The Matrix Online Q&A - Crafting and Bullet Time

Lead designer Toby Ragaini answers some questions as to how combat and bullet time will work in The Matrix Online.

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Given the virtual nature of the Matrix in the Matrix motion pictures, it almost seems natural that someone is creating an online role-playing game that will allow thousands of players to explore a virtual Matrix of their own. In The Matrix Online, you'll take the role of a "red pill," a recently awakened human who is aware of the fact that the Matrix is an elaborate virtual hoax designed to keep humanity docile. You can choose to perform missions for the machines, the humans, or the Merovingian as your character interacts with thousands of other characters. Of course, combat will play a huge role in the game, and we caught up with lead designer Toby Ragaini to ask him how the famous action from the movies will translate to the game.

Like the movies, you can mix martial arts, melee combat, and gunplay to create a devastating combination.
Like the movies, you can mix martial arts, melee combat, and gunplay to create a devastating combination.

GameSpot: OK, we've had the chance to ask a lot of general questions about The Matrix Online so far, so can you tell us a bit about the combat mechanics in the game? We know martial arts, melee weapons, and firearms all play a role, but how does combat actually work? How do you do real-time martial arts in an online role-playing game, for example?

Toby Ragaini: When you enter close combat, a number of tactics become available for you to select. As you choose tactics, your character attempts to perform specific actions. For example, if you choose the speed tactic, you character will attempt to punch or kick in a series of rapid strikes. Your tactic is compared to your opponent's, and whoever's tactic score is higher is the one who successfully executes their move and potentially damages their target.

The strategy of combat comes into play when players attempt to perform special moves. Speed attacks have a chance of dazing the opponent. Some special moves will have "dazed" as a requirement. So there's a sort of combo system inherent in the mechanics. If you want to perform the triple front kick, you'll need to lead off with a few speed attacks in order to get your opponent dazed.

All of this happens in real time at a very fast pace. Players are constantly providing input and really managing the moment-to-moment action in a fight. If you miss your opportunity to provide input, you character will perform a substandard block move, which means your character is not fighting to their full potential.

GS: One of the hallmarks of the Matrix movies, of course, is the bullet-time feature, which allows characters to move at superhuman speeds to dodge fire. Is bullet time in the game, and how is it being incorporated?

TR: Yes, bullet time is part of The Matrix Online combat experience. Like the movies, bullet time kicks in during dramatic moments in a fight scene. Perhaps you are just about to land the killing blow on an opponent. Suddenly, the familiar slow-mo and dramatic camera angles of bullet time activate and you watch your character's knee slowly smash into your opponent's face with a sickening crunch. Just like the movies, bullet time is used as a visual signifier that something really cool just happened.

Just 'cause the other guy has a gun and you don't, doesn't mean that you're out of options.
Just 'cause the other guy has a gun and you don't, doesn't mean that you're out of options.

GS: Obviously, your character will gain experience levels the longer you play. What kind of benefits will that accrue? More hit points? Better skills? And how do you balance the game so that a high-level character doesn't overpower a beginning character?

TR: Like other role-playing games, The Matrix Online is level based. Your character completes objectives in the game and earns experience points for doing so. Besides higher health points, leveling increases your character's capacity for more abilities. Abilities allow players to perform the incredible actions you might remember from the movie. Everything from a specific Aikido throw to a hyperjump is possible.

Laurence Fishburne is Morpheus

GS: We understand that you'll have some Hollywood actors provide voices in the game. Anyone you can mention so far? Anyone associated with the original movies?

TR: Yes, actually we just recently announced that a number of actors have provided us with their incredible voice talent. We've been fortunate to be able to work with Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus), Monica Bellucci (Persephone), Mary Alice (The Oracle), Lambert Wilson (The Merovingian), Harold Perrineau Jr. (Link), Harry Lennix (Lock), Nona Gaye (Zee), Collin Chou (Seraph), and Tanveer Atwal (Sati).

Bullet time will let you dodge bullets just like Neo.
Bullet time will let you dodge bullets just like Neo.

GS: The Matrix Online takes place after the third and final Matrix movie, but are there any specific ties or references to the movies that go beyond the game taking place inside the virtual world of The Matrix?

TR: Yes, of course. Neo's actions at the end of The Matrix Revolutions have greatly affected the political landscape of the Matrix. As players explore the repercussions of the truce, they will be doing so alongside characters from the films. In addition to characters like Morpheus, The Oracle, and the Merovingian making appearances, you'll be able to find specific locations that you might remember from the movie. The agents' interrogation chamber, the government lobby, and the Hellclub all exist in The Matrix Online and are available for players to discover and explore.

GS: You'll be able to "code" new items by taking bits of existing code that you discover in the game and modifying it into something new. In essence, you can craft weapons, clothing, and equipment. But can you explain how exactly that will work? What kind of skills will your character need? What are the potential things that you can create? And can you trade/sell those items once you've built them?

TR: To write code, players will need to get access to the proper abilities, equipment, code structures, and code fragments. If you don't have the code structure for an item you are attempting to build, you can try to decompile a copy of the item and extract the structure that way. If you are successful, you will have learned how to craft the code for that item.

Once you have learned the code structure, you combine the specified code fragments using a special code-writing panel. If your ability check succeeds, you are able to generate the code.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Matrix game without plenty of martial arts.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Matrix game without plenty of martial arts.

Once you've compiled the code into an item, you can sell it on the marketplace or give it to your friend. It's completely up to you.

GS: Where's the game at currently, and what are your plans between now and the game's release? It's still due out early next year, correct?

TR: Yes, we're on target for our January 18 release date. Of course we will be working very hard until then, but we don't get to sit back and relax once we launch. We are committed to a steady release of episodic updates that both add content to the game and move the storyline forward.

GS: Have you experienced any memorable moments so far in the game?

TR: There have been many, but one that sticks out in my mind is the first time I actually had bullet time happen to me in the game. I was on a mission to get some medical supplies to a potential red pill, but a rogue program jumped me en route to the drop zone. I really wanted to finish this mission, but I just couldn't bring myself to run away. We were both low on health, and it came down to a single attack. My special move executed and bullet time kicked in. It was incredibly satisfying. In slow-mo, my character leapt into the air, spun around behind my opponent, and leveled his shotgun at the opponent's head just as real time turned back on. Bang. Cool stuff.

Your destiny is up to you, red pill.
Your destiny is up to you, red pill.

GS: Finally, anything you'd like to add?

TR: I'd just like to thank all of our dedicated and hard-working beta testers. These guys are doing such a good job helping us get the game ready for prime time. In a very real way, The Matrix Online is a better game because of their efforts. Thanks guys. The entire dev team appreciated your efforts.

GS: Thank you, Toby.

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