The story of Agent, a cancelled spy Thriller from Rockstar – InformTFB

The story of Agent, a cancelled spy Thriller from Rockstar

The story of Agent, a cancelled spy Thriller from Rockstar

Last year, I read a couple of interesting articles about the canceled Agent-a possible Rockstar hit. The first story, based on anonymous interviews, turned out to be rather “depressing”. Something like this: “We were like a family, and we drank tequila with our bosses on Fridays. But after buying the Rockstar Studio — they “plowed” late 7 days a week. Feel sorry for us, it’s so hard in game development… ” but an interview with the head of development Luis Gigliotti and artist Joe Sanabria is much more interesting.

I did not translate the materials, but simply retell the most important things so that you will have a General impression and “feel” another story. I’ll mention the team’s adventures in Cairo separately — you can skip straight to this Chapter if the text seems boring. At the end of the article there will be links to original publications — for those who need details in the spirit of “Scandals, intrigues, investigations”.

Let’s start, perhaps

In 2009, at E3, Agent was announced — an exclusive PS3 from the Rockstar North division. Having warmed up the audience, the “Agent” practically disappeared from the infol. Not counting the confirmation of development in 2010 and 2011 from Take-Two. Fans have been waiting for an open-world spy Thriller to be announced at every E3, but neither Rockstar nor Take-Two has been throwing up any news. Instead, the developer and publisher focused on supporting existing franchises, releasing a new GTA in 2013 and a sequel to the Red Dead series in 2018.

Finally, on November 19, 2018, Take-Two dropped the Agent trademark. The company did not comment on the decision in any way, and this date can be stuffed on the tombstones of a promising project.

Interestingly, Agent was originally developed by another internal Rockstar Studio, San Diego, with an eye on the PS2-Xbox generation. As a result, the developments got into Red Dead Redemption, and some missions migrated to GTA 5.

In a conversation with eight former employees who requested anonymity, the Polygon editorial team found out a lot of details about the canceled game. Rockstar declined to comment on the article.

Let’s go back to the past

Once upon a time, the talented Studio Angel Studios developed games in collaboration with Nintendo (a port of Resident Evil 2 for the N64) and Microsoft (Midtown Madness 1, 2). Impressed by Midtown Madness, Rockstar Games entered into a long-term partnership with Angel. Which resulted in the Midnight Club and Smuggler’s Run series. In November 2002, the Studio was acquired by Take-Two, making it part of Rockstar Games under the name Rockstar San Diego.

Thanks to San Diego, the “Rock stars” have a successful red Dead series-the first game was Red Dead Revolver. It was originally developed at Angel Studios for Capcom. And their engine — Angel Game Engine-turned into RAGE-the basis for subsequent Rockstar projects.

Agent from Rockstar San Diego was planned as an open-world spy game in the spirit of the British TV series of the 70s “Professionals”and the classic bond. The player was entrusted with a variety of weapons and gadgets, such as a briefcase that transformed into a kart or a drone with a camera that was used for “photo hunting”.

With the advent of Kickstarter, no one is surprised by a self-propelled suitcase

Rockstar commissioned the new studio to create a demo or prototype of the future game, and Luis Gigliotti led the project. The management was thrilled with the demo! The prototype “clung” to the cinematography, than other Rockstar games of that time could not boast. In the demo, there was a level where the player is chased by a helicopter, blowing up the surrounding buildings (Uncharted 2 is immediately remembered), the doors were blown to splinters after the explosion, and at the end hang gliders landed on the roof of the White House.

As one former employee put it: “The Agent demo was a polished and full-fledged level with a story mission. This is much more than you would expect from a prototype…»

The demo made an impression on the Hauser brothers (co-founders of Rockstar) and the project was given the “green light”.

Initially, at least three locations were planned. But in the end, the scale was reduced to two: Washington, where the player is thrown into the open world, and a more linear level in Cairo. To make everything look authentic, the team visited both cities, taking a lot of pictures.

