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Developer Journal: Combat in 9 Dragons by Ken Johnston

Think of the world of Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or even Jackie Chan's classic Drunken Master. That world is waiting for you in 9Dragons, the first authentic martial arts massively multiplayer online game. You can rise from a poor vagabond to a master of Kung Fu by training with some of the greatest masters of ancient China.

9Dragons has a background story we haven't heard a hundred times, 9Dragons has period authenticity that was clearly painstaking to compile, 9Dragons has beautifully rendered artwork that likely took time off the lives of their artists ... but what those who have entered The Land (and survived) will tell you, is that the real perk of 9Dragons... is the combat system. 9Dragons combat was designed to be different than that of any other MMO from the seed stage. The designers had played the early MMO's like Everquest (where you could just click on a monster and let the stats package do the rest) and knew they wanted more, more, more. They wanted more interaction, more skill sets and to make combat more... well... more better.

Here's a glimpse of what the designers came up with...

When you first start the game you have no fighting ability at all. You could maybe punch out a stray dog. If you happened to come across a staff or a saber... you'd be so inept that you wouldn't be able to use it, or it would break pretty quickly. You, grasshopper, need to learn some Kung Fu before you'll get to wield that sword or those razor wheels.

Each of the starter clans (Shaolin, Wu-Tang, League of Beggars, Heavenly Demon, Sacred Flower and The Brotherhood of Thieves) has its own unique form of Kung Fu, each one compiled of several hundred individual moves you can choose from and use to build your own unique attack and defense combinations.

But you're not ready to join a clan yet, peasant, so what you need is someone to teach you some simple survival moves first. Well, you're in luck. There are Sifu's (teachers) who run independent martial arts schools in many of the villages. They will teach vagabonds like you some basic moves in return for a few coins. But know that the Kung Fu you learn from a Sifu is puny compared to the master training you will receive from a Master after joining a clan. Still, it should keep you alive for a while. So, after you've learned some basic chi-breathing techniques... What? I have to learn to breathe, you ask? Of course. One cannot learn Kung Fu if one does not learn correct breathing and meditation skills first!

You will find that each martial arts school has a small training ground equipped with wooden target training dummies and practice equipment. This is where it gets interesting. Let's say that you are learning an unarmed routine of say a punch, kick, round-house kick combination. You step up to the target training dummy and a "mini-game" begins...

You punch and you miss, and you punch and miss again and then KA-CHUNG! You strike true! Trust us, it's a very satisfying, almost Pavlovian sound. You continue swinging away and then after you've done it just right several times, a second move, your kick, is unlocked. You punch and connect and then a kick on the return, your first combination! Get that right enough times and then a third move is unlocked, a return round-house kick, and you find yourself skilfully moving like a Tasmanian Devil through an intricate three-strike maneuver. KA-CHUNG! KA-CHUNG! KA-CHUNG! The first time you see and hear yourself make a successful combo you will glimpse the true nature of the game's addiction.

Know also that should you fail this training you will have to go back to the Sifu in shame to get him to explain it to you again. But once you complete the training successfully, you now have the basic knowledge of how to perform this combination. But can you do it during actual combat? Nope! Not at first. Just like in real combat, practice in the training area is never the same as using a move in a real fight. To unlock your moves during combat, you've got to practice, practice, practice.

Fortunately, there are hundreds of quests in 9Dragons, so you are never short of an opportunity to go and practice your moves. At the bottom of your action bar you get a number that indicates how far in the combo you have progressed. So you practice your punch and when you are competent with it you then add the kick. When you have mastered those two moves you can then add the second round-house kick. You now have mastered a three-move combo! Just like during your training, you've begun with the first punch (or the first sword stroke, or staff strike), and then after levelling up your Kung Fu through actual combat you've unlocked each additional move.

Well done! A three-move combo does much more damage to a monster than just a punch or a kick because the first moves have already got the monster on the defensive and now the follow up moves in the combo will force him back and damage him more. Some monsters can be taken out entirely with one well-timed heavy combo.

However in 9Dragons, once you have mastered the move it means that you can use as much or as little of it as you wish. Different monsters will have different weaknesses. Some will require quick repeated jabs to wear them down because they move so fast. Some will require really heavy combos to break down their defences. If you have learned to use a three-step combo you can choose to use just the first step, or the first two, or all three (It's a simple selection off your quickslot menu). Using just the punch is quickest, but using all three does the most damage. It's your choice.

Once you have been taught several combos you can start to string them together. So you can get combos of almost unlimited length (provided that either the monster is still alive or that you have not run out of energy to deliver the blows!).

The same is true of weapon skills. You can master, say a sword, or a staff, or an axe, and then link together many combos into a true duel of masters. Choosing what you are going to do before you attack your enemy becomes a cerebral challenge. It is not enough to just wade in and start clicking buttons! You need to anticipate what combos a monster will be vulnerable to and then be prepared to unleash them at the correct time.

Once you have joined a clan you will learn even more devastating moves that are unique to that clan. Beggars, for example, can learn Drunken Monkey Kung Fu. Shaolin monks learn Praying Mantis style. Wu-Tang Clansman study harder than any other clan to join the lineage of ancient swordsman, know the Tao and master Tai Chi. And disciples of Heavenly Demon Clan study Bloody Hands technique, the most deadly unarmed combat system ever devised.

While your Kung Fu style means life or death against monsters in The Land, combat gets particularly interesting in clan style versus clan style combat in the PvP duel arenas, where you can go head to head against other players. Choosing your battle tactics there will be the difference between claiming victory or sitting in the sand wondering what you did wrong!

All of the graphics for the moves have been captured using full motion capture techniques so that each move is truly authentic. 9Dragons gives you the whole of ancient China to explore. Perfecting your fighting techniques is perhaps the only way you will survive it!

We promise that earning your Kung Fu is a process you will enjoy and feel satisfied with, or your money back. Wait, 9Dragons is free to play, remember... Well then, we just hope you will have fun out there in The Land, but remember... "There is fighting grasshopper, and then there is Kung Fu."

If you want more information, please visit either the North American site www.9Dragonsgame.com or the European site at www.9Dragonsonline.com.

- Ken Johnston
Persistent Worlds


Guest Writer