The rabbit hole apparently goes deeper than we first thought. Since watching the credits roll on 1999's ''The Matrix,'' sci-fi and action buffs have been impatiently awaiting the release of that blockbuster's two sequels -- ''The Matrix Reloaded'' and ''The Matrix Revolutions'' -- both due later this year. And it turns out that Andy and Larry Wachowski, the fraternal writer-director team behind the lucrative franchise, have been harboring a deep secret. ''They've made two and a half sequels,'' divulges veteran game designer Dave Perry. That unexpected half sequel turns out to be an hour of 35mm film footage shot exclusively for the videogame ''Enter the Matrix,'' due May 15 on all major game systems. The videogame's filmic element -- starring the movie cast and shot on the Australian movie set -- marks an important step forward in the burgeoning creative relationship between Hollywood and the game industry. The game also boasts a Hollywood-size price tag: a rumored budget of $20 million, roughly four times the average cost of developing a PS2 title.
From the start, the Wachowskis strived to ensure that ''Enter'' was anything but average. Both avid gamers, the brothers wanted to create an experience that seamlessly blended the razzle-dazzle of filmed clips with immersive 3-D gameplay. To tie these elements together, they penned an original 244-page game script and set out to hire a top-flight game developer, ultimately going with Perry's Shiny Entertainment. ''I thought Larry and Andy would give us a few ideas on the back of an envelope,'' Perry recalls with a laugh. ''It turned out they had every detail of the game planned out.''
The Wachowskis' master plan included a novel twist. Rather than rehash the plot of ''The Matrix Reloaded,'' the game tells a parallel but equally important story. You don't play as Neo -- though he, as well as Morpheus and Trinity, definitely figures in the game. Instead, you play two characters who have supporting roles in the film: an assassin named Ghost, portrayed by Hong Kong action star Anthony Wong, and hovercraft pilot Niobe, played by Jada Pinkett Smith. (''Jada had to learn more lines of dialogue for the game than she did for the movie,'' says Perry.) More importantly -- and in a move that might have some significance in future tie-ins -- the game and movie story lines will intersect in unique ways. Exact details of the crossover are closely guarded, but Perry offers one cryptic example. ''In the movie you'll see a package. If you play the game, you'll understand how that package got to where it is in the film.'' We're guessing it's not via FedEx.
Between the film sequences lies a combat system similar in style to 2001's third-person action game ''Max Payne.'' But make no mistake -- the moves are firmly grounded in the Matrix universe: Players battle Agents by pulling off physics-defying stunts (running up walls, slowing down time) and using martial-arts moves designed by the movies' fight choreographer, Yuen Wo-Ping. ''This isn't just a game based on the movie,'' Perry insists. ''It's an important and distinctive part of the overall 'Matrix' experience.'' Just what we've been waiting for: another exquisite excuse to sit in front of a TV set for 10 hours.