Enter The Matrix may have sold over five million copies worldwide, but even the most hardened Matrix apologist knows it wasn't the game it should have been. Hell, even the boss of developer Shiny, David Perry, admits it was missing a ton of features that were on the original design document.
While most of us can accept it was probably rushed out of the door to make the most of the Matrix mania surrounding the release of The Matrix Reloaded, there are no such issues to contend with this time around. Two years on, Shiny has been able to go back to the drawing board and implement a radically advanced fighting system, a branching storyline, a role-playing game system and - most importantly - has let you play as the main protagonist, Neo.
On top of that, an astounding degree of input from the Wachoswki brothers has allowed Shiny to be directed in the best possible fashion, with all the 'fluff' removed from the movie trilogy's story, scenes re-edited, a radically different ending to the trilogy, not to mention a host of new side-missions that help flesh out The Matrix universe in a way that the legion of Matrix fans will hugely appreciate.
During an hour-long presentation in London this week, Shiny president David Perry took time out from finishing the game to run through all the key parts of The Path of Neo, providing a fascinating insight into what is shaping up into one of the most enticing movie tie-ins of all time, and something that no Matrix fan will want to miss. Read on...
David Perry on the vision for The Path of Neo
The game is quite complex: there's a lot of stuff in it. It's really all of the stuff that we wanted to get in a Matrix game. We've hired a lot of people to make that happen. The last game was made with about 20 people and we had a major major post-mortem at the end of Enter The Matrix to say, "why didn't all that stuff go in that we wanted?" We wanted to have destruction and physics and training levels, an RPG system... They were all in the original design document but none of them made it into the game, so when we started this puppy we just go, "we're gonna hire everyone we need to make sure it all makes it into the game".
David Perry on The Path of Neo's fighting system
The fighting system in The Matrix [movies] was very gymnastic and acrobatic. [Neo] is able to do cartwheels and run up the walls and all this kinda stuff, but we wanted to be able to add in other weapon systems, so we have swords in the game, we have melee weapons, which means you can have short sticks and long poles. We also have full hand-to-hand fighting and - of course - we have a ridiculous amount of guns, and that combination means that we have multiple fighting systems which you somehow have to manage simultaneously, and I think that's been one of the major pushes in this title; trying to find a way to let you mix up all of those things.
If I had one of my level designers here today it would freak you out because they can do these chain combos which they make up on the fly where you can take a guy, smash him into the wall, pull out your gun, shoot him, pull him off the wall, fly him up into the ceiling, spin him around, throw him down on the floor, step on his face, pull out your sword and kill him in one move. That's been a major part of the design of the game; trying to make that function. If it works, if we pull this off then that's something I want to carry forward into future games, because the idea of letting you be creative with the fighting system is neat.
David Perry on Code Vision
This is to let you see everything that's code in the game. If you're in a scene with the pillars for example, you can turn on Code Vision and you'll see the people hiding behind them. So if someone's sniping at you or shooting at you, you can spot them easily.
David Perry on how the game begins
The game starts at the keyboard where Neo is asleep, which is actually before everyone expected us to start the game. So, the idea is you're in his dream. What is he thinking about? He's getting premonitions of this lobby-shaped thing that he's going to be in, and that's basically where the experience comes from. So, then his cell phone goes off. He's at his weakest state at that point; he has no skills, he can't slow down time, you can't fly, you can't do anything, and then by the end of the game you're literally a God. You have so many abilities unlocked.
In the first level in the game, what the Wachoswki brothers wanted to do was not to have the game start with you choosing easy, medium or difficult. What they wanted was you to play it and prove it, so if you wanted to play as The One, you have to prove you're The One.
David Perry on the red pill or the blue pill?
This is kinda funny; you have to pick a red or a blue pill. But if you pick the blue pill you go all the way back to your alarm clock, it goes off, you wake, and believe what you want to believe and go to work If you pick the blue pill it's the world's shortest videogame, but you have to make the choice. So the choice is: do you want to play this videogame you've just bought?
David Perry on the role of the Wachoswki brothers
The directors have been incredibly involved in this game - I would say a lot more involved in this game than they were in the last one - and as a result, let's be very clear: this is not David Perry's version of The Matrix. I don't make the levels up, or try to make my own ending up; that wouldn't be very cool. But for the hardcore Matrix fan we expect them to be very attracted by hearing what the new ending is
The [Wachoswki brothers] have actually written the entire game from beginning to end. The video sequences have been edited by them as well, and that's kinda strange because on their DVDs they never edit anything. They never go back and edit the footage or try to re-cut it. Even if you try and buy the 10-disc DVD collection, you'll still be buying the exact same movies. And so, for us to get them to sit down and re-edit the whole trilogy including the Animatrix into the storyline of Neo was kinda cool.
