An oral history of The Matrix games: Enter the Matrix and Path of Neo – Polygon

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Meet the developers who crafted Wachowskis’ vision for Enter the Matrix and Path of Neo
In the late 1990s, David Perry got a phone call from the offices of Silver Pictures. The studio wanted to send him the script for an upcoming science-fiction film, called The Matrix, from a pair of relatively unknown writer-directors: Lana and Lilly Wachowski. The Wachowskis wanted their next project adapted into a video game, and they thought Shiny Entertainment — the Laguna Beach company Perry had founded in 1993 — would be the perfect developer to do it justice.
But Shiny ultimately turned them down. “That was probably the worst decision of my career,” Perry told Polygon in a recent interview. He later took his wife to see the movie, and neither of them could believe he’d said no to making a game based on the Wachowskis’ masterpiece.
When the offer came in a second time, Perry rushed to Los Angeles and inked a deal that led to not one, but two Matrix game tie-ins. The first, Enter the Matrix, released on May 14, 2003, alongside the Wachowskis’ blockbuster sequel, The Matrix Reloaded. The game centered on Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Ghost (Anthony Wong), two characters from the film’s supporting cast, and it included loads of live-action footage not found in the movie.
When it came time to deliver a second game in 2005, the Matrix trilogy had come and gone, and the Wachowskis’ approach to the material began to change. The Enter the Matrix sequel would give fans the chance to play as Keanu Reeves’s prophesied hero — the one called Neo. But the visionary filmmakers wanted to take things a step further. This wouldn’t be a straightforward adaptation of the movies; the Wachowskis saw Path of Neo as a chance to give their story an alternative ending.
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They wanted Neo to live, and they wanted to speak to their audience. Path of Neo would be a triumphant retelling of its hero’s story, tailored for folks who played games. The Wachowskis would appear on screen as a pair of 8-bit monochrome sprites, the player would battle a colossal monster called MegaSmith, and humanity would cheer their savior while Queen’s “We Are the Champions” played. It was the kind of delightfully absurd catharsis the team at Shiny Entertainment could appreciate, too.
Amid the hype for The Matrix Resurrections, the fourth film in the series, I spoke to five of the people who made the Wachowskis’ wild alternate ending a reality.
Gabriel Rountree Animation director
When we were making Messiah, the Wachowskis actually showed up while we were working on it. This was before the first Matrix came out, and we weren’t interested in doing any form of licensed products. We were just doing our own thing. And they came through, saw our stuff, really liked it — and they wanted us to do a Matrix game. They hung out for a little while, and we played video games with them, but we passed on it. Then they came back after the original movie came out.
Saxs Persson Game director
We had talked to them [about working together] before they made the first Matrix, but without visual aids, some of the things they were saying — from a video game perspective, they sounded great. But for a movie, it sounded really experimental.
David Perry President, Shiny Entertainment
When I did Terminator [for Sega Genesis], we said, “Look, I don’t care what you say. Gamers are gonna want to be the Terminator. They’re gonna want to walk around as the Terminator and have that view of the world.” And they said, “Well, you can’t do that, because we don’t have the rights to Arnold Schwarzenegger.” So we said, “I guess we’ll just play as Sarah Connor, then.” And they said, “No, we don’t have the rights to Linda Hamilton.” So who are we supposed to play this game as? And they said Kyle Reese, the guy that dies in the movie.
As you can imagine, when The Matrix comes along, we’re like: “Oh, please don’t start off saying you can’t be any of the characters.” But they’re like, “Actually, we’d like to play as this new character, Niobe.” So my alarm bells are ringing. Are we gonna go down that road again? But what they said was, “No, no, no, no. We’re actually gonna shoot a whole hour of new movie footage just for your game, and we’re gonna make this story so that someone sitting in the audience that’s a gamer is gonna have a completely different experience.”
Saxs Persson Game director
We had no idea what we signed up for when we started on Enter the Matrix. We had just done Messiah, and we were sort of woefully unaware of what it would take to ship across a bunch of platforms, and with all the restrictions of an IP. Most of us had never worked with an IP before.
But what we really liked was that the Wachowskis wanted to push the boundaries; they thought games could be way more than just a prop. They wanted to tell a different story and experiment, and it all sounded great to us. In the midst of it, Shiny was sold off to Atari.
