The Matrix movie franchise has always had a close and fascinating relationship with video games. The movies themselves are about characters who dive into a video game world, where they are able to use gaming powers to be badass knowing kung fu. Beyond that, the movies’ stories have been expanded by related games such as Enter The Matrix and The Matrix Online. So it’s not particularly surprising to see Epic Games partner with the franchise to create The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal 5 Engine Experience, an impressive tech demo that does a lot to further blur the lines between games and movies, and maybe even reality.
Matrix Awakens consists of three different parts. First off, it’s something of a hands-off movie, in which Epic mixes real Keanu Reeves footage and real props with faces and locations generated in Unreal Engine 5. This part, a bit of the fourth groundbreaking matrix link, then transitions into a driving sequence that adds gameplay moments – as Carrie-Anne Moss’ character Trinity drives a car down the highway, you play as the original demo character Io suspended from a window, shooting tires and blasting evil agents to stop their pursuit. The final part of the demo places you in a four square kilometer open-world city reminiscent of the unnamed urban location found inside the Matrix in the movies. For this part, you can walk, drive, or fly through the environment, play with the lighting, adjust crowd and traffic density, and uncover some secrets.
Although the demo features Reeves reprising his character, Thomas Anderson, and Moss returning as Trinity, don’t expect The Matrix Awakens to reveal any secrets about The Matrix Resurrections. The demo’s script was written by Resurrections writer and director Lana Wachowski, but it focuses more on some of the film’s big themes, like the nature of reality, than on the actual story of the film itself. Additionally, Reeves and Moss appear both in-character and out-of-character to talk about what you see on screen, so The Matrix Awakens isn’t as tied to the franchise’s storyline as other gaming experiences. the past. According to Epic, it’s also not a precursor to a future Unreal Engine 5 Matrix game, either – it was created as an opportunity to show off the engine and power of current-gen game consoles, and to create a little more hype. for the upcoming return of the Matrix film franchise.
What the matrix awakens Is it that to do is demonstrate how well the Unreal Engine 5 graphics on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X can compare to the special effects seen in the movies, and maybe one day, what we see in real life. The demo mixes real footage of Reeves with an in-engine “MetaHuman” version – and then goes one better to bring out an aged Neo from the original film, while recreating the overhead view of his apartment and office where Neo is introduced for the first time. And while both Reeves and Moss did motion capture for the demo, there’s no actual footage of the real Moss in the demo.
These faces are impressive, and there are times when it’s hard to tell the real images from the Unreal regeneration. For the aged version of Reeves, CTO Kim Libreri said Epic used enhanced scans of the actor’s face that were taken while filming the original Matrix movie trilogy. And while Epic could have rendered their MetaHuman characters’ faces on more powerful computers, which would have made them even better, and used those images in the demo, they wanted to make sure everything in The Matrix Awakens was rendered in using the power of PS5 and Series X.
“It’s what you see in all of our promotional material – it’s the console version of the character,” he said.
Before being at Epic Games, Libreri worked in Hollywood on visual effects. He worked on The Matrix’s famous “shotgun hit” and served as visual effects supervisor on The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. But the gunshot in The Matrix Awakens, which includes a digitally captured motion-captured Reeves walking across the stage, has been fully recreated in Unreal 5.
Part 2 of The Matrix Awakens adds a bit of gameplay to the mix, and that’s pretty much the end of any Matrix story tie-in in the demo; the idea is that, as Io, you participate in a training simulation for new human recruits in the war against the creators of the Matrix. The scene is immediately reminiscent of the highway shootout action sequences from Reloaded, but it’s not a recreated sequence from the film, like the bullet-time scene is.
“The cool stunts of the car driving through the city and the motorized drifting are really cool because we built this whole city,” Libreri said. “We’re able to just bypass it and then record those elements into this thing called Take Recorder and Sequencer and then layer the other actions and set off explosions. So the whole thing about that is cinematographic creation by simulation.”
The matrix wakes up in numbers
It took Epic Games over a year to create The Matrix Awakens, and its sprawling open-world city is impressively dense. Some statistics on what the city includes:
- 15.79 square kilometers in area, slightly larger than downtown Los Angeles
- 260 kilometers of roads
- 512 kilometers of sidewalks
- 45,073 cars parked; 38,146 of them are flyable and destructible
- 17,000 simulated and destructible traffic vehicles on the roads
- 7000 buildings
- 35,000 pedestrians
- 10 million unique and duplicate assets
In fact, the car chase sequence is played in the city you will explore later in the demo. And this city was, somewhat shockingly given its level of detail, procedurally generated. The city itself comprises something like 10 million art assets and around 7,000 buildings, as art director Jérôme Platteaux explained. And while there isn’t much gameplay included in the city component, you can drive across in a car, crashing into other vehicles and sending them flying the same way they scattered in The Matrix Reloaded’s freeway scene. The city also includes artificial intelligence of crowds and traffic to make it more realistic.
Libreri said Epic wanted to show how Unreal 5’s tools make it easier to create an open-world game, and in fact, the tech demo town is given to developers in the Unreal 5 community. ‘actually includes no copyrighted assets from The Matrix films or elsewhere, and therefore nothing prevents Unreal users from creating content using the city.
While Unreal Engine is primarily used to create video games, Epic’s technology also has a place in the movie industry. Unreal Engine technology has been a part of the movie visual effects process for around 20 years, and the engine is famous for helping create digital effects on the Disney+ show The Mandalorian. The capabilities of engines like Unreal 5 can also dramatically change the way movies are made. Libreri said that as someone who previously worked in the film industry, he always tries to explain to filmmakers the possibility of shooting scenes and effects. in game worlds, like the city of The Matrix Awakens.
The car chase scene was made in the city in much the same way filmmakers would create it in the modern world, Platteaux explained. The Epic Developers searched for locations in the procedurally generated world and used them to create the blueprints they wanted. But working in the game world also helped make certain aspects of filming easier, he said.
“A huge advantage of doing a story in a video game world is that the world is alive. So there are crowds, there is traffic. There are things that you don’t even have to think about,” he said. “You come with it for free. Meanwhile, when you’re doing visual effects, you usually have to say, ‘Okay, let’s simulate the crowd for this shot. ‘Okay, let’s simulate the crowd for this cut.’ So here you just place your camera, and that’s pretty good.”
For Libreri, the ability to create realistic places and even people in Unreal Engine 5 suggests that games and movies will increasingly mix in the future, as it will be possible to use the same art and animations. for film visual effects. and game graphics.
“The big creative lesson for us is this look, you know, with engine technology being what it is, you can make a movie and then the assets can be used for a video game. You can make a video game and you can film in that,” he said. “In our case, on this subject, we created the world that will look like a game and we filmed our content inside this virtual world. You know what, the moment we really enter the heart of the EU 5 shipping next year, this worldwide, you can load it on LED screen and shoot and get in-camera visual effects and shoot something in the streets of this demo.
“It’s like, hey, in the future of entertainment, do I do a game? Do I do a movie? Do I do both? Do I even have to choose now? You have to make choices, but… there’s a lot of flexibility there and I think as we see a new generation of creators beyond current filmmakers and current game creators, I think you’re going to see things that we can’t even imagine. … And if that’s what an Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 can do today, can you imagine what the next generation of consoles will be able to do? is breathtaking.”
The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience is available to download for free on PlayStation Network and the Xbox Games Store now.