However, the developers were detained by the police both in Washington and in Cairo for the shooting. In the US capital, the situation was quickly resolved, and Cairo became a difficult test.

Adventures in Cairo

Here begins another story, based on interviews with project manager Luis Gigliotti and artist Joe Sanabria.

Санабриа (слева) известен работой над Fallout: New Vegas, а Джильотти — как разработчик The Neverhood.
Sanabria (left) is known for his work on Fallout: New Vegas, and Gigliotti is known as the developer of The Neverhood.
In the early noughties, while working on the spy game Agent, the Rockstar San Diego development team went to Cairo, Egypt. The goal is a study tour and photographing the area to create a virtual city. Two weeks later, they were falsely charged and threatened with jail time.

As a result, Gigliotti had to do something beyond the typical duties of a manager: contact the US Embassy in Cairo. He needed help. A small group of artists — his colleagues-were kept under house arrest in Cairo. In addition, the Egyptian authorities were going to charge the Americans with false charges of filming pornography — a serious crime in the country.

The action-packed adventure begins in the office of Rockstar San Diego, which is located in California.

Studying the Egyptian capital “remotely”, the team faced a serious problem: they could not find usable images of Cairo. Even the satellite images of the city were not publicly available. As a result, they decided to go the other way: if the images are not available on the Internet, then they will go to Cairo and shoot the city themselves. “Then we used a different modeling technology: we shot the building with a digital camera, using this photo as a texture,” explains Gigliotti.

In addition, a trip to Cairo could save developers time. As Sanabria says: “Of course, a trip to Cairo costs a lot of money, but the time saved on development will justify these costs.”

Joe planned the trip: he studied the places that were to be photographed, thought out what equipment would be needed there. He was joined by art director Charles Morrow along with artists Darrell Gallagher and William Kidwell. The plan was that they would fly to Cairo for two weeks, exploring and photographing the city, and then return home and create a virtual replica. For easy travel, they will hire drivers who will also become translators and share information about the city. And what could have gone wrong?

“Well, it turns out there are reasons why you can’t get satellite images of Cairo,” Gigliotti laughs.

Sanabria says he was aware of the legal problems of filming in and around Cairo. There were many stories about the arrest of photographers and the confiscation of equipment. The lucky ones were justified by the fact that they unknowingly removed government buildings or officials. And yet the team decided to take a chance…

“I was warned about the pitfalls of shooting in Cairo,” says Joe. — But I decided that we just won’t take down government buildings, and everything will go like clockwork…»

On the banks of the Nile

Once in the capital, about a half-hour drive from the pyramids of Giza, the team checked into the InterContinental Hotel on the banks of the Nile River that flows through the city. The team was small, and they rented a couple of vans to split into two groups if necessary. Thus hoping to cover a large area. Together with the drivers, the developers traveled around Cairo, getting acquainted with various districts, streets, buildings and architecture, making more than 12,000 frames along the way. Over dinner, they watched the footage, figuring out where to go in the morning.

«Начинали с раннего утра, — вспоминает Санабриа. — Поделили команду на пешие группы по два человека. У каждого по камере: один снимает левую сторону улицы, а другой — правую».

Техника съёмки окружения для моделирования из архивов Джо. Каир, Египет
Техника съёмки окружения для моделирования из архивов Джо. Каир, Египет

“On the one hand, it was great to fly to Egypt to explore one of the oldest cities in the world at Rockstar’s expense,” Joe continues. — I even visited the tomb and took pictures of ancient hieroglyphs! Tourists pay thousands of dollars for such an experience. And we have this piece of work!” The artist talks about Smoking a hookah with guides and riding a camel through the desert night.

A picture of Joe on a night camel ride. The digital camera is not suitable for night shooting, so the photo is blurry.
A picture of Joe on a night camel ride. The digital camera is not suitable for night shooting, so the photo is blurry.