They just pulled out all the fluff and focused on what his story was, and they set up these gameplay events - like when you're left with your [mobile] phone, being guided by Morpheus.
David Perry on the branching storyline
In this situation I have to somehow get out of the office, and it's cool because it's a great example of how the story can change. If I was just to walk out in front of these security guards I would be captured, and the footage would continue with me being put in the car in the street exactly like it happened in the movie.
Basically I can follow the path of the movie and be Neo from the movie, or I can do it my own way, which means I can try my hardest to get the hell out of the office and not fail where Neo failed. What actually happened in the movie is that Neo made it to an office, went out on the window ledge and then gave up.
In the game you can get to the same window ledge and you can decide what you want to do. You can keep going all the way up the scaffolding and make it to the roof. If you do that then you've obviously taken a different path from the movie, so the directors have cut the movie footage accordingly to continue your story as you continue on in the game.
There are a lot of new paths in the game and some of them are very very radical; complete new story threads. Lots of new characters. Imagine if the first Matrix movie had have been ten hours long, or even 20 hours long. At that point they would have had to have come up with all this new stuff, so that's basically what they've done with the game; these are the kinds of things you would see and do.
David Perry on the new ending to the Matrix trilogy
The other thing that the [Wachowskis] did - which is really surprising - is they've actually changed the ending of The Matrix trilogy; the entire ending of the whole story, just for the game.
The ending that they've come up with is so radically different from the one that you saw - if you've seen the third movie, the ending doesn't really make a great videogame ending. The Wachoswki brothers actually pop up on screen and explain why they've changed the ending of the trilogy, and then they're going to show you movie footage that's being made in Hollywood which resolves to a completely different ending from the one that's in the movie.
David Perry on where the game is at right now
The situation is we are getting to the final stages of making this game and it has been an absolute pleasure. I was speaking to the [Wachoswki brothers] last night in the taxi as we were zipping around London - they're actually making their V For Vendetta movie - and they've been playing the game as well and they're giving me their comments.
In America we have endless gamers playing the game and Atari's now doing that in France and I believe in London as well. We're basically getting as much feedback on the game as can possibly get
The Lobby Scene is about a third of the way through. There are a whole bunch of training missions before this, but this shows how the intensity of the game changes quite dramatically, as you go from being this guy who can only push someone, you'll improve quite dramatically. Some of these levels take an hour or two to complete, and so the game really is pretty massive.
David Perry on the RPG system
The RPG system is something we really wanted in the first game. The lit icons [in the upgrade sub menu screen] represent what you've learned so far, and if you've played the levels well you'll end up getting rewarded, and with your rewards, you can spend that and buy extra abilities.
With those abilities you start to form your own unique Neo based on the choices that you make. The thing that's really cool about this system is if you earn something and you kinda forget what it is - maybe you haven't played the game in a few days or whatever and you might have just forgotten what the button combo is - just by clicking on it, it'll tell you what that combo is. For example, for a Focused Aerial Throw you stun the enemy, so that would be the circle button, then use L1, circle and then X.
If you want to see what the move is, you just click on 'view this upgrade' and it'll actually show you the sequence. If you fill up that ring, you can move onto the next (upgrade) ring, where there's a whole bunch of new abilities. For example, Code Vision, Weapon Strips, Tornado Throw, and so on. If you see a yellow line, it means the two are connected; you can make some of the really big moves more and more powerful as you go. So with all these different levels you can make really interesting characters.
Some options [in the upgrade menu] are displayed in garbage text, and the reason for that is that the Wachowskis want you to make some choices that you don't know what the pay-off will be, so you're actually going to be taking a risk with some of the experience points that you make. You don't have to do this until later, and some people are going to choose to do this and that's cool. If they're willing to take a risk then they will be able to see what the rewards are.
David Perry on gamers breaking the rules of The Matrix
It's kind of fun [that] when we watch people play it. They don't play according to the rules; this is really fascinating. The rules of The Matrix are simple: if you're an agent you can possess the body of someone else, so [on the famous rooftop level] if there's a SWAT member there, you can take control of him, and now you've got to fight this agent.
