The Matrix Online Updated Q&A - Combat

We grill producer William Westwater on how the combat system will work in The Matrix Online and how martial arts will combine with gunplay to convey the epic combat of the movies.

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If you've seen The Matrix, then you know that the combat system in the Matrix universe consists of a wild blend of fast-paced martial arts and lots of firepower. It certainly makes for an exhilarating experience as a viewer, but how do you translate that into an online role-playing game where potentially thousands of players will run around the virtual world of the Matrix? We caught up with William Westwater, the director of online development and producer of The Matrix Online, to ask him how the game's combat system will work.

In The Matrix Online, it's a safe bet that everyone will know a little kung fu.
In The Matrix Online, it's a safe bet that everyone will know a little kung fu.

GameSpot: From what we understand so far, combat consists of three major parts: hand-to-hand combat, weapon-based combat, and the use of special programs. First, let's discuss hand-to-hand battles. What can you tell us about the way hand-to-hand combat will work? Will beginner characters have only a limited selection of punches and kicks, and then gradually start using stronger techniques? The Matrix Online features animations that spotlight a number of different real-world martial arts. How do they come into play?

William Westwater: The Matrix Online blends role-playing, the Matrix, and cool martial arts animation. Watching the fight, you might think that the game is about twitch reactions and button combos, but really the fighting is less frantic and more tactical than that. You don't throw individual punches so much as tell your character to use tactical styles or to attempt special moves.

The tactic styles--power, speed, grab, and block--each have certain advantages and disadvantages. For example, speed does the most raw damage, but speed attacks become less effective against hardened opponents. Power, on the other hand, does less base damage, but the damage is constant, regardless of your opponent's toughness. If you are fighting a hacker--who generally has trained in coding and virus manipulation, not in improved toughness--your speed moves are perfect. Against a high-level soldier, you'd do better with power.

You'll also have a lot of special moves that your character learns through new abilities. These deal more damage, but also cost inner strength. The two systems feed on one another, as tactical styles can set up your special moves. For instance, speed tactics can dizzy your target, which allows you to chain more powerful special moves. As your character gains in level, your character's fighting improves so that you do more damage and have a greater chance of winning each round.

That's a quick intro to fighting. The system gets more complex as you level up, but hopefully it gives you a quick introduction. As for the animation, we worked with a martial-arts choreographer to develop the visuals and the moves. At launch, you'll see kung fu, karate, and aikido, as well as our own street-brawling style; once you move into the special moves though, we try to capture more of the wire-fu aspect of the films. Gravity is less of an issue, and we go a bit nuts.

GS: We know that handheld weapons, particularly firearms, will also play a role in The Matrix Online's combat system. Tell us about what we can expect from the weapons--will players have to carry large caches of ammo to keep their submachine guns blazing, or master specific skills to improve their accuracy? How will the difference between ranged combat and hand-to-hand combat stay balanced? Will creating a character who only uses firearms be a viable choice?

WW: Ammo!?! We don't need no stinking ammo. This is the Matrix; once you've got the gun you want, keep using it until it breaks down or you find a better one. As for viability, gun soldiers can specialize in free fire or close combat. Free-fire gunners stay out of hand-to-hand fights and try to pick off their enemies at a distance. Close-combat gunners combine cat-quick reflexes with martial arts tumbling to battle point blank against the most ruthless opponents.

GS: Players will also be able to use programs to attack their enemies. How will they work--will these programs function more or less like the magic spells we see in more-traditional fantasy-themed online games? What skills will be required to create, obtain, and use them? Will programs be treated as ancillary items to augment your primary abilities, or will players be able to specialize in them?

Don't believe that being stronger or faster has anything to do with muscles in The Matrix Online.
Don't believe that being stronger or faster has anything to do with muscles in The Matrix Online.

WW: As we saw in the movies, operators in the hovercraft can download programs directly into the Matrix. After the Smith incident (in The Matrix Revolutions), Zion developed more direct transmitters that allow operatives to access the hovercraft remotely. This led to experiments in more directed attacks on the simulation itself--viruses that target the stability and coherence of the Residual Self-Image (RSI), the manifestation of self and other within the system.

In other words, hackers do have the ability to attack their opponents at a distance by targeting them with a virus. Since abilities loadouts are not fixed, a hacker can choose to cross-specialize in both martial arts and in hacking, but a generalist won't have the same skill at hacking as a true specialist.

Combat hackers tend to play in support roles, although you certainly could solo. Tactically, the hacker does best to stay out of close combat and keep a good distance from enemies. Getting punched in the face has a way of introducing bugs into even the best developer's code.

Jack In, Jack Out

GS: Once you've won your battles, what then? Can players expect to regularly receive massive rewards of experience points and loot from each battle, or will these rewards be reserved mainly for running missions? What will players' primary incentives be for fighting battles--gaining experience, gaining loot, gaining standing with friendly factions? Will there ever be some point in the future when players will be able to fight each other?

Dance move or martial arts kick? You decide.
Dance move or martial arts kick? You decide.

WW: We wanted to provide multiple ways to level up in Matrix Online. Hunting exiles, running missions, gathering information, and crafting abilities. Even player-versus-player (PvP) gameplay. All of these are opportunities for character improvement. Your focus will depend on your interests. If you come for the story, you'll want to focus most on the missions and mission system. If you are more interested in the economy, data mining and crafting may be your thing. If you are more interested in PvP, you'll want to work on gathering together a faction in the hopes to see an end of the peace between humans and machines. We can show you the way; you must choose the path.

GS: Tell us about the longer-term consequences of combat in The Matrix Online. Will players actively change their standing with certain political factions like Zion, the machines, or the Merovingians by fighting certain enemies repeatedly?

WW: In The Matrix Online, as in life, if you beat someone up they will dislike you. If you beat up their brother, they probably dislike you. To advance the fortunes of the Merovingian, you'll have to work against Zion and the machines. You must choose your allegiance and weigh the benefits that each organization can bring to you as well as to humanity.

GS: How important will combat be to the completion of key quests and, in a larger sense, in the advancement of the game's overarching story? Will all major quests end in battles with a big, tough boss? And considering how the motion pictures culminated in a much grander conflict than just a bunch of punching and kicking, can we expect to see more from combat than just that? Perhaps a trip outside of the Matrix?

WW: Missions build as they do in the movies so that your enemies can grow more numerous, more difficult, and more treacherous. Each success or failure ties in to the larger struggle for dominance in the Matrix. While the Matrix itself is powerful and resilient, those within the Matrix are fragile. The future of the Matrix is in your hands.

GS: We know that The Matrix Online has an open-ended character development system based on skills, rather than on rigidly defined professions like "wizards" or "elf wizards." What can you tell us about how character development is shaping up at this time? How is a typically combat-heavy character developed at this stage in the game...with what skills, and in how many (or how few) levels can we start to see these skills really take effect? What are the differences between a combat-heavy and a non-combat-focused character at this point?

WW: Unlike traditional class systems, in The Matrix Online, you choose your abilities when you load into the Matrix. As your character improves, you gain additional memory capacity and can load more complex and more powerful abilities. Generally, these abilities build on one another so that new abilities rely on the code included in a previous ability. This dependency tree and your character's memory capacity are the only limitations that you face.

Since you can easily jack into and out of the Matrix, your flexibility is considerable. Of course, abilities aren't free. You must find, craft, or buy them--and you may want to invest in improving the individual ability codes. More codes equals more flexibility, and with hundreds of ability codes to collect, you'll have plenty to play with.

GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about the combat system or character development in The Matrix Online?

WW: Your mind makes it real.

GS: Thanks, William.

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