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Thread: Hideo Kojima Retrospective

  1. #1
    Registered: May 2004

    Hideo Kojima Retrospective

    Metal Gear (1987)

    Directed and designed by Hideo Kojima

    The first game to be directed and designed by Hideo Kojima was 1987’s Metal Gear for the ASCII corporation’s home computer, the MSX2. The game wasn’t Kojima’s idea — he took over development of a game called Intruder from one of his seniors at Konami. This was only his second project, after assistant directing on a runner game called Penguin Adventure — it’s impressive that he was allowed to lead a project so quickly. Intruder was originally intended to be an action game, but due to the MSX’s framerate limitations, Kojima decided to pivot to stealth, inspired by ‘The Great Escape’ (cinema would remain a huge inspiration for him throughout his career). He wanted to ‘form the tension of hide & seek’, turning into something more like Pac-Man when the player is discovered.

    The result is Metal Gear, a 2D top-down game that popularized the stealth genre. While the game is quite rudimentary compared to the titles which followed, a surprising amount of the hallmarks of the series are introduced here. Many of the major players in later titles appear here — Solid Snake (who is not yet modeled after Kurt Russell), Big Boss, Foxhound, Gray Fox. Big Boss is the commander of special forces unit FOXHOUND. The game begins when Big Boss sends his newest recruit, Solid Snake, into a South African ‘fortified state’ called Outer Heaven founded by a ‘legendary mercenary’. Boss had already sent Gray Fox, his top operative, into the base to stop a nuclear threat, but Gray Fox went silent. Snake is sent to find Fox, and explores Outer Heaven, which consists of 3 buildings, each with multiple floors.

    Along the way, he finds keycards, unlocks doors, and rescues hostages (causing him to increase rank and thus get more health and inventory space). He gets help from local resistance members, who each have a specialized area they can provide help with over your codec, and battles mercenary bosses with goofy names like Shoot Gunner, Machine Gun Kid, Bloody Brad, and the boomerang-wielding Coward Duck. He navigates mine fields, and also singlehandedly fights a tank and a helicopter and wins, which became a running gag in the series. He finds Gray Fox, who explains that the nuclear threat is in the form of a bipedal walking tank called a Metal Gear which can launch a nuke from anywhere in the world.

    Snake finds the engineer who designed Metal Gear (who of course did it against his will, as his daughter was being held hostage) in order to learn how to destroy it. Big Boss’s orders become increasingly erratic, leading Snake straight into dangerous situations. Snake manages to destroy the Metal Gear, only for it to be revealed that the ‘legendary mercenary’ running the compound is in fact Big Boss, who wants to become the greatest global superpower and bring down the West. He was using his position in the US government to gain a tactical advantage in building his own mercenary force. As his name indicates, he becomes the final boss. Snake defeats him, but has to escape before the base self-destructs.

    In essence, the core of the series’ plot formula was already established here, albeit in an extremely simplistic way. The same is true of the gameplay mechanics. Codec calls are present, complete with a bit of fourth wall breaking near the end when the final boss tells you ‘STOP THE OPERATION — SWITCH OFF YOUR MSX AT ONCE’. The game opens with Solid Snake infiltrating a base by swimming to it, at which point he has to avoid guards and security cameras. Exclamation points even pop up over guards’ heads when they catch you. You can hide in a cardboard box and damage your health by smoking cigarettes.

    It’s surprisingly advanced for its time in a lot of ways — you can attach a suppressor to weapons, you can use a remote control rocket to blow up electrical boxes and turn off electrified floors, you can equip a gas mask to move through rooms filled with poison gas, you can use explosives to blow holes in walls after punching them to find weak spots… As with MGS 1–4, it’s a very dynamic game filled to the brim with ideas. With that said, there are also many ways in which it is clearly of its time. Guards are utterly blind unless they’re staring right at you, which gives it the feel of a puzzle game. You need to find the correct route through a given room which will allow you to either avoid guards or sneak up behind them and knock them out with a punch.

