Starting in 2003, I wrote story for The Matrix Online, an online-world roleplaying game along the lines of World of Warcraft, but set in the world of the Matrix films created by the Wachowski brothers.
In fact, the Wachowskis directed us to continue the story after the trilogy, starting with the death of Morepheus and the hunt for his killer.
The game lasted several years -- I dropped out after three, for personal reasons (I loved the game and the dev team), saddened to leave the fascinating subculture of creative, energetic players who formed their own organizations and culture within the game (and around it: movies, graphic novels, and other creative products employing imagery and concepts from the game still linger on the web).
In this section I hope to post reminiscences from this rewarding period of my life. First, though, is a piece I wrote at the request of the game publisher for a one-shot magazine promoting the game. It's an introduction to the world and ideas in the films, and how the game aspires to continue with them.
First Things: What is the Matrix?
The Matrix is a virtual, digital world that humans experience through feeds running directly to their nervous systems.
It's totally convincing, a shared dream.
The dreamers know nothing else. Those experiencing it believe themselves to be in urban America at the turn of the 21st century; a vast Megacity and an adjacent mountain range are its only parts defined in the films so far.
The actual date is a couple of centuries later. The proprietors of the Matrix are intelligent machines that have won a war with humankind. In the war the sky was "scorched," denying them solar power. Instead, they use sleeping humans, enclosed in liquid-filled pods on vast batteries, to generate heat that becomes electricity. Humans, to them, are apparently something like slaves, something like farm animalsand perhaps more, as well.
There may be another motivation to keep humans alive, since it's a cumbersome energy system. Entertainment? Worshipfulness toward their creators? A vestigal "preserve life" bit of programming that lingers in their operating systems? Like many things in the Matrix mythos, alternate explanations are possible.
The humans in the pods experience life in the Matrix, unaware of their real state. But they can be awakened to the truth.
Neo and Morpheus
The first film, The Matrix, tells the story of a young man, Neo, awakened from the illusion and brought from his pod into the real world. His summoner, Morpheus, explains the true state of affairs. A community of free humans, based in the underground city of Zion, resist the Machines and work to defeat the Matrix system, which they see as a form of slavery.
These free humans, too, can jack into the Matrix, by lurking in service tunnels under the surface world in their hovercraft. But when they do, they are ruthlessly hunted down by Agents of the Machines, who have the bland appearance of Secret Service-type operatives, sporting suits, earplug radios and sunglasses.
Jacking into the Matrix, one can have spectacular fighting abilities, fearsome weapons - all code. But the Agents are powerful. One can die in the Matrix.
In fact, Neo does, in the first film. But it's at a moment of epiphany. Before his oxygen-starved brain finally shuts down, the beautiful warrior Trinity professes her love for and belief in him.
It's a moving dramatization of the truth that we all can do more, be better, if someone loves and has faith in us. Neo rises again, confronts his antagonist, the astonished Agent Smith, and fulfills his destiny.
It's not a shock to Morpheus. Morpheus has heard a prophecy that there is one - The One-- who can control the Matrix's virtual reality by will alone. All along, he has believed Neo is The One, despite skepticism of those around him.
The film ends, pregnant with new possibilities. The One's powers have awakened. A battle is coming. Mysteries linger. Never has a film ached more for a sequel.
The Exiles - AIs living in the Matrix
Matrix Reloaded deepens the conception of the Matrix.
Along with humans and Agents of the Machines in the Matrix, there are free, sentient programs -- Exiles -- enjoying life as humans in the virtual world.
The Exiles are varied. The Oracle is benign, and guides Morpheus and other humans in their quest.
The Merovingian, aka the Frenchman, is a sybaritic gangster, commanding a host of human-formed programs with powers like ghosts, werewolves and other supernatural entities.
There's also a wild card, Agent Smith. Instead of being destroyed by Neo in the first film, as he seemed to be, he has become an independent virus-like program who can replicate himself, and overwrite others -- a legion of lethal clones in sunglasses.
The Secret History of the Matrix - Repeated Destruction
Neo encounters the crowning complexity when he meets the Architect. A white-bearded man, direct and arrogant, he is the program who designed the Matrix.
The Architect reveals there were previous iterations of the Matrix that failed, and even previous Ones like Neo -- and a bloody cycle of destruction and renewal of the Matrix, Zion and humanity is inescapable. It's about to happen again.
Neo won't accept this. He intends to save it all. But first he saves the woman he loves, Trinity, from death, by spectacularly reaching into her torso and massaging her virtual heart back into pulsing life. Ironically, it is Neo's capacity for love that makes him the mightiest warrior, the One.
