The Agency

Project Highlights

The Agency is a spy-themed massively online multiplayer first person shooter built with the Unreal 3 Engine for the PC and Playstation 3.

World and Mission Design

The world of The Agency is split into 2 distinct types of gameplay spaces - combat and social spaces. I was responsible for directing the experience of social spaces.

Images of the design sketch for Kiev, an overhead in game map of Kiev, and a design sketch for Venice. These 2 cities are examples of public social spaces where I directed the gameplay experience.

In game images of the Venice public space. I placed spawns, properties, and animation sets of all NPCs, vendors, and mission givers in this space and was responsible for delivering a high quality public space experience for our alpha milestone.

  • Created all intel events used in non-combat public cities and set up all spawner settings for missions, vendors, alias zones, and intel events.
  • Co-designed alias zones with public space level designer.
  • Implemented public space missions in collaboration with public space level designer and writer.
  • Populated an entire city with mission givers, vendors, alias NPCs, bystanders, and intel events and terated several times on their placement.
  • Designed and collaborated with animation team on a number of vignettes for bystanders to act out in groups with the goal of making a city feel alive.
  • Whiteboxed a large test environment for creating and iterating on over 20 unique intel event spawners and settings.
    • Playtested the intel whitebox play space over several weeks with a number of unique players to refine the level setups and the intel system.
  • Managed designers, tracked tasks, and reviewed progress of missions for 2 milestones.

PvP Design

  • Co-designed PvP gameplay experience for both casual and hardcore audiences.
  • Casual PvP Anytime mode version of PvP was designed for quick and easy matchmaking.
  • Hardcore version of PvP was designed for clans to challenge each other over long periods of time and to compete for leaderboard positions. This mode was called World Domination.
  • Co-designed PvP game types, objectives, UI elements, and gameplay mechanics
  • Playtested and evaluated PvP maps several times a week in collaboration with level and systems designers.
  • Managed playtest feedback from entire company via an internal Digg site and filtered high priority items through directors and appropriate co-workers.
  • Tracked PvP playtest analytics and delivered feedback and results to directors and designers.

Game System Design

Weapons, Skills, and Role Design

I co-designed combat systems and tuned weapons, player classes, equipment, and skills as part of a 3 person systems design team.

Player Roles

Images of assault, commander, and recon loadout screens. Each loadout allowed players to equip a unique outfit, 4 active skills, 4 passive skills, and up to 4 different weapons.

  • Co-designed the 5 combat roles including selection of skills, weapon proficiencies, gear selection, and attributes unique to each such as health and armor.

Weapons

Images of a grenade launcher, shotgun, and submachine gun. In collaboration with 2 system designers, I tuned several weapons.

  • Tuned several weapon parameters including damage, fire rates, bullet spread, reload times, scope parameters, recoil values, screen shake, accuracy bloom, clip sizes, and iron sight offsets.

Player Skills

Images of a bullet stopping shield, the oracle enemy detecting skill, and a player placed turret. I designed and tuned many of the properties and attributes for skills.

  • Designed, tuned, and iterated on design of many skills including grenades, explosives, stealth, shields, movement and fire enhancing abilities, melee attacks, and detection abilities.

Intel System

As players travel around the world of The Agency, they find themselves surrounded by suspicious characters engaging in questionable activities that need to be captured. An entirely new system was built around the way players could harvest this data. When the player uses an intel collecting device, such as a digital camera, they can capture these events on film and send them to headquarters for processing. In order to capture these events, players must get a high quality picture of each suspicious person involved. To do so, the player must zoom in on the character, take a picture from the front or side, center the person's face in the photo, and frame the picture correctly, all while trying to avoid blowing their cover and finishing it before the suspicious characters part ways.

Images of 3 intel events I created in Venice. Notice UI elements representing system components - current stage, current score, minimum score, and zoom/center/facing direction scoring markers.

  • Directed development of intel system, which allowed players to encounter randomly spawning events that generated collectible items, rewards, and missions.
  • Provided specifications for all UI elements needed for system and worked closely with UI designer to iterate on elements as system evolved.
  • Defined design properties of intel camera equipment that could be upgraded and tuned properties to create several variations that played well.
  • Tuned and balanced all scoring elements used for each intel event including zoom level, position, rate of enemy suspicion accrual, facing direction, frame center properties, and duration.

