Bioware are renowned for creating role-playing games that are set in dazzling worlds and universes. From the high fantasy and Baldur’s Gate and Dragon Age to the slick SF of Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic and Mass Effect, they have proven themselves more than capable of tackling a range of genres set within both established and original IPs. However, in their chronicled history there is one particular style and setting that they have not dabbled in: the real world (or an approximation of it). But that doesn’t mean that they have never had the intention to.
A recent interview between Eurogamer and Trent Oster (Former Bioware alumnus and founder of Overhaul Games) brought to light the fact that the company was toiling away on something fundamentally different than what they have released to date back in 2009. This was Agent, a spy RPG that the team wanted to be “the other half of Golden-Eye“. It wouldn’t be James Bond in name, but the idea was to delve deeply into that kind of character and show off everything that secret agents have been portrayed as in other media: manipulators, martial artists and mysteries. Alongside this was a determination to push the boundaries of digital acting, with the team desiring to create some intense scenes mixing action and drama.
“More like this GoldenEye than Rare’s”
The details that we have isn’t close to a complete documentation of the intended design, but it is enough to prove to be incredibly tantalising. The reason that it never saw the light of day was that Electronic Arts, Bioware’s parent company, wasn’t willing to unequivocally back the project and, over time, it fell to the wayside. As sad as that is, EA’s reluctance to do so is completely understandable. If development had begun in earnest in 2009, it would have been at least another two years until it saw the light of day. At that point in time, 2011 would have been seen as a very likely year to be end generational, and it has been iterated in the past that most publishers are unwilling to launch new IP late in the cycle due to a general lack of a sales traction for them, a trait that EA is particularly guilty of.
But what if the game did eventuate? Would it have been a sales success the equal of Mass Effect or Dragon Age? With the likelihood that the game never will emerge from Bioware, it really is impossible to tell, but that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate and the best gauge for it is a game that has a very similar premise: Alpha Protocol from Obsidian Entertainment, which sold less than a million copies across the three platforms for which it was released. In itself, that is an argument for the game to receive a death knell from the publisher the chances of it recouping its costs is low. But there are mitigating factors at work here.
“How closely would it have resembled Alpha Protocol?”
The first is that, in spite of the game being delayed more than six months from its original date, it was still rushed, a common complaint brought up critics and mentioned in the past by members of Obsidian (though that should be taken with a grain of salt, considering the natural desire for such a source to improve their reputation). Another is that the name of Obsidian doesn’t inspire nearly the same confidence as Bioware. The team created two impressive games early on: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II and NeverWinter Nights 2, both of them sequels to Bioware offerings that built on established mechanics, but were received with less vigour than their predecessors. The downloadable content packs for the latter game were viewed even less favourably, setting the stage for a lukewarm reception for whatever followed. Being a new IP, published by an unconcerned third party (Sega), Alpha Protocol never got the advertising backing that a first party effort, like this Agent, would have enjoyed and so wasn’t really in the public consciousness.
These factors point to the extreme likelihood of gamers everywhere being more willing to throw their support behind this game. Thinking back, most user recollections of Alpha Protocol were generally positive, proving that the premise isn’t just some harebrained scheme to be different, but can actually work. It speaks volumes for the possibility of more people being prepared to give it a chance if it came from a more trustworthy studio. I know I’d be interest, but what about you? Based on the scarce facts and speculation offered above, would you have played Agent and what sort of success would you have expected from it? Or do you just think that any game by that title is without hope, considering the namesake by Rockstar North hasn’t been heard of in three and a half years?