As much of a global smash hit as Enter The Matrix was, it's fair to say that it was hardly the game Matrix fans demanded. As Shiny boss Dave Perry himself admits in this revealing interview, you wouldn't get away with releasing a Batman game that didn't allow you to play as the Caped Crusader, and it's stating the obvious to note that gamers wanted to play as Neo.
Whether by accident or design, The Path Of Neo seemingly rights all the wrongs of that still-born game and finally puts players in full command of Neo, creating probably the most acrobatic videogame hero ever seen.
Set across all three Matrix movies, Shiny has had the luxury - and the curse - of having everything handed to them on a platter, with even the Wachowskis playing a close role in the game's conception and evolution as they did with Enter The Matrix. They've even filmed a new ending and provided a director's cut of the trilogy accessible throughout the game. We're not sure if that's the best movie/videogame association ever, or just evil marketing blackmail, but the game itself already looks very promising indeed; dare we suggest as close to what any Matrix fan could have dreamed? In time-honoured fashion, we grabbed Shiny boss Dave Perry to spill the pills.
Eurogamer: Everything we've seen so far about The Path Of Neo suggests that it's the game you should have made two years ago.
Dave Perry: Yeah, exactly! [coy smile]
Eurogamer: What exactly is keeping the brand alive two years or more after the event?
Dave Perry: The thing about The Matrix [as a brand] is that it's been a lot of different things, not just three movies. Our game, Enter The Matrix, was just one. The Matrix Online was the most recent, but [the brand is] just this massive thing now. It is just like this giant rolling machine at this point. There are hardcore Matrix fans out there; there are a ton of books out there about the philosophy of The Matrix.
Eurogamer: Is The Matrix scene as serious as it appears from the outside?
Dave Perry: Yeah, it's getting really serious. Some people think they're actually living in The Matrix! [laughs]
Eurogamer: What was your favourite out of the movie trilogy?
Dave Perry: My favourite was the first Matrix, you know, because there's so much to learn, and I like that. [At this point we're shown a video with Bill Gates, Steve Balmer and Bruno Bonnell dressed up in Matrix fancy dress, tragically]. You still see Matrix popping up all over the place. It's interesting, because after the third movie came out they released it onto DVD [and] the only thing stopping it from being number one was The Return Of The King - which was an awesome movie - but the thing that's interesting is that a lot of people are obviously still Matrix fans and are still buying Matrix stuff.
Warner Brothers itself seemed to get even more serious about games. They put Jason Hall, who's a game developer, in charge of Warner Interactive and they worked on The Matrix Online. They also got into the Keanu Reeves business and did a Constantine game with THQ [SCi in Europe - Ed's note].
We [Shiny] kind of went quiet. I had an interesting one. A magazine contacted me to see what had happened. They were doing an article on people who had left the videogames business - we were that quiet! And I was like 'no, no, I'm still here!' We've just basically been quite quiet.
Eurogamer: You used to be a lot more prolific back in the old days...
Dave Perry: Yeah I know. I'm kind of easing back a little bit. I had a child last year, and I'm getting older now, right? I'm 38, but still holding together, still having fun!
Eurogamer: What else did you do during this so-called quiet phase?
Dave Perry: Basically what we did was invested a lot in new technology and all that kind of stuff, so, yes, you can stop bullets in the air! The Wachowskis kept working and they're releasing their new movie 'V For Vendetta' - you'll have to keep an eye out for that - and that's going to be out in November, probably worldwide. They also have their own comic book company called Burlyman Entertainment, and they're making their own Matrix comic books. These are actually two different volumes of Matrix comics - it's pretty cool stuff.
One big question we had was if you make a Batman game, you want to play as Batman, and if I tell you that you can't be Batman in the game then you'd want to be Robin, and that's what happened with our last game. We told people you can't be Neo, and they said 'okay, so I'm Trinity then?' and we said 'no you can't be Trinity either', 'so I'm Morpheus then?' and it actually got worse than that. I've got friends who refused to play [Enter The Matrix] because they couldn't be Neo [laughs]. They were like 'I want to be Neo, I don't want to be anyone else!'
Eurogamer: The explanation from Atari reps at the time was that Neo was too powerful, and that wouldn't be a fun game to play. That's something of a U-turn.
Dave Perry: Well it was actually this: with the storyline, one was what Neo was doing, and one was what we were doing to fit in with that, so we couldn't be where he was. That was the reason.
The twister we have in The Path Of Neo is that the Wachowskis recently decided to work on this game. We actually did a deal to make sure that they would work on the game themselves, and that's the one thing that's very interesting, because in Hollywood all of the big directors are working on a game right now. You've got George Lucas with LucasArts, James Cameron, Peter Jackson's got King Kong, Steven Spielberg. The point is: all the big directors are here, but we have the only ones - which is fascinating - that will actually work on the game themselves.
Eurogamer: How much are the Wachowskis into videogames? Are they big gamers? They're not just saying that to make us feel better?
Dave Perry: They are. They're big time gamers. They call me up saying 'hey man, I've just finished Halo 2', and I'm like 'I haven't even finished it!'
Eurogamer: What will the Wachowski brothers input be in The Path Of Neo? Is it more than the usual 'endorsed by' stuff we've seen?
