Developer Diary #4 – by Saxs

Developer Diary #4 – by Saxs

Lead Programmer

March 2003

Getting a chance to work on The Matrix video game license has totally changed my perception of the potential for licensed titles. Traditionally, the development studio is left without access to assets from the movie, such as the primary talent, and the effects and sound departments. That all changed on Enter The Matrix. We have had unprecedented access to any and all assets generated from the movie, right from the get-go. It enables us to get perfect cyberscans for the main actors, voiceover sessions with the movie characters, photographs and textures from the sets of the movie, etc. As if that wasn’t enough, the Wachowski brothers wrote the entire script for the game to make sure it fit perfectly into the Matrix universe. Furthermore, they have overseen the project creatively, helping us understand their vision.

The Wachowski brothers challenged us to make the game stand as an important ADDITION to the Matrix universe, not just another spin-off that follows the story of the movie. They provided us all the tools to do so: a compelling script, plenty of unique FMV footage, and access to the sets and actors both in Australia and the U.S. Our job is then to take all those assets and essentially use the game as a story-telling medium to add to the ever-expanding Matrix universe. Furthermore, they expected all the action of the movie to carry over into the game, so people got to experience the feel of controlling the super-human rebels of the first movie – that means wall-running, slow-motion fighting, a full kung-fu extravaganza, and more.

When initially presented with the idea of doing the Matrix video-game, I couldn’t help being a little bit scared. After all, The Matrix was my favorite movie in a long time, and the thought of living up to that is always a little unnerving. But I had already met the Brothers and demonstrated certain technology for them on how we were approaching next-generation character generation and animation, and I felt they really appreciated the lengths we went to in order to get the actors represented on screen as best possible on today’s systems. That gave me the confidence needed to start tackling this very high-profile title.

The Brothers have helped direct us toward being a worthy addition to the Matrix universe. By writing the script, overseeing production and shooting an hour of extra footage just for us, they have done their part in legitimizing the project to be more than just a game. It gave us the spring-board to create a game that will be seen by millions. You can’t ask for more than that.

The Brothers’ knowledge of games is impressive. They understand the medium very well, making it easy to have great, creative discussions about particular implementations. They concern themselves with virtually every aspect of the game, constantly keeping us on our toes.

The programming feature I am most proud of implementing are the characters, which came out even better than we expected. When coupled with the animation system written by Soren Hannibal, one of the programmers on the project, we got to a level of detail that we could only dream about before we even started. It was very important that we get a realistic Niobe or Ghost on screen, characters that the actors could be proud to compare themselves to. We feel we achieved that goal. The key to the realistic models was the decision to use patches instead of static polygon models. It enabled us to generate realistic models with 25,000+ triangles for the close-up scenes, while during fighting we can downgrade them to a more manageable 3000-10,000.

The fighting animations we motion-captured with Master Wo-Ping are spectacular and will set Enter The Matrix apart from competitive titles. His stunt-team delivered amazing performances day after day, so when you play the game, you really feel like you are doing the spectacular wall-jumps, kicks, throws, etc.

And, let’s not forget that the Brothers shot about an hour of extra footage just for the game. That footage really ties the game and movie together, elevating the game to a class that you just can’t achieve without major Hollywood talent coming through and delivering high-quality story and effects material.

There have been unique challenges in developing a video game for a cross platform environment to be released simultaneously. We knew from the beginning that it was the Brothers’ wish to release this game to as big an audience as possible, and the only way to effectively do that was to develop the game on all platforms, to be sure we weren’t excluding any particular audience. Each platform has strengths and weaknesses, so designing an approach that would work for all machines with a minimum of extra work required per platform was one of our toughest jobs. On top of that, we needed to release for all territories concurrently, making the logistics for finishing on time really difficult. But we made sure to get experts on platforms relatively early, so we managed to make the right development decisions, and it ended up being a relatively smooth process to program and maintain for distinct platforms.

The team working on this project is particularly large compared to previous projects. It has steadily grown from about 15 people when we started, to over 70 today. A larger team was needed primarily to make sure we didn’t compromise the Brothers’ vision because we were simply short-handed. Also, we have been able to “borrow” a lot of key members from the Infogrames family from all over the world. The experience of the people we brought in enabled us to add them to the team relatively late, but they still managed to have a huge contribution to the final project. In all, Legend, Melbourne House, Eden and Reflections ended up sending over some of their key employees to help out.

– Saxs