David Perry President, Shiny Entertainment
Gabe had a challenge, because you’re doing animation, so your brain goes, “Well, I’ll just animate everything.” But then when you’re working with The Matrix, you have access to their facilities, and they had set up the most advanced motion-capture system around at that time. And they said, “If you want to use it, feel free.”
Gabriel Rountree Animation director
The choreographer for the Matrix movies is Yuen Woo-ping, and even before we went to do this Matrix thing, he was my favorite Chinese director. There were like three guys in China doing really creative stuff, and that was Jackie Chan, Yuen Woo-ping, and Sammo Hung, and each of these guys all came from the exact same school. Before we got to The Matrix, I grew up doing a bunch of Chinese martial arts, and I watched all those movies. So before we got into it, I grabbed all of Yuen Woo-ping’s movies and found stuff that felt like it fit The Matrix.
The stunt team was insane. They would go through and do the most incredible work, they would do it all day, and then half the guys would go outside and chain smoke between shoots. I don’t know how they were in such amazing shape. It was absolutely incredible. The only time I was starstruck during the whole thing was when I met Yuen Woo-ping. After I met my hero, it was no big deal to work daily with Jada Pinkett or Anthony Wong.
W. D. Hogan Cinematic co-director and storyboards
There were a handful of movies that we referenced and paid homage to. There was a Bruce Lee sequence; there was a Hard Boiled sequence. And drawing that stuff was, hands down, the most fun. Because you’re mimicking some of the greats, and I remember adding a lot of grain to the storyboards, and sort of a film jump. All that stuff was really great to draw. The best thing about a job like The Matrix is you really do try and bring your A game.
You don’t always have time to add shade and shadows and out-of-focus backgrounds in storyboard jobs. But that stuff has a lot of value; it informs the animators on the tone, the look, and the sound design, and the music. All that stuff was really appreciated, and you were given the time to create some of these luxurious frames. I normally keep a portfolio of the last few years’ worth of work, but the Matrix stuff is still in my portfolio.
David Perry President, Shiny Entertainment
Another guy, Scott Barrett, had this idea for Enter the Matrix: “Why don’t we put marker balls on a fake camera and pretend to shoot? So we’ll have the camera movement, and we’ll have the people movement, and then you can put the two together, and it’ll feel like you’re shooting.” Regardless, we still had all of this wonderful motion data — probably way more and higher quality than we could’ve ever afforded for a video game.
W. D. Hogan Cinematic co-director and storyboards
After I would draw the storyboards, I would then cut them and paste them into cinematics, and add music and sound effects and all this stuff. So it was this really fun, creative way to get involved in the game.
Gabriel Rountree Animation director
I designed the fight system for Enter the Matrix, along with Perry, and the movement system. And then, on the programming side, I ended up scripting in like half the animations. It was a brutal schedule. We would’ve liked to have a whole ’nother year, but there were bonuses and whatnot, so we hit it as hard as we could. I had a sleeping bag, and I would sleep under my desk. In the morning, I’d wake up, totter into the kitchen, get some coffee, go back to work — and then take like a day off on the weekend. A bunch of us basically had PTSD after the end of it. And then I went and directed the motion capture, which we did on set in Alameda.
Chandana “Eka” Ekanayake Art and cinematic director
As a fan of film and cinematics, and trying to eke out as much quality as possible, I was playing with depth of field and camera lenses and all that stuff. That was really fun to do — a more traditional style of storytelling.
W. D. Hogan Cinematic co-director and storyboards
The language of cinema was really what Eka had asked for me to guide them in, so that when you would do a camera move in an in-game cutscene, it would ramp up like there was a person on a dolly and slow down as it reached its mark. So it was about getting the animators to make decisions as if there was someone running a camera. You would rack focus, or things would be slightly off, or the track would sort of go from point A to point B.
It was a way to humanize things so that these cutscenes wouldn’t take you out of the game. It felt like a film school. If I was on the second game for eight or nine months, only half of it was drawing, and then the other half was overseeing these cinematics.
David Perry President, Shiny Entertainment
Enter the Matrix, we bit off a little more than we could chew, because we had to do multiple game engines, all by a date that can’t move. And you’re taking on multiple different platforms that you haven’t developed on before, and you’re gonna deliver it all being great. It’s that worst-case scenario. With Path of Neo, the stress factor dropped profoundly. It was more or less, “Make something cool.”
