The Hideo Kojima interview: Metal Gear, Rising, Project Ogre and “ending it all”
And of that decision to replace Snake in SonsOf Liberty, something that still rankles with certain grudge-holding fans? Well, he’s got a fairly watertight justification: “The character in the game is supposed to equal the player, so if you want to introduce things to a new recruit, you have to learn how to interact with that world along with the character. If we had Snake, he was this old, experienced veteran and there would’ve been a disconnect with the [new] players. So that’s why we brought in Raiden.”
Going back to past games allows us some insights into how Kojima works, and how he views development in general. For a man who has a reputation for meticulous attention to detail, it’s surprising to learn that there was “no firm design document” for the first game – but less so to hear of the importance of instilling his work with personal ideals. “I put everything into each of my games,” he says. “It’s 100% my worldview. At the same time, there are other things going on aside from the story, [and] that has to work well together with the gameplay. With the gameplay I like to get feedback, to get opinions. It’s finding that balance – the worldview vs the gameplay.”
Speaking of the past also reveals a nostalgic side to Kojima, who says that his first PlayStation creations were “very different to today’s games. Now there’s a lot of pressure – back then it was very free”. There’s also evident concern about how that increased pressure is affecting the industry – particularly in his homeland. “It’s much more competitive now: if you look at triple-A titles on a worldwide scale there’s maybe only ten really big games that can get gamers’ attention, and I’m not sure how Japan can compete on that level.”
But unlike many, who view the massive financial pressures of development as responsible for this shrunken market and conveyor belt of sequels, Kojima sees it differently. “I think it’s more consumer demand – right now, consumers are happy with what they have. First-person shooters sell like crazy, so there’s not really a strong demand for anything else, and that’s why [original ideas] stop being made. People are satisfied with making minor upgrades and tweaking things here and there – as long as that’s the landscape, it will keep on happening. I don’t see a problem necessarily, but at the same time it is nice to see new things come.”
While he has previous form in making a success of something new – both MGS and Zone Of The Enders (to a Western audience, at least) were incredibly fresh at the time – the realities of doing so have now changed. “Maybe for new ideas, the way to do it is [by] releasing things via online services first and then seeing how people react to that. Or even if you’re making something from a game-design perspective that’s completely different, you could tie it to an existing franchise – like even if it had the Metal Gear Solid title, it could be completely different. Maybe you can make a Batman game that has the Batman title, but you can still be free with what you make the game into. Making something that’s completely new – where the gameplay, the characters, the world, everything is completely from scratch – that’s very hard to realise in this day and age.”
But ‘hard to realise’ has never been something that’s put Kojima off (hearing about him trying to explain the concept of MGS’ Sniper Wolf battle to his staff is a reminder of just how ground-breaking his ideas have been), and with everyone relaxed as our time together comes to an end, it’s time to gently probe as to what challenges he’s undertaking for the future. Those who follow him on Twitter will be familiar with his teases about the so-called ‘Ogre’ project he’s working on, but what exactly is it?
“I can’t really say too much about that project yet, but it’s a very subdued experience – it’s a little bit different to what I’ve done up until now,” he says. “On the surface it will look similar, but once you get into it, it will be a different experience – and I’m hoping people look forward to that. But the Ogre project is going to take a lot of time, so I want to produce some other things on the side, like I’m doing with Metal Gear Rising. So while I’m working on Project Ogre there might be a couple of other projects going on at the same time.”
One thing it’s definitely not is Metal Gear Solid 5, but surely Snake will be making a comeback sooner or later? “Well, I think we’ll probably have to make it at some point, but what that will be, we have no idea. As far as my involvement in the project is concerned, [it] probably won’t be as much as it was with MGS1 – maybe I can do just one stage! For MGS1 I made the maps myself, laid out the enemy routes myself, did everything hands-on – that level I can’t do again.”
Don’t bet on it: he said exactly the same about MGS4. “I intended to take it to a certain point and then hand it off, but that didn’t work, because it’s hard to convey the concept to other people then have them take the reins and carry on and preserve that vision. That’s why it’s easier to have them come up with everything from the start and then take it to the end.”
So despite all the talk of killing his lead, the smart money says we’ll see one last MGS hurrah from the big man himself. Creatively frustrated he may be, but it’s clear that one of our industry’s true innovators – one of very few who genuinely deserve the title of ‘genius’ – is far from out of ideas. And of his legacy when it does finally come time to leave? “I feel that Metal Gear Solid can continue without me, but it will be different. It’s still Metal Gear – it’s just not my Metal Gear.” The series, like the gaming world in general, won’t be the same without him.
Tags: featured, Hideo Kojima, Kojima Productions, Konami, Metal Gear Rising, Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, Metal Gear Solid 5 The Phantom Pain, Project Ogre