    It is, of course, a brief game — it can be cleared in 90min, if you know what you’re supposed to do. However, because the points at which you can save are limited, it’s going to take you a hell of a lot longer than that. As with many games of the 80s, it compensates for its short duration by being extraordinarily hard, mainly due to the aforementioned save system — but also because it can be frustratingly difficult to figure out what you’re supposed to do next. It’s filled with backtracking as is, so it’s easy to get stuck in a loop of wandering around aimlessly. The game clearly wasn’t made to be played without a manual — key information is hidden in codec calls on frequencies that can only be found listed in the manual. To be honest, I only made my way through it by heavily abusing the emulator’s save feature and consulting walkthroughs, but I feel no shame.

    The music in the game is quite repetitive and may drive you batty after a while, but it’s also fun and fits the mood well. I found myself wondering if 90s rock bands were inspired by this music — one of the tracks reminds me a lot of ‘Those Damn Blue Collar Tweakers’ by Primus, while another reminds of ‘Wake Up’ by Rage Against the Machine. You’re likely to get it stuck in your head.

    Due to the relative unpopularity of the MSX, the game was ported to the NES for its English release. Unfortunately, the port was developed without the consent or involvement of the original development team, with a 3 month deadline and orders to make it different from the MSX version. The level design was heavily revamped and many gameplay elements were changed, causing Kojima to disown it (understandably, as it seems to be a butchered mess). A proper English port of the MSX version wasn’t released until 2004, first for phones and then as a bonus on the Subsistence version of Metal Gear Solid 3.

    Nonetheless, the NES version was hugely successful — enough to spawn an NES sequel only for Western audiences called Snake’s Revenge. Once again, Kojima had nothing to do with that game — he didn’t even know it was being developed until one of the developers told him. This inspired him to start work on his own sequel, which ended up only being released in Japan on the MSX2 until the aforementioned Subsistence release finally introduced it to the West. As for Snake’s Revenge, Kojima couldn’t seem to make up his mind as to whether it was ‘a crappy game’ or a decent one which did a good job capturing the spirit of the original, as he made public statements in both directions.

    Several prequels to this game were developed down the line, so Kojima proposed remaking the Metal Gear games to address plot discrepancies that were introduced later. This obviously never ended up happening on account of his firing, but given how much the scope of his vision expanded since this humble beginning (this game is extremely thin on plot even when compared to the next game in the series), I can only imagine that they would’ve been radical re-imaginings.

  2. #2
    Registered: Aug 2002
    Location: Maupertuis
    That was interesting to read, thank you for sharing. Strange to think that the NES Metal Gear I enjoyed so much was a mangled version of the original.

  3. #3
    Level 10,000 achieved
    Registered: Mar 2001
    Location: Finland
    Quote Originally Posted by froghawk View Post
    This was only his second project, after assistant directing on a runner game called Penguin Adventure
    Oh wow, I remember playing that, or at least seeing it being played, on my neighbor's MSX. Wild to think it was a Kojima game.

  4. #4
    Registered: Jul 2002
    Location: Edmonton
    I'm here for this thread. Can't wait till we get to Death Stranding.

  5. #5
    Registered: May 2004
    I remember this game -- it was one of the few games we were allowed to play when we got done with our tasks in the computer class (the other notable one, curiously enough, being Leisure Suit Larry). I never got very far at that time by playing it in 15-30 minute chunks, but later on I played the NES version quite a bit and got very close to the end. From my recollection, aside from some layout differences and a different beginning, they were very much the same game.

    Oh, and of course the NES version had some hilarious Engrish, with the guards suddenly exclaiming "I feel asleep!!" before promptly dozing off.
    Last edited by Starker; 19th Jul 2023 at 06:18.

  6. #6
    Registered: May 2004
    Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (1990)

    Written, directed, and designed by Hideo Kojima

    As mentioned at the end of the Metal Gear review, the Metal Gear sequel situation was a bit confused. As the West only got to experience a heavily butchered NES port of Metal Gear, they also got their own NES sequel, Snake’s Revenge. Both of these games were created without Kojima’s input, so his work wasn’t truly introduced to Western audiences until Metal Gear Solid in 1998. Kojima was working on a visual novel called Snatcher. He heard about Snake’s Revenge from a coworker who was working on it, and who encouraged Kojima to create his own sequel — and so Kojima began working on Solid Snake for the MSX (later retitled Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake by Konami’s marketing department).

