. So we offer classes that are really distinct and have some of those roles, but the action is obviously very different, and you’re freely aiming your reticule, and a lot of people have enjoyed that as a change from tab targeting. We have about an even split of folks that come from a shooter community looking for a little more persistence, and people that come from a traditional MMO community looking for a little bit more action. If you like those shooter games, if you like Guild Wars with its competitive mission-based style, we think there’s going to be something for you to like in Global Agenda.{PAGE TITLE=IGTV: Global Agenda Dev Interview page 2}TH: It’s a team-based game. We worked hard to make sure that the combat was based on complimentary skills and that’s part of the thing that makes it so unique, is the combination of twitch, plus build-management, plus co-operation with your team that’s pretty unique, and there’s not necessarily anything providing that. So it is a team-based game. What we really tried to do was to provide a good path for players that want to go solo, that want to be the mercenary, lone wolf in the shadows, to find a way to contribute to a team and to basically reward them for what they want to do anyway, and let them play the game the way they want. In the game, your first beginning introduction to the world is solo content, so you can learn the mechanics and learn it on your terms.We also have some no-consequence areas where you can try out your skills and hone them without being judged at all, so we’ve got a virtual reality arena where I can hop in there and see Stew, but win or lose, it’s simply a way to practice skills without any loss or gain of XP or credits. If I’m not quite ready to extend an invitation for someone to be in a pre-made team, all I have to do is join the type of game that I wish to participate in, whether that’s a PvE mission at low security, or medium, or hard (that corresponds to difficulty levels – or a multiplayer PvP, where I want to try capture the robot, or now I want to try an attack/defend, or now an escort, I just choose that map type, and on the back-end, there’s a matchmaking system that will basically put me with other players to make sure classes are balanced, my player skill is balanced, and it’ll just be a fair match overall. We’ve worked hard to have tools so that if I’m thinking solo and I want to be that recon, sniping from afar, there’s going to be a team that’s going to want me to contribute and the matchmaking system will help pair me with those folks.SC: Really, outside of the very earliest levels, you’re always with other players, but we make it very easy for you to pair up with other players, and you don’t have to be an inherently social being in order to jump in real fast and get games. You don’t necessarily need to have brought friends in. We make it easy to get in to play solo, but you’re always playing with other people, other than in the first… maybe hour of gameplay.TH: I’ll add real quickly, as a lot of our frustrations with other games is the opposite angle where you do have friends that you want to play with, and sometimes there are a lot of hurdles to actually play with those friends. Whether it’s a shooter that balances teams and divides me from Stew because there’s not even numbers, or an MMO where there’s such a difference in levels that he played last weekend and I didn’t and now I can’t catch-up, so we’ve done things both in terms of the levelling process – to keep it not a huge difference in levels – and matchmaking on the back-end, and built-in functions like voice chat so we don’t have to have an extra server if Stew and I want to talk with each other when we go into the game. A lot of the tools like that are for players who do have friends. We want them to be able to play with each other, because it is fundamentally a multiplayer social game, and we wanted a lot of tools around that.TH: We do not have a purely first-person view. We actually did, at one time, but through playtesting, continually players would go back towards the third-person. A lot of that is because, even though it’s a shooter mechanic, we actually have a pretty sophisticated melee. It’s not just one knife kill and then the person’s dead, as in a traditional shooter. There’s a bonus if I attack someone from behind, there’s a blocking mechanic, there’s secondary effects by class. We also do have jetpacks, we have grappling on walls, we have a lot of other dynamic actors in the world like turrets that take you out very quickly if you’re not watching, so the situational awareness that comes with third-person was continually something that players went back to. Most of the ranged weapons do have a scope mode, which is effectively first-person – you’re not seeing your character in that world – and they do in many cases improve the accuracy. So that is a style of weapon and device that’s available to players, and playing in scope for those that tend to be most comfortable there, but fundamentally it’s a third-person shooter and all the systems are designed around that.SC: The beta’s coming along great. We just had a test this past weekend, and we’ve been going through the survey results this week – they were all very positive, I think. You always know how well things are going based on what people are commenting on, and I think we were very pleased with the areas where we were getting strong feedback and needing improvement were very much aligned with the areas we’ve been spending time and effort on, and generally, great results.The number one complaint, by several miles, from our beta community right now is that they just don’t get to play enough, and I think it always speaks well when people are thirsting to play your game more and more! In terms of release timelines, we’re continuing to work on the game. Right now, we’re pushing hard amongst ourselves for a February release. We haven’t announced a specific date around that until we get a little more testing under our belt, but we’re definitely in the home stretch, I think, going towards the launch of the game. One of the key things you’ll see from us before the Christmas holiday is the ability to start to pre-order the game, so we definitely want folks to stay on the lookout for that, and we’ll have announcements around when the game is available to pre-order soon.You can find out more in our next video and transcript right here.  The next part discusses subscription models.

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