When my friend and I saw “The Matrix Resurrections” on Christmas Eve, the movie was deja vu for us. Thomas Anderson, played by Keanu Reeves, is a video game designer in San Francisco. His team working on the sequel to “The Matrix” trilogy called “The Matrix 4.”
That happened to us 20 years ago. We worked at Atari when “Enter The Matrix” entered testing in late 2002. A video game with exclusive live-action video from “The Matrix Reloaded,” the first sequel to “The Matrix.”
I’ll show you how deep the rabbit hole went.
The New Atari Wasn’t The Original Atari
Before I talk about “Enter The Matrix,” I need to talk about Atari that existed in 2003.
When people think of Atari, they remember Nolan Bushnell, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The original Atari that ushered in video game arcades and home consoles in the 1970s. Jobs and Wozniak founded Apple Computer Company in July 1976. Bushnell sold Atari to Warner Communications in September 1976.
The original Atari went bankrupt after the video game market crashed in 1983. Atari made more “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” cartridges than they were consoles to play them on. It didn’t help that “E.T.” was a poorly made video game rushed out the door for Christmas 1982.
The Atari intellectual property, or IP, floated around the industry for years.
Infogrames Became The New Atari
Infogrames, a Paris-based video game publisher, went on a buying spree from 1996 to 2002. I worked at Accolade for a year when Infogrames bought the company in 1998. Hasbro Interactive, which owned the Atari IP, got bought in January 2001. That meant Infogrames owned the Atari trademarks and the rights for all the old video games.
Many video game companies at that time move to Southern California to be closer to Hollywood.
The programming and marketing teams moved from San Jose to Santa Monica that summer. They blamed the testers for a thief who stole personal items from their cubes. When they moved to Santa Monica, the thief moved with them.
The testers moved from San Jose to Sunnyvale, which was the home for the original Atari. That prompted speculation that the company might change its name.
Infogrames became the new Atari in late 2001.
Enter The Matrix
Security for “Enter The Matrix” was tight to prevent leaks about the new movie, “The Matrix Reloaded.” The live-action video was about two minor characters in the movie who are the main characters in the game. Captain Niobe played by Jada Pinkett Smith and Ghost played by Anthony Brandon Wong.
Management kept the game discs for the PC, Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube, and Sony PlayStation 2 under lock and key. Every morning the discs got checked out by the supervisors. Every evening the discs got checked back in by the supervisors. And then one day, management’s worse fear came true.
A set of discs went missing.
What made the situation weird was that the missing discs didn’t have the live-action video files. The game itself revealed nothing about the new movie without those video files. That left everyone puzzled as for why someone took the discs. When the discs didn’t show up after a week, five testers got fired.
Testing The Rabbit Hole
As a lead tester working on other video game titles, I managed to avoid testing “Enter The Matrix” until the end. I had to test the rabbit hole on the GameCube. The final chase scene with the ship escaping the sentinels in the tunnels.
The rabbit hole that the player is supposed to see contained non-stop action. The rabbit hole I tested was a black screen. I did that for three whole days.
Did Enter The Matrix Kill The New Atari
According to legend, “E.T.” killed the original Atari. Despite the poor reviews, “Enter The Matrix” didn’t kill the new Atari. The dot com bust triggered declining video game sales and a slow descent into bankruptcy.
Many people thought Infogrames paid two to three times what each studio was worth. The actual figure was more like four to five times. None of the studios were worth much in a fire sale.
When Atari filed for bankruptcy in 2013, all it had left to license was the Atari IP. Selling old games, overpriced retro gaming machines, and blockchain products. Before the COVID-19 shutdown in early 2020, Atari licensed a deal for Atari-themed hotels in the real world. From what I’ve read recently, you might have to go to the Metaverse to stay at an Atari Hotel.