Paul Chadwick’s most familiar project coming up for comics fans is most likely December’s Concrete: The Human Dilemma miniseries coming from Dark Horse that reunites the creator with his best known creation. That’s not to say it’s Chadwick’s only project coming out this winter. The creator is also writing the story for The Matrix Online, the massively multiplayer online role playing game due to launch in January.
For Chadwick, working with The Matrix again was a return of sorts – he was one of the first comic creators Andy and Larry Wachowski approached to create a comic story based on The Matrix, back before the first movie was even made.
“Back then, I was just working from the screenplay, and I’ll admit it – I didn’t understand the whole idea completely,” Chadwick said. “I wasn’t alone – as the story goes, the studio didn’t understand the script either, but when they saw the storyboards, they realized they had something different and exciting on their hands.
“That was in 1999, and it was because of Geof Darrow, who designed a lot of the hardware in the films. The idea, from the very beginning, was to do a trilogy of movies, and also to keep the fans fed between movies with comics on the website. That first story I did by the way, is about to be reprinted in the second Matrix collection. I just finished the colors two weeks ago.”
In total, Chadwick wrote and illustrated three Matrix stories for the website. “At some point, Larry and Andy decided that I understood the concepts and was simpatico with their views, and would be useful on this massively multiplayer game,” Chadwick said. “They didn’t have a complete outline ready, but they did have a very specific idea of what they thought players would want to do, and what a post-Matrix Revolutions truce would look like. So we had a long meeting, and I wrote a memo based on our discussions. They made a few changes, and I started writing from there.
“I came into the game a couple of years into its development. They already knew it would be set in a post-Revolutions world; and that the game would take place only in the Matrix, and not in Zion or the machine world. But my job has been to outline the week-by-week story that’s fed to the players. To that end, I’ve written an outline of the first year, what happens every week, and how players learn new things. That of course, has been parsed line by line by the Wachowskis. What I want to stress is that this is a sequel to Matrix Revolutions. This is Matrix gospel. If there are future films, they will acknowledge the events that take place in the game.”
In regards to playing the story, players will join the world as Redpills, that is, recently awoken individuals who jack into the Matrix via a hovercraft in the “real” world. From there, you enter a plot woven by Chadwick.
“There are mystery stories, there are feuds between factions, there are murders that need retribution, and there are people who want to wreck the whole system. The Wachowskis have said that the theme for the first year will be the peace, and the things people do to wreck it – to which I would add there’s a good amount about the things artificial intelligences do to wreck the peace as well. AI’s, or ‘Exiles’ as they’re called in the Matrix – programs like the Merovingian, have their own agendas. So the people and the machines are not the only ones in there.
“There are different organizations, and the way you gain skills and powers is by going on missions – there’s the Merovingian, there’s the Zion military, there’s the machine civilization, or the agents, and then, as time goes on, breakaway factions will form from those main groups. It will get very complicated and messy. It’s not just good guys and bad guys – there are a lot of interacting players.
“But it all does lead to a major, global, Matrix-threatening crisis at the end of the first year that will take about all the factions working together to save the whole world – or worlds – from Zion to the Matrix, to the machine world.”
In regards to telling the story, every few weeks, a new Chadwick-scripted cinematic will be uploaded, which will advance the larger plot of the world’s story, bringing all players up to speed on the lives of characters such as Niobe, Morpheus, and the Oracle.
“The films that suggest courses of action that you might take – you might want to join an organization, or solve a murder mystery, or any number of other venues,” Chadwick said. “The films will always be proposing storylines and directions. They’ll always be available after that, so anyone can catch up quickly, no matter when they come in. There will also be a straight written synopsis too.
“The story will also advance in real time, as you go on missions – you might find a tape recording as part of your mission, or learn some of the backstory from the characters in the film, and learn why they did some of the things they did in the movies. And there are plenty of people just walking around as well – we’ll have employees walking around within the game, passing along rumors, and we’ll also have non-playing characters as well – they’ll be there to spread rumors, or explain things they saw that were mysterious, as well as provide some misdirection.
“In regards to gaining information, there’s also the Newspaper – The Sentinel. The catch is it’s written by the so-called Bluepills, who aren’t savvy that the Matrix is all an illusion, and tend to rationalize the events that are going on in the stories as conventional occurrences, not a clash between the Redpills and the Exiles, or whatever factions may be fighting at the time. But, as a Redpill, you’ll be able to read between the lines of what the Bluepills are reporting”
To date, Chadwick has only worked in linear storytelling, where he, as the creator, controlled the pace, as well as the rate at which and method information is relayed to the audience. As Chadwick sees The Matrix Online, it’s more like 4-dimensional writing, as players can follow the meta-story by a variety of methods, and can learn it at their own pace.
In short, “It’s very headache producing,” Chadwick chuckled. “The difficulty in writing this was that you really had to access both sides of your brain while you’re writing it. You’ve got the very logical, timed-out doling out of information, as well as the very creative side of things, and there are so many technical requirements in this kind of storytelling as well. It’s hard to get into that altered state of consciousness that you can get into when you’re just writing prose.
“It’s something that I think Alan Moore would be fantastic at, if he ever wanted to give it a try. He seems to have a good grasp of structuring things in time and space without letting the seams show.”
As Chadwick explained, the game’s storyline is currently structured out in a weekly manner for one year, that is, roughly 52 episodes. So far, the writer said he’s only touched a couple of hot wires in his plans in regards to future exploration of the world by the Wachowskis themselves. “I’ve only gotten a couple of notes back from them that read, ‘DON’T KILL THIS CHARACTER,’ but they haven’t told me what they want to do with that character. I have no idea if there will be any more Matrix movies – they deflect my questions with jokes.
“So really, in regards to the story we’re telling, they just spoke in terms of a theme and a direction, and when I came back with an outline, they told me certain parts were really good, a couple of characters needed to be a seen a little more, other characters couldn’t be killed – things like that.
“But it’s pretty much plotted out just for the first year, and I’m sure I’ll have another long meeting with the Wachowskis after the game has been out for six months and we’ll see if we’re going in the right direction. I’m sure we’ll want to react to what the players wants to do and the directions they head into if they’re not heading where we thought they would.
“We’ve created this really cool thing that can change as the players progress through it – there’s a point in the story where the conventional Matrix city has portals to some much more surreal environments that we’re expecting people will adopt as places to hang out. If that doesn’t happen, that means something, and we’ll adjust things appropriately – we’ll figure out something to make it work.
“So there you go – thousands pf people populating this world that, I’d like to think could become all-consuming, because there’s so much to fascinate, challenge and engage. You could find it becoming more important than your real life.
“Rather like The Matrix.”