‘The Matrix Awakens’, towards a new (ir) reality

Geoff Keighley’s Game Awards have been vilified for betraying their vocation of celebrating the faces behind the year’s greatest video games in favor of turning the event into a showcase for boosting the promotional cycle of the industry’s wealthiest companies. The last edition, which took place at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles just two weeks ago, reached an audience of 85 million viewers. Keighley assures that these numbers are necessary to finance the entire operation and that the only way to put so many eyes on the screen to support his extravagance of more than three hours is with surprising announcements. Beyond discussing the dichotomy between prestige and cynical consumerism, I wanted to focus on what may be the most interesting convergence between marketing, creativity and technological impulse of everything that was revealed that night. Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss presented The Matrix Awakensavailable from that night on next-generation consoles, a huge collaboration between different companies to showcase the technological benefits of Unreal Engine 5, the Epic Games graphics engine that is called to sculpt the space of possibility for the next decade in the interactive medium .

The demo starts with some renders hyperrealistic images of the two actors elaborating an intellectual discourse on some of the themes that characterize the film and the impact that the original had on the aesthetics of audiovisual media –not only in the cinema, but also in a capital way in videogames– before moving on to a high-speed car chase through a city that can later be explored freely. During the opening bars, when some iconic scenes from the 1999 film are recreated, the untrained eye will mistake them for the original footage. Except Morpheus, everything else is digital models from the photogrammetric scans of the actors and artificial models based on Metahuman, Epic’s tool for making compelling characters. And, except for a few seconds, everything in the demo happens in real time. That is, it is the result of the computerization of the consoles themselves, not a closed package created on supercomputers from an animation studio. The level of detail is terrifying. Every follicle, every pore and every wrinkle in the clothes is captured with great fidelity. And those that don’t are created from scratch. In the chase, another character joins Neo and Trinity in the car. His modeling is completely artificial and although it is supported by the interpretation of an actress, it does not have any specific aesthetic reference. And yet, his interaction with Neo and Trinity is natural, without fanfare, without unsettling valleys. It’s a technological marvel no matter which way you look at it, heralding the advent of a transformative age with far-reaching ramifications, not just for movies or video games, but for the future of human interpersonal communication.

Image of the technical demo of the video game ‘The Matrix Awakens’

The scripted sequence of The Matrix Awakens It has been written and directed by Lana Wachowski just like the main film The Matrix Resurrections that, without making big spoilers, gets fully into the video game industry to curl the meta-commentary to paroxysm (they have even allowed themselves to include the statuette of The Game Awards in a scene). It is important to note that this is not his first video game experience. After the success of the first film, the then Wachowski brothers got involved in a transmedia project of excessive ambition that not only included the two sequels, shot at the same time, but also the collection of animated short films The Animatrix and the creation of the video game Enter The Matrix, which covered the adventures of Niobe and Ghost, two secondary characters whose actions were decisive in the plot but who did not have much space in the footage of the films. What the general public may not have realized is that Anthony Wong and Jada Pinkett-Smith not only lent their voices and faces to the game, but also they shot an additional hour of film footage that appeared between chapters. I mean, what could have been deleted scenes from The Matrix Reloaded, instead of ending up in a submenu of the DVD edition, they found their way into the game’s code. Although of course, they were never shot to end up in the wastebasket, but as additional material that covered events of great importance in mythology, such as the transformation of the Oracle after the attack of the Merovingian.

The concept was groundbreaking in 2003 and achieved notable commercial revenue, but it did not fully crystallize into an effective video game and received a rather lukewarm critical reception, partly due to its unfinished appearance as its launch had to coincide with that of the first sequel. Part of the complaints from the players focused, however, on the concept itself. They wanted to play as the lead, not two new characters that they had no kind of pre-existing bond with. The studio complied with his wishes two years later with Path of Neobut the Wachowskis’ attentions turned to The Matrix Onlinea massively multiplayer game with which the directors wanted players to “inherit the story” of the films after the epic conclusion of the trilogy. The game ended up closing its doors in 2009, partly due to the brutal competition at the time in the MMORPG market, but before that it had time to thread plots of capital importance to the universe, such as the death of Morpheus, which takes place inside of the game and could explain the absence of Laurence Fishburne in the fourth episode.

1670875580 518 The Matrix Awakens towards a new ir reality

Image of the technical demo of the video game ‘The Matrix Awakens’

In the last twenty years, not everything has turned out as the Wachowskis had envisioned. No one can deny the influence of his universe, but his transmedia strategy either did not have the required talent to carry it out or was too far ahead of technological progress that could make it possible. With Unreal Engine 5, those limitations can be lifted. Epic has already announced that all assets that they have created for the demo (the gigantic city with all its buildings and elements) will be available to developers, but many see in the considerable investment proof of the progress that Tim Sweeney’s company has made. they would be doing in the Metaverse space to challenge Facebook for hegemony. A prior step is, without a doubt, clearing up all the unknowns that hinder the equation of transmedia approaches. The Matrix Awakens It shows off a spectacular technical invoice and opens the door to a whole panorama of urgent questions: how can this affect image rights? What autonomy do the performers have from the creators? How are the audiences going to respond to the propagation of digital models in their films?, to the proliferation of actors who have effectively banished senescence?… Like it or not, the future is already here. The questions that we asked ourselves with a certain intellectual condescension two decades ago demand a convincing and far-reaching answer. It is not a question of choosing between blue pills and red pills. The choice is nothing more than a mere illusion. We have already made a decision even if we are not able to understand the scope of its ultimate consequences. The illiteracy of our main thought leaders in these struggles and their sometimes inquisitive dogmatism has done us a disservice. It is not enough to entrust ourselves to Byung-Chul Han. We will have no choice but to make our way through the streets of the Matrix, through the streets of the imminent Metaverse.

The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience

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‘The Matrix Awakens’, towards a new (ir) reality


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