“On the other hand, here we personally encountered what we were warned about,” Sanabria complains. In Egypt, it is still prohibited to photograph some buildings, as well as people and vehicles. According to the law: “filming military installations in or near them is strictly prohibited.” You can also not “take photos of people without their consent”. There have been cases when journalists and tourists were jailed for filming in Egypt. According to Joe, they were stopped and interrogated several times by law enforcement officers. And they met at every major intersection.

The law is the law

“One day we were filming near the main street, and suddenly the police showed up. They started shouting, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying, ” says Joe. “The interpreter said that the officers were demanding a tape and ordering us to leave immediately. Even then, we switched to digital cameras, so I didn’t know what to say. I showed them the camera, saying: “This is a figure, there are no films!”Then I defiantly deleted files.”

This is what the Egyptian law enforcement officer looks like
This is what the Egyptian law enforcement officer looks like

A more serious “run – in” with the police occurred with another team member. “The second group also photographed the city,” Sanabria and Gigliotti recall. “A policeman noticed them and stopped them to question them through an interpreter guide. When our developer made a comment, the officer pulled out a gun, apparently thinking that he was being rude.”

It only got worse. “The police took the guide’s ID card, telling him,’ Now we’ll know who to look for if something happens in the city… ‘” Joe continues.

New acquaintances

The developers stayed in Cairo for almost two weeks, spending 12 to 16 hours a day with guides. New friends and even helped them to withdraw in secret, to avoid suspicion from the police. “We asked the guide to stay ahead of us and give a signal if the patrol noticed us,” Sanabria shares her tricks. It was after talking with the guides that the developers finally realized where they really got to…

“My Egyptian friends told me about how the local police work,” Joe continues. ” Officers often catch someone in the middle of the night and interrogate them. They are not interested in the person himself — they need information. They mostly interrogate taxi drivers because they can remember conversations in the backseat. And this is a common practice for the local police…»

A few days later, that’s exactly what happened. “The officers grabbed our driver in the middle of the night to ask about us,” Joe recalls. “Shortly after the interrogation, we were forbidden to leave our hotel rooms.”

It should be noted that the team from Rockstar San Diego went on the trip almost a decade before the 2011-2013 Revolution in Egypt. It began with a two-week protest, during which millions of people marched. Among other things, the people opposed the increased brutality of the police and then-President Hosni Mubarak. Speaking about his time in Cairo, Joe compares the city to Cuba. I attach an article from Wikipedia, if you want to know more details.

Fly to another country and hang out in a hotel room

“I remember thinking: “Here we are,” Gigliotti, who was in California at the time, says with annoyance. He didn’t know what to do, so he called the us Embassy in Cairo. And they were stunned to hear what the team was doing.

“The Embassy official asked,’ So they’re taking pictures of the neighborhood?I confirmed it, and he said “ ” Well, you guys got it…”»

According to Sanabria, after being stuck in the hotel, they finally found out how to approach filming. This required the escort of an armed guard and the relevant documents. Now the developers are banned from leaving the InterContinental, where they will stay the remaining few days of travel.

Photographing government buildings is prohibited by law, but walking around Cairo and taking pictures of its attractions is allowed. Tourism is an integral part of Egypt’s economy, and people don’t go to jail for filming the pyramids. But tourist centers are only a small part of the city, although these expanses are enough for foreigners.

They fly to Egypt for this
They fly to Egypt for this

Developers from Rockstar San Diego have gone far beyond tourist destinations. They naively photographed everything around them. Terrorist attacks on foreigners have been a problem in Egypt for decades. Therefore, it is logical that the Americans walking around the inconspicuous areas of Cairo caused not surprise, but questions.

The interrogation

Darrell Gallagher had to fly home a couple of days earlier than the rest of the team. While waiting for departure at the airport terminal, he was seized by security and taken to an interrogation room. “They delayed the plane by telling him,’ we’ve been informed that you and your friends are filming pornography here, ‘” Joe recalls Darrell saying. — We need all the photos and your laptop.”

