Being the world’s most celebrated secret agent is not as easy as it looks. Sure, you get to drive gravity-defiant cars and become acquainted with exotic, beautiful women, but you also have to use those cars to outmaneuver thugs trying to kill you—which is something those femmes fatales inevitably take a stab at as well. Luckily, there’s a new way to experience the life of James Bond vicariously, although it focuses a lot more on outmaneuvering than it does on gallivanting.
The British Intelligence Officers Exam is a text-based online simulator tied into the upcoming James Bond film, Skyfall. Created by Wieden + Kennedy Portland for Sony, the new game asks users to interact with MI6 agents working in the field in order to complete various missions using a host of Sony gadgets. (Sony is basically your own personal Q Branch in the game.) Fans be warned, however, the analytical gameplay here is a little more realistic than your average Bond title.
Even obtaining access to the game feels like a crash course in spy-style. Here at Fast Company HQ, we received a slim package with an audio recorder and a photograph of a bird—a note on the back making an obscure reference to an old 007 movie. A sound file on the recorder had an IP address coded into it, leading to a website. At this point, we were basically waiting for Morpheus to pop out and guide us out of the Matrix, but alas the website merely asked for an audio signature. Hitting the play button on the recorder set off a birdcall which granted us access.
Although there have been nearly as many iterations of James Bond games as there have been movies, this latest one distinguishes itself by hearkening back to the old-school text-based games of the 1980s, such as Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego? Although those games may have fallen by the wayside since graphics have improved exponentially, the advances in artificial intelligence since Carmen’s time render the new game similar to playing with Siri.
"The mission was to make a game that anyone could play around the world on any device. So we quickly took it to this text-based place because it’s such a simple interface that anyone could do it," says Matt O’Rourke, a creative director at Wieden + Kennedy. "We got to take this old mode of gameplay and apply a lot of new technology to it and make something unique."
The game is ostensibly a test to see how well users can handle the five most important skills required for acceptance into MI6. Therefore it’s broken into five sections. In each one, players are asked to guide an agent through various dicey situations in the field. There are a variety of possible outcomes, from not-passing to Excellent. In order to succeed, though, you need to find the best possible solve. It’s a very difficult game that throws down the gauntlet to code-crackers.
The branding element is built right into the difficulty, however. In order to figure out how to get an agent out of a tunnel she’s trapped in, users will have to work with the standard exploding watch (naturally), but also a VAIO laptop and an Xperia phone. Almost always, on each level, there are multiple ways to make the devices work together in order to save the day. It’s crucial to think like a tech-savvy spy, though.
The best way to get through the game is to get the agent to start talking by asking questions. The more questions you ask, the clearer the solutions become. Over time if you can’t seem to figure it out, though, the agent starts dropping more overt hints. However, these hints will only guide users to the least successful solve. They’ll help defuse the situation, but they’ll never give you the best solution possible—the kind that a true-blue MI6 agent might figure out.
"We wanted to build a game that really works well with people who are really into games like this and solving crazy codes and stuff, but we also wanted something that the average consumer could sit down and have an enjoyable experience with," says O’Rourke. "When a game solves everything for you, that can be just as frustrating as if it’s too difficult."
In order to test the difficulty and playability of the game, W+K sent the same package they sent Fast Company out to several members of the core Bond community around the world to have them test their mettle. This is how they determined that the Easter eggs planted throughout the game are possible to find, if an aspiring agent is persistent enough. Although the elaborate nature of these hidden challenges was spawned from actual Cold War spy tactics, advance players have figured most of them out already.