Saxs Persson Game director
The Wachowskis went and signed up for two movies at the same time, so they were on an impossible mission, too — just as much as we were. When they finally finished, Path of Neo was much more cathartic: “Let’s do something fun that we think fans would like. Something we wish we would’ve done to begin with.” We could realize more of the creative goals that we had, rather than just telling a particular story.
Chandana “Eka” Ekanayake Art and cinematic director
The first game, they were making a film. But they were also shooting the footage that would go into the game at the same time. I think they were more focused on the game aspect the second time around.
Saxs Persson Game director
They’re saying, “There won’t be the same restrictions. And we like the idea of the game just doing almost like Alice in Wonderland — there’s no limit. These vignettes should be free to be an ode to The Matrix, or a departure from Matrix, or show a different view of it. But they should all be interesting in their own right.”
Chandana “Eka” Ekanayake Art and cinematic director
It wasn’t Path of Neo, initially. We knew we were gonna do another Matrix game, and the first thing the Wachowskis wanted to do was a Seraph game — the side character from the teahouse. Collin Chou was the actor who played him. So we were building the Seraph game. We were building out the combat stuff, and expanding on the tech and the tools we’d used on Enter the Matrix, and at some point I think they wanted to retell Neo’s story across all three films. And make it more of a video game story. By this time, Revolutions had come out.
Saxs Persson Game director
We wanted to make a game with Jet Li. That was really what we wanted.
Gabriel Rountree Animation director
Those ideas, I think, came before we released Enter the Matrix. The actor who played Seraph was a dual citizen, and amazing, and we could have gotten ahold of him easily because he lives in California most of the time. But the reality was, the number one complaint from the fans was that they wanted to be Neo. And so that’s why we went with Path of Neo. We really didn’t want to disappoint those fans a second time. Plus, we wanted to be Superman, too. Who doesn’t?
W. D. Hogan Cinematic co-director and storyboards
I don’t remember if the fan base was put off by the fact that you never followed Neo [in Enter the Matrix] — it was really these alternate storylines. Which I thought was a cool take, actually, but it’s kind of like playing a Star Wars game as an Ewok or something. You want to play Luke and Han.
Chandana “Eka” Ekanayake Art and cinematic director
They were big on trying to figure out, “Why do we have difficulty modes? Why don’t we let the player decide?” So the intro to the game is the famous lobby sequence from the first movie, but it’s played out like a dream. There’s waves and waves of enemies, and the farther you get, the harder the difficulty you can unlock. And then they wanted to change the ending. They were also editing footage from the movies into these really abridged versions of the trilogy, to go between the chapters of the game.
Saxs Persson Game director
They wanted the game to give you a unique perspective, similar to how the movies give a unique perspective. Yes, the movies are leading in terms of their approachability, but games, in many ways, can give you a deeper understanding than a movie can ever give you. It was really important to them that we paid homage to the lore, and deepen it when we have a chance, and allow people to get more curious about the Matrix universe. Similar to The Animatrix.
W. D. Hogan Cinematic co-director and storyboards
At some point, I remember just getting completely lost as to what the hell was going on. I’m like, “Okay, I’m drawing ants and vampires, and there’s a girl lying on some kind of S&M torture rack. I do not know what’s happening anymore.”
Chandana “Eka” Ekanayake Art and cinematic director
It was more fun the second time because we kind of knew what we were doing. It was mostly the same team — we added some new folks, but most of the core folks came over from the first game. Saxs was the lead programmer on the first game, and then he became more of a game director on the second game. I was technically the art director, but he and I worked together on scoping and the direction of the game. Of course, with David Perry and the Wachowskis.
And sort of the big creative arc of the whole thing is Wachowski-driven. They’re like, “We want to tell the story from Neo’s perspective. We’re gonna fill in some holes that we come up with. And then we’re gonna change the ending.”
W. D. Hogan Cinematic co-director and storyboards
A lot of what happened in the first game, and what didn’t happen, really informed the second game. You played Neo; you went through the simulation; you did the training and a lot of what they did in the movies. You’re in dojos and all these other environments. And I just remember that that was a huge, huge push.