Of course, this is not why the team visited Cairo (possession and distribution of pornography is illegal in Egypt). It is obvious that the accusation was false. “We had taken about 12,000 photos so far,” says Sanabria. — Even because of one photo, let’s say something illegal accidentally got into the frame, we were threatened with prison!»

Colleagues across the ocean had no idea how to get their friends out of trouble. Gigliotti called the us Embassy in Cairo, where he was told the hard truth. The Embassy can’t help them. If tourists break the law, even if they don’t know it, they will be held accountable to the fullest extent…

Finally, Gigliotti was put through to the Embassy’s head of security. He asked the programmer, “‘first, explain what’s going on and why they’re here, ‘” Louis recounts the conversation. — Nothing illegal… We just make games. You need these images to create textures for your future project! The civil servant replied “ ” I’m sorry, but if your guys are arrested, it’s not easy for them to get out of it. The Egyptian authorities confiscate the photos, and they may even fabricate charges of pornography. Just one dirty picture in your laptop is enough to put you in danger of the death penalty.” At this point, I was completely desperate…»

Dirty pictures

As Sanabria recalls, the last few days were the most intense. So that the trip would not be in vain, he recorded the photos on DVD, deleting everything questionable, and sent them by parcel via FedEx to the California Studio. There were only photos of pyramids, museums and other tourist attractions. Then the team had to get to the airport, go through customs, and return home by plane.

“I didn’t get much sleep in the last few days before the flight,” Joe recalls. — I’ve never felt so stressed…»

Before sending it, another problem occurred — the contents of morrow’s laptop. More precisely, the information on his father’s laptop computer, which Charles borrowed for the trip. “His father is a gynecologist,” explains Sanabria, ” so the laptop contained images of female reproductive organs.”

“These photos are needed as part of research,” Joe laughs. “Charles said “’ you Can’t delete the material, it’s my father’s job!”»


Early in the morning, after sleeping only a couple of hours, the team went to the airport. The plan was that as soon as the plane took off, Sanabria would call Gigliotti to make his colleagues happy. And Louis will inform the Embassy.

The team left the hotel, made it to the airport, and finally arrived at the terminal. According to Joe, they put on “stone” faces and tried to behave calmly. “The most stressful time was waiting in the terminal, because that’s when Darrell was captured,” says Sanabria.

To everyone’s relief, they boarded the plane, took their seats, and then took off! The team exhaled. Sanabria called Gigliotti. “I told him,’ there’s an eagle in the sky, ‘” Joe concludes.

“I’ll never forget that phone call,” Gigliotti says. — There were 45 people in the office — all on edge — and then the phone rings. I pick up the phone and hear one of my artists say “ ” We did it! We are now standing on the runway, and we will soon leave Egypt!“»

After a transfer in England, where the team celebrated their” escape ” with a hot drink, they finally returned to California. It is not known why the Egyptian authorities did not press charges. Gigliotti says that the Studio was planning a similar trip to St. Petersburg. But everything was canceled after the incident. “Let’s not go to Russia, so as not to step on the same rake!” — recalls his words Louis.

This is the end of the interview, and let’s go back to the story of the project, based on the anonymous stories of former employees.

The concept of the game

In Washington, there were problems with the police (after all, the capital of the United States), but not in comparison with the “Cairo adventures”.

After each trip, employees returned with photos that were used to create a virtual copy of the city. Combining their images and archival photos from the 70s, the team modeled an extensive location that was impressive in scale for that time. As a result, the capital of America became the only city that managed to recreate.

Washington at the height of the Cold war
Washington at the height of the Cold war

“The main architecture was completely modeled —” says the artist. “It was pretty accurate. It turned out to be Washington of the 70s period — a kind of”time capsule”.”

According to the idea, the capital of America served as a “hub” for the player, and the rest of the world’s cities were planned as linear missions, where we will go throughout the company.

Creating an ambitious open-world game has become a daunting task for Rockstar San Diego. The Studio had previously made small sandbox projects, such as the racing games Midtown Madness and Midnight Club, but it was necessary to interact with the Agent world.

