As you know, from 2022 players expect many big releases, such as Dying Light 2 Stay Human and Horizon Forbidden West or Starfield and STALKER 2: Heart of the Chernobyl. However, after The Game Awards 2021, the gaming community began to wait with all their hearts for the announcement of another universe that never had time to realize its gaming potential. We are talking, of course, about «The Matrix» by filmmakers Lana and Lily Wachowski.
At the Jeff Keeley Awards in December, Epic Games unexpectedly released a tech demo called The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience. Of course, the release was dedicated to the return to the cinema screens of the cyberpunk line itself with its film «The Matrix: Resurrection». After playing The Matrix Awakens, players naturally began to dream of a full-fledged title, because the game history of the «Matrix» still wants the best.
Enter the Matrix (2003)
In fact, the Wachowskis were thinking about releasing a video game even before the release of their major hit. With their vision, they turned to the Shiny Entertainment studio and offered it to develop an action-adventure in an original fantasy setting. By then, Shiny already had a good reputation in the industry thanks to the success of its Earthworm Jim and MDK titles, and was working on Messiah, an action game based on the idea of soul transmigration.
Interestingly, then the developers did not take Wachowski’s proposal seriously. They assumed that the film would most likely fail at the box office and politely refused the directors. Studio president David Perry later called it the worst decision of his career, as he was caught off guard by the resounding success of The Matrix.
Therefore, when the Wachowskis visited the studio again after the high-profile release of their picture, the developers, without thinking, agreed to cooperate and began the creation of Enter the Matrix.
Surprisingly, when «The Matrix» finally reached consoles and computers, players unfortunately did not get the main thing — the opportunity to find themselves in the place of their favorite hero, Neo, with whom it was so great to associate themselves while watching the movie. Instead, the story is centered around the adventures of secondary characters Niobe and Ghost and takes place concurrently with The Reboot.
Depending on the chosen character, the gameplay changes slightly, but in general, both heroes engage in hand-to-hand combat and gunfights, using a limited supply of «Focus», aka bullet-time.
In a way, the fact that Enter the Matrix really complemented the films made up for the absence of Keanu Reeves. The game did not just copy a set of iconic scenes, but offered plot branches that ran parallel to the main script of the films.
The studio had two and a half years to develop the title with full access to film production and Warner Bros. MoCap studio. Especially for the game, the Wachowskis shot an hour of footage, which, of course, added Enter the Matrix exclusivity. The directors wrote 244 pages of dialogues for the title, and the interior design and costumes were done by people from the set.
«I expected to spend a week on set gathering references, but ended up spending half a year there,» said Shiny executive producer Stuart Roach.
However, there was not enough time, and in pursuit of bonuses from the publisher, the developers got themselves into a terrible crunch.
«More than once I spent the night under my desk in a sleeping bag, and in the morning, after drinking coffee, I continued my work. Many of us got PTSD after the project ended,” said animation director Gabriel Rowntree.
We bit off more than we could swallow. It was necessary to work on several engines and release a quality product on platforms that we had not dealt with before. At the same time, it was impossible to move the deadline — you can’t think of anything worse,» Perry added.
With all the issues, it’s no wonder the game had a controversial release. On the one hand, the reviews were not happy — the title was scolded for shortcomings both in technical terms and in gameplay. On the other hand, Enter the Matrix broke the million-copy mark in 18 days, becoming a commercial hit. The project became the most successful game based on the film at that time and sold out 4 million copies in a year. Naturally, Shiny immediately received an order to develop a sequel.
The Matrix Online (2005)
At first glance, the concept of the Wachowski films with their cyberpunk atmosphere is perfect for creating a large-scale online game. The producers of the MMORPG The Matrix Online, released in 2005, which had to be closed in 2009, thought so at first.
This time the game was developed by Monolith Productions, which is a division of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. In fact, the Wachowskis were optimistic about the title’s future and were involved in its development process. They proposed the idea that in The Matrix Online, in which events develop after the main trilogy, players will write the further history of the universe themselves.
Each player chose a class (Hacker, Programmer, Operative) and joined one of three factions (Zion, Machines, Merovingians). Players also had the opportunity to individually combine various skills, developing a character for themselves.
