If you've seen any of the Matrix motion pictures, then you already know that the combat in the movies is some of the best ever filmed, whether it be the exciting gunfights or the highly stylized martial arts battles. This obviously puts expectations on the combat in The Matrix Online to be just as varied and exciting. The Matrix Online is the upcoming online role-playing game that will let you and thousands of other players explore and fight in a virtual Matrix. To understand just exactly how the combat system will work in the game, several key members of the development team from Monolith Productions answered our questions. We recently caught up with Toby Ragaini, lead game designer and online creative director, as well as game designers Bruce Harlick and Adam D. Bormann.
GameSpot: Could you give us an overview of the three major combat systems in The Matrix Online? How have they changed over time, and how will they relate to one another in-game? A rock-paper-scissors balance scheme, perhaps?
Monolith Productions: The three major systems are: close combat (or interlock), free fire, and hacker combat. Interlock is our system for having two or more opponents in a tightly coupled combat exchange with all of the great wire fu-style visuals of the Matrix films. Free fire is a mode where opponents can move around while only stopping to use abilities or to fire guns. Hacker combat occurs mostly outside of interlock, with some of the most powerful programs requiring only a few uninterrupted seconds to launch.
The easiest way to see their relationship is to look at each combat specialist to see where he or she can use special abilities. Soldiers who focus on martial arts, such as aikido or kung fu, have many interlock special abilities. But soldiers who focus on rifles or submachine guns have special abilities that work best in free fire. The trick is to figure out a way to attack someone when he or she is out of his or her element. The exciting thing about the ability system in the Matrix Online is that because you can specialize in a number of different things, you will be keeping your opponent guessing as to what your element really is. Imagine disarming a soldier in close combat only to discover that he is actually an aikido grand master!
Combat in The Matrix Online has been evolving throughout development. We started with the core gameplay of interlock, because that allowed us to do the exciting moves, with visually connecting hits, throws, counters, traps and everything that a player would expect to see in Matrix combat. Then we brought in free fire and hacker modes to bring more flexibility in targeting, area-effect attacks, spy sneak attacks, and other elements to balance the different ability sets.
GS: Tell us about the hand-to-hand martial arts fighting in the game and how it works, exactly. How much of it will depend on players' fast reflexes? How much of it will depend on strategy (such as choosing the appropriate attacks and counterattacks for each situation)? And how much will depend on luck or random chance? How well will hand-to-hand fighting stack up against other kinds of combat?
MP: During each round in interlock, you choose an action that you will perform during the next round. The basic options are the four tactics: speed, power, grab, and block. Speed attacks are quick strikes that do the most damage against unprotected targets. Power attacks are penetrating blows that can break through an opponent's defenses (such as a soldier's combat toughness). Grab moves are counterattacks that have a chance of disrupting any power-ups that may be affecting your opponent. Finally, block will let you regain inner strength (which is used to perform special maneuvers), and you'll also have a chance to shake off any ill effects that may be affecting your character.
Generally, the other options you have are to perform a special move, change fighting styles or weapons, or withdraw. A special move is a powerful attack that takes a certain amount of inner strength to perform, and it often requires your opponent to be in a specific state. Soldiers and hackers that use their special moves wisely will see opportunities to chain different moves together for maximum effect.
Every move, whether it's a tactic or a special move, generates a tactic score that is a combination of your abilities and a little bit of luck. Your opponent's tactic generates a score, too. The player with the higher score wins the exchange, and his or her move is performed.
GS: Tell us about the weapon-based fighting in the game? To what extent will the real-world properties of various weapons (ammo loadouts, firing modes, weight, and more) be modeled in the game? How will the range advantage of using a gun be balanced against players that specialize in hand-to-hand combat?
MP: In free fire, you just choose a target and select free fire or a special move to attack. Every weapon has a maximum range, which is based loosely on real-world constraints. Rifles have a longer range than submachine guns, which have a longer range than pistols. Also, things such as the bullet-spraying capabilities of a submachine gun can be used in free fire to hit a number of targets if they are standing in a group.
One of the ways that gunmen can effectively keep martial artists from tackling them and engaging them in interlock is by using the evade combat ability, which allows them to attempt to slip through their opponents' fingers to keep their distances.
