Game

The making of Enter the Matrix, the game that defied the foundations of interactive storytelling with messy results

License-based games have been around for almost as long as the medium itself, and many have earned a reputation as cheap hookups or poorly produced cash-grabbing games that need a lot more time in the development furnace. In many cases, it’s the unfortunate fact that the creative teams tasked with making a fun, interactive version of a beloved Hollywood IP didn’t have time to succeed – the 1982 ET game for the Atari 2600 was notoriously run by a single person and caused the collapse of the US industry. But after every failure comes a full system reset.

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While it didn’t take long for David and his team to get a second chance, he sees it at the top of his “horrible career decisions list.” They could even use this pioneering technology to more accurately transform the vast universe of the Wachowskis into a video game.

enter the matrix

blur the line

enter the matrix

Achieving this effectively meant that Shiny Entertainment had to stay true to The Matrix’s established art design and wholly unique iconography. 2003 was a time when dial-up tablets did not yet exist, maintaining online social profiles was not a daily occurrence, and the image of a green code flowing on a black screen was still a novelty. To make Enter The Matrix feel like a legitimate piece of this series’ puzzle, art director Robert Nesler ate everything he saw in the movie.

enter the matrix

Yet like many other aspects of Enter The Matrix’s two-year development, fixing this cyberspace-obsessed universe wasn’t as simple as copying an aesthetic and calling it a day. No, Robert and the rest of the art department had to copy the tonal variation seen in the real-world color palette against the Matrix, communicating the visual differences between the two in similarly subtle ways as in the movies.

Robert points to an issue that he and those at Warner Bros. keep revolving around: “Making the greenish quality of the Matrix please everyone,” he explains. “Owen Paterson, the film’s production designer, explained to us that he never felt like DVDs got the truth.” This wasn’t ideal, considering Robert used them as his primary reference. “To be honest I don’t remember the exact issue but I think back then the color changing method in film was called ‘color sync’ and it was a manual/analog process. For some reason that quality didn’t quite match when the DVDs were made, and so we were out.”

enter the matrix

In line with Neo’s main adventure efforts, enter The Matrix, meaning that Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Niobe and Anthony Wong’s Ghost, members of the Logos ship’s crew, are ideal candidates for development as the game’s main protagonists. Considering that in the movie the couple will only appear in one or two scenes, you can only find out how they’ve impacted off-screen events here. Players were even able to choose which revolutionary to play with to witness other variations of the game’s unique story and encourage replay.

An example is the car chase sequence that takes place just after the post office opening level. Choosing to play as Niobe, you’ll be behind the wheel as you navigate the streets on operator commands, dodging agents and chasing cops. Meanwhile, play as Ghost and suddenly become the trigger, peering out the passenger seat window to aim and eliminate as many threats as possible. While not as important as choosing the blue or red pill, minor changes like this helped break up the third-person parts.

dodging bullets

enter the matrix

Despite being one of the most expensive games ever made, the project came under a lot of stress due to the tight two-year deadline. Warner Bros. was adamant that the game be released alongside Matrix Reloaded in May 2003, and it got to a point where funding became an issue. This resulted in the original publisher Interplay losing its rights and the emergence of an unexpected ally. “Atari bought our company solely to gain control of the license,” David recalls. “[They] He turned out to be a huge supporter of the project, so despite all the turmoil, this huge move was well worth it.”

enter the matrix

David Perry

Enter The Matrix has finally been released to moderate reviews on the GameCube, PC, Xbox, and PS2, with many reviewers citing its inherent repetition, lack of polish, and failure to excel in any of the core gameplay aspects. Still, many began to appreciate how well the game was integrated into the wider Matrix canon, with special attention to the visuals, the performance of the players, and the playful execution of bullet time. Such tight development feedback was the root cause of many of the problems in the finished game, but the project still serves as an example that future studios can use to adapt other entertainment mediums for a video game.

When asked what advice he would give to any potential developer working on the connection with the upcoming Matrix 4, David was speechless. “If they haven’t started yet, I recommend releasing it a year after the movie. They really need Lana for many reasons [Wachowski] spend time dedicated to the game after the movie is released. The game can be absolutely incredible given the time, funding and talent it can bring to the table.


This feature was first old player Magazine issue 209. For more great resources like the one you just read, don’t forget to subscribe to the print or digital edition at . My favorite magazines.