    Metal Gear 2 is very similar to its predecessor, but with everything taken up several notches. The game takes place in a version of 1999 where the cold war is still ongoing and the global oil supply is about to run out. A Czech biologist named Dr. Marv created a species of algae he calls OILIX to solve this problem, capable of producing their own petroleum. Of course, this is a hot commodity, so he is taken hostage by Zanzibar Land — a place which evidently has nothing to do with the actual Zanzibar and instead is an ex-Soviet state in central Asia that had been established two years earlier. Whatever. In any case, they pillaged old nuclear stockpiles meant for dismantling, and planned to use the combination of the nukes and Dr. Marv to control the world’s oil supply by holding everyone hostage.

    Solid Snake is called out of retirement to infiltrate Zanzibar Land, rescue Dr. Marv, and foil their evil plan. This naturally happens on Christmas Eve in what is probably a tribute to Die Hard — Kojima has always loved his movie references. The game is much heavier on codec calls than its predecessor, getting much closer to the level of dialogue you’d expect from a Metal Gear title. It also introduces the sort of ensemble cast you’d expect, including two characters that will play heavily into future titles — Snake’s commanding officer, Colonel Roy Campbell, and his drill instructor, Master Miller. Several characters also reappear from the previous game, including Dr. Madnar, Gray Fox, and, in a move that won’t be explained for another 25 years — Big Boss? But wasn’t he dead?

    Surprise! According to Dr. Madnar, who has once again been captured and forced to build a Metal Gear, this time for Zanzibar Land, Big Boss is somehow still alive and is behind the whole scheme, and he’s now using child soldiers. And so a series formula is established — Snake must infiltrate the terrorist compound, rescue one or multiple people, stop the Metal Gear, and end the terrorist plot by Big Boss (or one of his clones), all while being helped by a fun cast of characters via endless Codec calls, who you can now call for hints when you get lost. The story is much more fleshed out than in the first game, featuring numerous twists. There’s a love interest in Czech intelligence agent Gustava Heffner, establishing another plot element that gets carried over to later MGS games — Snake is always going to get entangled with a fellow soldier or intelligence agent, if a romantic subplot is present.

    And, of course, there is a boss crew — and once again, they’re hilarious. The highlight is Running Man (undoubtedly another movie reference), a ‘former olympic runner turned terrorist’, who just runs around the map in circles, too fast for you to shoot — you have to put mines in his path to stop him. There’s also a ninja, and a boss which uses a total stealth suit — elements that are later combined into the cyborg ninja character in MGS. Another boss, Jungle Evil, hides in tall grass, perhaps laying the groundwork for the final fight in MGS3. And, of course, you have to singlehandedly fight the Hind D helicopter once again, and undergo a timed escape sequence after several final boss fights.

    The gameplay is also taken to a whole new level. Enemies no longer have to be directly staring at you to detect you — they have a wider cone of vision, and can now follow you across screens, turn their heads, and hear you. There are now different types of floors that make different sounds, and some will cause guards to come investigate if you’re not careful, so kneeling and crawling have also been introduced. You’re no longer just forced to fight if you alert an enemy — the alerts are on a timer, as in future games allowing you to hide and wait it out, and you’re given radar to help you in that endeavor, as well as a suppressor for your weapons. This all makes it feel much more like a proper stealth game than the first title, which felt more like a puzzle.

    Naturally, there is a whole array of new gear to help you with that. You can send a robotic mouse out to distract your enemies or find traps. You can set down a camouflage mat which will mimic the texture of the floor, allowing you to crawl under it and hide. You can improvise a flamethrower using a lighter and spray. You can play a cassette tape with Zanzibar Land’s national anthem to distract guards, who will automatically salute in response (and the tape even gets worn out with overuse). The cardboard box has returned, but now you can use a bucket for the same purpose. Equipping cigarettes will slowly drain your health, but you may find a use for them. As in the first game, there’s a simple leveling system where your health and inventory space increase after each boss.