Gabriel Rountree Animation director
We wanted a real boss fight — this was something we discussed with the Wachowskis. It had to top the movie. “It’s a game; we can do anything we want.” We started brainstorming. Another big crowd fight? But we’d already done that.
Chandana “Eka” Ekanayake Art and cinematic director
They wanted to do this thing called MegaSmith, where all the thousands of Smiths formed into MegaSmith. So we concepted that out at Shiny, and we’re like, “Here’s what we’re thinking. It’s gonna be made up of a bunch of Smiths, and a bunch of parts of the environment.” Taking the location from the last battle in the third movie, but bringing it almost into this Godzilla-like form. Because they thought that would be more fun in a video game, and it was. And then we wanted to do a really nice cinematic intro for that, so we reached out to Blur Studio, who were in California.
Gabriel Rountree Animation director
We tried to license Godzilla from Toho. The goal was to have a Godzilla made out of Agent Smiths; that was our initial plan. Unfortunately, Toho was not amused. So giant Smith is what everybody got instead.
Saxs Persson Game director
I think [design director] Shawn Berryhill and Gabe designed it. Gabriel had spent the most time on set of anybody — he was in Australia for over a month, and doing a lot of the motion capture up in the Bay Area, and was on great terms with the film crew. And then Shawn was more of an intuitive designer, which is a nice term for saying he did whatever the hell he wanted to do. I’m pretty sure “MegaSmith” was no more than a word from the Wachowskis, and it ended up being this larger-than-life, no-holds-barred implementation.
W. D. Hogan Cinematic co-director and storyboards
Eka and I got together and really guided the last pre-rendered stuff that Blur Studio did. That’s Tim Miller’s company — he did Deadpool. The experience on the second game was much more involved, and I do remember that the problem with video games back then was that everything’s in focus, and there was no depth of field. I remember having that conversation with Eka: “This would look so much better if we could blur the backgrounds, or if we could have depth of field.” And Eka really pushed for that, and his whole team was constantly coming up with ways to trick it. So it had such a great look.
Chandana “Eka” Ekanayake Art and cinematic director
David Hogan did the boards for that. David and I worked closely on all the cinematics. He’s a dear friend — great guy. I think he’s working on Ms. Marvel for Disney Plus. So David and I went up to Blur with a bunch of boards: “Here’s what we’re thinking for MegaSmith. Here’s the design for it; here’s what we want to do.” And they built this whole CG cinematic of all the Smiths coming together. Because we knew it was gonna be hard to do that in real time on a PS2. They did a great job with it. I think they did that in about two or three months. And the in-game version of MegaSmith is very similar to the CG version. All the elements are there.
W. D. Hogan Cinematic co-director and storyboards
The MegaSmith stuff was late in my involvement. We had a certain budget, and so Eka and I storyboarded up like a dream sequence, and it came up to like a million bucks or something. And we went, “Oh, my gosh. Okay.” So we got about one-eighth of what we had come up with, and yet Blur still knocked it out of the park. It was a super cool sequence, but there was originally a lot more to it.
Saxs Persson Game director
We were all influenced by Japanese anime and Miyazaki movies, and we liked the idea of reaching in and throwing yourself. That’s very Miyazaki-esque. And it was rated T for Teen, so there were limits to what we could do. But we would get more and more absurd, and it just seemed hilarious that he’s made up of himself and uses himself as a weapon, and sort of rapidly regenerates.
I think the process was literally: bigger.
Gabriel Rountree Animation director
MegaSmith was gonna pick up things and throw ’em at you, right? So we wanted to do the whole kitchen sink — at one point, we were literally gonna have a kitchen sink thrown at you. Because it fits the tone of that whole ending. But what we really wanted to have them do was uproot skyscrapers and throw them at you like spears. If you think in your mind’s eye, what’d happen is, you’d dodge up, or to the right, and this building whips by at high speed, and it’s blurring past you. Like, if you’d taken that, it would have been brutal. But we weren’t able to get the buildings in.
Saxs Persson Game director
We hadn’t done anything with flying, or movement in the air, so almost everything in that boss battle was bespoke. It was cobbled together almost like a prototype; it was so far outside of what the engine was good at.
