The Matrix Rethought

I took my wife to see Matrix Revolutions, even though I saw it Monday. Still liked it, though the second viewing really helped me figure out what I didn’t like about Reloaded and Revolutions. I can sum it up in two words: The Merovingian. He represents everything thematically that was added in the second two movies that both didn’t work and wasn’t there in the original Matrix.

Note: I’m guessing everyone who’s going to see Revolutions has seen it by now. So there are some spoilers below. If you haven’t seen it and want to remain blissfully unaware, stop reading now.

The themes of Control and Choice were very strongly represented in the original Matrix. Choice was directly represented (red pill vs. blue pill), control somewhat less so, but still there. Certainly, there was enough material in those themes for two more movies. Choice is stated bluntly in the climatic battle between Neo and Smith when Smith asks Neo why he continues to fight and Neo replies “Because I choose to”. A little corny and heavy handed to be sure, but still consistent with the original theme. Smith’s relation to the theme of control (or lack thereof) is also stated bluntly by Neo: “The program Smith has grown beyond your control”. Choice and Control come up over and over again: The Architect’s unbalanced equations, Commander Lock’s defenses, Neo returning to the Matrix rather than Source, Niobe going after the Nebuchanezar, etc. Pretty much every character has to deal with Choice and Control to some degree.

However, the Brothers Wachowski apparently decided that wasn’t enough, so they added all the stuff about “exiled” programs. Programs hacking programs, choosing exile over deletion, falling in love and having daughter programs, etc. Thematically, I don’t see the connection to the Choice and Control elements introduced in the first movie. There were only a few machine characters in the original movie: the Agents and the Oracle – and we didn’t know for sure that the Oracle was a program at the time. So when we meet Merovingian, Persephone, the Twins, the Train Man, etc. in the second and third movies, they are a major departure from the way programs in the first movie act. They act like they have free will. I can accept that the Oracle – a program “initially created to investigate certain aspects of the human psyche” – would exhibit some aspects of free will. But all programs? Come on. Free will could have been the thing that differentiated Smith from the other Agents. Instead, all of the programs basically act human. And their motivation makes no sense. The Architect claimed the entire Matrix would suffer a “cataclysmic system crash” unless the One returned to the Source. Why would the Merovingian, who lives in the Matrix, try and stop Neo by keeping the Keymaker prisoner? Since Merovingian has survived Neo’s predecessors, he must have some idea what’s at stake. Of course, the Neo the Matrix doesn’t crash when he doesn’t comply, but how would the Merovingian know that would happen?

The really sad part is that it wouldn’t have taken much to rework the stories without the human-acting programs. The second half of Reloaded would have been tough. Maybe Agents would have had the Keymaker instead of the Merovingian. Or the Twins, working for the Architect, could have him. Revolutions would have been much easier: Merovingian et. al. are in Revolutions for just a couple of minutes. Neo could have figured a way back to the Matrix on his own – it’s sorta crappy when your main character has to be rescued. After that, it’s back to just Smith and the Oracle. Seraph can stay since he’s just a bodyguard program but Sati would have to go. With the extra screen time, I think I would have concentrated on the Neo / Smith relationship more. Since Smith is “the result of the equation trying to balance itself out” then his power should equal Neo’s. When Neo gains the power of the Source, Smith should have had some similar improvement. But Smith’s already has the ability to replicate as well as “reach” the real world by the time Neo meets the Architect.

One thing I liked is that they killed off this story line, literally, while keeping the world open for more. There’s a Matrix comic now and a MMORPG coming next year. I’ve seen several short fan films done with Machinima plus a hilarious parody. I’m sure there are more out there. I’m looking forward to more stories from the Matrix world.

Entertain Me the Way I Want To Be Entertained

Talking about the Matrix movies and game got me thinking about the way I am entertained. I’m used to being entertained on opposite ends of the interactivity spectrum: passive movie watching and active game playing. I think you could generate more interesting experiences by intermixing those two extremes. For example, my favorite games are ones with a great story. You could watch someone else play Halo and still enjoy the experience. I hear Crimson Skies is the same way. So why can’t you choose to passively experience the story without getting involved in the game play, if I only care about the story? My wife has no interest in playing Enter the Matrix, but she’d like to see the story.

I also really like sports games (esp. hockey). Many sports games are adding “owner” modes where hire staff and sign players but don’t control the game play on the field. That’s pretty cool. Microsoft’s XSN Sports lineup doesn’t have those modes, instead the focus on online leagues and tournaments. While most of that experience is very interactive, how about having a XSN “SportsCenter” where you can see highlights from other games in your league? Maybe even cut away during breaks in the action to show highlights from other games in your league that may be going on at the same time. Those features are passive, but they would add immensely to the game experience.

Some of these techniques start to get into the realm of Machinima – making movies using gaming engines.

Anyone else interested in this? What are the good tools and engines that work with Managed DirectX?

Matrix Revolutions

I finally got to see The Matrix Revolutions. My whole division saw it on opening day, but since that was during SAF, our team couldn’t go. So we went en masse on Monday. I guess I’m in the minority, both in blogsphere and on the team, but I really enjoyed it. I also just finished playing Enter The Matrix. Funny coincidence, I reached the point of the game that corresponds to the end of The Matrix Reloaded on Sunday, saw Revolutions Monday, finished the game Tuesday. The game got somewhat decent ratings, but again I liked it. Probably because I was more interested in it as an adjunct to the movies than as a game. One review I read complained about the amount of action that took place during cinematic cut-scenes rather than in the game itself. But since I played the game primarily for the story, I didn’t mind.