We recently caught up with Toby Ragaini, Lead Designer of The Matrix Online. In this first of three interviews, he answers some general questions we posed to him about this highly anticipated MMORPG.
GamerGod: With the recent acclaim of The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher’s Bay for the Xbox, do you see Chronicles as setting a new standard, moving the industry away from producing awful games that depend on movie licenses?
T. Ragaini: Monolith has a long history of turning movie licenses into great games. Alien vs. Predator 2 and Tron 2.0 were well received by both gamers and fans of those movies. We are working very hard to ensure that MxO lives up to this record.
GamerGod: With the disappointments of Star Wars Galaxies, there’s a seed of worry going around the MMOG community that The Matrix Online might follow suit. With these mistakes learned, what steps is the MxO dev team taking to avoid them?
T. Ragaini: Movie properties evoke specific expectations and fans are disappointed when a game does not live up to those expectations. In the case of The Matrix, we identified what we thought were four key ‘themes’ that immediately come to mind when thinking about the Matrix films.
First, we needed to depict a huge, dense cityscape that created the feeling of intimidation that was captured so well in the movies.
Second, we needed our characters to be able to sport the kinds of bad-ass clothes and weapons similar to those used by the characters from the films. In addition, a certain amount of variety beyond the movie constumes is needed to support player expression.
Third, we absolutely needed to raise the bar on MMO combat visuals. The accepted notion of static “I swing, you swing” combat system would not be accepted by Matrix fans.
And finally, we agreed that simply recreating the environment from the movies would not be enough. In order to be relevant, we knew that fans would want to participate in an ongoing story that actually moved the saga of the Matrix forward.
In the end, only our audience will be able to judge whether or not we achieved these goals. But, based on our beta testers’ responses, I am very pleased and encouraged by the results of our work.
GamerGod: Are female gamers a demographic the Matrix Online is aiming for? If so, what are a few features that have been purposely taken into consideration to cater to the female demographic?
T. Ragaini: Anyone who likes the Matrix and has access to a PC is our demographic, and that includes a large number of female players.
As I mentioned earlier, the fashion of the Matrix is prominent in MxO. Character clothing and accessories are based directly off of the concept designs from the movies. With 8 different clothing slots and literally thousands of apparel options, the amount of character customization in MxO is striking.
Furthermore, like any MMO, social gaming is rewarded in MxO. Although you can succeed as a solo gamer, the Faction system will generate bonus experience for those who take the effort to participate.
GamerGod: In the last Matrix movie, the Wachowski brothers really emphasized programs in the Matrix and how they were each ‘entities’ able to decide to work for or against the Matrix and in the end actually do their job pushing “the one” towards the same end conclusion as always. Will Matrix missions leave such open-ended choices and still guide players towards an ending, or will they be much like other MMOs and remain a very straightforward, objective system?
T. Ragaini: Individual missions will of course have objectives, but just like the movies, each player must choose which Organization to support.
The aggregate behavior of many players completing missions will, in some cases, trigger certain events. So, in the end, it will be very much be like the movies. Individual player choices will eventually unveil a master plan.
GamerGod: In Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions we saw Trinity and Morpheus both confronting and holding their own versus agents. Will players be able to solo one or more agents? If so, how high up on the “food chain” must a player be to do so?
T. Ragaini: Trinity and Morpheus were able to hold their own for a few minutes at best. Players should not expect to make a habit of fighting Agents. If you kill one, they come back, sometimes with help. In the long run, you will lose … it’s just a matter of time.
Of course, I’m sure someone will prove me wrong. Neo wasn’t supposed to be able to do it either.
GamerGod: Are there any plans for expansions that include the “real world” with Zion and the Machine city?
T. Ragaini: No, there are not plans for ‘real world’ game-play at the moment, but it is something we will consider if expansion packs are warranted.
GamerGod: Thank you for your time today Toby. You’ve given us some wonderful insight into the world of The Matrix Online. It is looking fantastic thus far!