At this stage in the game you're learning how to use bullet dodge (R1 and square). The idea is we're trying to get you to use Bullet Dodge like in the movie. What happened in the movie was attracting the attention of the agent, and the agent fired at Neo, he Bullet Dodged, the bullets went over his head and Trinity shot the agent. That's the most efficient and easy way to kill an agent.
But what happens is almost every gamer runs straight for an agent and starts punching him, and we know agents are really hard to beat. It turns out you can do that if you want; I mean you can duke it out with an agent for ages, just beat him and beat him and beat him and finally throw him off the edge of the building, or you can electrocute him against some of the panels on the side and finally beat them in this epic battle, and then the agent just possesses another SWAT member, and now you've got another agent to fight.
But if you duke it out with every single agent you could be there for hours, which sort of goes against the rules of The Matrix. So, on the rooftop, the trick is to kill all the SWAT team members first and then kill the agent - and you only have to fight one agent. It's going to be fun to watch people play it because you start to realise 'hang on - I've got to remember how they did it in the movie'.
David Perry on how long it will take to play through The Path of Neo
About twelve hours if you were to play it well.
David Perry on the Park scene
The Park scene is the most complex level in the game to make because when we started we thought we'd leave this one until the end, and wondered if it would be possible on a PlayStation 2. We did a tech demo where we had 1500 Smiths on the screen at once, and that made us believe 'my god, this is possible'. And so we started work on it, and we can promise that it will be in the final game. Another thing we have in the game is Normal Mapping, which I think is a first for the PS2.
I believe in the movie there were 82 agents in the park, but we got way, way, way more agents in our park and although we really don't need as many as we have, it's fun so we put them in. As the level progresses, more and more Smiths will keep joining in. The trick to this level is not to fight every single Smith. You're welcome to do it if you want - and some people will - but the trick is to duke it out with the Smiths, but use the Smiths by hitting them with your pole and knock them into the walls all the way around, and you can literally collapse the walls of the building. That seals off the entrance and stops more Smiths coming in, and if you complete that you end up winning the level.
David Perry on the training missions
One of the things Neo says in The Matrix is: "I know Kung-Fu." Well, when he said that, the question was, "how did he learn that?" So we have the full training programme for learning Kung-Fu, and [it was] really interesting to hear how the directors decided what you would actually do in [it].
It turns out the operators write to the training programmes, and that's why when Morpheus fights Neo they're fighting in this cool Japanese Dojo. That wasn't there by chance. An operator chose that location for them to fight in.
Basically in the game we have multiple training levels, and each training level shows you somewhere different and cool to fight in, and that's why we have an old black and white Samurai level (that you might have seen at E3). We also have a Bruce Lee level where you're literally dancing and doing Kung-Fu like Bruce Lee, and we call that Metal Gear Solid Neo because he's got the headband on. We have other stuff too; the idea being that each one is designed so that you really won't be able to predict what's coming next because of the creativity of the operator.
David Perry on errors in The Matrix
This is something The Animatrix explored (the set of Animes that expands the universe of The Matrix). It really explored the concept of errors in The Matrix, meaning you can have corrupted space. You can also have people that want to be free from The Matrix; they understand that there's something wrong.
In the game you can fly over the city and you look down, you can see a bunch of people down there with problems. In just one level there are lots and lots of different ways of playing it, and you choose which person you want to go and save: the healer, the security guard, whatever.
In The Matrix there's no light; you'd never see nice tress or nice flowers, and with this guy, wherever he goes, something's going wrong with The Matrix. He's breaking the rules of The Matrix; he's causing life, so you'll see flowers around him. The minute that happens agents come for you, so you, as Neo can choose to go and save him before the agents take him away. So there are lots of new stories; this is the equivalent of an anime they would have made from the directors, so again, these aren't my versions of the story. It's fascinating to see.
David Perry on the God of War influence
When you're fighting, [icons] pop up in the bottom left hand corner of the screen. These are the same kind of pointers as used in God of War - something I think that game did really really well, so we've got that too. It's a way for a gamer that's not so great to remember all the key combos we have. We have some key combos that are absolutely huge, and the gamers that just aren't going to be able to handle some of the key combos, by giving it to them on the screen it really opens up the game for the mass market.
Check back in a week or so, when we'll we bringing you our in-depth thoughts on the latest playable build of The Path of Neo. The game is due for a November release through Atari on PS2 and Xbox.