Thursday, 27 October 2011

Redpill Diary #3: A Question of Choice

I am the Warden!!

While the majority of effort continues to focus on fine tuning the core components of the Optional System, my mind remains plugged into the Matrix. Mostly notes, concepts, and theories, issues which require decisions before taking it to the next step. One of the biggest remains how detailed the Matrix should be.

I had a "meeting" with a good friend about this very topic. I'm not a programmer by any definition - I still have trouble remembering the three buttons you hold down to reboot my Mac - but he is. And we talked about how the Matrix works as a hyper-virtual reality. In doing so, we came back to one major hurdle.

It depends on just how far down the rabbit hole you want to go.

With this in mind, it became clear the three proposed timelines were going to play a larger role in setting design than originally expected. The further along in the existing mythology, the more information is required. Why? Because there seems to be a correlation between the amount of Matrix material accepted by certain fans and their expectations of the setting.

For example, people who only recognize the first film adore it. It's the perfect ACTION film and I agree with that. The entire execution of how these characters interacted with their environment and how they used their abilities was exceptional. Of course you can suddenly turn around and attack someone you didn't "see" coming, you can "see" them in the code. These characters were not operating in the same way we do in reality. And that's all we needed to know.

As the second and third films were released, we learned about its morality. Programs existed in the Matrix operating as individually as humans in reality, each one given a task they willingly or grudgingly accepted. They could even experience love. Suddenly, there was more than just a world of violence; there were casualties, innocent victims, and an imperfect solution to ending the war. The line between human and machine was very thin indeed.

As mentioned before, the majority of fans who love the first film loathe the remaining. As a publisher, I can't ignore that. I have to play to the demand of a potential market. As a writer/designer, however, I cannot ignore the rich tapestry provided in what followed, particularly when building an RPG campaign. I could make a simple Man vs Machine war, but even I'd only play it for a couple of games. The idea of a black-and-white setting in a system where characters can do whatever they want seems counter-intuitive.

By splitting the depth of the material into corresponding timelines, I can cater to a wider variety of fans. You just want to play a kick-ass action game? Use the first timeline. You want something more? Keep reading.

The question remaining is how deep the rabbit hole actually goes...

What Is The Matrix?
Looking at this question, it's actually inaccurate for this purpose. It's more like "How Does The Matrix?" When building a roleplaying game, you have to understand how everything works in your universe, even if your players don't need it. Anyone who disagrees should consider magic in every game out there. You don't just cast spells, there's a means and a reason suitable to the setting; detailing this information helps a GM handle unique situations and rule disputes without reading another 100,000 words on every possible scenario.

The Matrix, as I currently understand it, is an application containing millions, if not billions, of programs designed to deceive the human mind into believing it is experiencing reality. It replaces our five natural senses with its own synaptic messages offering information so that we live a complete, detailed, and shared existence that's believable enough to trick our minds into acceptance. There it is on a basic level.

So how exactly does it do that? Like Mouse said: "How does it know what Tasty Wheat tastes like?" Does the program interacting with our brain tell us exactly how it tastes or are we filling in the blanks? And does either answer better explain how the Matrix is successful in its objective? Do we buy into it because we complete the puzzle ourselves?

On the surface, these questions may seem unnecessary, but they're important to me as a designer because I can use that information to discern how to bend the rules and create new powers. Sure, I can just make 'em up and say that sounds cool, but then I would be denying the original source of its purpose. Purpose.

Perhaps it's time for some cartoons. I need a flashlight before going any deeper.