As we discussed above, most people using guns will perform best in free fire mode. Guns can be used in interlock, but with penalties. The exception to this rule is handguns. A soldier using pistols in interlock will be able to hold his own against a martial artist. The martial artist has a chance to temporarily disarm the gunman, which may be the gunman's cue to cut and run, or it may be a chance to show off the kung fu ability the gunman just picked up off the marketplace.
I Know Kung-Fu
GS: Tell us about the hacker combat system. How will this set of skills function in combat? Will it be tied to specific crafted items, player skills, or timed player responses? How will it stack up against hand-to-hand and weapon-based enemies?
MP: There are many paths for hackers to specialize in. They can focus on attacking single targets or groups of targets; damage over time or direct damage; or just hindering their opponents enough to give their teammates an edge. Hackers have two major types of abilities: quick launch programs that they can use in or out of interlock and more-powerful programs that require more time and concentration, which can only be used outside of interlock.
Hackers have abilities, such as paralyzing or slowing attacks, that give them the potential to keep their distances from soldiers. Hackers specializing in the coder branch can also create simulacra, which are programs that will appear in the Matrix to fight at the hacker's side.
GS: How will players improve in each of the three types of combat? By purchasing different abilities, practicing different skills over time, gaining experience levels, or some combination of the above? Will characters that specialize in different styles of combat develop their skills in very different ways?
MP: The ability system in The Matrix Online is fluid and flexible. Players gain experience through a number of different avenues (missions, combat, crafting code, and more), which raise their character levels and open up their minds' storage capacities. This allows higher-level players to equip more and more abilities. Players use information (the currency of The Matrix Online) to buy and increase the effectiveness of abilities.
But it is up to the players to decide whether they want to broadly learn a little of everything or specialize down one or two paths. The great thing about The Matrix Online is that because everything is code, you can reequip your character each time you enter the Matrix. If you don't like the choices you've made, you can swap your abilities out and try a different approach.
GS: How do the different combat styles work when used by groups of players? Is there a definitive front-line-fighter/support-fighter dynamic? How does this change for players who are going it alone? Is there a specific combat style better suited for solo players?
MP: Fighters fill all of the appropriate roles in The Matrix Online. There are styles designed to be more defensive and less offensive (aikido, for example) and styles designed to be very damaging but have less of an ability to soak up damage (rifleman, for example).
Most of the combat styles are quite capable of handling solo action. As with any solo combat, the player must be careful to choose his or her fights and ranges of engagement. But with some thought (and some skill), all of the combat disciplines are quite dangerous against solo opponents.
GS: Will it be viable, or even possible, to try to create a character who is highly skilled in each of the three combat styles? Otherwise, how will players be able to use these three different types of combat styles to create highly distinctive characters? Or will there be very little difference between one martial artist and all others?
MP: Each of the martial arts has a distinct flavor to it, and that affects gameplay use. A character specializing in aikido is going to be better at occupying an opponent's attention and avoiding damage, while a character that practices karate is going to be better at dishing out damage but not quite as good at soaking it up. Players are going to make choices based on their preferred styles of play and grouping needs, and they'll load the appropriate fighting styles.
It will be possible to play a character skilled in more than one of the martial arts styles. However, the player will have to make some choices. Is he or she going to be the best at one particular style? In that case, the secondary style won't be quite as good. Or is he or she going to choose to be more of a generalist by spreading efforts between two styles? In that case, he or she is going to be pretty good at both of them, but not as good as a character who has specialized in one art over the other.
The art of choosing your abilities in The Matrix Online is all about choices. What you choose is going to determine how you need to play your character to be most effective. However, one of the strengths of The Matrix Online is that you aren't locked in by your choices. If you want to try something new, you can just acquire the proper ability code and check it out.
GS: We had been told, early on, that the plan for The Matrix Online was to keep nearly all skills as optional additions for each character so that players could swap different skills in and out of their character's repertoire to fill in any gaps in a group. That is, if the party's healer signs off for the day, someone else could swap in healer skill slots, and the group could continue. Is this still the case? And to what extent does this apply to combat skills?
MP: That's still the case. Provided that players have access to the proper ability codes, they can alter their characters' loadouts at any hard line. A player may choose to be a network attacker one session and then switch to be a kung fu grand master the next. The Matrix Online players have an incredible amount of flexibility in that regard.
This affects combat skills. A player can choose what type of combat role he or she wants to fill that day, and then he or she can load the appropriate abilities. Within each discipline, there are a number of optional abilities, so the player really gets a chance to customize his or her ability mix!
GS: Thank you, guys.