Exclusive Developer Journal: State of MxO’s Story

Today we’re lucky to have Matrix Online developer “Rarebit” take the time to pen a developer journal exclusively for MXO WarCry. In this article, he looks at the state of MxO’s story.

Developer Journal: State of the Matrix Story
Article by Rarebit, MxO Developer

Early in the development of The Matrix Online (MxO), the powers behind the game decided that it would do something significantly different than most other commercial massively multiplayer online games: It would tell a single, continuing story–the story of the Matrix. It would pick up right after the end of the third Matrix film and continue to evolve the exciting world and characters that had proven so popular in the Matrix movie trilogy.

The series’ creators, the Wachowski Brothers, developed a general theme for the first year’s plot (Peace and the things people do to wreck it), ideas for a new character or two, and some thoughts on how to kick things off. They hand-picked Paul Chadwick, well known for his comic book series “Concrete” and one of their favorite writers, and put the franchise firmly in his hands. Armed with this creative blessing and plenty of encouragement to take the Matrix to places it had never been before, Paul began writing the first year or so of the story.

Meanwhile, the designers set to work to develop the game that would put players right in the middle of the action. Players would choose one of three organizations to work for–Zion, the last human city; the Machines, administrators of the Matrix simulation; or the Merovingian, master of the simulation’s digital underworld–and would receive critical missions in which they fought for their organization’s benefit as the story advanced. Cinematics released at the beginning of each new step of the story would dramatically reveal major plot developments and an in-game newspaper would contain coded messages with important clues to mysteries lurking beneath the city’s usually benign surface.

Major characters, both those with which players were familiar from the Matrix movies, such as Morpheus and Niobe, as well as new characters important to the ongoing story of the Matrix, would appear “live” in the game itself. Team members would play these characters, interacting with players to bring the story to them in a direct and unique way.

When we began, we had no real predecessor whose example we could follow; nobody had ever brought a major fictional franchise with a living, breathing story to an audience in this way. As might be expected, in this bold and unprecedented undertaking not everything went as anticipated. We quickly learned that the schedule for advancing the story was far too optimistic: Even the resources of our full development team could not produce content quickly enough to meet the story’s demands. In the midst of the ups and downs common in the launch of a new massively multiplayer game, the story’s schedule was constantly at risk for delays.

Due to this, the widespread live events which were originally geared to support the ongoing storyline instead became the primary delivery vehicle. Many lessons were learned from this hectic and exciting period, especially when the energized live team’s interactions with different players on different servers spun off many tangents and side stories (many of which are still debated today). We found that, even with many hours jacked into the game, the live events team was only able to reach a fraction of our player base. In the end, it was a lively but–as the Machines might say–inefficient way to tell a story.

Nearly two years since releasing the game we still have no other online games with which we can compare our continuing endeavors to develop the story and characters of this unique universe. Much has changed in the game, in the team running it, in our audience, and in the story itself. But we’re still here, and bringing the story of the Matrix to players in a much more refined way than ever before.

After The Matrix Online live team came to Sony Online Entertainment, new techniques evolved as the way we told the story was reborn. The live events are necessarily on a smaller scale than the original events, but they remain intimately tied to the main story. Crucial live events for each organization are planned and executed in tandem with the rollout of cinematics and critical missions. Now players can see a new cinematic, play a new mission, and–with a little luck–join in a live event that is the direct result of what they did in the missions.

Even if a player isn’t online at the time and place at which each of our daily live events happens, the events are preserved in words and images in their own section of The Matrix Online forums. Here visitors and players can look up what happened in any given event and share their own experiences and stories. Those who aren’t yet subscribing to MxO will find this forum a useful place to get up to speed on what’s been going on.

Critical missions are now archived in game, as well. A player newly arrived in the Matrix will find that, although much has happened since the last movie, they can relive every storyline mission since launch. Players can even run missions for the organizations they don’t belong to if they wish. By playing archived versions of the critical missions from previous chapters in the story players can even earn special rewards.

As I write this, the story of the Matrix has reached a great turning point. We will shortly come to the end of the story material that was written prior to the game’s launch. The writing and planning for the future of the story is already underway, informed and enriched by all that we have learned in telling it to a live audience over the past several years. We understand better what we can do and what we can’t; what engages players and what bores them; what has the feel of the Matrix movies and what doesn’t. The experiences of these first few years have taught us a lot about how to tell the story of the Matrix through a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game. Now that story is really getting down to business.

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