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The making of Enter the Matrix, the game that defied the foundations of interactive storytelling with messy results

Games based on a license have been around almost as long as the medium itself, with most gaining a reputation for being cheap tie-ins or ill-produced cash grabs that needed much longer in the development oven. It’s an unfortunate fact that, in most instances, the creative teams tasked with making a fun, interactive version of a beloved Hollywood IP weren’t given the time necessary to succeed – to the extent that the ET game from 1982 for the Atari 2600 was famously rushed out by a single person and helped cause the US industry crash. After every crash, however, comes a full system reboot. 
Read now

David chalks this up as being high on his “list of terrible career decisions”, though it wouldn’t be long before he and his team would be given a second chance. They could even use this pioneering tech to translate the Wachowskis’ sprawling universe more accurately into a video game. 

Blurring the line 

Pulling this off effectively meant Shiny Entertainment had to stay true to The Matrix’s established art design and wholly unique iconography. 2003 was a time where dialled-in tablet devices didn’t yet exist, maintaining online social profiles wasn’t quite an everyday occurrence, and the sight of green code trickling down a black screen was still a novelty. To ensure that Enter The Matrix felt like a legitimate piece of this franchise’s puzzle, art director Robert Nesler ate up all the movie assets he could get eyes on. 

Like most other aspects of Enter The Matrix’s tight two-year development, though, nailing the look of this cyber-obsessed universe wasn’t as simple as copying an aesthetic and then calling it a day. No, Robert and the rest of the art department had the challenge of replicating the tonal shift seen in the colour palette of the real world versus the Matrix, having to communicate the visual differences between each in a similarly subtle way to how the movies did. 
Robert notes one particular problem that he and the folks at Warner Bros kept coming back to: “Getting the greenish quality in the Matrix to everybody’s satisfaction,” he reveals. “Owen Paterson, the movie’s production designer explained to us that he never felt that the DVDs got it right.” This wasn’t ideal considering Robert had been using these as a primary reference. “To be honest, I don’t recall the exact issue, but I think at the time the method for shifting colour in film was called ‘colour timing’ and it was a manual/ analogue process. For whatever reason, when the DVDs were made, that quality was not matched exactly and so we were off.” 

Enter The Matrix running parallel to the efforts of Neo’s main adventure meant that Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Niobe and Anthony Wong’s Ghost – crew members of the Logos ship – were ideal candidates to be fleshed out as the game’s lead protagonists. Whereas the movie would only see the pair crop up for a scene or two, only here could you find out how they impacted events while off-screen. Players were even able to select which revolutionist to play as, so as to witness further variations of the game’s exclusive story and encourage repeat playthroughs.
One example is the car chase sequence that takes place immediately after the opening post office level. Opt to play as Niobe and you’ll be behind the wheel, evading agents and pursuing police officers as you navigate streets according to the Operator’s commands. Play as Ghost, meanwhile, and you’re suddenly the trigger man, peering outside the passenger’s seat window to take aim and gun down as many threats as possible. Though nowhere near as meaningful as electing to take the blue or the red pill, minor changes like this helped to break up the third-person portions. 
Dodging bullets

Despite being one of the most expensive games ever made at the time, the project was subject to a lot of stress due to the tight two-year deadline. Warner Bros was adamant in having the game release alongside The Matrix Reloaded in May of 2003 and reached a point where funding became an issue. This led to original publisher Interplay losing the rights and an unexpected ally to step in. “Atari bought our company just to get control of the licence,” David recalls. “[They] turned out to be a big supporter of the project, so despite all the turmoil it was worth that giant move.” 

David Perry

Enter The Matrix eventually released on GameCube, PC, Xbox, and PS2 to middling reviews, with many critics citing its inherent repetition, lack of polish and inability to excel in any one of its core gameplay aspects. Even still, most came to appreciate just how well the game integrated into the wider Matrix canon, with special attention paid to the visuals, actor performances and fun implementation of bullet time. Such a tight development turnaround was the root cause for many of the finished game’s issues, but the project still serves as an exemplar that future studios can use for adapting other entertainment media into a video game. 
When asked what advice he would pass onto any prospective developers working on a tie-in to the upcoming Matrix 4, David doesn’t mince his words. “If they have not already started, I’d recommend they launch a year after the movie. For many reasons they really need Lana [Wachowski] to spend time dedicated to the gameplay after the movie is out. The game could be absolutely incredible given the time, funding and talent that she can bring to the table.
This feature first appeared in Retro Gamer magazine issue 209. For more excellent features, like the one you’ve just read, don’t forget to subscribe to the print or digital edition at MyFavouriteMagazines.  

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