    I enjoyed the music in the first title, but it’s even better in this game — the music and art design combine to make it feel surprisingly moody at times, in a retro way. There’s even some fun odd time stuff in the soundtrack. The level design is more varied than in the first title, and like the later MGS games, the gameplay is kept very dynamic, throwing new ideas at you all the time. The MGS mechanic of a key that transforms into a different key based on temperature conditions started in this game. You’ll have to find ways to lure a carrier pigeon, sneak into a ladies restroom, fly a hang glider, figure out codes from someone tapping on the wall, stop a snake from eating all of your rations, and trick a guard using an owl.

    Not all of it has aged well — at one point, you have to navigate your way through a swamp, which swallows you up if you don’t stay on exactly the right invisible path. Unfortunately, this is determined by trial and error. As with the first game, there is plenty of backtracking, which unfortunately includes said swamp — you have to traverse it numerous times. I once again abused the emulator’s save state to make my way through moments like these — they’re simply too frustrating otherwise.

    This game is simply bursting with ideas — ideas which still felt radical and exciting when many of them appeared in the West for the first time 8 years later in Metal Gear Solid. It feels like Kojima really found his voice here, so to speak — he may have inherited the first title in the series, he really made the sequel his own. The result is a game that has stood the test of time remarkably well — it’s still incredibly fun to play, despite some frustrating sequences, and features a really properly fleshed out story.

    Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake was initially released only in Japan. The MSX never took off in the West, so Konami never bothered to create an English localization of this game. There was already an NES sequel, so I guess a port didn’t seem necessary to them, either. Unofficial fan translations appeared on Western markets around 1996–7, but the game didn’t officially make its way to the west until it appeared in the Subsistence reissue of Metal Gear Solid 3 with many quality-of-life updates in 2006, 16 years after its original release. The first game has been available on PC through GOG for a long time, but MG2 is about to appear on PC for the first time ever as part of the Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection, Vol. 1.

  7. #7
    Registered: May 2004
    Metal Gear Solid (1998)

    Directed and designed by Hideo Kojima
    Produced by Hideo Kojima and Motoyuki Yoshioka
    Written by Hideo Kojima and Tomokazu Fukushima
    Art by Yoji Shinkawa

    It took Kojima 8 years to return with the third game in the Metal Gear series, and its first 3D title, Metal Gear Solid (because, y’know, 3D=solid, opening the door for a perfect pun). Metal Gear Solid was the true introduction of Kojima’s vision to the West, and it was hugely successful, receiving high critical praise, selling over seven million copies, and kicking off a franchise (whether Kojima wanted that or not!). The game is now considered an all-time classic, and for good reason — the world had never seen a game like this before.

    Metal Gear Solid takes place 6 years after the events of Metal Gear 2. It begins exactly how you’d expect, based on previous titles. Solid Snake (who is now modeled after Jean-Claude van Damme’s body and Christopher Walken’s face) infiltrates a terrorist-occupied remote compound (this time in Alaska) via water in order to rescue civilian prisoners and stop the terrorists. He’s once again accompanied on his codec by Colonel Roy Campbell and Master Miller, plus a few new characters. Naomi Hunter gives you medical advice, Mei Ling helps you with the radar system she invented and tells you famous quotations when you save your game, and Nastasha Romanenko informs you about the items and weapons you find in the field. More characters are introduced along the way, including the fan-favorite otaku scientist Otacon.

    You can call these people whenever you have a question, and there are hours and hours of recorded dialogue with them — far more than appeared in the earlier titles. It’s considerably more story heavy than its predecessors — over a third of the play time is spent in cutscenes or codec calls. This was the first Metal Gear title with voice acting, which makes sitting in those calls considerably more enjoyable. David Hayter’s gritty, slimy voice acting brought Solid Snake to life in a whole new way. The sound design is also excellent — the tritone that plays when you get spotted became an iconic staple of the series. The music is filled with memorable themes, and its synths are often icy in a way that perfectly reflects the chilled Alaskan environment. The visuals are similarly moody. All of this comes together to create a strong atmosphere.

    Kojima felt that ‘if the player isn’t tricked into believing that the world is real, then there’s no point in making the game’. As such, he brought the team on field trips to California to visit military training centers and work with SWAT teams and weapons experts so the team could learn how guns, explosives, and vehicles really worked. All of this made it into Romanenko’s dialogue, which surely featured the most excessively in-depth explanations of weaponry to make its way into a game yet — a level of gun fetishism that was surely meant to be ridiculous parody. This became part of the series formula, as the next few titles also featured characters whose primary purpose was increasingly excessive explanations of the features and applications of the game’s arsenal.