Chandana “Eka” Ekanayake Art and cinematic director
One of the biggest challenges we had was trying to get as many Smiths on screen as possible. Especially when you talk about how many characters you can draw on a PS2, depending on the type of game, it’s like maybe five or six, depending on what else you’re drawing. So we came up with a technique where, essentially, they’re not individual characters. They have a very base set of runs and jumps, but we treat them almost like a flocking behavior.
Gabriel Rountree Animation director
We had to invent systems that were a glimmer in the eye of a lot of people at the time. The trick we used is we pre-rendered them down to multi-angle sprites, which is a really old-school technique. But to have hundreds of Agents Smiths on screen — in that scene, there’s only four or five real Smiths at any given time. All the guys in the back are all pre-rendered images or, in some cases, simplified geometry.
We would use precalculated geometry frames, storing the meshes for each frame of the animation, and that goes really fast. There’s no bones or complex math to it. And that was quite the challenge, especially because it was on PlayStation 2. My current iPhone is like a damaged PlayStation 4 in its power. The PlayStation 2 — that’s like a pocket calculator. But we got all that working.
Chandana “Eka” Ekanayake Art and cinematic director
You draw a path of behavior for how they’re gonna travel, and where they go, and they’re like a bunch of ants. And if you wanted to fight one, we can spawn a real version that’s not part of the flocking. So the ones you can interact with and fight aren’t that many, but it seems like there’s a lot more in the scene.
Chandana “Eka” Ekanayake Art and cinematic director
The game was almost like a reaction to how the movies were received. Because the general consensus was that the second film was not as good, and the third one was weird or whatever, but the first one was the perfect movie. Attitudes have changed since then, but I think people see the first movie as almost a standalone thing, whereas the second and third feel like one big movie cut up into two pieces. So the game was a creative reaction by the Wachowskis to the whole Matrix trilogy. But they were havin’ a lot more fun with it, too.
Saxs Persson Game director
They wanted to finish with something the movie could never do; they wanted to break the fourth wall. They didn’t want to be part of it in terms of their likeness, but they wanted to have their view heard directly. And so that’s how the sequence ended up happening with the little talking heads. They wanted to send off The Matrix the right way, I guess.
W. D. Hogan Cinematic co-director and storyboards
I do know that the directors were far more hands-off on the second game, and I don’t know if it’s because they were overwhelmed or if they just trusted the developers more. But a lot of the second game was really Eka; he was driving a lot of it. I don’t think he was writing the script, but so many of the decisions were really made by him.
Saxs Persson Game director
We wanted them to be part of the game because they were characters as much as anybody in the movie. They’d made a huge name for themselves in this genre-defining, modern sci-fi environment that they’d constructed. They didn’t want to make it about them; they didn’t want to attract attention. But we couldn’t just unleash the giant Smith and this galactic battle without saying something. So they came up with, “Well, why don’t we just say it in text?” And we said, “I don’t think a Star Wars opening crawl is gonna cut it.” So they sent us the fully rendered little characters sitting in the chairs and speaking, and it was pretty hilarious.
Chandana “Eka” Ekanayake Art and cinematic director
There was a whole section that I helped animate, which is when the Wachowskis come on screen right before the big MegaSmith fight, in their pixel forms. When we got the audio form, we were like, “Okay.” They’re like, “We want to be in the game as these pixel characters.” All right, cool. So I made these little pixel characters and set up the chairs and did the whole thing.
And they’re like, “We want to speed up this part with Lana talkin’ about the philosophy of The Matrix.” She really gets into what they actually feel about the whole of The Matrix, and it’s really interesting, but it’s almost a throwaway in the game because they just speed it up. And then her sister’s like, “I thought you weren’t gonna do that.”
Gabriel Rountree Animation director
People want a happy ending, and if you saw the end of Path of Neo — it’s very psychedelic. It’s very strange. That all came from the Wachowskis. And we were so happy they went that way, because everybody knows what happens in the movie, so a little deviation gives a sense of excitement. I thought it fit.
David Perry President, Shiny Entertainment
It’s funny, because we’d done the same kind of thing years ago in our Earthworm Jim game, where the ending is strange and unexpected. And we did that on a game called MDK, as well — we did a French music video at the end of a sci-fi game. It causes people to go, “What is this?” But then they love it because it’s not the same boring thing.
