Phase9 Entertainment


Q&A session with Paul Chadwick, the head writer of THE MATRIX ONLINE and the award-winning creator of the acclaimed comic book series 'Concrete'. The Wachowski Brothers handpicked Paul to continue the story of THE MATRIX ONLINE.

Having contributed towards THE MATRIX comics, was there anything you brought across that fans of both comic and game would find familiar in an Easter egg sense?

PAUL CHADWICK: You'd think I would've done that, knocking elbows with all these game designers, but I guess I thought the comics would be too obscure to reference. But that's just it - obscurity is a plus, when making truly righteous in-jokes. Now that you've mentioned it, I'll try to work some things in from Déjà vu, Let it All Fall Down and The Miller's Tale.

Obviously THE MATRIX is still a popular and long lasting franchise and will be profitable for a long time with DVD sales and the forthcoming Volume 2 comic and game. But how damaging do you think the rather muted/lukewarm reception to the third (and to a lesser extent, second) movies affected the way creators approach the IP now?

PAUL CHADWICK: The muted unsheathing of long knives, you must mean. REVOLUTIONS was massacred - unjustly, in my view, though it was not the mind-blower the first two were (how many times can you do everything-you-know-is-wrong?). It was still a massive global moneymaker, though, which gives Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment the confidence to back the game to the hilt as they're doing.

All I can say is that virtual reality stories will be evergreen throughout this century, because we'll all be dealing with the concept in our own lives. A week does not go by when I don't hear or read someone putting down their misguided political opponent in MATRIX terms ("just take your blue pill, buddy"), so it's a living metaphor still.

And, note Monolith's performance with TRON 2.0 - they took a forgotten, non-hit movie and made a brilliant, surreal, award-winning game sequel of it. THE MATRIX has far more potential for stories of character and psychology and politics and conscience than that rather gimmicky take on people-in-computers, so just watch.

What was your personal opinion on the whole movie trilogy in their final, public form, given you were approached to write stories for it before the films came out and have a somewhat unique perspective from it?

PAUL CHADWICK: I rather like the way they "grew up," as the series went on. THE MATRIX was a perfect artistic expression of adolescent alienation. I'm so unhappy. I don't fit in this world. I'm just a drone, here. If only a beautiful woman would whisper in my ear at a club what a special path I have, how I'm more powerful than I know, that she loves me and it's up to me to save everyone with my unique abilities...

The adolescent power fantasy doesn't get purer than that.

RELOADED made the moral universe more complicated, with the Exiles and their variations of beneficence and malevolence. REVOLUTIONS provided a further evolution: end a war by finding a common cause with your enemy, and even accepting some of the things (the lie of the Matrix) that were unthinkable, insupportable, before. That's an attitude I wish nation-states could embrace more often.

My favorite is RELOADED.

Because of the Smith Clone brawl, which made me laugh out loud, as I saw the kind of fight Jack Kirby used to draw finally, and within story logic, occur on screen.

Because of the highway chase, which, when viewed carefully on DVD, shows such a logic of cause-and-effect, in regard to what the Twins can do when they're solid, and when they're immaterial, and in the "overwriting" the Agents engage in, that I shake my head in wonder. The sheer beauty of that truck-accordion climax where Neo sweeps in - has there ever been a better action sequence committed to film?

I even liked the things people hate about that movie. Link and Zee's marital squabble - I've had that argument with my wife! You spend all your time on that damned 'Nebuchadnezzar!' It humanized the films at a point when they were threatened with being terminally cool. The rave/love scene. Very important. If Zion was nothing but grim warriors and wretched refugees, what was the point in fighting? Cypher would've been right, everybody should've just gone back to sleep, if joy and dancing and sex weren't part of humanity's lot.

And it was important to deepen Neo and Trinity's relationship, so that her death-and-resurrection counted for something. It was either have Keanu declaring his love with Stoppardian eloquence (woah!), or watching two of Hollywood's most beautiful bodies in orange candlelight, framed like a sacred object in an Italian church - a good choice.