Matrix Revolutions begins with this crisis still imminent. This time the Matrix is failing because of Agent Smith's viral takeover of every individual in it. Its cleansing, and the destruction of Zion by the squid-like machines, Sentinels, is almost underway.
Journey to the Surface World
Neo does the impossible; he and Trinity break out of the underground and fly a hovercraft to the city of Machines on the surface world. Blind from a fight with Smith (inhabiting the form of a human whom Smith has overwritten, Bane), grieving for Trinity (who is killed when they crash), Neo gains an audience with a godlike Machine entity. There is still a city (Zion) and the rest of humanity to save.
He proposes this: he'll defeat the fast-spreading Smith, whose cancerous growth threatens all the Machines, in exchange for peace between the Machines and the free humans. The deal is struck.
Neo battles Smith in the Matrix as Smith's million viral clones look on. It's like two sky gods fighting to the death (and some of the most surreal images ever committed to film).
Neo does destroy Smith, with an assist from the Oracle (who had allowed Smith to overwrite her with curious equanimity - what did she have up her sleeve. But Neo apparently dies in the effort.
It's not in vain. The Matrix is saved. Zion is saved. The Machine Civilization is saved.
A truce is made - free humans ("Redpills") can even awaken the sleepers ("Bluepills"), although too much of this activity would threaten the Matrix. It's one of the ambiguities the Matrix films unflinchingly allowed to stand.
Another: Neo's fate. He seems to have died in the battle with Smith. But the Machines do not return his corpse. It's last seen carried into the distance on a floating platform, like a fallen Viking warrior on a raft, drifting out to sea.
Why won't they return his remains? This disturbs some people, and their actions set the story of The Matrix Online in motion
Players in The Matrix Online do not assume identies of characters from the films. Those characters - the surviving ones - are in the continuing story, and may be encountered in the game. You'll at least see them in the short movies - "cinematics," which come out every so often. But the ramifications of their actions will affect what you do, since all the organizations react to them.
Our premise is that you are a recently awakend former Bluepill. You're finding your feet as a Redpill, jacking into the Matrix from a patched-together hovercraft (remember, they were destroyed in the Battle of Zion in Matrix Revolutions) that's little more than a jacking-in platform.
But all the game takes place in the Matrix itself. Apart from a white-space loading program, where you choose where you'll appear in the Matrix when you jack in (and organize your arsenal of weapons, ablities and fighting techniques), you'll find yourself in the Megacity.
... and a few other virtual worlds. But those are for you to discover.
Will Work for Tools, Weapons and Powers
Zion, the Machine Civilization (Agents) and the Merovingian all offer missions. Successfully complete them, and you gain abilities, guns, tools, and power.
As the story develops, more organizations form. Most (not all) offer missions. Some just want to kill you, though.
It's important to overcome your shyness about doing missions. This is where the cutting edge of the story appears. You'll encounter voice recordings, transcripts and other written artifacts generated by the characters from the films. And, if you're accomplished enough, you'll encounter the characters themselves.
We've recorded a myriad of snippets of dialogue for these characters; they'll be able to instruct and direct you on a path where you encounter more story, more challenges.
Word Gets Out
Story percolates outward from the missions, of course. Rumor and recap by both people and non-player characters (NPCS) eventually get it out to everybody. Then there's The Sentinel, a newspaper published in the Megacity. Click on any vending box for a popup window where you can read it. It's written by Bluepills, though, so it has a slightly dazed, rationalized take on the clashes of Redpills and Exiles. There's also a straightforward text recap, reachable through a secret link.
And one more thing: study advertising signs. Notice the letters placed on the street. Check out that new graffiti. There aremessages.
What Happens Next?
I don't know what master plan the Wachowskis have for The Matrix. When asked about their future plans, they evade with jokes. Their story direction for the game didn't extend beyond the first year.
They've spoken of "turning the Matrix over to its fans," which this game, in a sense, does. But they're also keeping tabs on it, preventing it from straying from their vision, and the rigorous logic that I've increasingly come to realize underlies all of the Matrix films, anime, comics and games.
But I do know there's scope for more stories in the Matrix. A lot more. In our first year, we've got a murder mystery, a Citizen Kane-like exhumation of a character's past, a revenge story, a tragic love story, betrayals, rescues, lies, schemes, mental illness, new worlds, and many other story threads.
Add a city full of people, super powers, and a virtual world with secret factions - you don't run out of story possibilities quickly.