Get your sunglasses ready, because the virtual world of The Matrix movies will become the virtual role-playing world of The Matrix Online later this year. As is generally the case with online role-playing games, you and thousands of other players will have the chance to explore and battle in a huge world, only this time you won't explore a fantastical world full of elves and dwarves. Instead you'll explore the omnipresent cityscape of the Matrix. Traveling alone or in groups, you can take up missions for various factions in the game or follow your own path. The Matrix Online is set after the events of the movie trilogy, so it's a brave new virtual world to explore. To get details on some of the community aspects of the game, we caught up with producer William Westwater.
GameSpot: So how's the beta test shaping up right now?
William Westwater: The beta has been great for the game and for the community. We've not only gotten the chance to polish and improve the gameplay and stability, but also the community has become very active with sponsored dueling, scheduled raves, and faction pride. Fashion and music take a close second to the combat and missions, so we have to thank the community for running with that.
GS: The impression that we have of The Matrix is all about how one very powerful character (Neo) manages to change the virtual world. But that's not exactly conducive to an online RPG. So tell us a bit about how community works in the game.
WW: Neo is dead. Zion and the Machines have a tense peace. As a newly extracted recruit, you can choose to follow Zion or listen to the siren calls of the Machines and the Merovingian. The fate of the Matrix lies in your hands.
GS: Will you be able to join and leave parties throughout a play session, or will you associate yourself with a certain group on a more long-term basis? Are there going to be any kind of customization options for parties and groups?
WW: You can join or leave parties as you wish. The cinematics help bring you into the metastory, where Niobe, Morpheus, and the other characters from the film struggle over the meaning of Neo's sacrifice. Depending on your interpretation of what will get the most for you and for humanity, you can ally with one of three major organizations: Zion, the Machines, or Merovingian. From day to day, you can join with anyone to form a team for missions or for hunting Exiles, and you can even form smaller crews (up to 12) to keep together with your best friends.
GS: How important will it be to adventure in a group? How much room will there be for soloing on your own?
WW: The mission system dynamically scales for team size and level. You can solo your missions, although a group makes it easier. Exile hideouts are harder to solo; we're recommending that you group for those.
Soldiers, Coders, and Hackers
GS: Could you describe some group adventures that you can do? Are there instanced missions? Will they scale in accordance to the size of your group?
WW: The missions take place inside the world, within the city buildings of the Matrix. Group adventures include assassinations, infiltrations, and escort missions, often following a trail of clues or targets through multiple buildings within the city. Although most of the mission play is inside, you may face ambushes should your mission be compromised. The Matrix is a fluid place, and enemies are often closer than they appear.
GS: What are the roles that players will have in a group? Will everyone be a front-line fighter, or will there be support roles?
WW: In the Matrix, players fall into a number of roles, from soldiers to coders. Soldiers, the martial arts experts, create a front line to pin enemies down. Behind them, hackers and coders rely on viruses to damage their enemies, heal allies, or create entire simulacra, or virtual combatants, that fight as the player commands. Spies rely on sneaking and deception to attack from behind, swaying battles with their sudden and unexpected arrivals.
GS: What community tools will there be? For example, will it be easy for group leaders to communicate with their group members both online and offline?
WW: Factions, crews, and teams each have dedicated channels, and Matrix players can use AIM to instant-message from outside the Matrix.
GS: What are some of the things that you've learned so far in the beta? Have you had to adjust much?
WW: Cities are very complicated places, and people can get lost in them easily. Without navigation aids, finding missions and even teammates was very hard in early beta. Since then, we've added smarter mission waypoints, custom homing beacons, and points of interest to the map to help you get through the city. In many ways, it feels as if we've had to re-create an entire atlas program, which just goes to show that it is very realistic.
GS: Finally, are there any interesting stories to tell from the beta so far?
WW: My favorite story involves our game masters-versus-the community dueling. The GMs were very worried about playing fair. They made lots of rules about how they should behave in fights and were careful to make ability loadouts that seemed fair and balanced. They needed to give the players a chance, just so the event would be even. Sounds great, except for one small factor: the community. The players came no-holds-barred and tore the GMs to pieces. Final score: 49 to 0...or something close. Just goes to show: Never underestimate a hardcore player.
GS: Thanks, William.