Saxs Persson Game director
People couldn’t just go on YouTube and find something in two seconds and watch it and digest it. As I remember, it only became widely available much later, so generally it was more of a review thing: What did reviewers think about this experience? Are we making fun of the player? Are we making fun of the medium or the genre? Or is this sort of a fun, insightful departure from the expected? And we were really nervous before we shipped it, because the movies are pretty serious. They don’t get to a point where they sort of poke fun at themselves.
David Perry President, Shiny Entertainment
The Wachowskis — you’ve gotta remember, they’re cool people who watch a lot of entertainment, and they’re kind of fun. They’re not taking it all too seriously. Towards the end of Path of Neo, we said, “What would you like for an ending?” And it was clear as a bell to them. They’re like, “We’re gonna have ‘We Are the Champions’ playing.” And we’re going, “Do you know how expensive it’s gonna be to license that song?” It’s like, “No, no, no. We’re gonna have that song.”
Gabriel Rountree Animation director
They thought that would be hilarious. Not hilarious as in making fun of the fans so much as the perfect movie ending. They were trying to set a tone, maybe make it a little more lighthearted, and we got very lucky that we had an Academy Award-winning sound editor. At that time, he had won some awards for The Fast and the Furious. Between him and the Wachowskis asking, that’s how we got it, ’cause they used to be pretty close to the chest with who they let use Queen’s music.
Saxs Persson Game director
That ended up being the single most expensive thing we did for the whole game.
David Perry President, Shiny Entertainment
Honestly, it teaches you a little bit about how Hollywood works, versus games. They have a vision for something, and then the solutions are made to solve that problem. And it’s not quite the way a lot of industries work. Most industries look at what’s available, and that’s what you use; you’re always limited by what tools are already out there. Whereas they’re like, “No, no, no — we have this idea of something that hasn’t been done yet.” And people have to go write software, or think of a way that it could possibly be done. Suddenly, you’re at the tip of the spear again, because now you’re inventing.
W. D. Hogan Cinematic co-director and storyboards
For storyboard artists, you can get on a feature, but you don’t go for maybe more than a month or two. This was six or seven months out of that one year, but it was an incredible gig. And it was a lot of fun because I had never worked in games, and it was a whole different system. The people who made the best decisions in gaming were not the people who made the creative decisions in film.
Eka is so on top of everything, and Dave Perry’s as sharp as a tack. Those two were really the only two I interacted with, and they had carved out a niche for themselves and forged their own identity as an independent game developer. Here, they were dealing with just a corporate behemoth. And, by all accounts, it was fine.
David Perry President, Shiny Entertainment
One day, we’re on the set, and there’s all these people — the actors are waiting in their trailers and stuff. We had this one guy who was in charge of the list of all the [in-game] moves. And I think he had the flu or something; he ended up passing out on us. So the guy with the plan is now gone, and what do you do? And it was fascinating to watch how Hollywood works when something like that happens in the middle of a shoot.
The producer literally got on her phone and said, “I need someone that can handle motion-capture planning.” And someone was in that chair within a couple hours. I don’t even know who she called, but that’s the reality when you have a set that’s expensive like that. Whatever happened, it was gonna get solved.
Gabriel Rountree Animation director
Mocap was busy one day — I wasn’t directing — so I went over to main unit and just watched ’em work. And they were filming the Smith-fight scene [from The Matrix Reloaded]. And they had hired 12 stuntmen to play Agent Smith. Twelve guys all fighting Keanu Reeves in a long sequence, getting beaten with sticks every take. They were at take twelve when I was there, and the guy who kept getting kicked in the stomach every take was starting to turn a little green.
So the Wachowskis, on one shot, turn to each other and kind of nod. And they tell Keanu, “That one’s good.” He looks at them and goes, “No, no, no, no. It’s gotta be better. It’s gotta be better.” He was gonna do that thing. And they shot it another eight times. They had a kiddie pool on the set for him, ’cause he was training so hard and then shooting so hard that they’d slide him into an ice pool every single day. I don’t know how he did it; the guy was tough.
Saxs Persson Game director
It was generally a lot of fun. It was creatively a lot more interesting, and a lot more free, and at that point we knew a little bit more about what it would take to make a game like that. No matter who you ask, Enter the Matrix was like Dante’s seven levels of Hell, and Path of Neo was a bit of icing on the cake for having gone through that experience.

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