Alias System

"You are what you wear" is one of the guiding design principles of The Agency. Spies need to look heroic and tough in combat and suave and sneaky in public places. I designed an entire system that defined player and AI behaviors in social spaces. By equipping outfits associated with unique enemy factions, players could use additional skills to subvert, bypass, or smooth talk their way past hostile NPCs.

Images of the Alias loadout screens. First a player chose the faction loadout and then they chose the appropriate equipment and gadgets to go with that outfit.

  • Iterated heavily on creating an entirely new system that was meant to include mechanics as deep as the combat side of The Agency.
  • Designed unique over 30 alias outfits and skills as well as AI reactions and skills.
    • Implemented 3-5 of these skills as well as 2 unique AI archetypes in Venice alias zones.

Mini-games

To flesh out spy gameplay mechanics, several systems needed to be defined for actions such as hacking. I wrote specs for several minigames including hacking, lockpicking, bomb defusal..

Hacking

Hacking is a 2d minigame where players had to match randomly generated sequences of inputs within a small time frame. One randomly generated input sequence becomes visible at a time. Entering inputs incorrectly resulted in a time penalty. If all input sequences were matched before time ran out, the hack succeeded.

A version of the hacking minigame shown at E3 2009.

  • Wrote specification and created a mock up image that gameplay programmer used as a template.
  • Worked closely with gameplay programmer and flash artist to polish the minigame.
  • Iterated on hacking minigame prototype with gameplay programmers.
  • Tuned and designed a version of the hacking minigame for the stealth portion of e3 2009 The Agency demo.
  • Tuned and designed a lighter weight version of hacking minigame for PvP capture point gameplay.

Player Progression and Economy Design

  • Co-authored documents that spelled out how players would advance through each role along each progression path.
  • Created and maintained master document that detailed entire rewards progression across 1000 missions.
    • Document included entire story mission flow, all side missions, all pieces of loot, cash, xp, and where each item was purchased or acquired from.
  • Created a pacing chart for primary story mission arc, side mission prerequisites, and PvP mission progression.
  • Designed parallel mission progression structure for PvP to deliver a compact story experience for players who preferred competitive multiplayer.
  • Tuned and iterated on Venice mission rewards to improve role development and improve pacing for alpha milestone experience.
  • Wrote design specifications for achievement requirements and conditions of unlocks.

DESIGN ANALYTICS Analysis and Design

  • Defined entire set of design analytics statistics for both PvE and PvP.
    • Started by asking the fundamental questions that we were trying to answer and generating data from those questions, such as:
      • How often do players use cover?
      • Which roles, skills, and weapons get used the most often?
      • Which weapons and skills tend to result in the most damage and kills?
      • Where do players get killed?
  • Directed development of analytics website and user interface.
    • Defined filters that could be applied to narrow down data sets for specific playtests, maps, roles, and players.
  • Reported analytics results to designers and engineers responsible for tuning combat and player mechanics that looked unbalanced.

UI Design

Images of the Vendor screens for weapons and skills. I collaborated with the lead UI designer to define the requirements for these screens.

  • Worked closely with The Agency UI lead designer to outline UI layouts for inventory screens, progression display, vendor UI, minigame HUDs, and the main HUD for combat and alias gameplay.
  • Wrote several specifications for how the various UI, inventory, and HUD screens needed to work for the gameplay systems I was involved in designing.
  • Designed specifications for UI and HUD elements that worked well for both console and PC control schemes.

Design Tools Pipeline Coordination

While The Agency used Unreal 3 as a base technology, a number of tools and editor enhancements were necessary to build interesting gameplay. I was the design liason for many of these tools.

  • Defined an alternative proprietary scripting system in conjunction with a server engineer to replace Unreal Kismet for server side gameplay interactions.
    • Collaborated with engineer on editor interface and properties needed for this scripting system to be designer friendly.
  • Specified improvements to database editor for design data such as weapons, skills, and interactive gameplay objects.
  • Directed the development of a destructible system that allowed for multiple explosions and physics reactions to occur on a single object.
    • Guided engineer on how to expose functionality in a user friendly way to artists and designers.
  • Collected design feedback on tools pipeline and specified improvements and priorities for level, mission, and world object editors.

All images (c)Sony Online Entertainment LLC