But mostly, I love interrupting the every-second counts crisis at the end of the film with the scene with the Architect. Suddenly, our distracted hero is having his mind blown with an everything-you-know-is-wrong speech from an arrogant, just-introduced character with more polysyllables tripping off his tongue than an Oxford don. It was so subversive to the action-movie formula.

What are the sort of challenges you come across in writing for a video game which is an interactive medium rather than a more linear story based medium?

PAUL CHADWICK: Scheming to get everybody involved - from every organization to lone wolf players. Hooking them all is a massive undertaking. It's one of the reasons we occasionally have crises that threaten the Matrix as a whole, which all three organizations must work to resolve. But playing the organizations off each other is quite the trick.

There's the problem of player/reader focus. People read every panel, and generally every word, of a comic. Everybody watches the entire movie. Readers seldom skip paragraphs or pages in a novel.

In a massive multiplayer, people receive information at different times, second-hand, during missions, in cinematics, reading the in-game newspaper, through rumor, via word puzzles in the environment, via NPC's - it's a spray of story in six directions. Hopefully, everybody gets wet enough. But the fact that not everybody gets everything is the biggest challenge.

You've been an acclaimed storyteller for a long time now - any chances of you progressing even further within THE MATRIX franchise, maybe stories outside the comics, ie anime?

PAUL CHADWICK: Perhaps you could say that a little louder. The Wachowski Brothers are over in Berlin shooting V FOR VENDETTA, you know.

Seriously, I have a lot invested, emotionally, in THE MATRIX ONLINE. I hope to stick with it for a few years. I suspect I'll reach a point where I'm written out - those hungry hours, weeks, months will bleed me dry, eventually, of inspired story ideas. But it's really all I'm thinking about, except for a little 'Concrete' work on the side.

Were there any rules you were given in creating the story, any characters you weren't allowed to touch or kill, certain narrative functions you have to adhere to etc?

PAUL CHADWICK: Oh yes. A character in two of the movies and THE ANIMATRIX was saved from my wanton whim by the Wachowski Brothers. Well, actually, it was a heroic death after a long struggle. But they apparently want to keep that person around. Who knows what for?

They had well-developed ideas for the first year. An uneasy peace, which is Morpheus' new obsession. The actions it inspires, and the reactions to those. Exiled Programs like Greek gods, clashing, with Red Pills caught in the crossfire. A new character who plays a major role.

I took it from there, with them vetting subsequent drafts of the story outline (which eventually became quite detailed).

I think I was hired because the comics' stories I did showed I understood THE MATRIX sensibility pretty well, so story guidelines didn't need to be spelled out.

However, I had to adjust to the odd beast that a massive multiplayer is. One example: we can't draw a hundred people to one location at the same time - players' computers will start to refuse to recognize all the other players, and freeze up. That, and its other peculiarities, guided my hand.

What other games did you look towards in the process of writing for THE MATRIX ONLINE?

PAUL CHADWICK: I'll answer this by taking "you" as the entire team at Monolith. We benefited from Toby Ragaini's experience on 'Asheron's Call', and Geoff Zatkin's on 'Everquest'. I think the vast clothing/body/skin tone/hair choices we offer in character creation are a reaction to the way players in MMOs who follow similar paths (earning magic swords and cuirasses, for example) often end up looking alike. And the Beta finale to 'Asheron's Call', an apocalypse with burning skeletons falling from the sky and giant demons killing players wholesale, inspired our sky-of-eyes Beta-finale apocalypse (which is already passing into legend).

As for my story work, specifically? I've never actually played another MMO. There, I said it.

What's the proudest thing you've taken away from working on THE MATRIX ONLINE?

PAUL CHADWICK: Well, so far, that Beta finale, which succeeded beyond our dreams. I resisted doing some of it - it spilled some story content we will actually use in the game, later on, which I at first thought should be held in reserve. But it so jazzed the Beta testers, and created such a buzz for the game, that it left all of us feeling a bit giddy.

Mainly, I'm happy the game is now up and running, and my colleagues seem happy with my work. Now excuse me, while I run ahead of this express train, laying track.

Question & Answer Text Copyright SEGA Games and Warner Bros