Dave Perry: They're going to do a directors' cut of all three movies into The Path Of Neo. They never do any editing of their movie footage, so they've given it to us so it's going into the game. It's really quite exciting for us. For Matrix fans it's cool to see it; they do interesting cuts. For example, you'll see the spoon boy, and then he'll say 'It's not the spoon that bends, it's you yourself,' and then you see a cut of him bending over backwards, and they've done a really interesting edit of the whole thing. I thought that was great, but then they said: 'you know what; we're going to change the ending of the trilogy'. So we have a new ending, and this new ending is really dramatic and will make a great videogame ending instead of a movie ending.
Eurogamer: Interesting. It'll give the fans a real incentive to see what happens, and obviously an incentive to buy the game.
Dave Perry: Right. If you're a big Matrix fan, you have to buy it. The interesting point is that if you [finish] the game they'll actually talk to you. It's like 'huh!' The Wachowski brothers talk to you in a funny graphical style, and they'll tell you why they changed the end of the movie - which is great, because they never do any press or anything like that.
Eurogamer: Is it all cut together with real footage from the movies?
Dave Perry: Yes, and we're making some new movie footage for the end. We've got all of the characters, but we've also got the original Oracle. She passed away, I don't know if you know that. She died during Matrix Reloaded, and her family agreed to let her be in the game.
Eurogamer: So basically you can use any of the characters?
Dave Perry: Yes, but it's a blessing in disguise. Anyone who licenses anything in Hollywood, they do it one movie at a time; you do this movie, and do that movie and then this movie. Imagine if someone says: 'here, have the whole trilogy'. It's like if I said to you 'here have the whole trilogy of Star Wars'. You'd be, like, 'wow, that's great!', until you realise you have to build every character from all three movies. [As a result] we've had to sign everyone from all three movies. And - hold on a sec - they change costumes every other scene! I mean, how many costumes does everyone wear? It's a lot more work.
Eurogamer: Just how long are the in-game cinematics going to be?
Dave Perry: The Path Of Neo will have an hour of cinematic story.
Eurogamer: But are the cinematics just recycled clips from the movie trilogy?
Dave Perry: No, there are new cinematics too. There's a 50-50 split of director's cut and new CG stuff we've created using the game engine.
Eurogamer: What other changes have you made to the core game?
Dave Perry: We also have a lot of new weapons - you can pull them off the wall, and there's pole fighting. We did a demo out in Berlin of the pole fighting. In one trailer there was 60 Smiths on-screen, but it's not enough. One of my programmers managed to get 750 Smiths on-screen on the PS2 at once with no frame drop at all.
Eurogamer: Do you think you've really nailed the PS2 now?
Dave Perry: I think we're really kicking butt on PS2 now. So we had 750 people with all the geometry of the level and the trees and all that stuff, and then I came back to my office and the programmer was still working on it, and he'd managed to add another layer on top and got it up to a quite ridiculous level - which is another 750. So that'll be the most amount of people you've probably ever seen on a PlayStation 2; 1500 people with no slowdown at all. If you think about it, with directors, I can now do a battle movie without any trouble at all - like a Lord Of The Rings.
Eurogamer: What other technical boundaries are you pushing?
Dave Perry: Well, for a The Path Of Neo is [one of] the first PS2 games to feature normal mapping. So although there's nothing on the wall, when the light moves you can see the glint on the bricks, and this is all done by software. We've really stepped it up on The Path Of Neo - the screen is re-rendered 19 times to make that happen.
Something the directors put in was the atmosphere, and the difference is staggering. There's lots of attention to detail; you can see all the reflections in the puddles, and when the camera moves you can see all the mist and stuff. It's the sort of thing that makes directors happy. We have depth-of-field effects as well; we can focus on any point in space so that one object can be in focus while the rest is out of focus.
On top of that we have Code Vision, the ability to take any part of the game, press a button and turn it into that cool Matrix-style code. It's all animated code; you'll even see reflections of the code in the code, which is kinda crazy. Interestingly, we have to actually work harder on the Xbox to handle all that code, because the Xbox doesn't like seeing through things. One more thing we have is rippling - when he hits the ground we have this effect that makes it go BOOOOM! It's a stunning-looking game.
Eurogamer: Coming back to Enter The Matrix: just how well did it do in the end, sales-wise?
Dave Perry: Enter The Matrix sold nearly six million copies, so I figured if we're number one all over the world for our last game, we must be doing something right. I don't know what, but we must be doing something right! We were also number one in rental, and that was after it was released
It's interesting because videogames are starting to make the same kind of revenue that movies do, you know, and that's the stuff that should make Hollywood sit up and pay attention. ETM grossed $250m across the world.
Eurogamer: $250 million? How does that compare to other games?
Dave Perry: $250 million is high. It's very high [smiles].
Eurogamer: Presumably ETM is the biggest-grossing game you've ever worked on?
Dave Perry: Oh absolutely [huge smile].
Eurogamer: A bit more than Everyone's A Wally?
Dave Perry: Oh god, you remember those kind of games! You're old school!
Eurogamer: ...and Pyjamarama?
Dave Perry: Holy sh*t!
Eurogamer: Herbert's Dummy Run? There's a copy under the bed at home...
Dave Perry: Oh that's scary, you've gotta throw that one in the trash! Yeah that was my second game. My first professional game was making Pyjamarama for the Amstrad, and then I did Herbert's Dummy Run across everything, then I did Three Weeks In Paradise across all formats as well.
Eurogamer: Bring back Wally, that's what I say!
Dave Perry: Yeah, they were fun days [grins].
Eurogamer: Dave Perry, thank you.
The Path Of Neo is coming to the PS2 and Xbox from Atari later this year. Check back soon for our full hands-on first impressions.