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Revealing Agent, BioWare's spy RPG that didn't survive the recession

"The concept was to do the other half of GoldenEye..."

I didn't know BioWare had a James Bond-like spy RPG on the cards back around the time Dragon Age: Origins was released (2009).

Trent Oster told me that, he who helped found the studio before leaving briefly, then returning to work on Baldur's Gate 1, Neverwinter Nights and the Dragon Age engine.

One of the last things it looks like Oster did before he left "EA Edmonton" in 2009 - BioWare to you and me - was start "a new and exciting project that failed to survive the recession".

So I asked him what it was.

"It had a working title of Agent," he told me, name ringing a bell - Rockstar announced a PS3-exclusive game called Agent in 2009 but it didn't, and probably will never, materialise.

"The concept was to do the other half of GoldenEye," Oster explained. "The idea being that James Bond isn't just a gun that walks around the world and shoots people. He's a suave manipulator, he's a talented martial artist, he's a secret agent. We wanted to cross that 007 with Jason Bourne, where he's been modified in some way; you're not sure what, but he's definitely deadly.

"We really wanted to push the acting side, the digital acting. We really wanted to be very high drama, very intense scenes. I always think of the scene in the second Bourne movie where Jason Bourne's choking the guy out with a book and he's right in his face and it's this very intense moment. That was one of the key things we wanted to carry off."

Pretty sure this fight scene is the one with the book.

But, alas, it was never to be.

"Fundamentally EA didn't believe in the concept," Oster told me, "and if the company's not behind it, it doesn't matter how hard you struggle you just can't make it happen."

The Jason Bourne films (along with Casino Royale which they heavily inspired) really lit up the spy genre. Not only were there official video games and spy MMOs like The Agency (which never saw the light of day), but a separate bunch of role-playing veterans housed at Obsidian Entertainment tried a spy RPG all of their own: Alpha Protocol (2010).

Oster went off to make his own studio called Overhaul Games with a handful of fellow BioWare alumni. They're all working together now on Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition, and there's much more to say about that in another article tomorrow.

It doesn't sound like Oster's particularly keen to go back to the BioWare way of life, either.

"I dunno," he said. "I look at the triple-A space and I liken it to a knife fight in a back alley: there's no way to come out without some serious wounds.

"The bets are so big now; it's $30 million, $40 million to make a triple-A console title. You've got to license the engine, you've got to have a 100-man team, you've got to work for three to four years to make it happen.

"What I love about making games is the craftsmanship," he told me. "I love the idea that you get in there and you touch it with your hands and when it's done I can show you the marks I left on that game. I can point at that UI and say, 'That is the UI that drove me bat-s*** mental for three days because I couldn't figure out where the hell to put everything because there's 50 damn buttons that have to go on that screen!'"

Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition is out now on PC and will be out soon, fingers crossed, on iPad, then Mac and then Android tablets. Again, more on all that tomorrow.

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