E3 Interview: SOE Seattle’s Matt Wilson Discusses the Design and Conception of The Agency

Matt Wilson Talks The AgencyContinuing our E3 coverage (which we’re going to start publishing a bit faster from this point on), today we bring you an interview with Matt Wilson, Executive Producer of the upcoming spy-shooter The Agency.

Talking about a game in such an early stage of development is liberating from an interviewer’s perspective. Particularly as I have something of a journalistic ethos that I operate under: If I don’t see something working in a game with my own two eyes, it doesn’t exist.

I covered all the basics I could from watching the demo video in my interview with Kevin O’Hara back in February, so now I was left free to delve into some slightly more esoteric subjects: How was the game first conceived? What was the history behind it? And what motivations lay in its major thematic and design decisions? We also covered The Agency last year when contributor Nic Stransky got a sneak peak at the game at the SOE Fan Faire.

As an aside; sorry to the fans of my abortive attempt at spy fiction heading up our last The Agency interview, no cheesy intro this time.

Press play to listen to the interview, or read on for the transcript.

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The MMO Gamer: To get us started, for those among our readers who may be unfamiliar, could you please introduce yourself, and tell us a little bit about what it is you do at SOE.

Matt Wilson: Sure. My name is Matt Wilson, I’m the Executive Producer on The Agency.

The MMO Gamer: I first saw The Agency back at GDC, and I interviewed an associate of yours, Kevin O’Hara, on the subject, so I’ll try and avoid covering the same ground I already did with him.

In the spirit of that, could you bring us up to speed on any of the developments that have occurred in the interim?

Matt Wilson: Right around GDC, or actually right before GDC, we were in our pre-alpha stage. That’s when we were working on a build, getting in a lot of the core game systems. Right now we’re actually in alpha, and we’re working through completing some of the core game systems, getting in a lot of content, and playing through the game pretty much every day.

That’s where we are on the product development side of it. A lot of the game systems are coming through right now, the cool thing is we’re getting a lot of new skills coming on board, a lot of new content that’s coming in, and what we’re really doing right now is working to ramp all of this up for the fall so we can, hopefully, show you guys some new stuff coming up later this year.

The MMO Gamer: Have you been there on the project since quote-unquote “the beginning?”

Matt Wilson: Actually, from the way-beginning. To give you guys a little bit of history, a little more than four years ago I actually worked at Microsoft. Worked on MMOs at Microsoft, Asheron’s Call—don’t hate me!—and, even before then, Fighter Ace, Ultra Corps, and even more obscure MMOs, Allegiance, and that kind of thing.

This is when I always felt it was funny—before the fantasy MMOs like EverQuest took off, I remember it was all WWII fighter airplane—Warbirds, and Air Warrior, and stuff like that.

People would always talk about, “We can never break away from military airplane MMOs!” and then the fantasy MMO came out and broke that away, and ironically that’s kind of what we’re trying to do, break away from the fantasy MMO, now.

A little more on the history is that a bunch of us were on Mythica, an MMO that we were working on at Microsoft. When they decided not to finish up Mythica a lot of us left Microsoft, myself included, and we started up a little company called FireAnt Games.

Our goal was to really take the MMO space, and go a little more mainstream with it, targeting consoles specifically. Focus on those gameplay mechanics, and move the market in that direction.

It just so happens, a long time ago, I had worked with John Smedley—I wrote some joystick code when I was an engineer that’s in Tanaris, of all the games. We met up, and started basically deciding that “Hey, it would be really cool to do a project, let’s start up SOE Seattle.”

So, myself and three other founders basically started up SOE Seattle, and now we’re over a hundred people in the studio working on the project. It’s been pretty much a dream come true. Hal, our lead game designer, I worked with him a long time at Microsoft, and a lot of the ideas that we’ve had over the years we’re finally getting to put them in place on The Agency.

It’s also really nice just to be on it from the ground-up. Most of the products I’ve worked on in the past were other people’s MMOs that I was shepherding through the space. This one we’ve been able to put all of our ideas in, bring a really awesome team together, and really focus on that.

That’s pretty much the down and dirty history of the studio.

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  1. Christopher says:

    I’m kind of interested in finding out more about the game and how they implement features like *Enjoy Now*. I see any game as needing a good story and allowing the player to feel immersed in the game. If all I’m doing is killing as in an action shooter, I can’t see myself playing this game.

    I see a Spy game needing the player to interact with other NPCs to observe & interact in a meaningful way. In no movie does the hero just start shooting from start to finish, and a game that takes this route, for me, is doomed.

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