The Average Gamer

Global Agenda Exclusive with HiRez CEO Todd Harris

For the past week I’ve been absorbed in a non-traditional of MMO; Global Agenda. Rather than being your traditional click-to-target skill rotation game, Global Agenda is a third-person shooter along the lines of Team Fortress 2. Fans of TF2 will recognise the beam-healing medic and the engineer-type class with his sentry guns and healing turrets. Far from being a clone, Hi-Rez takes their robotics experts a step farther with deployable force fields and roaming droids to defend hallways and key zones. Medics can specialise into poison-dealers or healing specialists and hurl grenades for AoE. Recons can combine stealth with powerful melee attacks or use long-distance ranged weapons and Assaults are your death-dealing tank with miniguns and the magma lance.

Global Agenda was launched in February so is still in early days for an online game. The initial releases focused heavily on the PvP and PvE aspects, rather than the “Massively” part of Massively Multiplayer Online, so rather than going for hardcore MMO-ers, most game types are instanced and built for small teams. There is a persistent shared PvE area called the Sonoran Desert, but in practice it tends to be… well, deserted. Right now it feels very much a newbie area to get people used to the game mechanics.

Wizzay is shamed.

We’ve scored an exclusive interview with the Global Agenda CEO, Todd Harris. One of the greatest things I’ve noticed about Hi Rez is that Harris and others from the company are frequent commenters in the official forums. As Global Agenda is a free-to-play game along the lines of the Guild Wars funding model, it’s great to see that they’re quick to respond to player concerns and really pay attention to their community. Only this week I received a survey asking what sort of new content I’d prefer in upcoming expansions – excellent way to ensure that the less vocal players are heard, too.

Bit of context: PvP is split into a bunch of game modes; Mercenery is primarily pick-up groups (PUGs) and covers the Global Agenda take on traditional FPS team modes like battling for control points. Periodically the main base Dome City will come under attack and level 30+ players will be rallied against the invaders; these are Raids. There’s also a long-term Agency vs Agency mode or season where Agencies (clans/guilds) fight for control over persistent territory. Different AvA zones become available for attack at set times, so clans don’t need people on defense 24×7. It is supposed to be a game, after all ;) Read on for the interview:

So, Global Agenda went through a pretty significant change with Sandstorm. What genre do you see it as now?

Harris: We’ve always seen Global Agenda as a Shooter MMO. We started with the Shooter side of things – making sure the instant to instant combat experience was intense, fun, and well-balanced. With Sandstorm we enhanced the MMO side – delivering more PvE content, gear variation, crafting enhancements, and a quest-driven experience within the larger Sonoran Desert zone.

The Sonoran Desert. Beautiful but lonely.

Yup, the Sonoran Desert is a great introduction to the PvE game for newbies and traditional MMO-ers. Must admit though, I seem to have finished all the quests already and for an MMO, it’s rather… well… deserted. You’ve built this beautiful arena but once we’ve been through the plotline, it’s a very lonely place. Can you give us any hints on the future of the Sonoran Desert?

Harris: As you say, the Sonoran Desert was really intended to be an introduction to the Global Agenda universe and our combat mechanics. It should feel familiar to traditional MMO-ers but it does have limited replayability. Fortunately all the programming work we did to implement that first zone can be leveraged to create future zones. So in the future we will introduce new questing areas that are also designed for greater replayability.

Congratulations on developing a rep as a studio who listens and responds to their fanbase. I hear that there have been lots of changes for the better since the launch, like the 10-man defense raids. What’s coming to keep players entertained while they’re queueing for PvP? (and when are you bringing in a raid timer so people will stop asking in the City channel? ;)

Harris: But City channel chat is just SO entertaining! :) We really do try to listen to the GA community. Based on popular request we’re bringing in a Raid Timer in our very next patch – the 1.37 version that should hit Public Test Servers this week [Editors note: 1.37 was released to the test servers last Friday]. We’ll have timers for Arena and SpecialOps-Double Agent as well. If you haven’t tried DoubleAgent you really should. It is a PvE mission but with two players acting as ‘spoilers’ and playing alongside the Commonwealth enemy NPCs trying to stop your team. We’re introducing our first craftable prestige pet in this upcoming free patch as well so we’re continuing to add elements to keep things interesting in Dome City.

In every MMO I’ve played where medics have a choice between healing and damage dealing specs, those who choose offensive builds are almost universally reviled by the other classes. Does the team balance algorithm take into account the skills chosen by individual players?

Harris: Our matchmaking and balance algorithm accounts for character class, character level, and actual player skill. But at the current time it does not discriminate against damage dealing medics.

Given the pressure from other players on the forums to keep medics away from the poison spec tree, do you have any ideas on making the poison medic build more accepted by the community?

Jetpacks to the rescue! (also see typical City chat ;)

Harris: Pre-made teams in our Agency vs. Agency territory game really do continue to value poison medics. But, as you mention, it can be a frustration point if you are in the matchmade Mercenary mode and end up with only Medics that refuse to heal. The most immediate thing we are doing in the 1.37 patch is to introduce the concept of Profiles. Profiles allow you to quickly switch character specs including your skill-tree and equipment load-out You can’t switch your class but you can’t switch the spec and weapons within your class. That will give all players more flexibility in switching builds to best help their team in PUG situations. And, hopefully a few poison medics will choose to switch to a healing profile when they see it would help their team. (hint, hint!)

The game economy seems rather one-way with crafters hoovering up cash and little to spend it on. Got anything you can share about the future of the economy?

Harris: Yes. Again, in the 1.37 patch we’re introducing quite a few new items for players to spend their valuable tokens and in-game credits on. Those prestige pets I mentioned will initially be only for the well-to-do. Also, our Agency vs. Agency end-game requires quite a bit of cash to compete at the highest level – to bid on key territories, to gear up your best agents, and to acquire the best technology – and each season we are seeing additional players join the AvA end game.

I know the HiRez team have made lots of changes to the Unreal 3 engine so community maps are a no-go. Custom HUD mods are very popular, particularly among elite MMO gamers. Would you consider opening up the UI and/or HUD design to the community?

Harris: Maybe far down the line but no current plans for that.

WTF is a medic doing out there? Running backwards very quickly!

Tell me more about achievements. They pop up now and then but the game gives no hints as to what they actually are, or how we got them.

Harris: We track a bunch of statistics behind the scenes but do not yet make them all visible to the player. In the upcoming 1.37 patch we’ve retired some of the older achievement pop-ups and replaced them with a new set of stat-based achievements. A new UI screen now displays the achievement criteria and the achievements will grant you different badges as well as some new head flair items for the most challenging new achievements.

Finally, I’ve been playing for a week solid and it’s a great game – refreshing change from your typical click-to-target MMO and I love the in-game Agency recruitment feature. Tell me what YOU think makes Global Agenda special.

Harris: Thanks! I’ll agree with you that it is really the fast-paced, player skill-based combat that makes leveling fun vs. click-to-target that can often feel like a repetitive grind. The second big element would be the jetpack. I really love the freedom of movement that adds to the combat. It is 2010 and some MMOs don’t even let you jump… Global Agenda allows you to fly!

Todd can generally be found on the Global Agenda forums as HiRezTodd

If you prefer your games tangible, you can preorder the boxed version of Global Agenda which should be posted out for the 10th September release date, or you can get it online from HiRez or through Steam.

Check out this incredible community-made video that shows all the classes in action

More detailed intro videos are over at the official Global Agenda site.