“Game mechanics, like transport, did not exist yet —” says one of the designers. — Even hand-to-hand combat was only under development. We were working on the game’s engine, and new York was already asking when the story would be finished…” in addition, the Studio was working on Red Dead Revolver.

Evil doom

In the mid-noughties, three people associated with Rockstar San Diego died soon after: Mike Haynes, while at the company, and Carlos Hernandez and bill Purvis, after leaving the Studio.

Haynes, while on a motorcycle, was hit by a bus on the way to work. Rockstar dedicated Table Tennis, the 2006 game of the year, to his memory.

After a year of working on Agent, Luis Gigliotti left Rockstar to start a new Studio with THQ — Concrete Games. He was joined by 11 other colleagues who also worked on the Agent. It is rumored that Gigliotti’s team was influenced by the conditions of work at Rockstar (we are talking about “crunches”). Hernandez died unexpectedly at the office of Concrete Games.

Engine priority

To compensate for the departure of staff to Concrete, part of the team switched from Red Dead Revolver (released on may 4, 2004) to work on Agent.

Over the next year, the team focused on the game’s engine, improving the tools needed to create an open-world action movie. The updated Rockstar San Diego team worked on “Agent” for about another year.

The time spent developing the technology was taken away from the game itself. The release of the promising project Rockstar San Diego became less and less realistic. But the invented innovations did not go away. They were used in Red Dead Redemption.

“We decided to postpone the project and invest the developed technologies in the continuation of the Red Dead series,” says one of the former employees. — The engine we created can be used in any project. Perhaps the Red Dead Redemption theme is even more suitable for this.”

According to former developers, the transition from one game to another occurred “on the fly”. But many people were shocked by the news. They thought Agent would be Rockstar’s next big game. In the future, all the developments were also used in future parts of GTA.

Development of the Western began in 2005, and the release occurred in 2010. But here, too, there were some difficulties. Harsh working conditions have become the norm in Rockstar San Diego projects.

Scandals, intrigues, investigations

In 2006, Rockstar was sued for millions of dollars by Its employees. Garrett Flynn and Terry-Kim Chakri, on behalf of more than 100 current and former Rockstar San Diego employees, charged the company with unpaid overtime. It was about all the projects: starting with the collaboration, being Angel Studios, and after the acquisition.

The litigation lasted for more than two years, until Rockstar agreed to pay the amount sought in November 2008, although it denied all violations of working conditions. According to a published statement, ” the company considered the legal process lengthy and costly for all parties, so it agreed to pay the required amount.”

Into the hands of another Studio

Jack Tretton announced at E3 2009 that Agent is being developed by Rockstar North. However, the company often extends the development of its projects to several internal studios, and it is not known for certain to what extent the ” Agent “became the brainchild of the”North”.

One anonymous source reports that Rockstar Leeds was also working on a spy Thriller, taking over when Rockstar North switched to GTA 5.

Another source claims that the “Northern branch” transferred the work of colleagues from “San Diego” to the new engine, and supplemented it with its own ideas. “In their demo, the car turned into a submarine!” (which is in the spirit of classic bond), – shared by an anonymous user.

Even former developers say that the achievements of Rockstar North-specific locations and missions-were included in GTA 5.

Fake agent video is actually the gameplay of another cancelled PS3 exclusive-Eight Days

Completing the story

Take-Two updated the Agent trademark in December 2016, which allowed it to retain the rights to the name and logo for three and a half years. But, after two years, the company officially abandoned it on November 19, 2018.

It’s worth mentioning that the “Agent” page still exists on the Rockstar website. But do not get your hopes up — it says that “the project is being developed for PS3”.

It’s been 15 years since Rockstar San Diego started working on Agent, and almost a decade since the announcement at E3 from Studio North. For many years, the company has not publicly talked about the “Agent” (the third “Halva” is much more likely to be released). Many developments have migrated to the Red Dead and GTA series, but it’s still a pity that we didn’t see an open-world spy Thriller in the style of classic bond.

Web site editor and tester.

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