    It’s interesting how much this feels like a 3D update of all of Kojima’s ideas from the 80s games. Alert states with a countdown timer? Check. Lasers that set off alarms? Check. Guiding a remote control rocket to blow up an electrical panel in a different room in order to turn off an electrified floor? Check. Keys that change shape and turn into different keys when exposed to different temperatures? Check. Running around under a cardboard box, battling a crew of mercenary bosses, singlehandedly fighting a tank and helicopter, using radar to sneak around enemies with narrow vision cones, avoiding security cameras, using cigarettes to reveal hidden lasers, waiting for alerts to time out… all present. Even the plot has some similarities — the scientist who designed the Metal Gear plays a major role, an ally betrays you, and the big bad presenting a nuclear threat to the world is Big-Boss-adjacent… It really is just Metal Gear 2 remade in 3D, but with a new setting and levels and a much more complex plot.

    Of course, there are new elements as well. Part of this is the camera —the perspective is still fixed, and largely overhead, but it’s a bit more dynamic now. You can look around your environment in first person (but not move or aim) and peek around corners (though it takes quite a hefty combination of buttons to truly take advantage of this function). There are new gameplay mechanics, like needing to take a drug to steady your hands while aiming a sniper rifle. Then there are the inventive boss battles — most notably, the Psycho Mantis fight, which breaks the fourth wall. First, the boss reads your memory card, commenting on what other games you’ve been playing — then the game requires you to change which port your controller is plugged into to do any damage. Sadly, this causes difficulty with certain modern systems, and was altered for the PC version, but it blew many minds at the time.

    Sometimes it almost feels like the game was simply a ploy to make kids watch archival footage-laden educational videos about nuclear proliferation. The text before the credits roll gives you the main takeaway: ‘In the 1980’s, there were more than 60,000 nuclear warheads in the world at all times. The total destructive power amounted to 1 million times that of the Hiroshima A-bomb. In January 1993, START2 was signed and the United States and Russia agreed to reduce the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 3500–3000 in each nation by December 31, 2000. However, as of 1998, there still exists 26,000 nuclear warheads in the world.’

    Of course, those statistics have changed today — less than half that amount of nuclear warheads still exist in the world, mostly owned by the US and Russia. But that’s still a truly massive amount of destructive power! I first played this game in high school, and it truly was an educational and chilling experience. I felt particularly compelled by the game’s ideology and intent to educate — I’d never experienced an activist game, and was glad such a thing existed (and still am!). It showed me that games could be more than a mindless diversion.

    You could argue that this game is like the Watchmen of video games — it introduced philosophical ideas to a genre that was formerly largely devoid of them. Like Watchmen, Metal Gear Solid is all about tearing down the idea of the action hero, asking what we’re really glorifying with that trope and why we’re doing it. To get this point across, it leans heavily into ludonarrative dissonance. It’s possible to stealth your way around the grunts, but the player is forced to kill the bosses and then chastised for doing so. Instead of letting you forget the brutality of what’s being simulated, it leans into it. These characters aren’t just pixels on a screen — they’re actual people, and you just hurt them.

    The plot is also an examination of the roles of soldiers and scientists — what it means to be these things, how they affect the world, and what their responsibilities are. Ultimately, it’s all about human connection, and how many of the people in these roles are avoiding it in a way that ends up doing huge harm to others. The message to the players is clear: turn off your console, go outside, and connect with people. Actually live your life! All of this is delivered in the context of a ridiculously over the top action story involving cyborg ninjas, nanomachines, psychics, and giant bipedal robots. Does it work? Mostly. There are certainly a few eye-rolling moments, but it’s easy to forgive them given the age of the game and how much it gets right. Overall, it’s a remarkable success.

    An expanded version of the game entitled Metal Gear Solid: Integral was released the following year. The most notable addition was the inclusion of a ‘VR Disc’, which was also issued as a standalone title under the name Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions. It included a VR training mode with 300 missions divided into four categories: Sneaking, Weapons, Advanced, and Special. The first 3 categories are relatively rote tests of the game’s mechanics, and are quite welcomed given how sparingly many of them were utilized in the actual game (in fact, it takes longer to complete these missions than it does to complete the campaign). The ‘Special’ category gets a bit more creative, including encounters with flying saucers and giant soldiers. Integral also featured a retooled version of the main campaign with different enemy placements, developer commentary, and even a first person mode.