GamerGod: MxO is already known for setting a few new standards. One, which is still shocking when you think about it, is the fact that players can enter all buildings and doors and access every structure. Is this as real as it sounds? Will there be some buildings that are “locked” or inaccessible?
Toby: Yes, some areas within buildings are inaccessible, usually because another mission is currently taking place in that particular part of the building. However, the vast majority of buildings have open lobby areas, elevators, staircases and other common areas. It takes a lot of space to provide individual missions for thousands of players. Fortunately, we have a lot of space.
GamerGod: How large is the Matrix? Will there be many “zones” as seen in games like EverQuest, Anarchy Online and so on? Or will it tend towards a zone treatment more like Star Wars Galaxies, with many larger areas (whole planets) and only zoning between the planets (planets, in this case, being equivalent to areas of the Matrix)?
Toby: MxO is composed of four districts: The Slums, International District, The Barrens, and Downtown.
Each district is between 1 and 2 million square meters, providing a huge, seamless space that you can run across without getting a single load time. Only when you decide to enter another district (via hard-line or subway) will you have to pause for a load.
GamerGod: Using data for currency and crafting is ingenious. However, there’s one issue with it: the fact that you can copy data an infinite amount of times, until you run out of storage space. Staying true to that fact, you can’t keep any semblance of an economy if all items, made of data, can be copied infinitely. How did you get around this problem?
Toby: The short answer is that players cannot copy information. The justification for this is a bit more complicated.
Information is not valuable if it is public knowledge. If everyone knows what my last name is, then its not valuable information.
In MxO, information represents specific secrets of the Matrix’s underlying code. If these are copied, then they are useless since only one person can take advantage of these secrets before the Machines change the code again. So, copying information would make it useless.
GamerGod: Since data will be the component for building items, will there be different forms of data that a character can mine to build said items?
Toby: Yes, players will be looking for Code Bits (tiny bits of Matrix code), and Code Fragments (larger pieces of functioning Matrix code).
There are many different varieties and some are much more rare than others. For someone attempting to write code, the power of the Code Structure you are attempting will determine which Code Fragments you need to acquire (and how dangerous or expensive it will be to do so).
GamerGod: Will logging into and out of the Matrix take place at special ‘phone-in’ locations, like in the movies? If so, what do you have planned if a player goes link dead, or wants to log out quickly?
Toby: Yes, typically, players will want to jack in and out of the Matrix from a Hardline. Hardlines look like old phones and are found in certain locations throughout the city. Players can also use Hardlines to visit the loading area, teleport to a different Hardline, or rearrange their ability load-out.
If a player goes link dead, or needs to log out in a hurry, they can perform an ’emergency jack out’. This allows players to leave the game wherever they are, but they are extremely vulnerable for a few seconds (so don’t try this while there are opponents around). Also, after an emergency jack out, the character returns to the same spot where they left. They may not travel to another Hardline or use the loading area.
GamerGod: Vehicles have been mentioned as a possibility in a future release. There are some inherent issues with allowing players to have full control of them in a massive cityscape. Will any player, regardless of how conservative in real life, log on and actually wait at a red light? How do you avoid drivers with “Carmageddon” delusions?
Toby: We will cross that bridge when we come to it. At the moment, we are all concentrating on the features the game will support at launch.
GamerGod: Will there be an Oracle? If so, how often will we be able to interact with her and speak with her about “our destiny”?
Toby: Yes, the Oracle is featured in MxO; however, she is not just sitting around waiting for players to come find her. If the Oracle wants to speak with you, you’ll know.
GamerGod: What one feature are you most proud of?
Toby: Aw, I can’t do that. It’s like choosing a favorite child. How about I choose three instead? Interlock combat, the storytelling mission system, and the dynamic ability system.
GamerGod: For you, what has been the best part about developing The Matrix Online?
Toby: Wow, that’s a tough question. So far, the best part has been letting people into Beta and watching them play. I mean, what good is an MMO with no players?
GamerGod: Thank you once again for your time today Toby. This has been very informative!