As for the plot, the Wachowskis hoped to extend the life of their universe with The Matrix Online. The filmmakers invented a story that was divided into several episodes and in which at some point one of the main characters of the franchise — Morpheus — died.
In another, developers were given the green light to improvise.
“Everyone on the team was clear that the canon was the movies, the shorts, and maybe scenes from Enter the Matrix. We didn’t even think about that when writing the script,» said Ben Chamberlain, the last developer of The Matrix Online.
In the final months before the closure of the title, it was Chamberlain who wrote the storylines and then brought them to life, acting out the characters he created.
Be that as it may, the game was not popular, and already in the first months it became clear that The Matrix Online failed to interest the public. As a result, Monolith transferred the rights to Sony Online Entertainment, however, even after several attempts, it gave up looking for potential in the project. At the time of its closure, The Matrix Online boasted only a few hundred active players.
The Matrix: Path of Neo (2005)
When the Wachowskis approached Shiny again to develop a sequel to Enter the Matrix, they decided to listen to the logic and pleas of the fans and centered the next title around the main character, Thomas Anderson, known primarily as Neo.
«Initially, we didn’t work on Path of Neo. The Wachowskis’ first idea was to play a secondary character Seraph, but at the time of the release of «Revolution» they still decided to tell the story of Neo,» said the art director of the project, Chandana Ekanayake.
The audience had a mixed reaction to the second and third parts of «The Matrix». They seem to be perceived as one film, seriously inferior to the first. Path of Neo was the creative reaction of the Wachowskis to the entire trilogy, where they allowed themselves to have a little more fun than in the movies. While Path of Neo takes the player through key scenes from the three films, he also gets bonus scenes that fill in the gaps between the films.
The main difference between the plot of Path of Neo and the films was the ending, which was not in «The Matrix: Revolution». If Wachowski’s third film ends in drama, then in the game the final chord is the battle with the giant agent Smith, which consists of thousands of ordinary ones.
Although Path of Neo scored higher than Enter the Matrix, critics concluded that Warner Bros. couldn’t even come close to bringing the vivid charm of The Matrix into the world of video games.
The Matrix Awakens (2021)
A few years ago, Epic Games CTO Kim Libreri and special effects specialist John Gaeta met for lunch with Lana Wachowski, who announced that she was going to release a new part of The Matrix. At one time, both Libreri and Gaeta participated in the creation of visual effects of the first series of the line, and this time they did not miss the opportunity for another collaboration.
Libreri invited Wachowski to evaluate a sandbox based on Epic’s technologies, and later the idea was born to create a whole technical demo of Unreal Engine 5, which functions as a tie-in product of «The Matrix: Resurrection».
«Starting work, we asked ourselves: what does the future of storytelling look like,» said Jerome Plato, technical director of the project.
The answer was a demo, which is a mixture of «live» shooting and an image generated in real time. After a series of staged cutscenes involving Neo, Trinity, and some IO, in which the player’s participation is reduced to QTEs and shooting in the spirit of rail shooters, players are given the opportunity to freely explore the huge city.
In The Matrix Awakens, events develop on a territory measuring 16 square kilometers, which accommodated 35 thousand townspeople, 7 thousand buildings and more than 60 thousand cars that are destroyed. By the way, a special role in the development was played by the Serbian company 3Lateral, which specializes in the digitalization of human appearance, which was engaged in scanning Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss.
The demo showcased several Epic Games developments included in Unreal Engine 5. These include the Chaos physics system that simulates traffic, character clothing and building destruction, Lumen’s dynamic lighting system that uses real-time ray tracing, systems for managing large locations, World Partition and Tempor Super Resolution, which allows you to generate high-resolution images with minimal system load.
Perhaps the most frequent question that sounds after the release of «The Matrix: Resurrection» and The Matrix Awakens is the following: «Will a large and high-quality video game based on the famous universe await us in the near future?».
Unfortunately, at this time there is no information that Warner Bros. decided to turn the technical demo into a full-fledged title, and restrained reviews of the fourth part of the film series are unlikely to help matters. According to Keanu Reeves, the company put an end to the production of video games from the franchise fifteen years ago, but the actor himself would be happy to participate in the return of «The Matrix» to the screens of players.