    1998 was the year the stealth genre took off in mainstream gaming. The first 3D stealth game, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, came out a few months before Metal Gear Solid, but the latter quickly surpassed Tenchu in popularity. The year was rounded out by the first ever first person stealth game, Thief: The Dark Project, firmly establishing the genre as viable and opening the door for franchises like Hitman, The Operative: No One Lives Forever, and Deus Ex to appear in 2000. Metal Gear Solid remains the most successful and widely celebrated of these early 3D stealth titles.

    Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (2004)

    Directed by Carey Murray
    Produced by Hideo Kojima, Yoshikazu Matsuhana, and Dennis Dyack

    Kojima was a fan of developer Silicon Knights, who had most notably worked on Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, so he had them develop a remake of Metal Gear Solid for the Gamecube in the Metal Gear Solid 2 engine. He was also a fan of Japanese action director Ryuhei Kitamura, so he had Kitamura direct the cutscenes. The result followed the design and script of the original exactly (albeit with an extended intro sequence), and Yoji Shinkawa returned to do the art design. The English voice acting was all re-recorded using the same actors (as the increased audio quality of the Gamecube revealed defects in the original audio), replacing the regional accents of several characters with American accents. New music was also composed for the game.

    Nonetheless, the new graphics and gameplay mechanics changed the feel and tone of the game considerably. Many mechanics were brought over from Metal Gear Solid 2, including first person aiming, hiding in lockers, hanging off railings, holding up guards, and allowing enemy soldiers to communicate with each other. However, the levels in Metal Gear Solid 2 were designed with all of this in mind, often focusing on tight corridors to utilize all of these mechanics. The unchanged levels here were not, meaning that these changes made the game considerably easier than the original version (aside from its oddly frustrating opening area), especially in some boss battles. The new AI mechanics compensate for that just a little bit, but not sufficiently.

    Given that the game is really all about the story, this isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself. The tonal changes present a larger problem. Kitamura initially tried to imitate the original cutscenes, but Kojima instructed him to remake them in his own style, which ended up being extremely over the top and heavily reliant on bullet time, which was all the rage in the wake of The Matrix. The original game was already teetering on the edge of absurdity, but this change pushed it straight over the edge. In addition to that, the new sterile grey-heavy graphics and more ‘epic’ soundtrack feel less moody than the original — it loses a lot of the original’s appealing atmosphere. As such, I don’t think this remake has aged particularly well — there’s little reason to play it over the original, which holds up just fine.

  8. #8
    Chakat sex pillow
    Registered: Sep 2006
    Location: not here
    Good stuff! Also answers the bit where henke had trouble with TTS's opening.

    I thought MGS1's overall theme about genes as something that determine who you are, but not control who you can be, was a pretty good through-line for it, even if the game was very 90s Hollywood in its delivery. It's definitely the bit that made the story work beyond the geopolitical facade and Kojima's obsession with the military-industrial complex. His gift is being able to weave together disparate threads into something entertaining and immediate while making (often, unfortunately laboured) incisive philosophical points about people, society, and video games all at the same time. I don't think I'd like his games half as much if they weren't as playful with their headier concepts, though, giving you exposition and infodumps but also ensuring it didn't all take itself too seriously at times, and that your playthroughs were rewarded for experimentation with the unexpected joy of discovering a different approach or easter egg. The MGS games are special to me most of all for always, reliably delivering that frisson of, 'oh whoa, they thought of that too!?'. You get the sense that there's real personality behind their design, where fun-loving and batshit silliness coincide with an incredible amount of nerdery that Kojima, like the best nerds, can't stop talking your ear off about.
    Last edited by Sulphur; 20th Feb 2024 at 08:31.

  9. #9
    New Member
    Registered: Feb 2024
    Location: Canada
    Despite everything I still really enjoyed twin snakes back when it came out. While it can never compare to the original, part of me does hope for a switch remaster/rerelease at some point.

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