E3 07: The Agency Confessions

"The name's Gibson. Steve Gibson," I say in an even tone, the words rolling off my tongue with all the sincerity of a Hallmark card. "Nice to meet you. Shacknews.com. Oh yes, I'm the founder. It's quite the little operation I run, ha ha ha."

I can tell they're on to me. My cover isn't going to last much longer. The delicate fabric of the fake press badge tightens around my neck like a noose, a cool bead of sweat rolls down the side of my head, and I start to feel the fear. Do they know? Have they known? What kind of ambush could they have lain in anticipation of my deception? Maybe they need another business card.

"Here, take my business card. It says Steve Gibson on it. Right, of course it does--that's me! Ha ha ha."

Jesus, I have to get out of here. They told me security would be tight this year, but who knew they were renting out Homeland Security to run things? People, at the doors, asking my name. How much longer can I continue this grim charade?

The details of my mission cycle through my mind at a rapid clip. Infiltrate the Sony Online Entertainment compound. Report on any games you find there. Take no prisoners. My face frozen in a gaping smile, miming the unique visage of my assumed identity, I carefully sidle up alongside a Sony representative.

"Didn't I see you at that video game thing the other week, with all the game people? How the hell are you! Oh, is that potato salad? Excuse me!"

One swift karate chop renders the man unconscious. How could such a deadly assassin fall for the oldest trick in the book? Why would he be so distracted with my inane blabbering? And who would serve potato salad at a gaming conference, anyway? Probably poisoned, knowing these bastards.

As my professional focus narrows and the sounds of the conference begin to fade out, I notice a conspicuously outlined shape in the man's coat pocket. Fishing secret data tapes from the downed soldier, I begin to play back the footage on a display console, scanning for only the most important pieces of information.

A moonlit scene: Prague. Gas lights glow softly in the dense, atmospheric fog, gently lighting a pair of well-dressed spies. The duo creeps down a cobblestone street, which lays alongside a dark, foreboding river. Scurrying down an alley like rats to a restaurant, the two agents approach their mission objective. A short animation plays, indicating that the hunt is on. Soon after, enemy agents begin to fire from windows and leap down onto the streets in acrobatic tumbles, blasting away with reckless abandon. Remaining calm, the agent zooms in on an immobile forehead, snapping off a quick shot which is answered by a red puff and a plummeting ragdoll.

Unlike earlier reports to the contrary, it appears that The Agency is actually a fully-featured first and third-person shooter contained within an sprawling international MMO. Disguises and combat suits will affect players more than statistic points, and operatives will automatically build gadgets and cars for players, rather than forcing a laborious crafting system. Health bars and headshots are the name of the PVE game, with Counter-Strike styled PVP in the works.

An unassuming developer ambles by, and I pull him into a choke-hold before he can trigger the alarm. His eyes widen in shock as I turn my chiseled arm into a vice, properly constricting his voice before the interrogation to come. "If you want to live, tell me what your PVP plans are," I growl harshly into his ear, dragging him back into the shadows of a food cart.

The civvy spills everything. The idea is that The Agency's various gameplay components will be seamless enough to fit within a single world, although, under threat of violence, the whimpering rep says something about the team still experimenting with allowing out-of-instance combat. Will players go wild and shoot everyone they see, thus breaking the illusion of spies skulking through a stylized world? Or will they behave, and only hit their most hated of enemies?

As I contemplate this question I'm wrapping a tablecloth around my knocked-out prisoner. Of course, the moment that I duck out from underneath the bacon wraps, they're on me again--some seemingly innocent fellow in a suit approaches and extends a hand. "Hey Stevey, I grabbed an asset disc for you when I was over there, here you g--"

The sharp grinding reverberation of a hollow-point round boring its way through flesh and bone is the last sound he ever hears. Poor bastard. I bet he was print media, too.

Back on screen, the two agents are nearing the end of the alley. A scripted sequence is triggered, in which they both leap onto a merry-go-round and spray incoming mercenaries with a torrential sheet of lead. Quite the finishing move, and I note--to the developer's muffled agreement--that the game seems like a single-player cooperative game, a multiplayer shooter, and an MMO rolled into one. Now if they can just make that actually work, and without lag becoming a problematic factor.

Of course, lag is always a factor. It's only been a few minutes, but already I've lingered too long at the video console. Already I can see the crowd begin to close in. Already I am in danger once more. Unfolding out my official E3 map and coloring book, now greased slick with fresh blood, I pinpoint the coordinates of my next location--somewhere down the street, just out of walking distance. Darn.

Leaving a trail of bodies in my wake, I quietly begin moving toward the extraction point--inexorably drawn to another dark corner of the city, to carry out yet another video game preview, and assume yet another secret identity. Headquarters is calling now, and I flip open the phone long enough to hear my editor groan, "You grabbed an asset disc, right?"

Jogging, sprinting, driving for the exit past a bewildered hotel staff, I burst out into the sunlight. My eyes slowly adjust to the high dynamic ranges, only to be met by my operative Chris Remo--driving a Yaris.

Time to re-roll.